In yet another stunning example that child protection continues to take a backseat to protecting Catholic institutions and the religious, it is reported that the Diocese of Fall River, Massachusetts requires parents to sign a liability waiver when sending their children for religious education. The Parental Contract for Diocesan Activities rests the ultimate responsibility for supervising a child on the parent even if the child is entrusted to the church for activities and programming. Most importantly, parents must “specifically agree not to hold the Diocese or any of its employees or contractors liable for any accident, illness, or harm that may result from the trip or activity.” This preemptive focus on eliminating liability indicates that protecting youth from a broad range of harms, including child sexual abuse by clergy, is not the Diocese’s first priority. Given the track record of the Roman Catholic Church on the issue of childhood sexual abuse, including the recent tragic failures in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and Diocese of Kansas City – St. Joseph, this approach should come as no surprise.
On the one hand, it is a shameful practice for an institution to absolve itself of any and all legal responsibility in the realm of child protection. On the other hand, maybe it is a good thing. Finally, a Diocese is recognizing the inherent danger in parents sending their children to their church under the supervision and care of clergy. By signing these waivers, parents are on notice that attendance at a church in the Diocese of Fall River is equally dangerous to their children, if not more so, as bungee jumping, white water rafting, and skydiving. The danger in allowing their children to be supervised by clergy can, therefore, be first in a parent’s mind, even if it’s an afterthought for the Diocese of Fall River.
But wait…here’s the problem: Even if parents can be considered aware of the danger, their children are not.