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By Lynn and Bob Gillen

The following Links for Learners study guide is based on an article in the St. Anthony Messenger online edition. It is designed for young Catholics, particularly those in high school.

Links for Learners | April 2003

"Kathleen McChesney: Helping the Bishops Get it Right"



Finding Curriculum Connections
Understanding Basic Terms
The American Bishops' Response to the Sex-abuse Crisis in the Church
Impact and Prevention of Abuse
How to Avoid Becoming a Victim
The Role of Faith in This Crisis
Research Resources

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Links for Learning

Finding Curriculum Connections for High School Students and Their Teachers

This month’s Links for Learners will support high school curriculum in:

• Christian lifestyles—experiences of faith; dealing with crisis; church leadership
• Psychology—healthy relationships; healthy child development

Understanding Basic Terms in This Month’s Article

Look for these key words and terms as you read the article.  Definitions or explanations can be researched from the article itself, or from the resource materials cited throughout the Link for Learners. 



Office of Child and Youth Protection

Safe environment programs

National Review Boards

Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People



Sex-abuse crisis


Statute of limitations

Catholic laity

Canon law


The American Bishops' Response to the Sex-abuse Crisis in the Church

Sexual abuse of children and young people is a grave social problem everywhere. Not even churches are exempt; not even the Catholic Church. Revelations of how bishops have mishandled clergy sex abuse, most often in secrecy, has created a crisis in the Church. The most extensive survey to date, conducted by The New York Times, finds that some 1,200 priests have been accused of abusing at least 4,000 minors, primarily in the 1970s and 1980s. The widespread abuse involves over 90 percent of the dioceses in this country.

The American bishops belong to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), a governing body for the 194 dioceses in the United States. Bishop Wilton Gregory acts as president of the conference. The USCCB structure includes a number of departments designed to service the needs of the church in the United States. See the USCCB Web site for a list of each bishop and dioceses in the country.

Anxious to restore the trust of both Catholics and the general public, as well as to ensure that the Church is a safe place for children, the bishops have begun implementing strong measures to address and resolve the crisis.

One of the USCCB's first actions was the creation of a National Review Board, headed by the former Oklahoma governor Frank Keating. Thirteen individuals—all prominent Catholic laity—will help church leadership deal effectively with the current crisis.

Following on the National Review Board, in November of 2002 the bishops ratified several documents intended to serve as guidelines for the future. "Restoring Trust: Response to Clergy Sexual Abuse" includes the statements:

· The Essential Norms for Diocesan/Eparchial Policies Dealing with Allegations of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Priests and Deacons

· The Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People

· Earlier statements by the USCCB include the 1995 Walk in the Light: A Pastoral Response to Child Sexual Abuse.

After publishing their Charter, the bishops then created the Office of Child and Youth Protection and recruited as its head Kathleen McChesney, a woman with extensive background in law enforcement. McChesney's mission includes:

· Assisting each diocese in establishing standards and creating "safe-environment programs."

· Conducting audits of each diocese to understand the scope of the problem (Are The New York Times survey findings correct?) and to ensure compliance with the national guidelines.

· Commissioning an academic study on the context and causes of abuse in the Church.

McChesney acknowledges that education and healthy living are key to preventing future abuse. Safe environments, as well as parental communication and involvement, will provide our children with an emotionally sound start in life. For Catholics, positive experiences of faith for our young people are also critical. Parents and children need to trust that the Church, after the home, is a critical source for faith development.

Impact and Prevention of Abuse

The psychological impact to an abuse victim is severe. Mary Gail Frawley-O'Dea, a noted psychologist and psychoanalyst, addressed the American bishops last December. She called on the bishops to face the wrongs in the Church, understand the trauma to the victims and engage in reparative apology for what has happened. Her address "The Long-Term Impact of Early Sexual Trauma," is honest, blunt and disturbing.

Up to one-fourth of sex offense victims in society are children six and under, according to studies cited by National Public Radio (NPR). Education is a key factor in preventing sexual abuse of children. A recent NPR program cited surveys as well as statistics offered by the U. S. Justice Department indicating that child sexual abuse has declined by 30% in the last 10 years. While it is not yet clear how much prevention programs have contributed to that decline, NPR says that children are catching on to the fact that keeping secrets is wrong. Secrecy is a predator's primary technique for covering up inappropriate behaviors.

NPR's report admits, however, that we have a long way to go. Discussions about sex with the important adult in a child's life need to be a part of that child's everyday life.

The National Network for Child Care (NNCC) offers useful information about just what constitutes sexual abuse and tips for training our children to recognize and avoid abuse. The NNCC reinforces what others have said—there are no secrets. Open discussion is critical to prevention.


How to Avoid Becoming a Victim

"An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," the saying goes. A number of groups are focusing efforts on teaching young people how to recognize a predator and avoid being tricked into abuse. One is "Parents for Megan's Law." (Megan's Law refers to a legal requirement in some states for sex-abuse offenders to be reported to their neighbors by local authorities.) offers a very useful section of tips for young people to consider.

Among many myths the site debunks is the myth of the dangerous stranger: "Most children are sexually abused by someone known or related to them, often in a position of trust or authority," says the site. "Studies indicate that no more than 10% to 30% of sex offenders were strangers, meaning that up to 90% of children sexually abused had some type of relationship with their abuser. Children are abused most often by someone that they know such as a relative, the best liked coach, the pillar of the community, pediatrician, teacher, scout leader or religious leader."

The site goes on to list some of the tricks that these predators use: the Threat Trick, the Pet Trick, the Accidental Touching Trick and many others are listed on this page that is certainly worth a careful read.

Some other Web sites that offer prevention advice are:
The Center for the Prevention of Sexual and Domestic Violence
American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
American Psychological Association
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Administration for Children and Families


The Role of Faith in This Crisis

In the article, McChesney says she hopes the current crisis has not affected people's faith negatively. "I don't think faith and belief are the issue here. People who have faith know that some people do some awful, evil things—this isn't heaven! As intelligent, rational people, our obligation, because of our faith, is to try and fix those things, to make things right. It's a blessing to be able to do so."

Visit the teen section of this Web site's "Faith-filled Family" column "Church Sex-abuse Crisis Hits Close to Home" and discuss the questions posed there in light of McChesney's statement.

Also remember that the majority of priests are hard-working and caring individuals, who are probably as disheartened by this crisis as everyone else. Talk to a priest you know about how this crisis is affecting him. It may provide a different outlook on the situation. Or send him an e-card to let him know you appreciate all the work he does.


Research Resources

Try accessing some of these Internet sources for further general reference.  Be aware, however, that some of these sites may charge for downloading articles contained within the site’s archives.

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

The New American Bible

Documents of Vatican II 

The Vatican

The New York Times

The Los Angeles Times

The Chicago Tribune

The Washington Post

The Miami Herald

The Associated Press

Time Magazine



ABC News

Pathfinder—Access site to a number of online news publications

People magazine

The History Channel

The Close Up Foundation—Washington, D.C.-based organization

Channel One—online resource for the school channel

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