A rush to be rash

Donald Clark posts a bit of a rant regarding an announcement from the Vatican for

Plans … for information to be posted on an Internet learning center and in a database that will involve cooperation with medical schools and universities and will be accessible, in part, to the public (NY Times June 18, 2011)

as part of recommendations coming out of a symposium this past February regarding the clergy sexual abuse scandals. The question is posed if such an initiative – that is, creating a “multilingual internet database and learning center that will “involve cooperation with medical schools and universities and will be accessible, in part, to the public.” (Care2 June 19, 2011) – is (or could be) helpful or useful, or if it is some “on-going PR campaign.”

Now there are some issues with Mr Clark’s understanding of ecclesiology and from his limited number of assertions regarding creedal statements, but that would be a whole other post … indeed, perhaps a string of several posts.

This response is only concerned with whether or not a proposed elearning would be, could be, helpful regarding the clergy abuse scandals.

In the interest of full disclosure … I volunteer as a catechist at my local parish in the Diocese of Metuchen, New Jersey. I teach 8th-graders, who are 13 and 14-year olds. I’ve done so for nearly 10 years. And it is in this capacity that I can speak with some personal point of reference as well as in the context of one whose profession is the designing and developing of elearning programs.

A little bit of background

At the beginning of my tenure as a volunteer catechist, we were informed of a required training program that was part of the Bishop’s response to the sexual abuse scandals (and it is worth noting that at that time, the scandals were thought to be a uniquely American phenomenon, which we have since learned to be wrong as this has reached into much of Europe).

The training was required of all individuals in the diocese who had any contact whatsoever with young people.

The training began with a several-hour classroom session and then an online certification program. This program used scenarios as the primary means of conveying the information. Each scenario included several questions asking for appropriate responses to the situations presented.

Additionally, a monthly elearning module is required. The monthly modules include an article, some study of recent findings, or snips of news articles. It ends with a brief scenario with a question.

All of this information (that I completed the modules and my answers to the questions) are kept and maintained at the diocese as there are periodic audits performed.

Then once per year I am required to be re-certified via an extensive set of elearning scenario-based questions. These scenarios cover all of the material presented in the monthly modules of the past year.

And it’s part of a comprehensive blend

Besides the elearning programs which must be completed, there are additional aspects to the diocesan program. 

Every two years I am fingerprinted and a criminal background check is conducted.

The director of religious education at the parish is required to ensure all of us are certified – paperwork is kept at the diocesan center.

There is a clear set of guidelines and policies in place at both the diocese and our parish outlining roles, responsibilities and procedures when interacting with young people. We are required to read these policies.

Regular, weekly communications are sent from the director of religious education and/or our pastor to the catechists reminding us of the policies and our responsibilities.

So the elearning programs are not isolated, discrete training events. But rather, they are a part of a more comprehensive blend of training and communication along with involvement and cooperation of law enforcement officials (vis-a-vis fingerprinting and background checks).

Now to the point

So, what is the point of all this training? And can any elearning program be effective in this, which is the primary assertion posed by Donald Clark?

Well, there are a few points.

The elearning programs are designed to provide awareness of the issues … not so much being aware of the sex abuse scandals themselves, but of the issues regarding

  • how to keep our young people safe by being able to identify behaviors of potential abusers,
  • how to create a safer environment for the children and the adult staff such as myself,
  • how to identify behaviors on the part of a young person that could indicate the possibility of ongoing abuse,
  • how to report my suspicions,
  • and what my legal responsibilities are (thereby eliminating the excuse of not knowing reporting requirements)

And this is kept front of mind in that there are regular elearning modules delivered to my email inbox as well as regular communications from those in charge of the parish programs.

Elearning programs are part of the mix … not merely a one-shot inoculation that gives an impression of action and nothing else. They are ongoing; and we are held accountable for their content as we must apply the principles to how we interact with young people at the parish.

And I would hope that the Vatican’s recently announced initiative follows a similar approach of continuous learning and application and accountability. And this would be only one step in the right direction. But details of the program are not available (at least I can’t find the details). That makes sense insofar as it is only proposed at this time. It will be designed and implemented, and time will tell if it is effective or not.

I would hope that given the announcement indicating that this will be implemented in consultation with universities, medical professionals and such that it is part of a larger blend of training, communications, etc.

So I reserve judgment on whether this is merely a PR stunt or not.

About Rory

I make my home in the central part of the Garden State along with my family. When I'm not working as an Instructional Designer (focusing mostly on Web-Based learning ... and other eLearning technologies) or researching something, I'm found at home playing computer or video games. Among other things, I volunteer as a choir member and catechist for 8th graders at my parish.
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