Penn State scandal a reminder for awareness

SIMPSONVILLE—Facilitator Joe Maggio says the skills he teaches in the Virtus awareness sessions he frequently conducts have valuable applications both inside and outside the Catholic Church — and some of those applications seemed ripped from today’s headlines.

One of those is the current scandal at Penn State University — arisen from charges that longtime assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky sexually abused young boys under his supervision, sometimes in university athletic facilities. Maggio said the five steps outlined in Virtus classes would absolutely have been valuable in detecting and halting any abuse of vulnerable children.

“The more that we get aware of (child abuse), the better it is for everybody,” he said.

Maggio is the youth minister at St. Mary Magdalene Church in Simpsonville and holds a criminal justice degree. He has a passion for protecting children and tries “to extend broadly” the tools taught in the Virtus program, Protecting God’s Children, he said.

At the beginning of a recent session at St. Mary Magdalene, Maggio introduced the two films used by telling the small group of attendants that the first one would be fairly graphic in its descriptions, with victims discussing their cases, while the second would be a launching point for discussing ways to protect children.

The program offers a five-item checklist for those who come in contact with children — their own or others — according to Maggio. Those steps include knowing the warning signs, controlling access to children, monitoring all programs involving children, being aware of the warning signs of possible problems, and communicating one’s concerns.

He said technology poses an evolving hazard to children, and “it’s not just the computers — it’s their phones, the iPods, the (portable gaming systems),” he said.

The toughest step is often being aware of the children and what’s going on with them. It takes time, Maggio said, to build up the kind of rapport needed to be able to sense when a child is troubled.

“This really works at home,” he said. “This is bigger than just this classroom, just St. Mary Magdalene, because you can take this home and you can build on it to the community.”

Regarding the Penn State situation, Maggio pointed out that it’s important not to judge anyone involved with the case until all the facts are known, “and we don’t have those yet.”

However, he said, when it came to protecting the children involved, “everybody had the obligation to do that.”

For more information about the Virtus program, contact Bonnie Sigers, the safe environment manager for the Diocese of Charleston’s Office of Child Protection Services, (843) 853-2130 ext. 210, or