BY ELIZABETH WONG BARNSTEAD, THE WESTERN KENTUCKY CATHOLIC
Nuria Elizondo, the new Spanish-speaking Pastoral Assistance Coordinator (PAC) for the Diocese of Owensboro, has a message for anyone who may call her to report abuse by someone acting in the name of the Catholic Church. “The Church is always going to support you no matter what,” she said in a Jan. 14 interview with The Western Kentucky Catholic.
The PAC is the person on the other end of the confidential phone line – available 24/7 – who receives reports of sexual abuse at the hands of anyone serving the Church.
Anyone may call the phone number, no matter who they are, when the abuse occurred, or whether the alleged perpetrator is living or deceased.
Every diocese in the United States is required to have someone to fill this role, following the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, which was created after the U.S. Catholic Church’s clergy abuse scandal broke in 2002.
Elizondo, who speaks both Spanish and English, received her appointment in December 2018 to serve the needs of western Kentucky’s growing Spanish-speaking population.
Elizondo’s English-speaking counterpart, Louanne Payne is also available via a 24/7, confidential phone line for English-speaking callers.
Payne explained that she and Elizondo are not counselors, but volunteers serving on behalf of the Church. Elizondo’s day job is as an industrial engineer; Payne works as the director of the Diocese of Owensboro’s tribunal.
Payne and Elizondo told the WKC that different protocols follow a report of abuse, “depending on the people who are involved,” said Payne. But some aspects remain consistent across the board.
She said the PAC makes time to meet with the caller in-person, whether at the Diocese of Owensboro’s pastoral center, or at an offsite location if that is preferable. The PAC assists the person in finding counseling and/or spiritual direction.
Additionally, “this is kept private,” said Elizondo, explaining that the name of anyone who makes an allegation is never released to the public.
The allegation reported to Elizondo or Payne is communicated to the bishop and/or the Diocesan Review Board (a committee that reviews all abuse allegations against persons acting in the name of the Diocese of Owensboro).
Payne said that if the alleged perpetrator is in active ministry – such as if they are the pastor of a parish – they are immediately removed from that position to make sure no one else is potentially harmed.
And within the first 48 hours of receiving a report, the Diocesan Review Board must contact the civil authorities.
Deacon Chris Gutiérrez, the director of Hispanic/Latino Ministry in the Diocese of Owensboro, addressed some concerns that may be felt by immigrants and/or undocumented persons who hesitate to make a report, for fear of drawing attention to their status.
“What I want to help immigrants understand is that they should be heard; they have a voice,” he told the WKC. He said that for Latinos, Elizondo serves as a “channel where their voices can be heard.”
Deacon Gutiérrez said that some immigrants who now reside in western Kentucky may have experienced abuse in their home countries. If that is the case, Elizondo is also available to listen to them and offer support.
“As a diocese we are committed to respond by assisting them in finding the support they need as well as helping inform whichever diocese is involved,” he said. “The undocumented population in general is very vulnerable.”
Deacon Gutiérrez said Elizondo will be someone “who will listen to them in their pain, with no judgment.”
Deacon Gutiérrez acknowledged the aversion in Latin American cultures toward saying anything negative about a priest, religious, or anyone perceived to be “on a pedestal” in the Church. He said this should not prevent someone from reporting abuse.
“We are people too,” said Deacon Gutiérrez, speaking as someone who is also a member of the clergy, and emphasized that in God’s eyes, no one is greater than another person.
The appointment of Elizondo “is not saying or insinuating that we know or suspect any kind of abuse” among immigrant communities in the diocese, the deacon added.
“But when I see what’s happening in the English-speaking world, I wanted to have a channel for our Spanish-speakers, too,” he said.
To report suspected abuse, call the Kentucky Child Protection Hot Line: 1-877-KYSAFE1 or 1-877-597- 2331 (Toll Free) or contact your local Commonwealth Attorney. To report abuse to the diocese, current or past, by anyone acting in the name of the Church, call Louanne Payne, Pastoral Assistance Coordinator (English) at 270-852- 8380, or Nuria Elizondo, Pastoral Assistance Coordinator (Spanish) at 270-880-8360. You may also visit the Office of Safe Environment (owensborodiocese.org/safe) for more information.
Originally printed in the February 2019 issue of The Western Kentucky Catholic.
Copyright © 2019 Diocese of Owensboro/The Western Kentucky Catholic