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October 19, 2006

ARCHDIOCESE OF PHILADELPHIA REVITALIZES VICTIM ASSISTANCE PROGRAM

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia has restructured its Victim Assistance Program to better respond to reports of sexual abuse and to the needs of victims. The changes include hiring additional administrators and staff, launching a public outreach campaign and empowering victim assistance coordinators with authority to approve financial expenditures for emergency situations. "These changes have taken place over the past year as a part of our continuing efforts to be more responsive to the needs of victims. It is important to listen to the people who have been hurt and find out what they need. We listened and changed the way in which we respond," said Cardinal Justin Rigali, Archbishop of Philadelphia.

Earlier this year, Cardinal Rigali announced the hiring of Ms. Mary Achilles as Victims' Advocate for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Prior to joining the Archdiocese, Ms. Achilles had served as the first-ever Victim Advocate for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Ms. Achilles has extensive experience responding to the needs of victims, having previously served as Director of Victims Services for the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. She also supervised services provided to victims in the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office.

In her role with the Archdiocese, Ms. Achilles reviews all existing services and makes recommendations to Cardinal Rigali for enhanced or additional services to victims of sexual abuse. Ms. Achilles said, "We must create an environment that encourages victims to come forward. Only an environment that acknowledges and embraces the pain of the past can effectively incorporate those experiences into a new model of response in the future."

As a result of evaluations of programs and services, the Archdiocese has made
the following changes to its Victim Assistance Program. The Archdiocese has:


Hired a full-time Director of the Office of Child and Youth Protection. The new Director is Ms. Karen Becker. Ms. Becker's primary focus is making victim assistance services comprehensive, accessible and as user-friendly as possible.
Increased staffing of the Office of Child and Youth Protection;
Empowered Victim Assistance Coordinators with authority to approve financial expenditures for emergency situations;
Launched Public Outreach Campaign consisting of print ads in The Philadelphia Inquirer and ads on KYW NewsRadio featuring Cardinal Rigali speaking directly to adult survivors of child sexual abuse within the Archdiocese and offering his assistance;
Changed reporting requirements. Victims are no longer required to report abuse to a priest about another priest. Now to make a formal report of sexual abuse, victims only need to call the Victim Assistance Program (1-888-800-8780). The Victim Assistance Coordinator takes the formal complaint, over the phone or at a location of comfort for the victim, providing sensitive support and assistance in that process.
Developed an automated case management system to increase service delivery.

Services provided by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia Victim Assistance Program

Making a Formal Report ~ Victim Assistance Coordinators provide confidential assistance to victims making a report of sexual abuse to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
Counselling and Other Therapeutic Interventions ~ Victim Assistance Coordinators provide assistance in locating, accessing and financially supporting counselling and other emotional support services. This assistance includes financial reimbursement for child care during counselling sessions and transportation expenses.
Pastoral Support and Counselling ~ Victim Assistance Coordinators will provide assistance to victims and families who are seeking spiritual guidance. Coordinators also facilitate pastoral meetings with Cardinal Rigali and other clergy as requested.
Social Services ~ Victim Assistance Coordinators will assist with social services, including addressing financial, vocational, housing and other needs through case management and referral.

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Contact
Donna M. Farrell
Director of Communications
215-587-3747

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