By Andrew Ehrkamp
When Alan Ching first told his fellow parishioners at Mary Help of Christians about the Called to Protect program, most accepted the idea and the work involved.
But there was one woman in the downtown Edmonton parish who resisted — for two years.
“She would say ‘That’s too much. That’s unacceptable. What do you mean by that? I’ve been doing this for a long time and nothing has been happening … Why do you have to put this inconvenience on me?’” Ching recalled. “I tried to say this is for the benefit of everyone.”
Called to Protect is the abuse prevention training program developed by Praesidium Inc. and used by the Archdiocese to promote safe environments at its parishes and institutions. Ching said the program is both welcome and necessary.
“I do feel the Church has to move forward, that something has to be done to prevent all those things from happening so people will have confidence, so we can feel comfortable in the Church and Catholic organizations can feel comfortable again.”
Since 2010, approximately 12,000 clergy, staff, and lay volunteers across the Archdiocese have received Called to Protect training.
In addition, parish volunteers must complete detailed forms about their personal history, and provide reference checks and a criminal background check
In some cases, it meant structural changes too. At Mary Help of Christians, windows were added to all their classrooms so people could see inside enclosed areas.
At the local level, it was up to volunteer coordinators to introduce the Called to Protect program. And even for them, it was a challenge at first.
“I didn’t know what I was getting into. I definitely prayed on it,” said Ernie Murias, the Called to Protect facilitator at St. Matthew’s Parish in Rocky Mountain House and its two missions in Evergreen and Caroline, Alta.
“I feel good about it now. After learning about it, it’s a beautiful system. It’s creating a safe environment and preventing abuse.”
Murias said 130 volunteers have completed the Called to Protect workshop in his parish, but there was some initial resistance.
“Some were taken aback because they had always done ministry,” he said. “The thought ‘Why should I have to complete this Call to Protect?’ But generally people were very good about it. Everyone was on board once we started.”
Mary Help of Christians has about 200 families – a relatively small parish for a city the size of Edmonton – and nearly everyone is involved in the parish. All of the volunteers had to complete the Called to Protect program.
“Some of these parishioners, they are very questionable to any changes anyway. So it’s not because of this particular program. They just don’t want change,” Ching said.
“Some are so easily intimated, some are thinking ‘OK, do you think I would commit this crime?’”
Ching said younger parishioners didn’t resist the program but were more likely to “slack off” by taking a long time to fill in forms, for example. “You just have to encourage them.”
“Everything falls into place with time,” Ching said. “And it depends a lot on how you present it. I built up the friendship between myself and some of the leaders and the parishioners. I think soft talk and explanation was the utmost importance.”
Even the parishioner who resisted for years has accepted and complied with the Called to Protect program, although she’s still not a big fan.
“After a while she saw more and more people are doing it to the point where she was the only one not doing it,” Ching said. “She didn’t really say much about the program, but at least she’s not saying that it’s bad. To me, that is an achievement.”
Volunteer facilitators we talked to say the Called to Protect program should be expanded beyond the Archdiocese of Edmonton, and that every parish should have an abuse prevention program.
“As a parent, when I know there is such a program going on, I would feel way, way more confident and comfortable having my children nurtured in this parish because I know everyone is well aware of abuse prevention and there is a safe environment there,” said Ching, who has a 21-year-old son and a 16-year-old daughter.
“Everyone is watching and my kids are in good hands.”
Murias agrees. He has four children, nine grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
“You can’t be with your children all the time, but you don’t want someone tied to sexual abuse or abuse that’s happened near them.”
Ching and Murias say the Called to Protect program is not a guarantee that abuse will be prevented entirely, but they note that the Catholic Archdiocese of Edmonton is being proactive in preventing abuse and creating a safe environment for everyone.
“I think evil will always be there and try to find weak spots and weak times,” Ching said.
“Nothing is guaranteed 100 per cent, but we do our best,” Murias added. “There are still going to be bad ones out there. Ninety-nine per cent of people are super, but you never know. You have to be cautious of everything.”