Local diocese creates office to protect children

O’Connor to lead office created in wake of child abuse cases

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown announced the creation of the Office of Children and Youth Protection and the hiring of Cindy O’Connor as its director.

The new office is part of a March 2017 memorandum of understanding with Acting U.S. Attorney for Western Pennsylvania Soo C. Song.

That agreement was the result of a series of criminal and civil cases involving local clergymen and church employees — the most prominent being that of Brother Stephen Baker, a Franciscan friar who allegedly sexually abused students at Bishop McCort High School in Johnstown.

The Office of Children and Youth Protection will be responsible for implementing and overseeing the full diocesan response to the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People established by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and compliance with the law.

Through online and in-person educational training programs, presentations and resource materials, the diocese will assist church personnel in responding to the mandates of the its safe environment policies, a diocese press release from spokesman Tony DeGol states.

Additionally, the office will oversee required background screenings and training of church personnel and assist in the internal investigation process relating to child abuse allegations involving church personnel.

As director of the Office of Children and Youth Protection, O’Connor’s responsibilities will include creating safe environments, reviewing organizational structures for maximum efficiency, increasing and coordinating communication efforts, implementing best practices for record keeping and ensuring all compliance measures are being met.

Since 2004, O’Connor has served in a leadership role for several local nonprofit agencies. Her experience includes coordinating programming for youth development, engagement and prevention and volunteer recruitment and management.

“Her background and community involvement has provided her multiple opportunities to work with diversified and vulnerable populations, understand the importance of building relationships of mutual respect, and, above all, ensure the safety for all,” DeGol’s press release states.

O’Connor has a degree in organizational leadership and management from Saint Francis University in Loretto. She is a member of Resurrection Parish in Johnstown.

Mirror Staff Writer Russ O’Reilly is at 946-7435.