Marquette Wire

Catholic Church continues efforts against clerical abuse

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Photo by M. Spencer Green/ Associated Press

Photo by M. Spencer Green/ Associated Press

After the release of decades-old records accusing 30 former Archdiocese of Chicago priests of sexual abuse against minors, the Catholic Church continues efforts to provide a safe environment for its youth.

Jerry Topczewski, chief of staff for the Milwaukee archbishop, said he thinks individuals should remember that, although the records were released Jan. 21, 95 percent of the accusations happened before 1988. The Catholic Church, he said, came a long way since then.

“Culturally, (we’ve been) quiet about issues of sexual abuse for decades and decades,” Topczewski said. “It just wasn’t something you talked about 50 years ago. That changed with the widespread publicity of sexual abuse by clergy in the Catholic Church.”

That publicity prompted archdioceses across the country to implement programs intended to create safe environments within the Catholic Church.

“Almost every diocese in the country has some version of a safe environment program,” Topczewski said. “If you went to Madison, they may have a different title for it or they may use different materials.”

The Archdiocese of Milwaukee requires all of its diocesan priests, deacons, parish workers, paid personnel and volunteers who regularly work with young people to complete the “Safeguarding All of God’s Family” training program.

The training focuses on protecting children in the Catholic Church and identifying possible situations that could cause harm. Participants are required to attend safe-environment education sessions, complete a criminal background check, sign the Code of Ethical Standards and read a Mandatory Reporting Statement.

Patti Loehrer, coordinator of the “Safeguarding All of God’s Family” program, said the training increases the awareness of diocesean employees to sensitive issues.

“People will question their surroundings more and keep an eye out for each other, their children and the children of others,” Loehrer said.

After completing his training, Topczewski said he applied the lessons to his personal and professional lives.

“Through this program, the Church has trained more than 50,000 people in the last 10 plus years,” Topczewski said. “The impact of that training extends well beyond the church.”

Following the release of the accusations and records, the Chicago Archdiocese issued an apology on its website Jan. 21.

“Our understanding of and response to domestic violence, sexual harassment, date rape and clerical sexual abuse have undergone significant change and so has the Archdiocese of Chicago,” the statement said. “While we complied with the reporting laws in place at the time, the Church and its leaders have acknowledged repeatedly that they wished they had done more and done it sooner, but now are working hard to regain trust, to reach out to victims and their families, and to make certain that all children and youth are protected.”

Based on the feedback she received regarding her program, Loehrer said she thinks the Catholic Church is on track to recover from its recent troubles.

“I say with certainty that 90 percent (of the programs’ evaluations) say that every adult should go through ‘Safeguarding All of God’s Family,’” Loehrer said. “That tells me that what we’re doing is working.”

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