'Taking the Lead'
Catholic Church Here Holds Program on Sexual Abuse

By Beth Smith
Gleaner [Owensboro KY]
October 2, 2003

Her testimony was intense.

In a video made by the Diocese of Owensboro, a sexual abuse survivor relayed how a priest repeatedly assaulted her as a child and the long road she traveled to find healing.

The video -- shown Wednesday night to a large crowd in the cafeteria at Holy Name School -- is part of a new program called Safe Environment, mandated by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops during its meeting last fall in Dallas regarding sexual abuse in the church.

"We're trying to make the best of a tragic situation," said the Rev. Ed Bradley of Holy Name of Jesus Catholic Church. "We (the Catholic church) are taking the lead now" in combating sexual abuse.

Wednesday's meeting, which lasted about two hours, was a requirement for all diocese employees as well as any volunteers who work with children, Bradley said. A Safe Environment program will be held annually at the beginning of each school year.

"It will help the staff to know the (diocese's) policies (on sexual abuse) and help them to know how to look for signs of abuse and what kids are at risk," he said.

"If we can just stop one child from being molested..."

In the video, the woman, whose face was blacked out, described her fear of the priest and of the consequences of telling someone what he was doing.

"I was always wondering when he would sneak up on me," she said. "I was afraid. Afraid no one would believe me. Afraid I'd get in trouble. I didn't know how to tell them."

Included on the video was a statement by Bishop John McRaith of the Diocese of Owensboro.

"The sexual abuse of children has too long been overlooked," he said. "A wrong has been perpetrated by our church."

McRaith said he and other members of the diocese are "committed to doing everything humanly possible to ensure the safety and protection of youth in our care."

An Owensboro social worker featured in the video said there are several effects of abuse, including spiritual confusion, or a sense of betrayal by the priest and God; post traumatic stress disorder, suicide, addictions, and shame or guilt.

Another video shown Wednesday night took people into the minds of child molesters.

Some of the offenders, not all of whom were connected to the church, said abusing children was the way they showed love.

The offenders said they had the trust of children and adults.

"I did this by being a really nice person," one man said.

Karla Ward, with the Henderson branch of New Beginnings: Sexual Assault Support Services, also addressed the crowd Wednesday.

Ward said one of the most powerful myths about sexual abuse is that perpetrators are strangers.

"Seventy-five to 80 percent of the time, it's someone the child knows," she said. "Abusers often build trust with kids and their parents. Abusers break down the child's resistance to touch" by playing tickle games with them or by having the child sit in the person's lap.

"Children get confused when the touches turn sexual," she said.

Ward said children often keep the secret because the offender has threatened them or the child's parents.

"Some children may be too young to put the abuse into words," she said.

She suggested that parents need to teach children the correct terms for their body parts so if abuse ever happens no one is confused as to what the child is saying.

And Ward said parents need to listen to what their child isn't saying.

"A child might say, 'I don't like them' or 'They make me feel sad.' "

By making those types of statements, a child believes they have told what has happened and then they are confused when parents don't protect them, Ward said.

A fact adults need to remember, she said, is that children don't usually lie about sexual abuse.

The statistics on child abuse in the U.S. are staggering, Bradley said.

"One out of four girls and one out of six boys will be molested by someone they know," he said.

"We're trying to be proactive now," Bradley said, "and stop child abuse on all levels."


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.