After a sex abuse scandal, the Portland diocese issues guidelines.

PORTLAND – The Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland is mailing guidelines to employees and volunteers who come into contact with children that cover everything including what kind of hug is OK.

The 19-page document mandates background checks and training for those who work with children, and includes guidelines for working with minors, reporting misconduct and handling complaints.

The guidelines, which go into effect July 1, were created after a wave of sexual abuse allegations against priests last year.

“Abuse of others must never be condoned by the Church,” Bishop Joseph Gerry said Tuesday in a statement announcing the guidelines. “These policies will make everyone aware of what is expected of them.”

The guidelines lay out fundamental principles in broad strokes but also go into great detail on what’s permissible and what’s not in day-to-day interactions between adults and children.

For example, diocese personnel are not allowed to sleep in the same room or tent as children or mentally impaired adults, and they’re not allowed to give rides without the permission of parents.

The document goes on to say hugs are fine as long as they’re not “inappropriate or lengthy.” Also OK are high-fives, a pat on the head, and hand-holding during prayer or while walking a young child.

However, it’s against the rules to hold an older child on one’s lap, to wrestle or tickle a minor, to give piggyback rides, or to offer physical displays of affection out of sight of others.

Sue Bernard, spokeswoman for the diocese, said a decision was made to make the guide as comprehensive as possible.

Therefore, it goes beyond the “no hitting” and “no inappropriate touching” to cover seemingly innocent things like a volunteer giving a child a ride home or tickling a youngster, Bernard said.

Lessen opportunities

“We want to minimize the opportunities for an abuser,” said Bernard, who sat on the nine-member panel that created the guidelines.

Six thousand copies of the guidelines were made and were being mailed to diocese employees and volunteers across the state.

Diocese personnel who violate the code will be subject to disciplinary action ranging from a verbal warning to removal from the ministry.

Allegations will be investigated by the Office of Professional Responsibility, which is led by a former deputy police chief. For clergy, the case will be reviewed within two weeks by a Diocesan Review Board.

Unchanged is the bishop’s “zero tolerance” position in Maine in which any priest facing a credible allegation of sexual abuse of a minor is to be permanently removed from public ministry.

Bill Gately, New England coordinator spokesman for Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, said the rules don’t address one of the group’s major concerns: a cloak of secrecy between bishops and priests.

“So it’s more window dressing than something of substance,” Gatley said of the guidelines for diocese personnel.

Paul Kendrick of Voice of the Faithful, a lay reform group, was critical as well, saying it was hard to take the guidelines seriously given the church’s past actions in response to abuse allegations.

“It’s one thing to put together these documents. It’s another thing when the rubber hits the road to do the right thing,” he said.

The U.S. Conference of Bishops requested that guidelines be put in writing while it was grappling with allegations of priest sex abuse.

In Maine, three priests were removed because of credible allegations of misconduct in the past.

The guidelines don’t cover Cheverus High School, Catherine McAuley High School, Catholic hospitals and other entities like Catholic Charities Maine that are not directly covered by the bishop.

AP-ES-06-17-03 1746EDT

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