Director brings two decades of law enforcement experience to protection of young people


PROVIDENCE — As a 23-year veteran of the Rhode Island State Police, Kevin O’Brien has had as good a view as anyone of cases involving the sexual abuse of minors and the aggressive approach from the Diocese of Providence in response to the crisis.

After retiring with the rank of major in the Rhode Island State Police, O’Brien came to the diocese in 2014 to lead the Office of Compliance.

The office was established in 1993, nearly 10 years before the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ adoption in 2002 of a formalized Charter for the Protection of Children, to better protect young people in response to the abuse crisis.

“The Diocese of Providence was already taking steps to address the crisis,” O’Brien said of its early response to the problem.

Under O’Brien’s leadership, the office has strengthened existing protocols and developed new ones to ensure the safety of young people in the environments where they gather to learn and pray.

“When I signed on as the director of the diocesan Office of Compliance I knew the history of the abuse crisis and because of my experiences as a trooper, detective and later detective commander, working with the former director, I was cognizant of the dependable and trustworthy reputation established by the Office of Compliance since 1993,” O’Brien said.

“For the past quarter century, this office has vigorously, tenaciously and transparently conducted investigations, background checks and training to protect all within our care. Moreover, we are always improving our safety and security,” O’Brien said.

Working closely with parishes and schools to enhance their safety and security procedures, O’Brien and his office also process more than 4,000 background checks a year for staff and volunteers serving within the diocese.

The office also educates diocesan and parish staff and volunteers about their role as mandated reporters, and therefore are legally required to report any instances of abuse once they are made aware.

“In 2016, following the events at a private, non-Catholic school, we worked voluntarily with the department of the state’s Attorney General to establish formalized reporting protocols and more supplemental transparency about allegations of abuse which exceed requirements set forth in the Rhode Island General Laws,” O’Brien said.

The director noted that sustaining, advancing and improving its tradition of protecting young people is the most compelling feature of his mission as director.

Assisting O’Brien in his efforts is Michael Hansen, Ph.D., director of the diocesan Office of Outreach and Prevention.

The goal of the Circle of Grace program is to educate and empower children and young people by actively promoting a safe environment around them.

“It teaches boundaries,” O’Brien said.

In their overall mission to keep young people safe, both O’Brien and Dr. Hansen work in concert with Bishop Thomas J. Tobin and the Diocesan Advisory Board for the Protection of Children and Young People.

The board, which was established in accordance with the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People and approved by the Bishops of the United States, has long been tasked with assisting diocesan efforts to help victims of sexual abuse.

It meets regularly to review the cases of those who have been the victim of sexual abuse as a minor by anyone acting in the name of the Church, whether the abuse was recent or occurred many years ago.

Board members review diocesan policies and procedures and recommend ways they can be strengthened. They evaluate the implementation of these policies throughout the diocese and its ministries in order to deal consistently and fairly with both the victims and those who are accused and ensure compliance.