New Program Aims to Boost Watchfulness

By Michael Clancy
Arizona Republic [Phoenix AZ]
October 12, 2006

Fred Luebke of Phoenix wanted to accompany his kindergartner on a school field trip to a pumpkin patch.

But under the policies of the Catholic Diocese of Phoenix, he had to spend three hours in class first.

Luebke was one of the first of more than 100,000 Catholic school volunteers, educators and church officials who will be part of a newly updated class in the diocese aimed at helping people identify abusers and prevent future incidents. The new class transforms the lecture format into a more interactive video-based one.

The Phoenix Diocese, like most in the nation, requires training as a result of the sexual-abuse scandal that erupted in 2001. At least 30 priests who have lived or worked in the diocese have been accused of abuse, and dozens of victims have come forward to press their concerns. Many of those concerns have resulted in lawsuits or criminal allegations. The diocese has been sued on abuse matters at least 40 times.

So far, 115,000 people have gone through the training since 2002. Now, the diocese is beginning the cycle again with the new program.

"We can reduce abuse by being aware," said Jennifer King, director of safe-environment training for the diocese. "That gives me hope."

With a new program in hand and a new abuse policy in place, the diocese requires training of all priests, nuns, deacons, teachers and other employees: the 5,600 people who get a paycheck from the church. In addition, training is required of an uncounted number of volunteers, such as Luebke.

It also is offered to thousands of schoolchildren, both in Catholic schools and in religious-education programs, and their parents. The training is optional for them.

"They've upgraded the training and really appear to be taking it seriously," said Luebke, a father of three students at St. Thomas the Apostle School in Phoenix.

Ofelia Oharriz-Martinez, who works as registrar at Notre Dame Prep in Scottsdale, said the course was far more thorough than anything she had learned in many years of working in the public-school system. In most public schools, teachers are given information to help them recognize child abuse.

Paul Pfaffenberger, a church volunteer and local leader of SNAP-Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said he found the new program "hard-hitting and direct about what child abuse is all about."

But he said he would like the diocese to begin sessions by giving the reasons for it.

"We would like a statement from the diocese admitting its culpability and explaining why these classes are necessary," he said.

The training is required as part of the Catholic bishops' Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, which took effect in June 2002.The new video-based program features church officials, abusers, victims and experts in the field. King declined to disclose the cost of the program.

Jean Sokol, director of the diocese's youth-protection efforts, said the new training complements an updated, easier-to-read policy on abuse. The main change in the policy was to create separate committees to review allegations against priests and laypeople.

Sokol said the diocese has no clear idea of how many people were abused by priests in the diocese. Many of her calls come from people abused by members of religious orders, who do not work directly for the diocese, or people abused in other locations.

She said the last known case of abuse by a diocesan priest took place before the first official policy for the diocese was put into place in 1995.

King said the policy, along with a code of ethics, lays out the limits of acceptable behavior.

"By having a behavior policy, it is easier to identify those who fall outside it," she said.

The training is required annually for employees and volunteers who work with children and every other year for volunteers who do not work with children.

"We are trying to be an instrument of education for the entire community," she said.

"We are more accountable than a Scout leader. We are the church. We've made mistakes in the past, and now we need to provide the solution."

On the legal front

Civil lawsuits

• The Catholic Diocese of Phoenix has settled five lawsuits that claimed abuse by the Rev. Paul LeBrun, who served at St. John Vianney in Avondale and Blessed Sacrament in Tolleson. Each claimant (none of whom has stepped forward to be identified) received $15,000 from the diocese. In a separate criminal case, LeBrun was sentenced in January to a 111-year prison term.

• The diocese also settled a suit naming the Rev. Joseph Henn of St. Mark's in Phoenix. The man who filed the lawsuit received a settlement of $50,000 from the diocese. Henn disappeared after courts in Italy approved his extradition to face a criminal trial in the United States.

• Altogether, the diocese has settled 25 lawsuits for an estimated $3.2 million; $200,000 of that was paid to the Diocese of Tucson to settle four of the lawsuits that were part of the Tucson Diocese's bankruptcy case.

• The diocese still has 15 lawsuits pending, seven of them on hold in California while legal issues are settled.

• Two of the outstanding lawsuits name deceased priests who never had been accused of abuse before: the Revs. Jose Hurtado and Marcel Salinas. Hurtado served at three Valley churches, while Salinas was pastor at Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Mesa.

• Not a single civil lawsuit has gone to trial.

Criminal cases

• Trial got under way this week for the Rev. Joseph Briceno, who was accused of abusing two minors at St. Mary's Church in Chandler. He was indicted in June 2003. He subsequently disappeared in Mexico but was captured in California in December.

• A jury trial on seven misdemeanor counts is pending for Monsignor Dale Fushek, former pastor of St. Timothy in Mesa.

• Charges have been filed against both Henn and the Rev. Patrick Colleary, who served at a number of churches. Colleary won his extradition case in Ireland; Henn lost his in Italy and subsequently disappeared.


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