The Church As a Powerful Voice for Abuse Victims PART 1

By Ann Schneible
The Zenit
February 13, 2012

A Psychologist Speaks on Prevention That Works

ROME, FEB. 13, 2012 ( Last week's conference at the Pontifical Gregorian University, Toward Healing and Renewal, confronted the crisis of clerical pedophilia with the objective of finding solutions whereby all future cases of child sex abuse would be prevented.

Monsignor Stephen Rossetti, associate dean for seminary and ministerial studies and a licensed psychologist, spoke with ZENIT last week during the conference about the concrete steps being taken to address the crisis, and offered some insights into the psychology of pedophilia.

Part 2 of this interview will be published Tuesday.

ZENIT: What is the most important thing that needs to be communicated by the media regarding the sexual abuse of minors?

Monsignor Rossetti: I think the biggest thing, I'd say, is that it's a terrible problem, but prevention does work. We've been involved in a much stronger prevention program in the States for a number of years, and the abuse cases are dropping, the number of cases are dropping significantly. Prevention does work, and I think that's important for people to realize. The most important thing about abuse is to stop it before it happens. And so, I'm just strongly encouraging people to start with these child safety programs and implement them.

ZENIT: What are some of the steps that are being taken to prevent abuse cases from happening?

Monsignor Rossetti: Several things. I think we're screening our priests better, I think we're forming them better in human formation, in human sexuality. But more importantly, you try to change the culture and the climate. The culture that we have, the climate that we have, when you change it, it does affect the amount of abuse that takes place. When abusers have free reign, when they're in a culture that tacitly allows this to happen, you're going to find a lot more abuse. But when you change the culture, which is what we're trying to do, so people are alert, they respond quickly, they can see red flags when they surface, then there's going to be much less abuse, and what does occur, we're going to respond to faster.

ZENIT: What aspects of the culture of today are affecting the frequency of these cases?

Monsignor Rossetti: There's a lot of things. One would be, parents being more careful about where their children go. Just because someone is in a position of authority, if he's a priest or a teacher, or a coach, doesn't mean the person's automatically trustworthy. And that, [in] organizations like ours, or the Boys Scouts or whatever, that whenever people are with youngsters there should be more than one adult present. They shouldn't be in your private living quarters. You shouldn't be going on vacations with other peoples' children, there's all sorts of boundary issues that parents and institutions can enforce. And then children themselves, when you create an environment where they feel more able to come forward, and to say something, then they're going to speak up.

There's usually a grooming period before an adult will molest a minor. During the grooming period, there are a bunch of red flags that surface. And so, when the red flags surface, the children can hopefully be more able to come forward and say something, or parents when they see this can intervene, and I've seen cases like that where adults are grooming children to be abused, and people intervened.

And when I say grooming: for example, you'll see an adult start taking a lot of photographs of children, sitting on their lap, wrestling with them, they're going on private vacations, they're alone with them, and so, a lot of just way too much inappropriate familiarity.

ZENIT: Would you say that sexual education would be helpful, then?

Monsignor Rossetti: Sexual education is always a good thing, when it's done properly of course. But it's more than that; you talk about these child safety programs where they're taught that there's certain kinds of "good touch, bad touch." That sort of thing. It's okay if someone shakes your hand, but there are places where people shouldn't touch. So those are very simple programs that are taught to children. So, making children aware that there are some things that are appropriate, some things that are not.

ZENIT: There can be the question of educating a young child about sexuality, and the danger of revealing too much information to the child. How do you find that balance?

Monsignor Rossetti: That is a challenge, and I think, of course, the first educators of children are their parents, and they are the ones who are the primary educators. But we in the Church have implemented these child safety programs, and the programs are tested by adults who work with children, and speak to them in ways that are appropriate for their age. So obviously, there are things you'll say to 5-year-olds or 10-year-olds that you'd say in a different way than you would to an adult. We need to be sensible, sensitive too.

But children today get so much bad sexual message from television and other places, it's good they get some good sexual messages from us.


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