St. Theodore Catholic church and school fighting abuse

Published 10:48 am Friday, November 4, 2016

A local catholic church is protecting its children from abuse.

VIRTUS — a program that has been in place at St. Theodore Catholic Church and school for five years — is a mandatory diocesan program for each church employee and volunteer, and raises awareness of the issues that are caused by child abuse, such as the harm it causes to its victims, the parish and the community, according to the church and school leaders.

An awareness session — led by a trained facilitator — helps adults learn to recognize the warning signs of abuse and shows them the appropriate way to respond to suspicious behavior.

St. Theodore church and school have taken steps to ensure children are safe, such as ensuring that rooms that are not in use are locked.

All church employees and volunteers must pass a background check.

Circle of Grace — incorporated into the church’s religious education classes and at St. Theodore Elementary School — instructs students on possible signs of abuse and how to tell a trusted adult.

Employees are given monthly interactive online articles that pertain to possibly different situations, such as sexual abuse or bullying. Training is usually conducted a couple of times each year to accommodate new hires.

Facilitator Donna May said the program is a proactive away in dealing with sexual abuse.

“They said the perpetrators would groom a whole community,” she said. “They are coming in, and they are grooming a whole community. And I thought ‘how very intuitive that we put something in place like this in our parish,’ because it is sending the message already — don’t look at us. We know. We are out there. We are looking at you. So it makes every adult that goes through this program a mandated reporter.”

The Rev. Russell Scepaniak said the training is necessary.

“This is a dark issue in our culture,” he said. “We have to be aware that children come first, and that they are our future, and they are a precious gift that needs to be nurtured.

“It is imperative.”

St. Theodore school board member Deanne Zogg said the program is indicative of a problem that spans beyond church doors.

“This is a community problem,” she said. “It is not just church-based. It is not church-related. It is community-wide.”

About Sam Wilmes

Sam Wilmes covers crime, courts and government for the Albert Lea Tribune.

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