Victim Assistance Coordinator Interview: Dr. Sharon Weiss, Diocese of Peoria

Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Have you always been Catholic? Do you have a family? Where did you go to school? 

I am a convert to the Catholic faith and was received into the Church in 1993.  I am divorced; have one son and one grandson.  I attended elementary & secondary education at Morton High School in Morton, Illinois; received my B.A. in 1976 in foreign languages from Illinois State University in Normal, IL; received a M.A. in 1993 in Human Development Counseling from Bradley University in Peoria, IL; and received an Ed.D. in 2006 in Educational Leadership from Illinois State University in Normal, IL.

How long have you been a VAC? What drew you to this work?

I have served as a VAC since 2019.  When the current VAC quit, I volunteered to fill the position to assist with the transition, since the diocese was without a VAC and I had a counseling degree.  I was not expecting to continue in the role, but here I am. 

 Do you have other roles at the diocese? What are they? How do they work together?

I was hired in 2012 to serve as Superintendent of Schools for the Catholic Diocese of Peoria and this service continues.  As VAC, the majority of my work is as the intake person who regularly reviews and retrieves reports of abuse from the diocesan victims’ assistance hotline.  Our diocese does have a VAC team that consists of a licensed professional counselor/social worker who is available on a referral basis for diagnosis and therapy, and also a retired police member who investigates any criminal charges.  As VAC, I work with adults; therefore, there is really no connection to what I currently perform in my duties and responsibilities as the bishop’s educational advisor in my role of superintendent.

Have you seen any changes of attitudes in the Church towards abuse survivors during your time working as a VAC?

Our diocese has always been very responsive to abuse survivors.  I do not see any changes of attitudes in the last three years.

What qualities do you think are important for a VAC to have?

VAC must have patience, good listening skills, and the ability to ask clarifying questions.  Since I work with a VAC team, I am also aware of the need to recommend when a referral for counseling is needed.  My intake report is shared directly with the Vicar General who oversees the entire process.

What would you want people to understand about this role? 

This role is truly rooted in compassion and an acknowledgment to the abuse survivor that their concerns will be heard and prayed for, and whatever they have suffered in the past is known by our Heavenly Father who loves them and is just and merciful.