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 CNS Special report: Implementing the bishops' charter

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Transmitted 01/13/2004 4:20 PM ET

Religious seek preventive medicine against clergy sex abuse

By Agostino Bono
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The next stage in fighting clergy sex abuse for religious communities in the United States is a good dose of preventive medicine, according to those who work in the field.

This involves creating standards that stop abuse before it starts and training people to recognize telltale signs ranging from identifying predators to recognizing what is improper touching.

The aim is "to get everybody up to snuff," said Marist Father Ted Keating, executive director of the Conference of Major Superiors of Men.

Past policies were virtually limited to what to do after the fact, when an accuser came forward, he said.

"Now, we are setting up prevention standards well back before something happens," said Father Keating.

The Conference of Major Superiors of Men, known as CMSM, is an umbrella group for 317 religious communities in the United States and has been authorized by its membership to adapt the U.S. bishops' 2002 policies on clergy sex abuse to religious orders and communities.

It has contracted Praesidium, a private company specializing in child protection issues, to establish training sessions and safe environment programs.

Programs will involve church employees, parents and children so they can spot problems, said Monica Applewhite, president of Praesidium Religious Services, the Praesidium division setting up the CMSM programs.

By setting up standards, you are empowering people to take action, she said.

"Now people can say: 'It's not just that I don't like what you're doing, it's the policy that you don't do it,'" she said.

Applewhite said people must learn how to distinguish among the three main types of adult abusers: the person with a preferential attraction to minors; the situational offender; and the sadist who resorts to violence.

Falling into the preferential attraction category are pedophiles, persons drawn only to prepubescent children, and ephebophiles, persons attracted only to postpubescent adolescents, said Applewhite. These are high-risk abusers and they take advantage of many children throughout the course of their lives, she said.

Situational offenders are low-risk abusers who use sex as an escape from emotional or psychological problems, such as depression, anxiety, loneliness and stress, said Applewhite.

"Kids are not their first preference, but a kid is available at the right moment," she said. "Priests are vulnerable to this in their first few years after ordination. There is pressure on them and some are not up to the responsibilities."

Sadists engage in such violent acts as rape and kidnapping because putting victims in danger is part of the arousal, said Applewhite. This category is rare in members of religious organizations, she added.

Applewhite said that there are common patterns among abusers involving "grooming procedures" they use to prepare the minor for seduction.

"It's like they all went to the same perpetrator school," she said.

Nonsadistic offenders want the child to enjoy the relationship and think it's about love, she said.

"Grooming" involves pushing the child's personal boundaries by touching the child too much and patting the child's bottom, she said. It includes getting the child to drink alcoholic beverages, smoke, take drugs or look at pornography, she added.

Grooming pushes the child's emotional boundaries with the adult becoming possessive, said Applewhite.

Members of religious orders, their employees, parents and children must know that adults should not be allowed to give tobacco and alcohol to minors or tell them dirty jokes, she said.

"Holding hands while praying, and touching on the shoulder are OK; but not touching on the thigh or bottom," she said.

In the multicultural society that is the United States, where different groups have different standards of touching and hugging, religious need to be aware of these differences, she said.

Each culture generally defines what is appropriate for people to do and this should be the guide, said Applewhite.

Through prevention programs, religious, parents and children are encouraged to come forward and report when there is concern, she said.

"We don't tell people, 'Don't serve minors,'" she said, but the aim is to serve them well.


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