Diocese Backs Child-Safety Plan

By Lisa A. Davis
Tampa Tribune [Hudson FL]
September 11, 2003

HUDSON - As the Archdiocese of Boston prepares to dole out $85 million to settle nearly 550 lawsuits alleging sexual abuse by priests, the Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg has tapped its coffers to help prevent similar scandals.

The local diocese paid $25,000 for a training workshop Tuesday and Wednesday at the new Bishop McLaughlin Catholic High School to promote safe environments for children.

"It's well worth it," said Mary Jo Murphy, diocese spokeswoman. "You can't put a price tag on the safety of children."

More than 300 representatives from Catholic parishes and schools in the diocese, which serves Pasco, Pinellas, Hillsborough, Hernando and Citrus counties, attended the workshop put on by The Girls and Boys Town Center for Adolescent and Family Spirituality. The nonprofit organization based in Boys Town, Neb., is dedicated to the treatment and care of abused, abandoned or neglected children.

The sessions were in response to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Charter for the Protection of Children and Youth, adopted last year after the Catholic Church abuse scandal began snatching headlines in January 2002.

The charter outlines how the church should handle reports of abuse, counsel victims and families, and protect children from abuse.

"We must increase our vigilance to prevent those few who might exploit the priesthood for their own immoral and criminal purposes from doing so," the charter states.

Under the charter, Catholic dioceses nationwide must establish "safe environment" programs such as the one this week in Pasco.

"It's about protecting kids. Period," said Laura Buddenberg, director of administration and outreach for The Girls and Boys Town Center.

Topics include how to identify child abuse warning signs, behavioral cues of sexual abusers, and proper response and reporting when a child alleges abuse.

"That's the information that can stop it before it starts," Buddenberg said. "Raising the awareness alone is very powerful in protecting kids."

By Oct. 15, workshop attendees are expected to train all adults who supervise children in the diocese's churches and parishes, including teachers, volunteers and pastors. Those who don't complete the training won't be able to continue such duties, said the Rev. Alan Weber, vicar general for the St. Petersburg diocese.

Reporter Lisa A. Davis can be reached at (727) 815-1083.

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