Archbishop of Oklahoma City says Mount St. Mary needs to do better
The Very Reverend Paul S. Coakley
Mount St. Mary’s Catholic High School is a unique school for Oklahoma, established by the Sisters of Mercy in the early 1900s and now co-sponsored by the Sisters and the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City. It is overseen by a Board of Trustees and a Director, who ensure excellence in academics, faith formation, arts, robotics, sports, community service, and many other opportunities in the tradition of the catholic faith.
Part of our commitment to this tradition is the administration’s responsibility to follow the lead of the Catholic Church in the United States in maintaining a safe environment in which to learn and grow, including following protocols to prevent and report allegations of child abuse. These protocols have been in place since 2002, when the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops instituted them in each diocese through the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Youth.” Each year, all staff and volunteers who work with young people in our parishes and schools must undergo training on topics such as technological safety, recognizing child abuse and human trafficking.
In October, a former Mount teacher presented my staff with charges of student-to-student abuse. The allegations were troubling, as was the accusation that the abuse and harassment allegations were not reported by the principal and school administration, in violation of our protocol for a safe environment.
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My staff immediately reported the allegations to the Oklahoma City Police Department and worked with the school board to hire an independent investigator. The investigator conducted dozens of interviews with students, administrators, school staff and victims over two months. Once the investigation was completed, the findings were presented to the school board and co-sponsors.
Unfortunately, the investigation revealed a failure on the part of the school principal and other administrators to follow safe environment protocols and school policy. Based on the findings and with our full support, the board asked the director to resign and appointed an interim. After the acting director reviewed the findings, she also called for the resignation of the deputy director and an adviser.
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Although the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City has no direct control over operations at the mount, I hope and expect that the new permanent director, with the support of the board, will forward with full accountability, transparency and a culture that promotes the dignity of all students. I encourage parents, students and school staff to continue to support the interim principal’s efforts to initiate this culture change under difficult circumstances.
I am grateful to the teacher who brought these allegations to our attention and to the tremendous courage of the students who came forward. The Catholic understanding of the dignity of every human person demands that we protect our most vulnerable, especially our young people. We are children of God created in his image and we share the responsibility of caring for our brothers and sisters.
We must do better.
Bishop Paul S. Coakley is Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City.