Thursday, June 30, 2011

Former Prosecutor Named Ombudsman for Diocese of Kansas City – St. Joseph

Following is a press release from the Diocese of Kansas City – St. Joseph:

Former Trial Attorney and Prosecutor
Appointed Ombudsman for Catholic Diocese

Diocese Strengthens Abuse Reporting and Investigation

(Kansas City, MO / June 30, 2011)  Jenifer Valenti, a former team leader with the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office, has been appointed ombudsman and public liaison officer for the Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph. The appointment was made today by Bishop Robert Finn, leader of the diocese, and is effective July 15.

“Valenti’s work will be independent and confidential. She will have the responsibility and authority to receive and investigate reports of suspicious, inappropriate behavior or sexual misconduct by clergy, employees or program volunteers,” said Bishop Finn.  “Within our 27-county diocese, I have asked her to focus particularly on reports relating to children and young people,” he said.

Through a private and direct telephone number and email address, Valenti can receive and then investigate reports or charges. She will consult with law enforcement agencies as she deems appropriate or necessary.  Contact information for Valenti will be announced July 15.

Valenti graduated from the University of Missouri – Columbia School and Law and joined the Prosecutor’s Office in 1997. She worked closely with law enforcement agencies, and has experience prosecuting domestic violence cases from arraignment through disposition. She rose to team leader, with responsibility for six attorneys and two victim advocates. The Jackson County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office named Valenti the Victim Champion of the Year in 2002.

“My last assignment in the Prosecutor’s Office was in cases of physical and emotional abuse,” said Valenti. “To arrive at the truth, I established relationships with victims, law enforcement, victim advocates and the community.”

Valenti will serve as an ex officio member of the Independent Review Board. The board is an external group that reviews cases and makes recommendations to the bishop about the status of the accused and future fitness for church ministry. 

As ombudsman, Valenti’s work will be closely aligned with the Victims’ Advocate Leslie Guillot. The Victims’ Advocate provides confidential support and resources for healing to any person making a report of sexual abuse. Without regard for the credibility of the complaint, Guillot’s first obligation is to offer psychological counseling to the individual and to his or her family, whether it is a recent incident or happened decades ago.

Five-Point Plan

On June 9, the diocese released an announcement to immediately fulfill Bishop Finn’s ‘call for change.’ The five-point plan consists of sweeping changes that address recent alleged sexual misconduct in the diocese.

1. Immediate appointment of former national co-chair of the Department of Justice Child Exploitation Working Group and former U.S. Attorney to conduct an independent investigation of events, policies and procedures,

2. Appointment of an independent public liaison and ombudsman to field and investigate any reports of suspicious or inappropriate behavior,

3. Reaffirmation of current diocesan policy and immediate commencement of an independent review of the policies for Ethical Codes of Conduct and Sexual Misconduct,

4.  An in-depth review of diocesan personnel training regarding the Ethical Codes of Conduct and the policy on Sexual Misconduct,

5. Continued cooperation with local law enforcement.

The Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph is the spiritual home for more than 133,000 Catholics in 27 counties of northern and western Missouri. The diocese is a diverse faith community consisting of 98 urban, rural and suburban parishes.

Through 43 well-performing Catholic schools, the diocese educates more than 12,000 students. Annually, more than 150,000 people receive human and social services through varied programs that include: emergency groceries, rent and utility assistance, aging in place services for the elderly, and transitional housing for the homeless.