The Catholic Archdiocese of New York is trying to counteract the bad reputation the church gained in recent years because of sexual abuse scandals by priests. While it is uncertain how well the project might work, at least there is an effort to acknowledge the long-hushed problem and prevent repeat occurrences.
In the first effort of its kind by a Roman Catholic dioceses, the New York group is distributing coloring and comic books warning children about sexual predators. In the coloring book, a perky guardian angel tells children not to keep secrets from their parents, not to meet anyone from Internet chat rooms and to allow only "certain people" such as a doctor or parent to see "where your bathing suit would be." In a comic book version for children over 10, a teen-ager turns to St. Michael the Archangel for strength to report that two schoolmates are being sexually abused.
Critics applaud the effort but say the material should note explicitly that trusted adults, including priests, can be abusers. They want emphasis on the fact that a predator is more likely to be a trusted adult than a stranger. That should focus on the priesthood, they say.
"There continues to be a bit of an overemphasis on stranger danger," says David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests. "I think it would be most effective if it would say, 'Not only strangers molest kids. Even adults you like and your parents respect - teachers, doctors, priests - can hurt kids.'"
Adds Clohessy: "You don't want to frighten children and don't want to stigmatize any group, but you want children to be prepared. : For safety's sake, a child and an adult shouldn't be alone in a closed room together and that is pointed out, properly, in this text. : If a child and an adult happen to be alone, someone should know where they are, and the door should be open or have a big window in it."
The overdue New York project cannot undo all the harm of the past but it might help prevent some problems down the line. The Catholic Church was far too slow in publicly acknowledging the sexual abuse scandal and taking action, and the comic and coloring books are at least a positive start.