Parishioners Protest Sex Abuse Awareness Training

By Neil Relyea
WCPO [Columbus OH]
March 13, 2003

Columbus area parishioners are protesting a sex abuse awareness training program offered by their diocese. Some parishioners who coach sports or run school pizza fund-raisers say they will stop volunteering if the Columbus diocese forces them to attend the training sessions.

This fall the Roman Catholic Diocese of Columbus began mandatory one-day sessions for clergy, lay volunteers and employees of parishes and schools.

The program called "Protecting God's Children" aims to make them aware of the scope of sex abuse and how to help prevent it, according to the diocese.

Guidelines adopted in 2002 by U.S. bishops calls for the training as a response to the church's abuse scandal.

The classes have angered some parishioners who say they weren't consulted about the training and that the scandal involves clergy, not laypersons.

"I tell people this isn't about protecting God's children -- it's about protecting church assets," said Jay Ryan, a member of St. Michael Church in suburban Worthington and a longtime coach.

Ryan said he won't take the training, and has quit the board of trustees for the Catholic Foundation, which administers grants and endowments for the diocese, because of the mandate.

Ryan said he also will curtail donations to the church.

"I love my faith," Ryan said, "but I am so disenchanted with the hierarchy of the church in this country and how they have acted to all of us."

The diocese relies on thousands of volunteers who help run activities in churches and schools throughout the diocese, including classroom support, festivals, athletic programs and care for the homeless.

Mark Butler, diocesan director of youth and young-adult ministry, said the diocese won't allow volunteers to work in any activities involving children if they don't attend a session by the end of this year.

Butler said reaction to the training so far has been "overwhelmingly positive."

"We're saying that the lay people and the clergy and everyone working together -- coaches, teachers -- we're the solution to th problem," Butler said.

"We're the ones who are going to keep this from happening in our parishes and our schools, and, hopefully, in our communities as well," said Butler.

But Dennis Caron, whose daughter is a fourth-grader at Our Lady of Peace school, said the training makes him feel like "a quasi-criminal."

Caron, who works at the annual church festival and for the school pizza sale, said he hasn't decided whether to take the training.

"Certainly, anything you can do to protect your kids, you want to do it," Caron said.

"But I think parishioners feel a little bit like they're being hit over the head with this," said Caron.

Monsignor Kenneth Grimes, pastor of Our Lady of Peace, said he hasn't received complaints.

"Everybody realizes our problem is very, very serious," Grimes said. "Therefore, the medicine has to be pretty strong."

Instructors for the diocese's course were trained by the National Catholic Risk Retention Group of Illinois, a company created in the 1980s to provide liability insurance for the church.

Dioceses pay for the company's help in setting up the training programs.

Neither the company nor local officials would say how much its contract with the Columbus diocese was worth.


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