My diocese made the front page of the local paper today under the headline of “Diocese lagging on safety measure.”

Only 11.5 percent of the dioceses — including Kansas City-St. Joseph — were not in full compliance. Diocesan officials said they were working to correct the problem.

My friend the VG was quoteworthy.

“Our diocese has made a sincere commitment to take every step and every precaution to ensure that children are safe in church programs,” Vicar General Robert Murphy said in a statement.

Murphy said that when diocesan officials learned of the auditors’ findings, they were told that they could receive a full-compliance rating by implementing a program by the end of 2005, but officials decided to wait.

“After careful consideration, we wanted to put more time and effort into evaluating available programs, talking with child-development specialists and selecting the best program to meet the needs of our children,” Murphy said. “I’ve assembled a team of parents, educators, counselors and parish staff members to help us preview programs.”

SNAP was unimpressed:

“They’ve had four years, and almost every other diocese in America did this long ago,” said David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. “What on earth is more important for a scandal-ridden church than to teach kids how to protect themselves, and grown-ups how to spot abuse?”

Yes and no. We’ve gotten word from the diocese within the past month to tighten up the paperwork on some adult volunteers. I’ve had one parishioner upset with me about “insinuations.” I explained there’s a reality at work here:

Admittedly, dioceses want to minimize future legal impact. If parishes and their volunteers are indeed compliant, then it will also be easier to zero in on actual predators on the rare occasions they will be successful.

To my knowledge, no abuse prevention program has been specifically composed for the Church. If you’re involved with a child abuse prevention program at your parish or diocese, it’s likely something devised years ago. The Church isn’t targeting only priests for preventative measures. Most adult awareness programs prepare volunteers and staff to be on the outlook for suspicious behavior, not particular individuals or classes of individuals.

Regarding child education, again, the emphasis is on encouraging the child to avoid situations in which he or she is endangered. I’ve heard Catholics complain and I’ve read about complaints that lay volunteers, teachers, lay staff, and even parents and family members themselves are targeted for possible suspicion. Well, yes and no.

The programs I’ve seen or participated in all teach people to be watchful for suspicious behavior. And the sad reality is that more parents abuse children than priests.

But Clohessy is right that four years is sufficient time for compliance. I suspect the previous administration left these aspects with the new bishop. I don’t have any doubt about the eventual compliance in child education efforts. But let’s not forget that the firestorm of dismay and anger in 2002 was due to bishops, not sex predators. The latter we’d known about for decades. The extent of the cover-up in some dioceses was the graver scandal. And sadly, that scandal casts its shadow of suspicion over bishops who might well be entirely innocent. We’re not yet at the point where a bishop–any bishop–can come forward and say, “We’ve solved the problem.” The Missouri approach remains in effect across the board, even in Lincoln: Show Me.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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