Dioceses Expand Fight against Child Abuse

The Catholic Free Press [Worcester MA]
Downloaded June 07, 2003

The statistics are startling. By the time they turn 18, one in three to four girls and one in five to seven boys will have been abused, two community educators from the YWCA Daybreak program told an audience of 200 at Ascension Church Hall in Worcester Monday.

The session was one of 10 held in the past three weeks where more than 1,400 diocesan employees and volunteers have learned about child abuse, according to Patricia O'Leary Engdahl, director of the diocesan Office for Healing and Prevention.

As a team of auditors prepares to fan out around the country to assess how well U.S. dioceses are conforming to the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, the Worcester Diocese is holding these training sessions and planning others.

The training is one of the components of the charter that was approved by the U.S. bishops last June in Dallas in response to the sexual abuse crisis in the Church.

"As church we are trying to create a safe environment for our children," Mrs. Engdahl said.

This week the Office for Healing and Prevention sponsored four, two hour training programs and two sessions are to be held Tuesday at St. Bernard Central Catholic High School in Fitchburg. Mrs. Engdahl said that more than 100 priests and 750 schoolteachers are among those who have attended workshops that explain the signs, symptoms and types of child abuse. All parish religious education teachers, even teenagers over the age of 14 who help out, are required to attend.

Lory Santoro and Janet Dorr of Daybreak, a violence prevention project of the YWCA, presented the program at Ascension that also included how and where to report suspected child abuse and how to talk to a child who tells you he or she has been abused.

Mrs. Engldahl said she got a telephone call from an 81-year-old religious education teacher thanking her for organizing the training sessions, "so our children are safe."

It was the second time in a year that many employees and volunteers attended workshops on child abuse. Last year, about 2,300 diocesan employees and volunteers were taught their responsibilities and obligations as mandated reporters when state law added church workers to those professionals required to report suspected child abuse to civil authorities. The diocese hosted those workshops in conjunction with the Worcester District Attorney's Office and the Department of Social Services.

Other facets of the charter which have been implemented in Worcester are parent training sessions which have taken place at parishes throughout the diocese and criminal background checks of all diocesan employees, Mrs. Engdahl said. A television program on abuse has been produced by the Office for Communication and is available for individual parish use, Mrs. Engdahl said.

"We will be coming out with a code of conduct for all employees, priests and volunteers who work with children," Mrs. Engdahl said. Also, 17 training sessions have been scheduled for the summer to reach those who teach in Bible school programs.

In the fall, sessions will be held throughout the diocese for new religious education teachers and any new diocesan employees. A person is only required to take the training session once, Mrs. Engdahl explained, unless the bishops revise the charter.

Some dioceses' responses to the clergy sex abuse crisis are drawing attention nationwide.

The "Protecting God's Children" program which has trained more than 2,200 employees and volunteers in the Diocese of Peoria, Ill., was highlighted on the Web site of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops,while "Safe at Last," a program developed by the Rape and Sexual Abuse Center in Nashville, Tenn., and in use in all Nashville-area Catholic schools, drew interest at the National Catholic Educational Association convention earlier this spring.

"Healing the Body of Christ," an outreach program in the Diocese of San Bernardino, Calif., which had drawn early praise, entered a new phase this spring with efforts to aid victims of child sexual abuse by those who were not clergy or church employees.

Meanwhile, bishops around the country were announcing new and tougher policies designed to protect children. Among those unveiling new policies in late May was Bishop Richard G. Lennon, administrator of the Boston Archdiocese, where the clergy sex abuse scandal first exploded in January of last year.

The audits, mandated by the charter to take place in all 195 U.S. dioceses, will be completed by more than 50 auditors under the direction of the Gavin Group of Boston. The plan is to audit approximately 11 dioceses a week between late June and late October, the USCCB announced last week.

When the audits are completed, results will be sent to Kathleen McChesney, who heads the USCCB Office for Child and Youth Protection. Her office is charged with producing an annual public report on the progress made in implementing the standards in the charter.

"This public report shall include the names of those dioceses/eparchies which, in the judgment of this office, are not in compliance with the provisions and expectations of this charter," according to the document approved overwhelmingly by the U.S. bishops last June. Eparchy is the formal name for an Eastern Catholic diocese.

- Contributing to this story were Nancy Frazier O'Brien, Catholic News Service and Margaret M. Russell.


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