Catholic Sex-Abuse Plan Draws Fire

Richmond Times-Dispatch [Manassas VA]
January 17, 2004

MANASSAS - Plans by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Arlington to teach students how to protect themselves from sexual abuse have drawn opposition from parents who say the program would infringe on their right to teach their children about sexual matters.

The criticism from parents and some priests is one reason the program's implementation has been delayed, according to officials in the diocese, which covers all of Northern Virginia.

An audit of U.S. dioceses, conducted for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, found that Arlington lacked such a curriculum and that the diocese had failed to comply with the child protection policy approved by U.S. bishops in 2002 after the church's sexual abuse scandal.

One of the requirements of the policy was that all dioceses have abuse prevention programs for children by July 2003.

Arlington, one of two dioceses that still do not allow altar girls, appears unique in its response to the proposed curriculum, according to Kathleen McChesney, head of the U.S. bishops' Office of Child and Youth Protection.

"I'm not aware of much protest around the country," McChesney told The Washington Post. "I think most people recognize that the more you can teach young people about safety in general, the better off their children will be."

The curriculum being considered by the Arlington Diocese, called "Good Touch/Bad Touch," is being used in 11 other Catholic dioceses and in public schools in 44 states. Arlington would offer the lessons in Catholic schools and in religious education classes at parishes, possibly starting with children in first grade.

The intensity of the opposition to the program was evident during a meeting this week at All Saints Church in Manassas. The audience of about 250 people taunted and booed the diocesan officials describing the lessons.

Opponents said they objected to the program because it was secular and intruded on parents' prerogative to teach their children about sexual matters.

"My main concern is protecting the innocence of children and parental rights," said Stan Poczatek of Dale City. "Personally, I think it's a parent's sole responsibility."

The Rev. Bob Cilinski pleaded with his parishioners to be "Catholic and Christian" in their behavior.

Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde, who was not at the meeting, said through a spokesman, Soren Johnson, that the "interruptions were unproductive and did not serve the purpose of the evening," which was to hear parental comments on the program.

The bishop, Johnson added, "is reviewing the feedback heard on this important issue and hopes to decide soon on a program that will be implemented by the beginning of the next school year."

The diocese's director of child protection and safety, Catherine M. Nolan, explained at the Manassas meeting that parents could keep their children out of the abuse-prevention sessions.

The purpose of the program, she said, "is to give children the skills and tools . . . to help them if they should ever be in this situation" of attempted sexual abuse. She called it a "benign" program that does not use explicit language or pictures.


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