Some Catholic Schools Slow To Teach Sex-Abuse Awareness

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Resistance from parents is one of the main reasons that some Roman Catholic dioceses have not fully carried out the U.S. Catholic bishops' mandate to protect children from sexual abuse, according to an official from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

"There are some parents who are uncomfortable with educators' providing education in human sexuality," said Sister Glenn Anne McPhee, the secretary for education for the Washington-based bishops' conference. "When you are talking about the protection of children, you're going to talk about sexual issues."

Parents' desire to be the sole provider of information on sexuality is one reason that some dioceses were found in a recent audit by the conference to be out of compliance with the bishops' plan for preventing sexual abuse of children, Sister McPhee said.

In June 2002, the U.S. Catholic bishops adopted a charter to prevent sexual abuse of children, in response to a churchwide crisis spurred by publicity over numerous instances in which priests had engaged in such abuse. Many of the incidents occurred decades earlier in Catholic parishes or schools. ("Catholic Church's Priest Abuse Crisis Tests School Policies, Educators' Faith," April 3, 2002).

The auditors of the bishops' conference studied 191 U.S. dioceses last year to see whether they had complied with the charter. Their report, released Jan. 6, found that 20 dioceses—or nearly 10 percent of those studied—had not fully complied. The most common way that dioceses were out of compliance was that they hadn't yet put in place "safe environment" programs for children. One example of such a program commonly used by Catholic schools aims to teach children about "good touch" and "bad touch."

Inadequate Checks

The second most common way that dioceses were out of compliance was by lacking a system to adequately check whether parish personnel who have regular contact with minors have criminal backgrounds.

Sister McPhee said some dioceses have struggled to come up with the staffing they need to address that aspect of the charter. For instance, she said, dioceses should assign someone to ensure that everyone working with children gets a background check.

The Diocese of Arlington, Va., was one of 11 dioceses faulted for having neither a safe-environment program nor adequate background checks.

Catherine M. Nolan, the victim-assistance coordinator and director of child protection and safety for the diocese, said parental resistance to any kind of safe-environment program for children had caused delays in the diocese's plans to address some aspects of the bishops' charter.

Despite receiving criticism from some parishioners, the Arlington Diocese plans to implement an adapted version of the "Good Touch/Bad Touch" curriculum in its schools next fall.

Parents heckled and booed Ms. Nolan at a meeting in Manassas, Va., this month in which she explained the curriculum.

She told parents, "You don't have to participate in anything, but we're committed to implementing the charter." Children will need signed permission slips from their parents to take part.

Vol. 23, Issue 20, Page 13

Published in Print: January 28, 2004, as Some Catholic Schools Slow To Teach Sex-Abuse Awareness
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