After Priest Sex Scandal, Church Obliquely Warns Kids

Sexual abuse, said Mechmann, can come "in any direction" and "in any context" -- at home, on the athletic field, in the schools and in church. "You still have to have the proper relationship with proper guidelines and boundaries."

Clohessy argues that educational messages need to be specific to be effective.

"Scouts are vulnerable to leaders, school kids are vulnerable to the abuse of teachers and Catholic kids are similarly vulnerable to priests," he said. "But if I'm writing for the Scouts, it needs to be upfront and say leaders can be predatory."

"To put it conversely, children attending summer camps don't need to be warned about abusive rabbis," he said.

Clohessy's own trust was violated as an altar boy. "My family was devout and lived a couple of blocks from the church," he said. "We were a big family but not wealthy. 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."

But overnight trips led to unwanted touching that Clohessy still cannot describe without choking on his words. "I would freeze," he said. "I was confused and terrified, then would go back to sleep with absolutely no recollection whatsoever."

The former political consultant was never able to get compensation from the church, but good therapy, a relentless campaign to press the church for action and working with victims eventually helped him heal.

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 2002 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. "If grampy feels your privates, you can have all the coloring books and movies and slide shows you want. But kids will still not come forward."

"You can't split off education from the rest of the way we deal with children," she said. "If you have an open relationship, and they feel you will answer their questions in an age-appropriate way about their bodies and where babies come from, that is the atmosphere in which your child is most likely to say something happened."

Ultimately, say both O'Dea and Clohessy, the Catholic Church has sidestepped the issue of abusive priests.

"They know the priests have a problem and have done nothing about it," said O'Dea. "The bishops need to hold themselves accountable. They're the ones who need the coloring books with the guardian angels."

But New York's massive Catholic Archdiocese maintains it is not just distributing a book, but working to spark dialogue on the topic, as well as doing background checks on 20,000 employees and more than 38,000 volunteers.

"Sure, we can always do more, but we've come a long way," said Mechmann. "It's a huge task and we're just one archdiocese. 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."

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