Being aware of, and reporting, abuse
How the archdiocese trains volunteers about childhood sexual abuse
PHILADELPHIA >> About 40 people sat in the Archdiocesan Pastoral Center one recent evening, their focus intent on the large projection screen in the middle of the front of the room.
“I was 10 years old,” the boy in the film tells the viewers. “I faced my molester every day not knowing if he was every going to mess with me again. And, he did do it again, and again, and again.”
Seven minutes into the twopart film that lasted about a half hour, a white, clean-shaven, brown-haired man comes on the screen.
“The first child, as close as I can recall, I was 10, he was 5,” he said. “He was a neighborhood child who looked up to me and I took advantage of that to lure him into a field behind our parents’ house and to trick him into, force him into taking his clothes off.”
This raw footage based on testimony from actual abuse and survivors, as well as the stories from perpetrators themselves, is part of a two-and-a-half hour intense training regimen that the Archdiocese of Philadelphia requires of any adult — clergy, employee or volunteer — who has regular interactions with children.
Childhood sexual abuse is a worldwide problem that garnered much focus here in the United States in 2002 when the
Archdiocese of Boston faced national exposure for the abuse and concealment there. The Archdiocese of Philadelphia came under scrutiny as the result of two grand jury reports, one in 2005 and another in 2011, that linked more than 60 priests with abusing dozens of minors over decades. Since then, legislative efforts have emerged to deal with the crisis.
Since 2003, more than 100,000 adults have gone though this Safe Environment training called “Protecting God’s Children,” which provides them with the tools to recognize, respond to and report both warning signs of child abuse and abuse itself.
The training is done under the auspices of the archdiocese’s Office for Child and Youth Protection, headed by Leslie Davila, who has more than two decades experience as a victim advocate and was assistant director for victim services for the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office for 12 years before assuming her current role in 2011.
“Our Safe Environment training is our child abuse awareness program,” Davila explained. “It’s about educating adults about how to be protectors of children, how to be role models. We really want to empower adults with the information that they need to protect children.”
The training is done all year long and is held throughout the entire archdiocese in parishes and schools in the five-county area.
There is also an educational component geared toward children and presented in age-appropriate ways that has informed more than 100,000 of the faithful in Catholic schools and parish-based programs how to recognize improper conduct – and how to report it.
“We create a system where they feel comfortable to come forward,” Davila said, adding that identifying inappropriate behavior is important, whether it’s at school or at home, or with someone they know, or whether it’s a friend or another child they know who they think may be being abused.
“We’re trying to empower them and give them lessons that will help them for years to come,” Davila said.
In addition, there are more than 280 Safe Environment coordinators in the archdiocesan parishes, schools and other programs working to guarantee compliance with laws and policies.
Davila said the archdiocese has had a long-standing culture of prevention, protection and healing for victims and survivors.
Through the 2015 fiscal year, the archdiocese has spent more than $18 million on victim assistance programs, the Safe Environment initiatives and the Office for Children and Youth Protection.
Of that, the archdiocese has paid more than $13 million for the costs of counseling, medication, travel and child care, vocational assistance and other support mechanisms for victims of childhood sexual abuse.
“Within the Catholic Church and the state of Pennsylvania and nationally, each diocese has been doing this work for many, many years,” Davila said, noting that the state requirement for background checks for adults came after the archdiocesan implementation.
Davila’s office is responsible for the training and education. The archdiocese has a separate division, the Office of Investigation, which handles the internal investigations, separate from those executed by law enforcement.
Ken Gavin, director of communications for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, said the archdiocese reports any allegation of sexual abuse of a minor to law enforcement.
He said the archdiocese cooperates fully with law enforcement in the course of any subsequent investigation and that the work of the criminal justice system always takes precedence so the archdiocese waits for the conclusion of any such proceedings before launching its own internal investigation as required by canon law.
In order for adults to work with children, they are required to complete the Safe Environment training as well as have FBI fingerprint background checks, Pennsylvania State Police criminal background checks and Pennsylvania Child Abuse history clearances.
The Safe Environment training consists of two parts: One is the “Protecting God’s Children” and the other is “Mandatory Reporting of Suspected Child Abuse.”
At the recent training at the Archdiocesan Pastoral Center, the film, produced by Virtus of the National Catholic Risk Retention Group Inc., presented a variety of viewpoints from that of victims who had been abused by priests, teachers, camp counselors and those they met online, as well as family members and predators themselves.
“It happens in the most unlikely places and it’s committed by people we fully expected to be trustworthy,” said the Rev. Richard J. Malone, bishop of the Buffalo, N.Y., diocese, in the film. “It happens in day care centers and in our schools, in our youth programs, in our homes and in the churches of every tradition … Unless we bring childhood sexual abuse out into the open, we cannot hope to protect those we love most – our children.”
Myths about sexual abuse — that pedophiles look a certain way; that most molesters are homosexual; and that Catholic clergy abuse children because of their vows of celibacy — also are addressed.
Kevin Kirby, Psy. D., is the Safe Environment Compliance Auditor for the Office of Child and Youth Protection and he facilitated this specific night’s training.
Working within the mental health system for four decades, he also operated a sex offenders treatment program and now completes audits of archdiocesan Safe Environment programs.
“From experience, I can tell you that the barriers that we can erect from people who want to harm our children are essential,” he explained. “Clearances are no question a deterrent.”
He said a check of the Megan’s Law website that evening showed there were 6,000 registered sex offenders in the entire five-county Philadelphia area.
“That’s the tip of the iceberg in terms of people who have this kind of problem,” he said. “It’s the tip of the iceberg.”
And, he added, “The more we know, the more barriers we can put up, the safer our children are going to be.”
The film outlined a fivestep process designed to keep children safe.
Number one was to know the warning signs for inappropriate behavior that may result in an uneasy feeling.
“For example,” the film narrator says, “you may notice an adult who always wants to be alone with kids or seems to be more excited to be with children than with adults … or the person may go overboard touching children, always wanting to wrestle or tickle them especially when they don’t know the children very well ... By being overly physical with a child, a person could be conditioning a child to tolerate certain types of inappropriate physical touch from other adults that they would normally resist.”
It also warns about adults who talk about sex or tell dirty jokes or who show pornographic pictures to children, as well as those who take pictures of children, especially a certain type of child, without parental permission.
“They’re seeing if that child will go along with it, instead of saying, ‘No, I’m not allowed to talk that way. I’m not allowed to say those things,’” Kirby said, adding that the predator is gauging how far they might be able to go with a child and is trying to make the child feel complicit. “The manipulation is really insidious, it’s insidious.”
The film instructed adults to use the P-A-N method in categorizing behavior in that affection shown toward a child: It should be Public, Appropriate and Non-sexual.
The second step is controlling access through screening, from having volunteers and employees complete standardized applications to requiring background checks.
It reiterates that child molesters believe that rules do not apply to them, saying that they have been known to sign authorizations knowing a criminal history may be discovered.
The third step is to monitor all ministries involving children and youth.
All secluded areas in and around school and church buildings should be offlimits and locked. Adults should not be alone with children in secluded areas.
“They should meet with children in an area where other adults can see them or an adult can walk in unannounced,” the narrator says.
There are also specific guidelines for technology usage, as outlined in the Standards of Ministerial Behavior and Boundaries.
It instructs parents to install filtering and monitoring software on each electronic device and to review that content regularly.
Personnel, paid or volunteer, using electronic means to communicate with youth are given guidelines from obtaining written permission from parents or guardians for such communication, keeping the content brief and professional and adding at least one other adult to the message.
Step four is being aware of a child’s behavior, particularly sudden changes.
“It’s that change in behavior,” Kirby discussed, adding that it could be anything from changes in sleep or hygiene patterns to moodiness, anger or depression or wanting to stop something they previously liked.
“We need to be able to listen very carefully to our kids,” he said, adding that often their cues will be nonverbal.
That’s in part because many children don’t tell what’s happening to them.
“It’s very difficult because of the power and the control that the offender has exerted over their grooming process,” Kirby said, adding that only approximately 5 percent of children lie about it. “We have to be willing to believe it.”
The film said conversations should be had with children on a regular basis, like being told not to play with matches. They should be told their private parts are special and no adults should see or touch them except under circumstances to keep them safe and healthy, or they should tell their mom and dad even if another adult has told them not to tell.
“Not being willing to talk about these subjects,” the narrator said, “puts children at risk.”
The final step involved reporting, or communicating concern. Communicating concern is an act of pointing out something that is of concern, not saying or labeling a person is an abuser.
The narrator informed, “In far too many cases of abuse, adults have noticed things along the way but didn’t say anything until it was too late … It is the moral and possibly legal responsibility of that person to report the suspicions to the civil authorities.”
Each participant received an informational packet that included a brochure on specific signs of physical, sexual, psychological abuse and neglect as well as ways to report this from calling ChildLine at 800-932-0313, completing a form online at compass. state.pa.us/CWIS or notifying someone in charge of the institution.
Kirby said if it is beyond an allegation, it must be reported to law enforcement authorities first.
“You must report when you suspect child abuse,” he said. “That is the law … You don’t discuss it with the principal, you don’t discuss it with the pastor, you don’t discuss it with your program head and make a joint decision. If you suspect child abuse, you must make the report and then you tell the supervisors, the counselors, the head of the program. You have that direct responsibility.”
He said if an adult is exhibiting any of the warning signs, the supervisor should be notified.
Kirby said he receives questions from participants about why do they have to go through this training and these clearances, especially since they’re not offenders. Some are concerned about making sure both the youth and the adult leaders are protected.
“You care about our kids and you want to be involved,” Kirby said. “You don’t give that up. You don’t give that up because you have to be at this training. The persons who do give that up, either they didn’t really want to work with kids or there’s a problem. It’s sad that it’s part of our society. It’s very sad, it’s tragic. But without you, our kids are losing a lot.”
Kevin Kirby, Psy.D., the Safe Environment Compliance Auditor for the archdiocese’s Office of Child and Youth Protection, leads a recent Safe Environment program for adult volunteers.
Leslie Davila heads the archdiocese’s Office for Child and Youth Protection. She has more than two decades of experience as a victim advocate and was assistant director for victims services for the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office for 12 years before assuming her current role in 2011.
Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput has taken a firm stance against the perpetrators of sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.