Friday, November 18, 2011

Penn State: What are they thinking?

I hesitated to post on this because of the potential for cheap shots, but here goes...

When I read the grand jury information that was published about the now infamous scandal involving a former coach at Penn State University, I got pretty angry, as we all did.

But I had an additional reason to be frustrated: why, even in the last ten years (when much of this abuse happened), are people still, seemingly, clueless about obvious warning signs and boundary violations?

According to the grand jury information:

> The coach--Sandusky--was hosting boys overnight in his home.
> He was traveling alone with boys.
> Individual boys were seen in his company frequently, including at picnics, parties, football games and other events.
> He was working out with individual boys and showering with them.

Before we even get to the allegations of abuse and assault and rape, these items right here should have been and should be immediate red flags.

Speaking for myself, nothing like this happens, or should happen, with any priest. God knows the Church, and priests, will have a black eye for decades to come because of the terrible crimes of a few priests, and the failure of oversight of too many bishops.

Folks should know that--at least in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati--the situation has changed drastically:

> I am obliged never to be alone with children, the only exception being when hearing confessions. When it happens inadvertently--say kids are getting ready to serve Mass and no other adult is around--I go and stand in the doorway of the sacristy so folks attending Mass can see me, even if I'm putting on a vestment at that time.

> I never enter the bathrooms in the school anytime there are children in the building; if I do, I'll use the faculty bathroom only.

> When invited by family and friends to stay at their homes when traveling, if they have children under 18 I decline. And because I don't want them to misunderstand, I have explained it to the parents. Some of them have been angry, not at me, but at the rule being so strict. I'm not sure that every priest would take it that way, but I asked the chancellor about it and he agreed with my understanding of the rule.

> Children are almost never in my home. The exceptions are when they come with a parent, or when children stop by on Hallowe'en. When they do, I never pass out the candy, I have a couple from the parish do it.

> Similarly, other adults, either employees or volunteers, must likewise observe very similar rules about not being alone with children.

> All employees or volunteers who work with children must undergo a fingerprinting and background check, including clergy. This must be renewed periodically. We spend a fair amount of money and a lot of time keeping track of all this.

> All employees or volunteers who work with children must take part in an orientation about these rules, including their responsibility to report any information about possible harm to a child, in any setting, past or present. I have made several reports, or had staff do so (if they received the information directly). We are very careful about it. In practice, because no one wants to err and fail to report something, we report even rather sketchy information, that I cannot imagine is any help to law enforcement. That said, there is a constant concern that something will be omitted, and a harm will continue.

> Related to that last point, I had a situation where this came up in the midst of counseling an individual. The individual had come to me to seek advice on this very subject. Because the law, and the Archdiocese, require me to report what they told me--and yet, they had come to talk to me expecting confidentiality--I saw no choice but, at that very moment, to advise the folks that I would have to report what they told me. Sadly, they clammed up and shared no more about it. I never saw them again. The situation involved another family member they believed was harming a child. I did what I had to do and I'm not second-guessing it; however, please note that, in that instance, my role as a counselor to this family ended as a result. They chose to say no more, knowing that I was bound to disclose information to law enforcement.

Anyway, that's a sampling of what Archdiocesan volunteers, clergy and employees deal with--our awareness. I'm still wondering what folks are thinking up there in Happy Valley?

Parents, please: if your son or daughter tells you about going on trips or going to the gym with a single adult, isn't that odd to you? Staying overnight in the adult's house? Don't you hear a bell going off?

Ok, in this case, the parents were absent. But who, at these public events, seeing this grown man with ten- or 12-year old boys going around with him, doesn't think that is odd? I never do this; who does this? Is this happening all the time and I'm not aware of it?

If you go to the Y, and you know there's an adult male who is bringing in boys not related to him, doesn't that set off an alarm bell? Coaches come through locker rooms at schools, and when I was boy, and we went to the pool, we changed and showered in a locker room with other boys and men around--but there were lots of people around, it wasn't solitary.

In the grand jury information--which is likely incomplete and probably not all accurate--there was one parent who, when her son came home with wet hair, did the exact right thing. She asked, "why is your hair wet?" When her son told her he'd been showering with the coach, the parent got upset (rightly--because that wasn't part of the plan) and started asking more questions.

Parents, I'm not excusing myself from my own responsibility, to observe good boundaries, and to be watchful. But I do think some of these things could be prevented if parents asked more questions. "Whose house do you want to stay overnight at?"

Let me know what you think.


Ellen said...

Very well stated. As comedian Bill Engvall would say, "here's your sign" - and there were many. And I can't believe that no one spoke up in defense of the children.

My heart aches for the boys who were subject to abuse at the hands of Jerry Sandusky. He was supposed to be a mentor, not an abuser.

truthfinder2 said...

We raised three sons when we were still Protestant. To this day, I wonder about the (Protestant) church camp we sent them to. Some questionable things came to light much later. I would never send a child off to camp nowadays unless I planned to be a camp counselor at that camp. I am sad for the need for such rules in the Church, but glad that they are there.

Jackie said...

Your comments are exactly correct. While I do hate the 'stupid' parts - it is rather a package deal.

I also assumed - though I appreciate all of the 'corporate/institutional' help - that I was completely responsible for ensuring my son's safety in all things/areas - from fireworks to swimming to bike helmets to who he associated with including who he spent the night with.

Sevesteen said...

There will be clergy of all faiths, coaches in all sports, educators and other organization members who abuse children. It is sadly inevitable, but also by itself not the fault of these organizations. The problem comes when reputation or winning games or whatever is more important than stopping the abuse.

It is a shame that it has affected not only the abused children but adults innocent of any wrong.

TerryC said...

It concerns me that there are so many children who do not come from a home where there is a father. Now it has become too dangerous to allow other men to attempt to serve for them as a father figure. The Big Brother program for years was a way for mentors to help boys who would otherwise not have any positive adult male role models. Now it has become impossible for a good man to help such boys without people looking at a man who truely cares about such boys and the negative impact the lack of male role models and suspecting he has evil motives.
It is a very sad and evil world indeed, where Satan has used so few evil men to create so much destruction.