Houston Chronicle [Houston TX]
April 6, 2021
By Jamie Swinnerton
As more and more children spend their days online, predators are doing the same. To help combat this issue, Sacred Heart Catholic Church is partnering with a Houston-based organization to train caregivers and kids on how to see the signs and prevent the next child victim.
The two-part training will begin on April 18 at Sacred Heart Catholic Church at 7:30 p.m. and will better prepare parents, teachers, and other caregivers to keep children safe from predators by empowering them to have conversations with their children about their online activities. The second part of the training will take place on April 25 at the same time and place and is designed to help children ages 13 to 18 keep themselves safe online.
Street Grace is a faith-based organization that started in Atlanta and expanded to Houston about two years ago. The church and the organization were paired when Street Grace tabled at an event held at the church before the pandemic hit. Street Grace works with churches to help prevent child exploitation, but it doesn’t shy away from addressing the abuse that has been uncovered within the church itself.
“Some of what we teach to students and parents is that not only are children vulnerable, but also the people that are predators don’t always look the way that we think that they do,” said Director of Outreach for Street Grace Breanna Fetkavich. “Unfortunately, some of those people are the very people that our children trust most, like members of the clergy, or teachers, or coaches. So, I think it’s important to highlight that to the community, not as a way to create fear, but as a way to create awareness.”
Street Grace has three main initiatives: prevention and protection, pursuit, and policy. The organization often works with law enforcement to track down predators exploiting children, lobbies for policy and trains activists to become lobbyists, and runs several types of training events.
Sacred Heart Catholic Church knows all too well the damage that a predator can have on a community, and a church. In 2018, Manuel La Rosa-Lopez, a former priest at the church, was charged with four counts of indecency with a child while he was at Sacred Heart. La Rosa-Lopez was formally sentenced last December to serve 10 years in prison after he pled guilty to two counts of indecency with a child.
“I think it’s imperative given the history of the Catholic church, and wherever there is a history of the exploitation of children through sexual abuse, that we would commit ourselves to action that would allow us to do something more to try to protect the children,” said Philip Wilhite, the pastor at Sacred Heart Catholic Church.
The church has worked with local organizations like Children’s Safe Harbor on this issue before but this is the first time Sacred Heart has worked with Street Grace. Wilhite said he hopes the relationship between the two organizations can continue in the future.
Wilhite wants victims of abuse, and those who know them, to know that help exists and not to lose hope.
“To others that kind of always think ‘Well that’s something that happens somewhere else,’ to realize that somewhere else is sometimes in our own backyard,” he said. “It’s important for all of us to become more knowledgeable.”
The event will be available in-person or through livestream. For registration and questions, email Breanna Fetkavich at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit email@example.com