Detroit-Area Priests Gather on Sexual Abuse

By Bree Fowler
The Associated Press, carried in [Detroit MI]
May 29, 2003

DETROIT (AP) -- In the wake of the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal and the policy changes that followed it, church leaders in southeastern Michigan have held a workshop to teach priests how to spot the signs of abuse -- and potential abusers.

About 400 priests from the Archdiocese of Detroit gathered at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit for Wednesday's event, which was led by Cardinal Adam Maida.

The program was designed to educate and train clergy, staff, volunteers and other members of the archdiocese about the dangers of abuse, ways to prevent it and methods for properly reporting suspicions of abuse.

In turn, those who attended Wednesday's event, which included guest speakers and a video presentation, will train the archdiocese's thousands of other employees and volunteers.

The Rev. Jack Baker, pastor of St. Mary's Parish in Wayne, said he thought the workshop was valuable and absolutely necessary for any church workers who come in contact with children.

"We need to see the signs in potential pedophiles before the abuse occurs," said Baker, whose parish has taken the step of fingerprinting its employees who deal with children in addition to doing background checks. "We need to be proactive."

The archdiocese, which covers about 1.5 million Catholics in a six-county area, said the workshop would help in its efforts to implement the "Dallas Charter," the new policy adopted by American bishops last June.

The priests were given a copy of the archdiocese's revised policy about sexual abuse of minors and learned about criminal background checks.

Major changes in the revised policy include making more it more closely conform with the "Dallas Charter," and clarifying the system of checks and balances for priests accused of abuse.

The background checks, which are expected to begin on Sept. 1, will be used for all archdiocesan employees and volunteers who come into contact with children, the elderly or disabled.

The archdiocese plans to complete those background checks -- which could involve as many as 10,000 people -- within the year, said Ron McGuire, archdiocese director of human resources.

The checks will be done through the Michigan State Police's system, which is available free to nonprofit groups through the Internet.

The priests also watched a presentation about changes to Michigan's child abuse reporting law which went into effect March 1. Under the changes, members of the clergy join doctors, social workers and teachers as professionals who are required to report potential signs of abuse to authorities.

The Rev. Theodore Parker, pastor of St. Cecilia Parish in Detroit, said the abuse of children is not just a problem for priests but for all of humanity.

"I think that sometimes from anguish, from crime and from sin something good can happen," he said. "I think this program, which was very informative for me, is something that should be impressed upon all of us."

At least 33 Catholic priests in Michigan have been removed, suspended or have left their duties since Jan. 1, 2002, amid sexual abuse or misconduct allegations. Some of the cases are under review. At least 20 of the cases involved a minor.

Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit,


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