CHARLESTON — April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, and Catholics at all levels are being encouraged to learn more about this difficult issue.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has developed a resource packet with information and suggestions on how to address the issue of child abuse. It was sent earlier this year to bishops and diocesan communications directors around the country, according to Teresa M. Kettelkamp, executive director of the USCCB’s Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection.
Kettelkamp said it’s important to spread the word about child abuse and what the church is doing to address the issue. She said a survey conducted in 2005 indicated that only 17 percent of Catholics were aware of the U.S. Catholic Church’s efforts to address the issue since the clergy sexual-abuse scandals made headlines in 2002.
At a meeting in Dallas in 2002, bishops from around the United States signed off on the “Charter for Protection of Children and Young People,” which developed guidelines on how to deal with allegations of child abuse, educate clergy and laity about the issue, and provide assistance to victims of abuse.
The guidelines include implementing “safe environment programs” in parishes and Catholic schools across the United States, developing training programs for all workers and volunteers who interact with children, reaching out to victims of clergy sexual abuse, and mandating background checks for those who work with children.
Since then, dioceses around the United States have been audited to see how they complied with the charter’s guidelines.
In the Diocese of Charleston, everyone who works with children in any capacity is required to take VIRTUS training, a program which teaches people how to recognize the signs of child abuse and how to create safe environments where children are not exposed to inappropriate behaviors.
“The prevention of child sexual abuse is everyone’s business. That’s why Virtus goes beyond policy,” said Bonnie Sigers, the diocesan safe environment manager. “The program teaches that it’s everyone’s responsibility to protect children.”
Kettelkamp said it is disconcerting that many Catholics don’t realize the scope of efforts that have been made to address the issue of child abuse.
“We found the survey results devastating because of the work we’d done to address the issues after 2002,” Kettelkamp said in an interview with The Miscellany. “The survey asked what the church should do to address child abuse, and most of the people suggested things we were already doing. It’s a real dilemma because we’re never going to be able to restore trust and regain credibility if people don’t know how much work has already gone into protecting children and reaching out to abuse victims.”
The USCCB encourages priests to incorporate concerns about child abuse into homilies during the month of April. They have distributed prayer cards and posters to address the issue.
Kettelkamp said it is especially important for people to incorporate prayer and reflection into the observance of Child Abuse Prevention Month.
To download materials from the USCCB Office of Child and Youth Protection visit www.usccb.org.