What are the VIRTUS® programs?

VIRTUS is the brand name that identifies best practices programs designed to help prevent wrongdoing and promote "rightdoing" within religious organizations. The VIRTUS programs empower organizations and people to better control risk and improve the lives of all those who interact with the Church.

Who created the VIRTUS programs?

The National Catholic Risk Retention Group, Inc. (National Catholic) created the programs. Monsignor Kevin McCoy, past board chairman of National Catholic, asked whether child sexual abuse could be prevented and, if so, how? In March of 1998, National Catholic invited prominent national experts—experts in many disciplines—to discuss these questions at a forum in Washington, D.C. From those discussions, the initiative for the VIRTUS programs was created. The National Catholic Board of Directors selected an Ad Hoc Committee to oversee development of the programs. The Ad Hoc Committee was assisted by a steering committee of nationally known experts and program and service providers.

Why did National Catholic select VIRTUS as the brand name for the programs?

The word virtus derives from Latin, and means valor, moral strength, excellence, and worth. In ancient times, virtus denoted a way of life and manner of behavior that always aspired to the highest, most positive attributes of people and aspects of human interaction.

VIRTUS Programs: Our Concept and Methodology

The VIRTUS programs are a platform that provide the foundation, and also, the superstructure, of all the risk control (loss prevention/loss control) initiatives undertaken by National Catholic on behalf of its shareholders and the Church.

The VIRTUS programs constantly and consistently employ several elements as the cornerstone of their methodology. These are (summarized):

  • they target both institutional change, and also, individual behavior modification, with appropriate products/services.
  • they provide both reactive/responsive and proactive tools, often assembled as "toolkits," to address the exposure areas confronting our insureds.
  • they employ multiple modalities (written materials, web training modules, audiotapes, videotapes, training manuals, seminars, etc.), to reach our audience.
  • they utilize a "Think Tank" development model, including engagement of an Expert Consulting Team that assists with the development and implementation of our products/services.
  • they are "constructed" and deployed in phases or components (Phase I of the VIRTUS programs deals with child sexual abuse and other inappropriate sexual behavior; we intend for Phase II to address violence prevention/mitigation; etc.).
  • they exist as an ongoing process—phases are never "finished," but rather are continuously refined and updated, and constantly available.
  • all activities are designed to ensure a constant product/service "pipeline."
  • they seek and engage outstanding professional service providers for product development and training, whom we manage synergistically.
  • they are committed to measurable results and continuous improvement.
  • they adhere to a "best practices" standard.

Through the VIRTUS programs, we are committed and dedicated to the task of constantly providing National Catholic’s shareholders, and indeed the broader Church, with the absolute finest, most cost efficient, and effective risk control measures available anywhere.

How is the best practice standard for risk control applied to the VIRTUS programs?

Best practice is a standard. For risk control, it is a standard of effective protocols, procedures and methods for preventing and responding to risk. The standard requires an organization to demand and enforce "no tolerance" for wrongdoing and open communication channels with employees, volunteers, and others who interact with the organization. When risk is identified, the best practice standard requires the organization to move quickly to eliminate or diminish the risk—fairly, effectively, and professionally. The VIRTUS programs follow this standard.

How is the best practice standard for training applied to the VIRTUS programs?

The best practice standard for training requires an organization first to develop awareness through authoritative facilitator-led awareness sessions (preferably utilizing facilitators who are part of the organization). In-depth training is provided on a regular basis to reinforce the knowledge established in the initial facilitator-led training session and to introduce new points—particularly as the laws change. The best practice standard also requires frequent monitoring of the training to determine effectiveness. The VIRTUS programs meet and exceed the best practice standard.

The VIRTUS Programs Expert Consulting Team

The original VIRTUS programs Expert Consulting Team (Experts) advised and consulted with program developers in two significant areas:

    1. The Experts created a framework for developing a comprehensive program to deal with the issue of child sexual abuse-both proactively and reactively.
  1. The Experts also consulted with the program developers to ensure that the very best research and practical experience was included in creation of the VIRTUS programs for the prevention of child sexual abuse and the Church's response to victims.

The hallmark of the Expert's recommendations was the development of programs with flexibility and choice that would help bishops and the Church respond effectively, and would assure that the VIRTUS programs avoided the one-size-fits-all paradigm that can undermine programs. The objective was to give the bishops extraordinary program content, proven delivery instruments, and a program that each diocese can adapt to meet its individual needs.

Months were spent on due diligence and review of other programs in order to assure that the VIRTUS programs are the best examples of successful solutions and make the best use of resources. Then, consistent with the VIRTUS continuous improvement model, the programs are regularly reviewed, revised, and upgraded to utilize new information and research in an effort to keep expanding our prevention methods. After all, prevention is our ultimate goal.

Please note that each original Expert was called upon for his or her knowledge and guidance as it related to specific portions of the development process. Not all of the Experts were involved in every aspect of the development. Some of the original Experts continue to advise National Catholic, while others do not. Plus, National Catholic has consulted with and continues to consult with additional Experts as required by our ongoing program development needs. Based on the types of services provided, National Catholic compensates some Experts for their professional contribution to our programs.

Below are brief biographical sketches of the members of our original Expert Consulting Team:

Rev. John P. Beal, J.C.D.

Fr. John Beal is associate professor of canon law at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. He served for eight years as judicial vicar of the Diocese of Erie, Pennsylvania, and he is an editor of the recently published New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law. Fr. Beal has provided program developers with expert advice on canon law.

Barbara Bonner, Ph.D.

Dr. Bonner is director of the Interdisciplinary Training Program in Child Abuse and Neglect at the Center for Child Abuse and Neglect in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine. She is past president of the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children, and currently is treasurer and serves on the board of the International Society for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect. Dr. Bonner is an expert in utilizing interdisciplinary teams to solve problems in the area of child abuse. Plus she brings a unique perspective on the "community's" perception of how the Church has responded to the abuse issue, and how to refocus the faithful on developing and nurturing appropriate human relationships.

Sharon Doty, Esq.

Ms. Doty is an effective speaker and accomplished trainer. Ms. Doty also has a Masters Degree in Human Relations and a diploma from the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine Department of Pediatrics in Interdisciplinary Training in Child Abuse and Neglect, and she graduated with distinction with a Juris Doctorate from the University of Oklahoma College of Law.

Ms. Doty has 10 years experience as a litigator and approximately 20 years as a staff person and volunteer in agencies advocating for victims of abuse and neglect. She has more than 25 years of experience in organizational development and management of not-for-profit organizations. She has created and conducted training in the areas of advocacy services to victims of abuse, investigation training, creative problem solving, sexual harassment, dealing with domestic violence in the workplace, communication skills, fund raising, staff training, program development, assessment, and legislative advocacy. She has also conducted training for the National Youth Resource Center in creative problem solving for high-risk cases and how to prepare to testify in court.

David Finkelhor, Ph.D.

Dr. Finkelhor is Director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire and one of the world's leading experts in child sexual abuse research. He is the author of the foundational book on the subject of child sexual abuse,Child Sexual Abuse-New Theory and Research and is a sought after speaker at national and international events. He serves on the boards of national and international organizations dedicated to the prevention of child sexual abuse. Dr. Finkelhor was the chair of the team that developed and oversaw the implementation of the nationally renowned abuse program for Boy Scouts of America. His substantial research and his experience in overseeing the Boy Scouts' program provided insight into developing a menu of program components designed to reach each of our targeted constituent groups.

Michael Morton, M.S.

Mr. Morton is a psychologist and therapist and has a wealth of experience inside the Church in researching and responding to the abuse issue. His experience includes treatment of clergy and victims of clergy abuse. He has consulted with Church officials in the United States and Ireland about the nature and source of abuse. He provided our program developers with valuable insight into avoiding numerous implementation barriers that other programs have experienced.

Fr. Stephen Rossetti, D. Min., Ph.D.

Fr. Rossetti was former chief executive officer of St. Luke Institute, one of the world's most respected treatment facilities for clergy and religious, and is well respected by Church leaders and professionals in the abuse field. His breadth and depth of experience in the treatment arena added significant value to the reactive components of VIRTUS programs. Plus, his research and experience with offenders provided program developers with invaluable guidance on early intervention, which is a crucial part of the VIRTUS programs continuous improvement model.

Phyllis Willerscheidt

Ms. Willerscheidt was former chairman of the board of the Interfaith Sexual Trauma Institute. She has provided presentations and training for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. She was is executive director of the Commission on Women in the Church for the Archdiocese of Minneapolis/St. Paul. In addition to her other responsibilities, Ms. Willerscheidt mediated resolution between abuse victims and their abusers, with a goal of helping the victim move forward with a healthy and happy life. Her experience in responding to abuse provided program developers with significant insight into developing proactive prevention programs designed to foster appropriate and healthy relationships between clergy and the faithful.