Titled "Protecting God's Children," the program from National Catholic Services, LLC, introduces ways to create and maintain a safe environment for children.
All priests, teachers, counselors, child care workers and employees and volunteers working with children will be required to complete the training. Free to participants, the sessions will take place throughout the archdiocese.
A representative for National Catholic Services will lead 35 local professional counselors through a two-day training session at the Archdiocesan Pastoral Center in Shrewsbury next week. An estimated 20,000 individuals will then complete the program over a 12- to 18-month period.
Participants will study ways to recognize and report potential child abuse situations and how to ensure the safety of children within their churches, schools and agencies. Adults also will learn how to discuss sexual abuse with children and how to teach them to protect themselves.
Included in "Protecting God's Children" are a series of videotaped statements from victims, their families and child abusers that add "a depth of understanding to this problem," said Tom Lemp, director of Catholic Family Counseling's School Partnership Program and the coordinator of "Protecting God's Children" in the archdiocese.
Terry Edelmann, director of community relations for the Catholic Education Office, seconded the significance of the videos, particularly child abusers' descriptions of their own behavior.
"Rather than just hearing, writing about it or theorizing about it, I think that (the video testament) is such powerful witness that it really gets people totally committed" to protecting children, Edelmann said.
Adults who complete the training also will have access to a "continuing education component" - a Web site that features background on laws and archdiocesan policy regarding the protection of children, Lemp said. It also will carry regular bulletins "to ensure that they remain as current as possible."
The final version of "Protecting God's Children" has been available for about one year. "I think once (people) see the programs, especially the videos, I think there will be a very good response," Edelmann said.
The program follows the directive in Article 12 of the "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People," which calls for dioceses to establish programs that create and maintain safe environments for children and to provide education and training opportunities for ministers, educators, parents and children. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops adopted the charter at its June meeting in Dallas.
The goal of the archdiocese's program is to "implement that bishops' statement as much and as completely as we possibly can," Lemp said.
"Protecting God's Children" was recommended to Archbishop Justin Rigali by the Child Safety Committee of the Archdiocese, which began its search for such a prevention program in February. Among its members are representatives from schools, child-related agencies and health-care and insurance professionals.
The archdiocese has been providing training on sexual abuse prevention for principals, teachers and staff at Catholic schools and had been "hoping to expand that to the entire archdiocese," Lemp said. The bishops' statement "gave us the impetus to go forward."
"Protecting our children is everyone's responsibility," Father Robert Hermann, newly named vicar for education for the archdiocese and clerical representative to the Child Safety Committee, said in a recent statement. "Through this program we are giving people the tools they need to carry out the responsibility."