Safe Environment coordinator helps preserve the good, true, and beautiful
LEWISVILLE — When clergy sexual abuse is in the headlines, Carolyn Ditsworth thinks, “Well, we can’t let them have Jesus’ Church. You have to stay and fight so that the good people are still in the Church.”
“A lot of people feel that these things were terrible. We are quite motivated to make sure that they don’t happen again,” said Ditsworth, the safe environment coordinator for St. Philip the Apostle Parish.
Along with the other 92 safe environment coordinators in the Diocese of Fort Worth, Ditsworth helps hold the line.
It’s a big task at the Lewisville parish, which has more than 3,000 families and a wide array of ministries performed by about 700 volunteers and employees. For the safe environment coordinator, that’s 700 individuals to make certain have participated in Protecting God’s Children awareness sessions and have passed background screenings. And then keep their credentials up to date.
Ditsworth also oversees the safe environment program for children at the parish.
During the pandemic, some ministries have found a way to continue while others are on hiatus, so the number of volunteers and employees requiring safe environment certification has shrunk to 600, according to Ditsworth. She said, “It’s very gratifying the number of people who do want to keep [safe environment certification] up, so that when we do get back to a point in time when we can volunteer and start these ministries going again, they are ready and in place.”
Ditsworth values organization and accuracy, as evidenced by her degree in medical records administration. Her former career provided valuable experience for her current position. She explained, “People need to have information on their charts so their doctors, technicians, and therapists can make the right decisions when they are treating them. So that’s why I like to see things done right.”
Although Ditsworth didn’t intend to become the safe environment coordinator at St. Philip, the position plays to her strengths.
Originally hired to maintain the database for safe environment, Ditsworth assumed the role when the previous coordinator left.
She has taken her penchant for organization and detail and paired it with her passion for people and the Church.
Nancy Mitchell, assistant director of the diocesan Safe Environment Program, said Ditsworth is “very professional. She takes her job very seriously.” Mitchell said Ditsworth calls the diocesan office with suggestions for improvement or with a hitch she’s concerned others might also experience.
Mitchell noted that Ditsworth and the other safe environment coordinators have conducted more than 1,500 sessions of the Protecting God’s Children program since its introduction to the diocese in 2018. More than 300 renewal sessions have been held, and the number of Catholics in the diocese who have completed training exceeds 23,000.
The sessions have continued during the pandemic, sometimes as a videoconference, and other times in-person using safety protocols.
Now in her eighth year, Ditsworth enjoys meeting the volunteers, and she sometimes recommends ministries she thinks would suit them well. “I appreciate seeing people who do want to volunteer in the parish, in the community, from all the different walks of life,” she said.
Ditsworth herself is a volunteer, as well as a parish employee. She has previously volunteered in youth formation and in the Lewisville school district. For the past several years she has served as a minister of care, sharing Scripture, prayer, and the Holy Eucharist with the homebound.
She was inspired to begin that ministry by her mother, who served as a minister of care in her Kansas parish. Then, as her parents aged, the situation reversed, and a parishioner visited them with the Blessed Sacrament.
When her mother passed away, Ditsworth and her father went through her mother’s belongings and found the pyx that her mother had used. Ditsworth took it home and had it blessed by Father Ray McDaniel, the pastor of St. Philip the Apostle. She now uses her mother’s pyx when she visits the infirm in homes and assisted living centers.
“I always think of her when I’m using it and think of the good that she did and that I’m trying to do,” said the mother of two grown children and grandmother of two.
Visits from the minister of care are gratefully received. Ditsworth recalled a care recipient who concludes each encounter with “Thank you for bringing me Jesus.”
A cradle Catholic, Ditsworth appreciates the Catholic Church as a safeguard to what is “true and good and beautiful. We have to keep coming back to that.
“There have been so many fads and things that have gone wrong. It’s just hard that our culture and our country and our world is in such disarray right now — the chaos that is out there — and that disturbs my sense of orderliness,” Ditsworth said. “It can’t stay this way. We’re going to have to find our way out of this.”
Being grounded in the faith helps her recognize what is true, which the Church was teaching “all the way back then,” she said with a laugh. To find the good, she reads about “all these saints, clergy, and laity who do good things.”
Working for the Church is the “best of both worlds,” according to Ditsworth, and her zeal for protecting children and vulnerable adults has only grown since she started in 2013.
She said, “It’s important to get so many people trained, because one pair of eyes may not be looking, but maybe the person next to them may end up being the one who’s looking and watching out. It keeps you aware of how seriously people are taking it.”
Seriously enough to stay. And fight.