Diocese of Metuchen to fingerprint priests

Staff Writer

Diocese of Metuchen
to fingerprint priests
Staff Writer

METUCHEN — The Diocese of Metuchen has stepped up its efforts to make sure children are protected from abuse on their watch.

As a reaction to the recent national sex abuse scandal that rocked the Roman Catholic Church, the diocese recently implemented "Protecting God’s Children," a program of background checks which includes a mandatory policy of fingerprinting all those who work with children, be they priest or Sunday school teachers.

All 108 parishes in the diocese will participate in the program.

According to Monsignor William Benwell, vicar general of the Diocese of Metuchen, fingerprinting was the obvious way to go.

"It’s the most complete way to do background checks. We recognize the damage that’s been done, and we want to repair it," he said.

Although the program kicked off last week, the diocese is still trying to develop a system to make the fingerprinting go as smoothly and quickly as possible.

"It takes a lot of coordination to do this," said Benwell. The process is expected to continue through the spring.

Each parish will take it upon itself to pay the cost of the fingerprinting, the monsignor said. One way of doing this could be to increase the cost of religious education fees, he suggested.

"The reaction of the laity has been extremely positive," he said. "Folks don’t mind paying a little extra for their children’s safety."

Along these lines, the diocese recognizes that it will have to assist its less well-off parishes, perhaps with help from parishes that are doing well financially, Benwell said.

While all members of the diocese are in agreement with the fingerprinting policy, the idea of background checks is disconcerting to a number of priests.

"Priests have never had to face the reality of background checks before," Benwell said. "Some don’t really know what to expect."

Still, the diocese is unified in its common goal.

"We want to be among the groups that sex offenders stay away from, like the Boy Scouts," said Monsignor Benwell. "We are going to go the extra mile to make sure this situation never happens again."