Catholic Diocese
Learning to Identify Sex Abuse

By Jay Tokasz
News [Buffalo NY]
October 7, 2003

The Catholic Diocese of Buffalo on Monday morning began training staff and volunteers on how to recognize when a child has been sexually abused and what to do if they suspect abuse.

About 125 people participated in the 31/2-hour program in the ministry center of St. Gregory the Great parish in Amherst. The center also hosted an afternoon session.

The training is mandated by the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, a document the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops adopted last year to address clergy sexual abuse in the church.

The program is designed to help identify possible victims of sexual abuse and characteristics of abusers. It teaches what to do when abuse is suspected, as well.

Diocesan officials estimate 50,000 to 75,000 staff and volunteers who work regularly with children throughout the eight counties of the Buffalo diocese will participate.

The training programs will continue to be offered regularly to accommodate volunteers' schedules, said diocesan spokesman Kevin A. Keenan.

The training consists of lectures, a video presentation, workshops and discussion.

"It keeps the idea of protecting kids in the forefront of peoples' minds," said Donald R. Blowey Jr., safe environment program coordinator for the diocese. "The material that's presented in this program really helps you take a different view of safety for kids."

Participants also will be asked to keep up with twice-monthly, on-line "bulletins" on child protection for a year, and once a month for a second year.

The Diocese of Buffalo is one of about 75 Catholic dioceses in the country using the training model, called Virtus, a proprietary program of the National Catholic Risk Retention Group.

So far, staff and volunteers in the diocese have not objected to the training.

Eileen Warner, pastoral associate at St. Gregory the Great parish, said it is important to remind participants of the name of the program, "Protecting God's Children."

"As soon as you say that to people, they say, "That's right, it's about protecting the children,' " Warner said.

Several diocesan priests were in attendance for the Monday morning session.

Monsignor Francis G. Weldgen, pastor of St. Christopher parish in Tonawanda, said the sessions would be a step toward straightening out the Catholic Church in the United States, which has been "turned upside-down" by the clergy abuse scandal of the past two years.

He didn't mind spending half of a workday at the session. "It's got to be a priority. It's something that has to happen. It's time well spent out of anybody's day," he said.

The sessions seek to help people identify possible abusers. But Blowey said the diocese isn't interested in creating "a big brother situation."

Instead, the training helps people become more aware of inappropriate behavior that could signal more serious problems, he said.

The training will continue indefinitely as a regular part of diocesan operations, said Keenan.

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