Diocese Employees Attend Sex Abuse Prevention Forum

By Tara Dooley
Chronicle [Houston TX]
April 16, 2003

More than 300 employees of the Catholic Diocese of Galveston-Houston participated in sexual abuse prevention training Wednesday, a requirement set forth last year by U.S. bishops in response to the nationwide church scandal.

Diocese officials also said that they recently began requiring criminal background checks of all church volunteers who regularly work with youth. Since 1999, they have checked the backgrounds of lay employees, and they plan to perform similar checks on those hired before that date.

"It's raising a level of consciousness to the many ways we should be attentive to the protection of children," said Monsignor Frank H. Rossi, diocese chancellor. "We anticipate it being highly effective."

Sexual abuse prevention training began earlier this month when priests participated in a similar but longer program that included information on laws related to reporting of abuse.

Miguel Prats, a co-founder of the Houston chapter of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said he was "really encouraged" that the diocese had started sexual abuse prevention training.

"It is a step in the right direction," Prats said in a phone interview Wednesday, emphasizing that many other steps were needed to protect children from sexual abuse. "I have met people, Catholics in general, who don't think it is a problem."

The training program was developed by the National Catholic Risk Retention Group and presented by Sharon Doty, an Oklahoma-based lawyer who has worked in child advocate agencies. Across the country, 38 dioceses have used or plan to use the program.

"I've always felt a level of trust, but this gives me an assurance that the people who are working with children are trained," said Denise Reneau, director of the mother's day out program at St. Maximilian Kolbe Catholic Church and the mother of three children who participate in youth programs.

The training included videos of child victims of sexual abuse and perpetrators talking about their experiences. The goal was to give church workers a sense of the effect of abuse on children and the methods of abusers.

Employees were advised to watch for adults who insist on being alone with children; excessively touch, tickle or wrestle them in public; or talk about sex, tell dirty jokes or show children pornography.

Doty told church employees that they had a moral and legal obligation to report sexual abuse. She also told them to be unabashed about confronting inappropriate behavior even if it meant offending someone in the church community.

"What we are saying is that it is time to shift and err on the side of protecting children," Doty said.


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