By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — All four officials of a newly created diocesan office charged with the protection of children from sexual abuse are women.
Bishop Robert W. Finn announced Nov. 30 that Carrie Cooper, a mother of three children enrolled at Our Lady of the Presentation School in Lee’s Summit, will bring her extensive background in financial securities regulation and compliance to the new position of director of the new Department of Child and Youth Protection.
It will be her responsibility to supervise, coordinate and facilitate the work of three women who already hold positions of authority in further implementing and complying with the U.S. bishops’ 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.
• Jenifer Valenti, hired in June as diocesan ombudsman. It is Valenti’s responsibility to receive and investigate any allegations of child sexual abuse, past or present, lodged against any priest, employee or volunteer of any Catholic agency within the 27 western Missouri counties of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph. Confidential reports can be made to Valenti by calling (816) 812-2500.
• Leslie Guillot, who since 2004 has served in the previously established position of Victim’s Advocate, working with victims of child abuse to help them through the process and secure for them professional services that will foster healing.
• Mary Frances Horton, longtime school principle who has served as a facilitator of the “Protecting God’s Children” awareness program since its inception in 2002, and since 2006 has served as Safe Environment Programs Coordinator, overseeing mandated awarness education programs for all employees and volunteers, as well as age-appropriate awareness programs for children in Catholic schools and parish schools of religion.
“Carrie Cooper will be the point person for the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People in our diocese,” Bishop Finn said in a statement announcing her appointment.
“She brings an extraordinary wealth of experience and a complete commitment to the protection of children,” he said.
Cooper served eight years with American Century Investments, leading a team of financial advisors ensuring compliance with complex federal regulation governing securities transactions.
She said she left that position to begin a new career as mother, and as a volunteer at Presentation School as soon as her oldest child enrolled in early childhood education.
In fact, as a school volunteer, she was required to take the “Protecting God’s Children” awareness program on a day she said she will never forget.
“It was the day I found out I was expecting my third child,” Cooper said.
As elated as she and her husband were with the news, she still vividly recalls the abuse awareness training session in which she and her husband learned how adult predators carefully choose and groom their victims, who could be anyone’s children.
“It was shocking,” Cooper said. “As a fairly new parent (her oldest child was three at the time), I became more vigilant as a parent.”
Seven years later, when Cooper heard that the diocese was seeking a director for the new Department of Child and Youth Protection and read the job description, she knew what she had to do.
“I felt called,” Cooper said.
“I want to make a positive difference. I have been home with my kids for eight years, and I asked myself, ‘Now, what is the right thing for me to do to make a difference,’” she said.
A native Kansas Citian, Cooper graduated from St. Peter School and from Bishop LeBlond High School in St. Joseph, where her father accepted a career promotion just before her freshman year.
She said her background in financial regulation compliance gives her the skills to work with team members to ensure that policies and procedures under the 2002 charter are not only in place, but followed throughout the diocese.
“We are all going to have to work closely together,” she said. “I am here to help create a vision for where we want to be and a strategy for how to get there, and I will do that with Jenifer, Leslie, and Mary Fran. It’s a collaboration, and that’s the way I want it to work.”
“It is my hope,” she continued, “that we not only have a compliance model in place, but a culture of compliance throughout the diocese that every parent knows and will help us in protecting their children.”
Cooper said she is confident that she has not only the responsibility for carrying that out, but the authority as well. Bishop Finn himself made that clear to her during their interview.
“He was very clear on that,” Cooper said. “I walked away from that interview feeling really good after talking to him. He wants children to be protected.”
As a mother, Cooper said that her new job isn’t about cold, hard numbers and statistics. It’s about children, and their mothers and fathers.
“I want, as a mother for my children, their safety and protection,” she said. “I really do feel called to be here.”