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TOWN HALL: Church has learned to protect children (poll)

April 20, 2012
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The Joshua Carrier saga is the latest reminder that safety in our public schools is woefully inadequate. It is past time that Congress, the president, the U.S. Department of Education and school boards devise a plan to protect our kids.

For a blueprint, they should start by looking to the Catholic Church in the United States.

Carrier, a former cop who worked in public schools, had been charged with 186 sexual assault charges involving children. He was acquitted on 36 assault counts and the jury deadlocked on 150 others, for which Carrier may be tried again. Jurors convicted him on 21 counts of child pornography, which alone could land him up to 36 years in prison.

Stories of sexual assaults in public schools have become routine. Anyone interested in the scope of the problem in Colorado should simply log onto Google and conduct this search: “Colorado teacher sexual assault.” Or simply watch the news each night and see how many days go by before a story pops up about a teacher facing charges of sexual impropriety with a student. It is epidemic.

The Associated Press put it this way in 2007, after releasing the findings of a yearlong investigation that was mostly ignored by the rest of the mainstream press:

“Students in America’s schools are groped. They’re raped. They’re pursued, seduced and think they’re in love.

“An Associated Press investigation found more than 2,500 cases over five years in which educators were punished for actions from bizarre to sadistic.

“There are 3 million public school teachers nationwide, most devoted to their work. Yet the number of abusive educators — nearly three for every school day — speaks to a much larger problem in a system that is stacked against victims.

“Most of the abuse never gets reported. Those cases reported often end with no action. Cases investigated sometimes can’t be proven, and many abusers have several victims.

“And no one — not the schools, not the courts, not the state or federal governments — has found a surefire way to keep molesting teachers out of classrooms.”

AP quoted California lawyer Mary Jo McGrath, who specializes in sexual abuse in schools, saying that every district in America has “at least one perpetrator.”

Are children statistically safer in a Catholic institution or a public school? Answer in survey to the right. Must vote to see results.

The problem in the schools, based on a congressional investigation and the AP research, dwarfs anything that occurred in Catholic institutions. Yet nothing has been done, despite revelations of the problem, because the media have declined to report this as anything approaching a crisis. Most newspapers even declined to run the AP series.

The average media consumer might think the Catholic church is a veritable purveyor of child abuse, even though facts tell us that the church has found a way to almost entirely eliminate abuse of children from its institutions.

The church had its abuse crisis decades ago, which the media began focusing on intensively just after the turn of this century when abuse victims began suing. Suits continue making news, as if the abuse is contemporary, even though 45 percent of claims filed against the church in 2011 were so old that the defendants had died of old age.

In 2004, American bishops met in Dallas and voted to establish the largest bureaucracy for the protection of children the world has known. Last year, the church spent $32 million in the United States in a coordinated effort to protect children. In churches and schools, anyone who so much as drives kids to a field trip gets finger printed, background checked and sent through an hours-long course about detecting abuse and abusers.

The result: This year, the church’s Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection in Washington reports seven credible allegations of abuse by priests, involving 0.0169 percent of the country’s 41,406 priests. Statistically, this makes priests the safest professionals in the country to leave children with.

Many schools have more credible allegations of abuse by employees than the entire church has nationwide.

Feel free to begrudge the Catholic church for a litany of sins. No amount of sexual abuse is acceptable in an institution that’s supposed to bring humanity closer to God. Yet, this imperfect human organization — which is susceptible to corruption like all others — has the answers for protecting children in 2012. It’s time to hold our public schools to this standard.

Friend editorial page editor Wayne Laugesen on Facebook, follow him on Twitter

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