Church Hopes Training Helps Clergy, Laymen Head off Abuse

By John Zukowski
The Express-Times
September 17, 2003

Allentown and Metuchen diocese priests and employees are being trained in preventing child sexual abuse.

The training sessions were mandated by U.S. Catholic Bishops at their June 2002 conference in Dallas in response to the sex abuse crisis in the Catholic Church.

The sessions educate participants on how to identify sexual abuse, how abusers commit sexual abuse and how to prevent abuse.

"I think it's very valuable information that can remind us how to create a safe environment for children," said Sister Meg Cole, marriage and family therapist at the Catholic Social Agency in Allentown.

The sessions are part of the Protecting God's Children program, compiled by the National Catholic Risk Retention Group, a nonprofit group based in Lisle, Ill.

The daylong programs in Allentown will be conducted by two social workers from Praesidium Inc., a Texas-based company which specializes in child sexual abuse research.

"We wanted social workers rather than lawyers or insurance people," said Allentown Diocese spokesman Matt Kerr.

The social workers will then train volunteers how to educate parish members on sexual abuse. Allentown Diocese parish members will later be notified about training sessions they can attend, Kerr said.

The Metuchen Diocese, which includes Warren and Hunterdon counties, held the training sessions for priests and diocese employees in May, said Metuchen spokeswoman Jo Ann Ward.

Educational sessions for lay people will be held at 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. Sept 22 at the St. John Neumann Pastoral Center in Piscataway, N.J.

Those sessions will be led by Sharon Doty, a child sexual abuse consultant from Tulsa, Okla. Doty has been a litigator and has worked for agencies that work for abuse victims.

"May's seminars were successful, and we encourage anyone who is interested to come to this session," Ward said.

One victims' rights advocate said she wasn't sure how effective the program would be.

"I think any education is good, but exactly what the material will be and who will be doing the educating is something the Allentown Diocese hasn't told us anything about," said Juliann Bortz of Allentown, a member of the Survivors Network for Those Abused by Priests (SNAP).


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