Children within the Catholic Church's ministries are safer than in any other segment of society, according to the pediatrician who spoke to a gathering of child-safety volunteers and others last month.
No other group does the extensive training of everyone who works with children, does the background checks "and has taken it on as a mission to keep children safe," Dr. Stephen Lazoritz said after the presentation. Lazoritz is a clinical professor in the Department of Pediatrics at Creighton University School of Medicine in Omaha, Neb.
While the news media seems to focus on abuse of children by priests, the number of Scout leaders, teachers, coaches and others not associated with the Church, including parents who abuse children, is far greater, he said.
"The Church has moved from having very little protection to an abundance of protection," he said.
In the talk, Lazoritz detailed the topic of a book he authored -- the first effort to protect children from abuse, the case of Mary Ellen Wilson, born in New York in 1864. She was rescued by Etta Wheeler, who used the help of an animal rights activist and an attorney. His talk was organized by the archdiocese's Safe Environment Program.
To Lazoritz' point of the efforts by the Church to protect children, Sandra Price, director of the Safe Environment Program, notes that by June of 2015, the archdiocese's program will have:
- Held nearly 4,500 Protecting Gods Children Workshops throughout the archdiocese and trained roughly 130,000 volunteers, employees and clerics since 2002. The mandatory training is required for employees and volunteers who work with or near children or youth on a regular basis. They also undergo state criminal record and child abuse/neglect checks and sign acknowledgements to follow the archdiocese's Code of Ethical Conduct.
- Monitored compliance on just under 50,000 adult volunteers, employees, educators and religious in the Archdiocese of St. Louis working with children.
- Provided age-appropriate Safe Touch training to roughly 40,000 children each year. (This number is lower than the actual number of enrolled children due to absentees and parents choosing to teach the children at home or not at all.) The training helps children to recognize inappropriate touch and boundaries, and helps them identify safe adults to make a report.
- Completed internal parish audits to ensure volunteers, employees and clerics are up to date on background checks and have attended training with more than 200 annual visits. It also assists private entities in the community with training, support, resources and consultation.
- Operated with more than 130 trained facilitators who present the Protecting God's Children workshops and more than 200 parish child safety coordinators who implement the program at the parish level.
Hundreds of thousands of background checks have been completed since 2002. Two years ago, the archdiocese implemented international background screenings on clerics coming to the archdiocese from outside of the United States. The background checks usually cost more than $100 apiece. The archdiocese also receives information on incoming priests requesting faculties and follows up to ensure that it has an up-to-date background screening and training on file for them. They also agree to the Ethical Code of Conduct.
"We are continually updating our policies and staying on top of the most important issues related to safety," Price said. "We have a committee to address juvenile-on-juvenile sexual abuse and have educated our leaders on the updates to the mandated reporter laws here in Missouri. Our staff also meets with pastors regularly to ensure they are familiar with reporting requirements, numbers and contacts."
Anyone who wishes to make a report of the sexual abuse of a minor by any priest, deacon or employee of the Archdiocese of St. Louis may contact Deacon Phil Hengen, director of child and youth protection with the Archdiocese of St. Louis, at (314) 792-7704 or [email protected], or call the Missouri Division of Family Services Child Abuse Hotline, (800) 392-3738.