Catholic Church confronting child sexual abuse through the VIRTUS program

To combat the problem of child sexual abuse, The National Catholic Risk Retention Group, Inc. created the VIRTUS program in March 1998.
“The VIRTUS program confronts child sexual abuse through its Protecting God’s Children programs,” said Jack McCalmon, director of VIRTUS programs and services. “Most organizations that work with children have a child safety program in place. The VIRTUS program maximizes those efforts by helping churches and religious organizations renew their role as safe havens for children and empowering them with the tools to help adults protect children.”
The VIRTUS program has expanded nationally, and its goal is to make each Catholic Church environment across the country safe for children. This is done by educating and training adults of the dangers and warning signs of abuse, ways to prevent abuse, and the ways of properly reporting suspicions of abuse. Clergy, religious teachers, staff, volunteers and parents are all eligible for the VIRTUS training program.
“Child abusers seek to operate within nurturing, child-friendly environments where it is assumed that no person would want to harm a child,” said McCalmon. “Religious organizations of all faiths are an easy target. The VIRTUS program implements safety mechanisms that send a message to all abusers and potential abusers that such abuse is not tolerated, that children are protected, and that offenders will be identified and punished.”
At St. Matthew’s Church in Tyrone, Father Joseph Orr said that all clergy, religious teachers and volunteers are required to enroll in the VIRTUS training programs. One such training was held this past Tuesday at Harkins Hall where approximately 30 people went through the three hour training process. It consisted of two videos, participant workbooks and individual and group discussion.
The first video shown, “A time to protect God’s children,” had actual victims speaking about the affects of the abuse on their lives. It also had actual convicted abusers speaking about why they abused children. The video also covered some common myths and facts about child sexual abuse. For example, it is a myth that strangers are responsible for most child sexual abuse. The fact is most abusers are known and trusted by the parents and children.
In the second video, “A plan to protect God’s children,” five steps were given in order to become more aware of child sexual abuse. They are: know the warning signs to identify abuse before it occurs; control access to children with screening processes; monitor all programs children are involved in; be aware of the behavior of children; and communicate any concerns about uncomfortable situations.
Even though child sexual abuse is an uncomfortable topic for everyone, it is something that cannot be ignored. The fact is that at least half of the abusers were once themselves abused when they were children. The goal of this program is to stop the vicious cycle of abuse, and the way to do that is for adults to become aware of the warning signs and prevention methods before it is too late.
If anyone suspects that a child is being abused, there is a toll-free 24-hour, seven day a week hotline established by the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare to receive reports of suspected abuse and neglect of children.
The reports are forwarded to the local children and youth agency for investigation. Anyone who makes a report in good faith is protected under the Child Protective Services law from criminal and civil immunity. The Childline is 1-800-932-0313.