Diocese takes on anti-sex abuse course
Interactive program was developed to shield the vulnerable
Article Last Updated:11/08/2006 02:42:39 AM PST
TheOakland Dioceses Father Mark Weisner pulled a chair up to the computerin his rectory office, logged onto Shield the Vulnerable, and scrolledthrough a fancifully illustrated program that teaches how to recognizeand report child abuse.
The 90-minute interactive website presents statistics, factualinformation and case studies, with the viewer answering true-false andmultiple-choice questions about sample scenarios. Theres even acrossword puzzle.
I found it very engaging, said Weisner, the dioceses spokesman.
The interactive course for priests, employees and volunteers ofthe Oakland Diocese went live Aug. 14. Since then, nearly 12,000 peoplehave clicked through the course, said Ralph Yanello, the Walnut Creekattorney who developed the program.
He runs LawRoom.com, which advises employers on sexual harrassment and other workplace compliance issues.
The course meets a requirement for training on the signs ofabuse the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops set following the pedophilepriest scandal.
The Archdiocese of San Francisco and the Diocese of Santa Rosause Shield. Dioceses in other areas are adopting similar programs.
In August 2005, the Oakland Diocese settled lawsuits with 56victims — about a third of the Northern California cases — agreeing topay $56 million. The cases involved 24 priests.
The program, and the bishops mandate, have done little to calm two critics of the church in its response to the abuse scandal.
Absentthe mandate, its doubtful the church would be developing courses likeShield, said David Clohessy, national director of Survivors Network ofthose Abused by Priests.
Its kind of galling that each diocese puffs their chests out as if(training) was their idea when its generally been forced upon them by ahorrific sex abuse scandal, he said.
Weisner didnt accept that view.
You cant project whether people would do it or not do it absentthe mandate, he said. You can say the same thing about sexualharassment training. If it were not required by law, some people wouldhave the interest but simply not get around to it, and some would makeit a point to see it through.
Pope Benedict XVI spoke on the abuse issue at the Vatican overthe weekend, the Associated Press reported. He said it is critical thatthe church take whatever steps are necessary to prevent it fromoccurring again. He also told visiting Irish clerics on Oct. 28 thatthe church should speak openly about the extent of the crisis and thatit pursue all routes to speed healing for victims.
Clohessy and others have questioned why Shield the Vulnerable bars entry by anyone not connected to the Diocese.
The implication of having an internal, secretive training isthat this is an internal, secretive problem, Clohessy said. If its sucha wonderful, innovative, helpful program, why cant anybody see it?
It is not a matter of secrecy so much as cost, Yanello said.LawRoom charges the diocese $5 for each viewer. And restricting thepool to diocese employees and volunteers helps track who isparticipating, he said.
The church has also drawn brickbats from a critic who says training is a sop to insurers.
I would be shocked if the insurance company wasnt in it up totheir ears, said Jim Jenkins, a clinical psychologist, former HolyCross brother, and the former chairman of the San Francisco ArchdioceseIndependent Review Board.
The Oakland Dioceses insurers did not compel the training,Yanello said, although in other areas, insurers have insisted on — ordesigned — such courses.
If they dont they should, because of the liability, he said.The first question to a mandated reporter in a deposition is, did yourecognize this child was at risk? The second question is, are youtrained? I can tell you most mandated reporters are not being trained.
California law designates teachers, therapists, doctors andothers as mandated reporters who must alert authorities immediately ifthey suspect a child has been abused.
An insurance company, National Catholic Risk Retention Group,designed a competing course called Protecting Gods Children. PraesidiumReligious Services Inc., a risk management firm, launched another.
Oakland has a history of trying to reach out proactively morethan other dioceses, trying to get ahead of the game, Jenkins said.
If this gets across the idea that you need to be reportingthese things in a way that children are protected then its a positive.
The sex-abuse crisis erupted in Boston in January 2002 when ajudge ordered the church to unseal documents regarding reportedepisodes of child sexual abuse.
The files contained ample evidence that the church had takengreater pains to protect itself from scandal than to safeguardchildren.
Catholic dioceses across the nation had paid out more than a billion dollars to victims by June 2005.
Most of the examples in the course involve parents and childrenin the home. One asks users to consider a mother who ordered her5-year-old to sit in a chair for hours, locked him in a dark closetovernight, and cut off all the hair on one side of his head. The vieweris asked whether the behavior might result in emotional abuse.
Although little mention is made of church or clergy throughoutthe course, the last five pages includes a list of thou shalt nots.
One such instruction says the sacristy door must always remainopen when minors are present within. The course discourages regular orexpensive gifts to children, bars profanity, vulgar humor or commentsof a sexual nature, and sets definite rules on travel accommodations.
Despite his limited praise, for the course and the diocese,Jenkins said the church must become much more transparent if it wantsto eliminate abuse.
An effective program must include two critical elements, hesaid. One is publishing the names of priests once a church tribunal hasuncovered credible allegations, which a diocese could do in itsnewsletter or website to alert parents and parishioners. The other issupervising errant priests once theyve resigned, been discharged or, ifconvicted, been paroled.
Jenkins resigned his post when then-Bishop William Levadarefused to make public the results of an abuse investigation. Levadahas since become a Cardinal with a high post in the Vatican.
Contact Rebecca Rosen Lum at (925) 977-8506 or firstname.lastname@example.org.