Keeler urges action to prevent abuse

Cardinal addresses convocation of parish and school leaders

August 30, 2002|By John Rivera | John Rivera,SUN STAFF

Calling the last six months of the Roman Catholic Church's sexual abuse scandal "a painful and purifying time," Cardinal William H. Keeler told more than 1,000 parish and parochial school leaders yesterday that they must do all they can to protect children from sexual predators.

"We as a church need to move forward. There is a great work ahead of us," Keeler told the pastors, principals, youth ministers and other church workers during a daylong convocation at Martin's West in Woodlawn on how to prevent sexual abuse.

"We will continue to work tirelessly to ensure that our environments are safer, our personnel are screened more closely, those who have abused children are removed, and our response to victims will be swift and pastoral," Keeler said.

Keeler acknowledged the difficulties many in the room have experienced in their jobs in the last few months, "the questions of the parish priest and youth ministers in the archdiocese who ask, `Will it be misinterpreted if I hug a child?' And in discouragement they ask, `Is this ministry worth doing anymore?'"

Each participant received a large, blue three-ringed binder containing the Archdiocese of Baltimore's new sexual abuse policy.

Pastors and principals also took with them an hour-long video they will use to train their employees and volunteers.

The most significant change is more stringent screening procedures for church employees and volunteers.

Criminal background checks will be required of all employees of schools, parishes, day care centers and child care facilities, as well as those archdiocese employees who visit parishes, schools or institutions serving children and youth.

Volunteers at schools and parishes who work primarily with children will be required to submit the names of at least three references, which must be checked.

Volunteers' names also will be checked against registries of sexual offenders.

Once a year, church employees and volunteers will have to undergo ethics training, which will cover appropriate relationships between adult ministers and the children they serve.

Cassandra Anderson, a theology student at Mount St. Mary's College in Emmitsburg who plans to become a professional youth minister, said she welcomed the new policy.

"I think it's a shame it's necessary," she said. "But ... it's necessary to do it."

The church workers who attended yesterday's session heard emotional stories from two adults who were molested by priests as children.

A woman said she was coming forward "because I believe there are people who need to hear our stories."

She told the gathering that making parishes and schools safe for children "isn't just an administrative demand."

"It is working for justice. It is a work of mercy. It is the work of the Gospel," she said.

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