Archived Story

Parishes work to prevent abuse

Published 9:10pm Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Catholic parishes in the nine-county area of southwest Michigan have trained 10,276 employees and volunteers since 2003 in “Protecting God’s Children,” a video-driven, interactive, mandatory three-hour course.
Margie Haas of Hastings, a former school principal, is associate coordinator of the Diocese of Kalamazoo’s Office of Safe Environment. She facilitated the class Feb. 23 at Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Church in Edwardsburg.
“We probably host two or three of these a year,” said the Rev. Joseph McCormick, who has pastored Our Lady of the Lake for six years.
As a priest, he is expected to keep current by reviewing online articles, such as a recent report about vulnerable adults.
“We hope this helps keep children safe,” Haas said of the “most underreported crime. Some are still in denial, but, yes, it happens.”
That’s why the church stresses the three A’s: awareness, alertness to signs of abuse and action. April is National Child Abuse Awareness Month.
The Diocese of Kalamazoo is committed to creating safe environments in its parishes and schools.
Haas’s office has been led the past three years by Deacon Pat Hall.
The class is required for all employees of the Catholic Church and for all volunteers working with children in any capacity.
Sexual violence affects people of all ages, ethnicities and backgrounds. Nearly 20 percent of the population has experienced some form of sexual assault in their lifetime, according to a U.S. Department of Justice report.
The Safe Environment Office also runs background checks on all employees and all volunteers who have regular contact with children in parishes and schools, working with parishes and schools to schedule training which equips adults with five specific steps to take to protect children.
Haas said one in five women and one in nine males are victimized, leaving a “deep scar that takes a lot of therapy to heal. You’re never the same when the innocence of sacred children is taken.”
Virtus is a brand name identifying best practices programs designed to help prevent wrongdoing and to promote “rightdoing” within religious organizations.
Hall said 70 percent of U.S. dioceses utilize Virtus programs.
Virtus programs were created by the National Catholic Risk Retention Group Inc.
Monsignor Kevin McCoy, past board chairman of National Catholic, asked whether child sexual abuse could be prevented and, if so, how?
In March 1998, National Catholic invited prominent national experts in many disciplines to discuss these questions at a forum in Washington, D.C.
The National Catholic Board of Directors selected an ad hoc committee to oversee development of the programs, assisted by a steering committee of nationally-known experts and program and service providers.
Derived from Latin, Virtus means “valor, moral strength and worth.”

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