Email David Clohessy was 11 when his Missouri priest began to molest him. For four years, on church-sponsored trips, hundreds of miles away from home, the boy would wake in the middle of the night to find the man he trusted on top of him. Clohessy initially blocked out the memories, until he learned that three of his brothers had also been victimized.
The trauma weaves through every aspect of his life: He filed a lawsuit against the priest who molested him, who was later suspended but not defrocked, and counseled other survivors of priest abuse. But the most profound impact has been on how he has raised his own two boys -- now 11 and 15, exactly the same age as Clohessy when he was first molested.
Clohessy has been watching the Catholic Church in New York City, where the archdiocese is distributing age-appropriate books to children to help safeguard them against similar abuses. One -- a coloring book -- depicts a guardian angel hovering over a man under an open door and child at the altar. The angel says, "If a child and an adult happen to be alone, someone should know where they are, and the door should be open or have a big window in it.
The coloring book was designed to be part of the abuse-prevention curriculum mandated by a U. The book offers a series of warnings about gift-giving strangers and online predators. Priests are finally mentioned, but as part of a word search for a list of adults who can be trusted. The crisis was not isolated there. As public furor grew, other dioceses began confronting abusive clergy in their ranks.
SNAP and other rights organizations estimate as many as , children were victimized. The program, he said, was developed as a starting point for discussions between children and their parents and teachers. The coloring book and a comic book for older children are part of a larger religious curriculum and other efforts to educate and protect children. Clohessy's own trust was violated as an altar boy.
He [the priest] would say he had a friend with a cabin in Colorado or we would go to the beach. We were honored in that day and age that the priest would take a child away. Mary Gail Frawley O'Dea, a North Carolina psychologist who works with child abuse victims, criticizes the church's too-little, too-late program to protect children. She was invited to speak at the conference of Catholic bishops in Dallas that mandated a zero tolerance policy.
Children need clear "straight-forward messages," and an atmosphere of openness, according to O'Dea. But kids will still not come forward. They're the ones who need the coloring books with the guardian angels. We wish we could do more and wish more had been done in the past.
But we've done as much or more than any organization around.