Catholic Church Works to Combat Abuse

By Melissa Rollins
SC Now
May 29, 2015

— In the early 2000s, the Catholic Church faced many allegations against its priests. After that time, a required program was instituted to try prevent abuse from happening again.

Bonnie Sigers, safe environment manager for the Diocese of Charleston, which includes St. Anne and St. Anthony locally, said the program has been in place for a decade now.

“In response to the allegations in 2005, the bishops in the United States created the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People,” Sigers said. “It outlined what dioceses needed to do to create and maintain safe environments. So we derive our policies from that charter.”

Sigers said all Catholic churches use the charter as a base point for their training. The curriculum used by the Diocese of Charleston is VIRTUS, a program created by The National Catholic Risk Retention Group, Inc.

“All employees and any volunteers that work with children have to go through a background screening, because we have to know all that we can about them,” Sigers said. “They have to attend an education session on how to prevent child sex abuse, have to read and sign a code of conduct for their interactions with children and have to sign-off that they’ve read our policy. All of those things are kept at every parish and school.”

Aside from the training that adults go through, Sigers said, a curriculum is in place for children as well.

“I do want to stress that we are teaching prevention education only, not sex education,” Sigers said. “We teach the children about boundaries and what types of things are appropriate. We really do try to come at it from all angles. We know who is with kids at all times and that we’ve done everything we can to know that they are not a danger.”

Mike Meggs has been a youth pastor at St. Anthony for 14 years. He said the process new volunteers have to go through is extensive.

“Even the people who volunteer with me, helping to drive when we go bowling or whatever, they have to take the class and do a 10- to 12-page background check,” Meggs said. “Even for people like me, a youth pastor, I have to take a class monthly online, as an update to the class.”

Meggs said that while some people may try to lay blame with the Catholic Church and its policy on celibacy for past abuse, no church or organization is completely immune, so parents need to be conscious of what their children are involved in.

“There are just as many Protestants pastors that have been caught, so it is not about the Catholic priest being celibate,” Meggs said. “Going through this class didn’t make me feel better or worse because I just always try to use good judgment. If someone makes me feel uncomfortable, I keep an eye on them. I think that more parents just need to be aware, not even just at church but with baseball and Boy Scouts, all those places. Don’t just drop your kid off and leave; hang around and see what is going on.”

He acknowledged that the prevention program could put some people’s minds more at ease.

“As a parent, knowing that everyone went through the class and background check may make you feel a little better,” Meggs said.

Sigers said it is important for volunteers to remember that they are responsible for the safety and well-being of the children or youth they work with and that if people violate the set boundaries or regulations, they are removed.

“Children are not our friends,” Sigers said. “They are our charges.”

Meggs and Sigars both said that aside from preventative training, there is also help for people who have been victimized.

Sigars said that after taking a training course, people have told her about past abuse and she was able to direct them to someone able to help them deal with the trauma.

Meggs said that around his church there are stickers and pamphlets that give instructions on what to do if someone knows that there is abuse taking place.

Overall, Sigers said, she is passionate about her job because she wants to help create a safer place for children.

“We live in a world where children are in danger,” Sigers said. “We have learned that responsible adults can change the instances of child sexual abuse, not children. As responsible adults this is how we respond; we are educated, we do everything we need to do, so that we can be protectors of children.”









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