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Local Church Leaders Strive To Ensure Children's Protection

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RALEIGH, N.C. — The sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church could be worse than previously thought.

Earlier reports suggested that as many as 1,200 priests have been accused of sex abuse since the 1950s. A new report compiled by the Associated Press suggests that number could be closer to 1,300.

The number could climb even higher because more than 100 dioceses in the United States have not yet submitted their statistics.

As the Catholic Church prepares to release its own report later this month, local church leaders are taking steps to make sure children are protected.

Every diocese across the country has to enact a program to ensure the safety of children. It involves screening and training church staff members and volunteers.

The Raleigh Diocese hired John Pendergrass, the director of Youth Protection, following the recent sex-abuse crisis that rocked the Catholic Church. Pendergrass' mission is make sure all 76 churches in the eastern half of North Carolina are safe for children.

"We believe that our parishes and our schools are going to be as safe of an environment that you will find anywhere in this state or country," said Raleigh Diocese spokesperson Frank Morock.

Part of the plan involves training church administrators to recognize and report suspected cases of child abuse. It also involves screening volunteers.

"We're asking you to get your staff and your existing volunteers trained," Pendergrass told representatives from 14 parishes around the Triangle who came to Raleigh to learn the signs of child abuse.

Once all churches are trained in protecting children, the Diocese hopes to offer the training to community groups as well. It also is worth noting that future Catholic priests now undergo rigorous background checks and receive more extensive training.

"It's not that we trust you less," Pendergrass said. "But we have to document you differently."

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