Austin Diocese leads the way in sexual abuse training


(AUSTIN) KXAN — As Austin’s Diocese, along with others across Texas prepare to release the names of all clergy members who have been credibly accused of sexual abuse, an emphasis is being placed on the importance of training those working with children in the Church on how to spot and stop sexual abuse.

The Austin Diocese office of Ethics and Integrity in Ministry, or EIM, has been conducting training since 2001 before it was even required by the Catholic Church.

“In 2002, when all of the scandals first broke, starting in Boston and then around the country, the bishops knew at that time that they needed to address this,” said Emily Hurlimann, who serves as associate director of Austin’s EIM.

Hurlimann says once the Church established a charter requiring that dioceses nationwide implement similar training, Austin’s became a model in many places.

“We talk about warning signs to be watching for, tricks that perpetrators may use, and then what we’re required to do as the adults tasked to protect children, to make sure that we’re watching what needs to be watched and then that we’re reporting if we see something or if something is told to us about an abusive situation,” Hurlimann said of the training.

The Central Texas program trains not only clergy members, but also teachers, volunteers and anyone else working around children. In it, trainees hear from victims. In addition to training on how to protect children, the training outlines how to look out for the elderly and vulnerable adults, as well.

“We ask all these different people at different levels of ministry within the church to be eyes and ears and voices for the kids and others that may not be able to do so for themselves,” Hurlimann said.

The office of Ethics and Integrity in Ministry also facilitates background checks on every person who will come into contact with kids. And whether someone is in a paid or volunteer position, a background check is repeated and refresher training is required every three years.

Around 130 of the training sessions were held in Central Texas in August and September alone.

A few years after implementing the training for adults, the Austin Diocese also began training children and teenagers in local schools and parishes, as well.

“It never reduces the obligation of adults to be the primary protectors of kids, but it does give them some skills on how to help keep themselves and their friends safe,” Hurlimann said, adding, “There have been times where kids have come forward after their training saying this has happened to me.”

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