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Diocese trains adults in child abuse prevention

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Bishop Wesley Spiewak of the Diocese of Hamilton has made it mandatory for anyone who works with young people—priests, teachers and others involved with children to participate in a child abuse prevention training session run by the charity Saving Children and Revealing Secrets (SCARS).

A Royal Gazette article said that more than 130 Catholics have taken the course—at least 75 people attended the first training session in April and almost 60 went to the second one in early May.

The daily newspaper reported that the Bishop wanted to increase knowledge about child sexual abuse, which has rocked the Catholic Church, so that the island’s young people would be better protected. He explained his reasons for the move in a letter to the faithful that asked Catholics to attend one of the two SCARS training sessions.

He said, “I learnt about SCARS and I have to also say, that in response to what had happened in the American Catholic Church recently, last year especially, I was looking for the best response in our country.”

The Bishop added that “up to this point, and I hope its going to stay this way, we don’t have allegations against the Catholic clergy in Bermuda, but the absence of evidence doesn’t mean evidence of absence. I don’t want to be passive; I want to be proactive”.

When he arrived in Bermuda three and a half years ago, one of his first questions was about programmes used to protect young people. He said he was told that, after advice from other bishops of the Antilles Episcopal Conference, the island’s Catholic Church followed ‘Virtus’, a programme and service of the US National Catholic Risk Retention Group, Inc.

Bishop Spiewak added that news reports from the US about “crimes of paedophilia being committed by clergy and being somehow covered by the bishops” had caused him “great concern”.

As such, he had looked for the “best opportunity” to increase awareness and protection of children in Bermuda and asked for advice from a psychologist who was a practising Catholic.

Bishop Spiewak said the psychologist “strongly” recommended that adults who worked with children and teenagers attend SCARS training, which offers the Darkness to Light Stewards of Children programme designed to prevent, recognise and react responsibly to child sexual abuse.

He shared that he had met a survivor of abuse who was targeted by a priest in Poland and that had “deepened” his understanding. “Listening to this man, who after 50 years was talking about what happened with tears in his eyes, and looking at him, it somehow made me aware—even if I was aware before—that there was another dimension of awareness.”

Meanwhile, Debi Ray-Rivers, the founder and executive director of SCARS commended Bishop Spiewak for his authentic leadership, boldness, courage and his heart for children. “The letter speaks volumes about a bishop who takes child protection very seriously,” she said.

Editor’s Note: Virtus programme sessions in the Archdiocese of Port of Spain are conducted by the Archdiocesan Family Life Commission.