Tuesday, May 13, 2014

How Safe is Your Church?

By Francesco Cesareo, Ph.D 
Chair, National Review Board 

Churches, schools, and all other youth serving organizations must ensure that children and youth who worship, study, or participate in activities sponsored by a parish can do so in the safest and most secure setting possible. Parents and caretakers have the right to ask these institutions if they meet the standards of the Bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People before they allow their children to become involved with them.

An effective safe environment program will have the following components:

-A code of conduct for all paid personnel and volunteers in positions of trust who have regular contact with children and young people.
- Training for all adults who work with children that consists of:
- Signs an adult may see in a child who is abused
- Signs an adult may see in a person who abuses children
- What actions an adult should take when they believe child abuse of any kind may be occurring
- A training program for children that includes age appropriate materials pertaining to personal safety that conforms to Catholic teachings.

Trained adults can prevent child sexual abuse.

Adults who know the warning signs and are willing to step forward and report what they see can protect children from harm. Some sexual offenders can be spotted by their behavior. Grooming behaviors are those behaviors that instill a false sense of trust and familiarity. Offenders work to groom communities, families and children. Trained adults should know without a doubt that these signs should be reported to supervisors. Are the adults in your parish trained?

The warning signs of sexual abusers may include adults who:
- go overboard touching, tickling or wrestling with children.
- let children do things their parents would not allow; using drugs or alcohol, showing children pornography. These activities wrongfully make the child feel complicit in the abuse and keep them silent.
- tell dirty jokes, talk about sex with children
- prefer to be with children rather than adults
- typically maintain adult friendships with adults who are also sexual predators
- are frequently alone with children and may exclude other adults from activities involving children so that they can be alone
- isolates the same child from the group
- think the rules do not apply to them

Children know their abusers in 90% of abuse cases. They are more likely to be abused by relatives or family friends than by strangers. This relationship makes it hard for children to report abuse. Caregivers/Parents need to let their children know they can tell them anything, even if they promised someone else to keep it a secret.


Francesco Cesareo, Ph.D., is president of Assumption College, Worcester, Massachusetts. He is in his first year as Chairman of the National Review Board, a lay body that collaborates with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to prevent sexual abuse of minors by persons in the service of the Church.

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