Protecting God's Children program begins
By Albert de Zutter
Catholic Key Editor
KANSAS CITY - The diocesan-wide program to counter child sexual abuse was officially launched Sept. 25 when priests, school principals and diocesan employees underwent the first phase of training in a program entitled "Protecting God's Children."
Joe Cory/Key photo
Priests and diocesan employees from around the diocese pray together at the beginning of the "Protecting God's Children" program held at St. Thomas More Church Sept. 26.
School principals and diocesan department heads attended a three-hour session in the morning, followed by priests of the diocese in the afternoon. Both sessions were held at St. Thomas More Parish's More Hall.
The program will eventually encompass staff members of every parish and institution in the diocese. Those who deal with children will be enrolled in ongoing training via the Internet.
More than 80 sessions have been scheduled at various parishes during the months of October and November. The schedule of sessions has been published in The Catholic Key and is available on the diocesan Web site at www.diocese-kcsj.org, and in The Catholic Key archives (Sept. 27 edition) at www.catholickey.org.
Teachers of the diocese will attend training sessions Oct. 4 at five locations: 185 at LeBlond High School, St. Joseph; 185 at St. James Parish, Liberty; and in Kansas City, 255 at Archbishop O'Hara High School, 225 at St. Thomas More Parish, and 235 at Our Lady of the Angels School.
Three sessions have been scheduled for parochial league coaches.
The goal of the program is to prevent sexual abuse by creating a network of adult protectors willing and able to spot and confront questionable circumstances and behavior and telltale signs of troubled children. Approximately 20 facilitators, most of them Catholic Charities counselors, have been trained.
Welcoming those attending the first session, Bishop Raymond J. Boland reminded them of the importance of the project.
"We must protect our precious gift of God's children," he said. "They have a right to feel that they are always in a secure environment."
Referring to the sex-abuse and cover-up scandals that have rocked the U.S. church from the beginning of this year, Bishop Boland said, "People are angry. People feel let down. But we can't wallow in hopelessness. Even after the darkest night, hope arises."
As episcopal moderator of the National Catholic Risk Retention Group, Bishop Boland has been involved for the last three to four years in the development of the Protecting God's Children program. He said the decision to do something proactive about child sexual abuse preceded the current crisis.
The program will help dispel misconceptions such as "most abuse is committed by strangers" (that's not so) or by "dirty old men" (also not so).
"It can be anybody," Bishop Boland said, "and it always happens in a place where you would never expect it."
Bishop Boland cautioned those attending that "there are no awards for preventing sexual abuse" because "we'll never know about it." But, he added, "God will know."
"Parents will be grateful that you are alert to the problem," and "widespread awareness will be a great deterrent," he said.
He urged participants to use what they learn to protect themselves by making their own behavior exemplary and avoiding situations that might put their reputations at risk.
"Reputations can be ruined by mere accusations," he said.
Jack McCalmon, representing the creators of the program, told participants: "You are the beginning of the solution. You can be objective observers and report any questionable behaviors and situations."
He said perpetrators of abuse "look like everybody else." They work to gain the trust of the parents and the children.
"Children at the highest risk are those without fathers," he said. Potential abusers may offer to help out financially or with baby-sitting. They look for jobs that involve children and are often "great volunteers."
"Fifty percent of child abuse occurs in church organizations by volunteers," he said.
Perpetrators are patient. They are strongly motivated to keep things hidden to avoid being caught.
The training videos advise adults always to take a child's complaint seriously, stating that only five percent of child accusations are untrue.
"Stay neutral, but take the accusation seriously," McCalmon said in the discussion that followed showing of the videos. "Let the professionals sort it out."
The program suggests a five-step program to reduce the likelihood of abuse:
(For more detail on the five steps see The Catholic Key, Sept. 20 edition or on the Web at www.catholickey.org.)
- Know the warning signs of a potential abuser.
- Control access to children.
- Monitor all programs for children.
- Be aware of what's going on in the lives of your children.
- Communicate your concerns with other adults or children.