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Archbishop's Study Days

From May 2002:

A series of study afternoons held at the Archdiocesan Pastoral Center in Shrewsbury last week provided archdiocesan priests with a full plate of vital and timely topics aimed at their well-being.

The Archbishop's Study Days were created in response to Archbishop Justin Rigali's April 22 letter to priests calling for two separate events of enrichment, "which will consider the issues of healthy and balanced living, the spirituality of the diocesan priesthood and integrated celibate chastity." The event was coordinated by the archdiocesan Office for the Continuing Formation of Priests. Another series of study days is scheduled to take place in the fall.

Faculty members at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary presented topics including Pope John Paul II's "Theology of the Body," "Celibacy as a Living Symbol: Communion and Mission," "Celibacy: A Scriptural, Historical and Theological Survey," as well as talks on living a healthy life, coping with stressful environments and practical advice on counseling victims of abuse.

On the last day of the sessions, Bernard C. Huger, an attorney with Greensfelder, Hemker and Gale, the firm that represents the archdiocese, spoke to priests on a new amendment that would add ministers to the list of those who are mandated reporters of suspected abuse in the state of Missouri.

The legislation defines a minister as "any person while practicing as a minister of the gospel, clergyperson, priest, rabbi, or other person serving in a similar capacity for any religious organization who is responsible for or who has supervisory authority over one who is responsible for the care, custody, and control of a child or has access to a child."

The bill, which is expected to be signed this summer by Gov. Bob Holden, would take effect Aug. 28. If it is signed into law, Huger said a memo will be sent to priests in the archdiocese laying out its terms. He added that many priests already fall into definitions of those who are currently mandated reporters, but the new amendment would make the definition for priests "more explicit."

There is an exception to the legislation, which gives priests an exemption in cases of confession or other privileged situations. The bill states that "a minister shall not be required to report concerning a privileged communication made to him or her in his or her professional capacity."

Also during the last day of the three-day study sessions, members of the Gennesaret Committee, which advises the Archbishop on issues of sexual abuse of minors by clergy, spoke to priests on counseling victims of abuse.

The committee spelled out the definitions of abuse and helped priests to recognize warning signs of children who might be abused or neglected - whether the abuse be from a family member, friend or other adult.

Susanne M. Harvath, associate coordinator of human and pastoral formation and associate professor of pastoral theology at Kenrick-Glennon, pointed out several signs that a child has been abused, including a changes in behavior, fear of adults or a display of clinginess toward them, and explicit knowledge of sexual behavior.

Harvath cautioned priests to use sensitivity when approaching the subject of abuse with a victim.

"For many of these kids, it was made to feel like this was a wonderful, special relationship," she said. "Be sensitive to that."

Harvath also pointed out several reasons why victims don't come forward about their abuse, including being threatened by the abuser, a fear that they won't be believed and that some children simply "don't know that it's wrong."

Members of the Gennesaret Committee encouraged priests to ask questions about the abuse, such as "What does it mean to you that you were abused?" and "What did you think after this (the abuse) happened?" The committee agreed that the answers to those questions can almost provide a "life script" for the victim.

So what should priests do for victims who approach them? The committee said that victims need to feel listened to and accepted. Priests also should use careful words when talking to victims. They also should connect victims with proper professionals such as counselors.

Saying "I'm so sorry" to the victim also can make a difference, Harvath said. "They are simple words. People want to hear those words."

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