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Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocese speaks out, changes in Catholic Church protocol

NOW: Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocese speaks out, changes in Catholic Church protocol

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- It's been less than one week since a certain list, hit the streets of South Bend. That list included the names of members of the Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocese who had valid allegations of sexual assault made against them. 

Some of those allegations are decades old. So what does that mean for the South Bend community now?

17 names of priests and one deacon make up that list.  But there's no name or incident listed after 2002.

ABC57 News wanted to look into how that was possible. 

"We have not had an incident, a reported incident of abuse, in the diocese since 2002," says Donald Schmid. 

Schmid is a former federal prosecutor and serves on the local review board for the diocese.

He says, after the Boston Globe broke ground on the abuse in Boston, the Catholic community across the country came together and cracked down. 

"The screening procedures for men who want to become a priest have been beefed up. Extensive psychological tests have been down, criminal background checks have been done," explains Schmid. "More than 17,000 people in the diocese alone have received safe environment training on how to protect children from child abuse and criminal background checks."

These changes are dictated in diocese handbooks and online. 

The new protocols and rules are extensive, prohibiting one-on-one time with children in a closed-door room; rules that prevent priests accused of assault from being transferred from one diocese to another; and strict codes of conduct on appropriate behavior with kids.

But what if there is a new allegation?

"If the diocese receives a report of abuse, it will immediately begin an investigation and will report that abuse to the proper legal authorities," says Schmid. "[There is] zero tolerance for sexual abuse. So even one credible accusation of abuse will result in a priest being removed from public ministry."

Unfortunately, Schmid says, they still receive some allegations from incidents that happened years ago. Not a lot, but even one is too many.

"It's really not very many at all. We have an occasional report in a year. But I encourage anyone who has been the victim of sexual abuse to come forward, with both the civil authorities and the church," he adds.

He says, those numbers, showing a lack of allegations, don't lie. The changes the Catholic Church has made, he believes, makes all the difference.

"The Catholic Church and its schools, particularly in Fort Wayne and South Bend, provide a safe place for our children," explains Schmid. "A number of huge reforms have been made. While we're still striving to improve our processes and policies and procedures, more work needs to be done."

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