Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Hot topic: Parochial schools and abuse

This from a reader:
Specifically, what are local SF Catholic schools, grammar and high, doing to ensure that abuse doesn't occur on the scale it has in the past? I'd like to hear concrete plans and policies that are being implemented.

My husband and I both come from Catholic families and were practicing until recently, so we are not trying to Catholic bash. We just want concrete assurances our child will be safe a Catholic grammar school in SF.

If there are principals, teachers, parents, diocese employees that can explain the SF policies here, please speak up. Because the Vatican comparing the NY & LA Times to anti-Semites for reporting on the abuse, well, that's just not cutting it for us.

Thank you for any insight you can provide.

38 comments:

  1. I am no fan of the Catholic Church. However, I do think that abuse is not limited to the Catholic Church or any particular school or group. Abusers go into places where they will get easy access to underage kids in situations where parents are absent. Involve yourself in your kid's education and you are less likely to have to worry about the potential for abuse. Also, watch for behavior that just doesn't make sense. The experience at the school I went to as a kid I think is a pretty good example. As a kid, I went to a nondenominational private all-boys 5 - 12 in an inner city. It was the kind of place where you sent your kid if he was jocky (the school had extensive athletic facilities), but he wasn't smart enough to get into an academic private. Kind of like an academically downgraded non-Catholic version of St. Ignatius. Parents were mostly harried two-income blue collar folks trying desperately to make ends meet. They were mostly absent from the goings-on at the school. The rep of the school rode on its football team. And the coach of the football team was a god, absolutely untouchable. He was also a voracious pederast who regularly raped the young kids under his watch. The school likely knew about it within five or ten years of it starting, but it continued (and got worse) for over twenty-five years. When things got too hot, he was quickly sent off into retirement. Lessons? My entire time at the school, parents were simply absent. Not there. Second, there were definitely tell-tale signs, odd things that went on. Coach of the varsity football team has to do something other than that, right, like teach history or something? What did this guy do? He was the PE instructor for fifth and sixth graders. How convenient. Third, he was also a virulent homophobe. There were several out teachers at our school, and he would regularly fag-bash them publicly. Hope this helps.

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  2. I AM a fan of the Catholic Church and believe that most Catholics are good people who give of their time, talent and treasure to MANY good causes. That said, there have been some very bad apples who were in unique positions to take advantage of children - for three reasons: revered position, societal ignorance, lack of information. I 100% agree with 10:22 that the best way to protect your kids is to be involved. But you also need to educate your kids and let them know that they can tell you anything, talk about bad touching, etc... I have already had these conversations with my 5 year old. Having attended numerous parochial schools growing up I never had anything bad happen to me, and I never heard of anything at any of my schools. That doesn't mean it can't or won't happen, but I think that there are bad people everwhere, just as there are good people everywhere. I suspect that Catholic schools, smarting from scandals, will be much more careful/ responsive/ attentive than ever before.

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  3. Having gone to Catholic schools here in the city, working at one now, and sending my daughters to Catholic school, I can assure that all employees of Catholic schools go through a required annual training that includes information about these types of issues. Our training includes information about what to do if one suspects of abuse, as well as what constitutes abuse, harrassment and the like. I agree with both previous posters that it's a shame that some bad apples can spoil the barrel for so many. Parochial schools are a wonderful option for many families, Catholic or not.

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  4. I can't believe any parent or any other person with a conscience would have anything to do with this organization given its longstanding institutionalized policies that pro-actively gave known predators access to the largest possible number of victims. (It's called "pimping" in other circumstances.) It's not just about your OWN kids, you know!

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  5. I am a former Catholic with huge misgivings about the current Pope.

    That being said, times have changed dramatically since the 1970's and 80's when sexual abuse was tacitly accepted while being frowned upon.

    Many things have changed in the laws, especially in California, that make it illegal for a convicted sex offender to work with children. There is lifetime sex offender registration, and the new penalties for molestation are steep, essentially amounting to a life sentences after just one or two criminal acts.

    Furthermore, I also think the openness about having been a victim is a huge boon to transparency and prevention of further crimes. Part of the reason why these beasts got away with their conduct was that families and children were too ashamed by being victimized to speak out. I think the trend toward victims' rights has really changed this, and there is no shame in being a victim. The curtain has been pulled back.

    I do send my daughter to Catholic School, although I am not a believer. I love the traditions, structure, kindness, and focus on learning. I am confident that my child is not being abused. She is informed about good touches and bad touches and about never ever keeping anything from her parents just because a grown-up says to.

    So, I would love to see the institution of the Catholic Church be more open about this, but I doubt anything will happen while Ratzinger is Pope. Maybe the Catholic Church should develop an impeachment policy.

    It's a shame that so many excellent schools in the City are being affected by the Sins of the many, many guilty Fathers.

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  6. I am a life long Catholic who attends church regularly. My 4 year old twins currently attend Sunday school at our parish which for the past few weeks has been teaching them specifically about what is a good touch and what is a bad touch. The Church has instituted this program of teaching kids about how to protect themselves since the molestation scandal in the US broke a few years ago. It is a program that is taught, age appropriately, to all kids who attend Sunday school and parochial schools (with the parents' permission of course).

    Am I beyond angry and sickened at the recent revelations about the further cover-up? Yes. I am pissed off at the leadership of the Catholic Church for allowing this to happen and for denigrating my faith? Yes. Have I considered not going to Church and/or not sending my kids to Catholic school? Absolutely. But I have to look at it this way: I did not move from the US when my country did horrid things-I worked toward making a change rather than upping and quitting. I look at my membership in the Catholic Church and my kids attending Catholic schools in the same vein--I will be the the change that is necessary. The programs that they have already instituted at the request of the members of the Church give me faith that that change is possible.

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  7. The leadership of the Catholic church did not just ALLOW this mass predatory abuse to happen. They actively encouraged, aided and abetted its happening, and happening more and more and more. And the high Catholic leadership's complaining that media coverage victimizes the Pope the way Nazis victimized Jews is beyond disgusting.

    Neener, your comparison to wrongs done by the U.S. is thoughtful and compelling. But no one participating in any Catholic institutions should be allowed to minimize it. The mass abuse didn't just happen. It was vigorously promoted, encouraged and abetted by institutionalized church policies, worldwide.

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  8. The Archdiocese of San Francisco has a very active program to protect children both in school and church activities. Like the Boy Scouts, there is a very different environment in place than, say, 20 years ago.

    Here's a link to the Archdiocese site explaining its policies. http://www.sfarchdiocese.org/protecting-children/

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  9. Interesting that it's acceptable to boycott the Boy Scouts (over their anti-gay policies), but that people go nuts when anyone suggests boycotting Catholic institutions. And that's even though the Church's history of anti-gay activity (including being largely responsible for Prop. 8, and that WAS the SF Diocese directly) is far, far worse than the Boy Scouts', and it sure seems like the Church record of encouraging snd enabling pedophiles is too. What does it take to get people riled?

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  10. "What does it take to get people riled?"

    well it has to have potential to hit their own family.

    Obviously people aren't upset about the SF Diocese' involvement in Prop 8 because anti-Gay marriage doesn't affect them, or so they think. Just wait until they come for their rights, or GOD FORGIVE, one of their children is gay.

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  11. 10:49 pm --- this is 10:22 again -- yes, it is good to talk to your kids about reporting such behavior, but don't count on them actually doing so. Abusers in powerful situations (like the football coach) may seem omnipotent to even a middle schooler or high schooler. The boys abused by this guy (who by the way have created a website as a way to deal with what happened to them) have written about how powerful he seemed to them. They were terrified to say anything to anybody lest that be the end of their sport career. Sports were everything for them, and here was this guy who could give them a chance to excel at it. I don't think it helped that, by fifth grade, kids start to clam up in talking to their parents. I also don't think it helped that the school was an all-boys one. (I know there are all-boys school supporters out there, but I cannot for the life of me fathom the reason for such schools.) It created a "lord of the flies" climate that further let this guy be entrenched. I know this isn't necessarily comforting information, believe me it makes me terribly worried with my own kids, but it is stuff that parents have to know to be fully armed.

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  12. April 14, 11:57: you say all employees must go through background checks. Does that include priests?

    Thank you everyone for thoughtful responses. I am just sick over this. I used to think it was "just a few bad apples," but it's not. I can't think of one Catholic person I know who doesn't know this happened at their parish or someone's they know.

    Our youth group leader (a priest) fled the country when it broke in the local paper that he had abused a 15 year old. My husband's hometown parish had a priest leave under shady circumstances. My friend's brother was molested by a priest. I could go on and on. It was NOT just a few bad apples.

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  13. In this day and age, anyone who leaves their kid alone with a priest is just deluded.

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  14. This is 11:57 from 4/14. I can't answer that question. But I can say that there are no preists at the school at which I work, or the school that my daughters attend. I can understand why a family would want to send their children to a school that instills values that are consistent with their own: social justice, kindness to others, inclusivity, self-discipline, and certainly those qualities are taught in many types of schools, including parochial schools. There are many of us who do not agree with the current pope, or many of the institutional policies set forth by the Catholic Church. However, in touring independent, parochial and public schools in the city, we found a parochial school that fits our family, our academic expectations, and our budget and we are very happy there.

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  15. How can you be happy supporting an institution that enables, aids, abets and encourages predatory sex abuse against children?? I guess we all have our values systems -- or none, in some cases.

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  16. I'm the thread originator here. Anyone know if there are rules at the schools, such as priests always have to have another adult present when with children?

    I am way angry about the abuse/denial but I think it's unfair to say that a parents have no "value system" if they send their kids to Catholic school. It's not a perfect alternative, but lots of us can't afford Friends, Hamlin, Brandeis, Kittredge, etc. and don't think that a huge public school is a good option for our kids (taking into account their own personal temperment, shyness, etc.).

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  17. So choosing a parochial means I have no conscience or values???? Versus choosing our assigned public, which is in the bottom 5 percent in the state or a private we cannot afford. I would not be so quick to judge other's decisions.

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  18. Yes, supporting an institution that has vigorously, pro-actively ENCOURAGED the sexual abuse of children DOES constitute a troubling lack of values. I can't even believe anyone could question that statement.

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  19. You know when someone says a statement cannot be questioned that you are in crazy-land.

    And I say this as an Episcopalian dyke who would not, myself, go anywhere near the Catholic church, not that they want me anyway.

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  20. If you can't question a statement, why comment on a blog like this? I think to indicate that those who go to or work in a Catholic school encourage sexual abuse is misguided and false. I appreciate the opportunity to share and read thoughtful comments, whether I disagree or agree, and hope we could stick to those. Some families choose a Catholic school as their first choice, and for others they "end up" there becasue neither public nor private are viable options for that particular family. The informaion and insight on this blog is meant to assist those "end up" families, I think.

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  21. I didn't say no one COULD question it; I said I can't believe anyone would.

    It just seems obvious that it's morally bankrupt to support and participate in an institution that has actively fostered, encouraged, supported and enabled mass child molestation.

    To associate with and support such an organization is to tacitly tolerate mass child molestation. If it's crazy-land to say that, then I am indeed in crazy-land, but I'd rather be there than in the land where mass child molestation is viewed as tolerable. And that's the statement that's being made when one continues to associate with the Catholic Church.

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  22. It seems to me that the families sticking around the Church and demanding change will have more of a positive effect than Catholics like me who have had it and want to just bag out.

    I appreciate those who are being vocal and forcing change!

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  23. "To associate with and support such an organization is to tacitly tolerate mass child molestation."

    The Church has historically been vicious to gay people, but I don't assume that all *parents* sending their kids to Catholic school tacitly tolerate homophobia. It's your judgment of parents doing the best they can that offends--especially because parochial is the only non-public option widely available to middle and working-class families--not your view of the Church. Your class snobbery just isn't helpful.

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  24. Even if my view constituted "class snobbery," which it does not, I still think "class snobbery" is a far lesser sin than tolerating and excusing mass child abuse. But how is it "class snobbery" to believe that child abusers should be shunned?

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  25. You can shun from within. Check out dinityusa.org

    DIGNITY is organized to unite gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Catholics, as well as our families, friends and loved ones in order to develop leadership, and be an instrument through which we may be heard by and promote reform in the Church.

    [bolding is theirs]

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  26. "But how is it 'class snobbery' to believe that child abusers should be shunned?"

    It isn't, when you put it that way, but I wouldn't want you on my debate team, as you're smooshing together two parts of what I said for your own purposes.

    It is indeed class snobbery to say that parents who would send their child to a parochial school -- the only non-public option available to most middle- and working-class families -- have no values. You are judging the *parents* as a way of judging the child molesters, and that is absurd.

    If you are so worried about child abusers, please shun your child's parents (yourself and your spouse, I presume), as that is where the majority of abusers still come from (81%, data at the US Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families, http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cb/pubs/cm08/figure3_6.htm). See also Newsweek's story on the rates of sexual abuse in particular not being higher for Catholic priests, http://www.newsweek.com/id/236096.

    I'm not excusing the Catholic church, but it's just not OK to snark on other parents using faulty logic and skewed perceptions.

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  27. Yes, child abusers should be shunned, but you are categorically stigmatizing parents, educators and committed members of society who still believe in the values of a catholic education. Working from within an organization to make change is so much more effective than hollering about from afar. How are YOU helping?

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  28. I am no longer a Catholic, but I was raised Catholic, went to Catholic School for grade school and high school. My family members are still practicing Catholics.

    I don't think it's fair or accurate to say abuse is a special thing the Catholic Priests did. While one may personally know of such horrors that happened, I can say that I fortunately never did. I visited the priests' home, the nuns' home, sang in the choir and nothing abusive ever happened to me or any one I knew.
    This is just to say that one shouldn't generalize about Catholics in the same way one shouldn't generalize about about, say, Muslims or Jews or (fill in the blank).

    Is the hierarchy of the Church sickening? Absolutely.

    So to say that anyone who leaves children alone with a priest now a days is insane is really offensive. That is bigotry.

    Hey, we all live in a country that is guilty of murder, torture, racism and dropping a nuclear bomb on CIVILIANS, twice! But we're working to make it better (hopefully) and it's no different for the practicing Catholics on this listserve or elsewhere. I respect that others are different than I am and are still in it.

    Good luck to them,

    And by the way, I know folks who are very happy at their Catholic school here in SF. (That was the topic wasn't it!)

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  29. Regarding working from within to reform the church -- I thought of this thread at mass today. The reverend had some very strong strong things to say about the Catholic Church. And next Sunday the the announcement handouts (given out at mass) will include a number of points that he recommends parishioners do to work toward reform.

    I know this has nothing to do with the actual topic of parochial schools, but it is relevent to the greater discussion.

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  30. Hi, my kids are in public, but we are considering switching to parochial. One thing I heard is that, if you get in, your child will be REQUIRED to do confirmation, even if you are not Catholic. Is that true? If it is, is there a grade beyond which the schools would not require a kid to go through confirmation -- for example, if my kid started in fifth grade, would the school not require that he go back through confirmation? Just wondering . . .

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  31. First Communion happens in 2nd grade, Confirmation in 8th grade. And NO, your child will not be required to participate if s/he does not wish to! (At least the schools that I'm aware of don't force anyone to do their First Communion and Confirmation...)

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  32. It's my understanding that a person must be Catholic to receive sacraments. How could a school make this a requirement?

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  33. "One thing I heard is that, if you get in, your child will be REQUIRED to do confirmation, even if you are not Catholic."

    Not true.

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  34. I've seen my friend's children's report cards from SF parochial schools. The first grade is in religion, broken down into prayer and I think "comprehension." It seemed really weird that a non-Catholic kid would be graded on "prayer"-- and that that's the very first item on the report card, too! Or maybe they put n/a?

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  35. You can expect kids in Catholic and other religious schools (e.g. Brandeis) to get religious instruction and engage in religious activities. You have to be Catholic to receive the sacraments of First Communion (around age 7) and confirmation (around age 13 and up), though at some masses, everyone in attendance is invited to receive communion, even if they are not Catholic.

    I would never make excuses for the enabling manner in which the church handled pedophile priests, but the only way to end child sexual abuse is to stop having children.

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  36. 5:17 again -- thanks for the comments. I had heard this requirement from a parent whose kid is at a Catholic school. I'm now thinking that her family is Catholic, and I guess in that instance it makes sense that they'd expect the kid to do first communion and confirmation. I'm also thinking she assumed I was Catholic (I'm not but I'm Latino so that may have led to the confusion) and that's why she said it. I hope people didn't think my post was to disparage the Catholic schools. We are very interested and are probably going to apply next year.

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