Diocoses Won't Perform Background Checks

The Roman Catholic dioceses of Los Angeles and Orange County have backed away from a promise to conduct fingerprint background checks on anyone working with children, saying they don't want to lose volunteers who are illegal immigrants.

The dioceses had pledged to do the fingerprint background checks as a way to prevent pedophiles from working with children. But church leaders said the background checks could prevent illegal immigrants from volunteering, since they lack government-issued photo IDs, the Los Angeles Times reported Thursday.

Instead, volunteer candidates without photo IDs in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles are allowed to give a sworn affidavit stating that they have not been convicted of any crime, officials said. In Orange, they can provide a sworn affidavit and two character reference letters.

They'll be supervised whenever they're working with children, officials said.

"We are doing this because (immigrants) want to participate, they want to serve their church and we want to welcome them," said Orange County Auxiliary Bishop Jaime Soto.

Between the two dioceses, more than 70,000 priests, employees and volunteers have been fingerprinted, church officials said. In Orange, the background checks have resulted in the removal of nine people with violent crime convictions and two others with records of sexual abuse, chancellor Shirl Giacomi said.

Advocates for abuse victims said they were unaware of the policy change and accused the dioceses of placing concern for illegal immigrants above children's safety.

"They are just trying to be too politically correct, even though it means putting the kids at risk," said Rita Milla, spokeswoman for the Los Angeles-area Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests. "If someone can't prove who they are, they shouldn't be volunteering."

U.S. bishops mandated background checks for priests, deacons, employees and volunteers after the molestation scandal erupted in 2002. The policy, however, does not specify that fingerprint background checks be done, said Teresa Kettelkamp, executive director of the office of child and youth protection of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.