Candidates Undergo Rigorous Screening Before Entering Priesthood
Posted May 17, 2002 11:41 a.m. EDT
RALEIGH, N.C. — People across the country are stepping forward to say they were molested by a priest as children, but there are other forms of sexual misconduct other than pedophilia. A Triangle woman claims she had a sexual relationship with a priest when she was a teenager. Sexual misconduct is something the church is trying to prevent before someone enters the priesthood.
Audrey Shaw was raised in the Catholic Church. She befriended a priest in Pennsylvania where she grew up. He is connected to Shaw's family through marriage.
"That's when the friendship began," she said.
"I spoke to him on a number of occasions as a counselor," she said.
In the early 1970s when she was 16, Shaw says the friendship blossomed into something else.
"Then, it turned into more of sexual advances. I accepted some of those sexual advances thinking that he really loved me or that he really cared about me," she said.
Upon reflection, Shaw said she feels betrayed.
"There's a little girl out there who is being taken advantage of sexually, and this has to stop," she said.
For years, Shaw told no one. She said she was ashamed and afraid no one would believe her, but recent publicity about sex scandals in the Catholic Church prompted her to come forward.
Statement From Altoona-Johnstown, PA Diocese
In the past few months, the bishop has removed three priests from the Diocese of Raleigh due to accusations of sexual misconduct. It's clear that some priests can't keep their vows of celibacy. It is a problem the Diocese tries to prevent with a rigorous screening process.
"That is a crucial aspect of evaluating anyone going into a religious order," psychologist Dianne Occhetti said.
For 10 years, Occhetti helped screen candidates for the priesthood in the Raleigh Diocese.
"One of the things we looked at very carefully was sexual development, what their views were on sexuality, sexual history, what their home was like, what their sexual messages were," Occhetti said.
Occhetti said about 10 percent of her evaluations raised concerns.
"If a priest candidate, for example, had inappropriate responses to sexual questions, to identify sexual stimuli or even what they thought was a healthy sexual relationship," Occhetti said.
Occhetti turned the results over to the Diocese.
"Yes, we did see red flags and we presented them to the Diocese. They had a committee that said yea or nay," Occhetti said.
"For the church you're looking for a person who is as healthy and as wholesome as you possibly can get," Frank Morock, spokesman for the Raleigh diocese.
Morock said since the early 1980s, candidates for the priesthood have undergone extensive background checks.
"It's not infallible. There's not a perfect person to our knowledge walking around the face of the earth, but you try to make the testing, the questioning, the examining as thorough and as comprehensive as you possibly can to make sure the candidates who walk through and enter into Seminary are as wholesome as you possibly can get them," Morock said.
In the past three years, the Raleigh diocese has rejected two out of seven candidates because of concerns with their psychological profiles.
"We are very, very select in this diocese of who comes in to the program to be priests -- very, very select," Morock said.
Shaw hopes her story and those told by others will force the church to become even more selective about who's invited into the priesthood. Earlier this month, she reported her ordeal to the diocese in Pennsylvania.
"This may have happened to another girl, so you need to report it, and that's what sort of startled me, that I had never thought of that. I needed to report it," Shaw said. "The Catholic Church needs to be made aware of what has gone on in their household. How can they correct things if they don't know the whole story."
Shaw said she spoke to Bishop Joseph Adamec in the Altoona-Johnstown diocese in Pennsylvania where the relationship occurred. She said he believed her and would interview the priest in question.
The diocese will not confirm for WRAL the investigation, but said it takes allegations like these seriously and reviews them immediately.
Statement From Altoona-Johnstown, PA Diocese
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