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Posts Tagged ‘child molestation

Inside a Catholic how-not-to-molest-children class

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John Pilmaier (R) and Barbara Blaine (L) of th...

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As you might have heard, the Catholic Church and its pope are in a bit of pickle over new allegations about priests who abused children, and how the church covered up and/or ignored that activity. Of course, this has been a sensitive topic for some time now. How sensitive, I got to see first-hand in 2007 when I was required, in order to coach my son’s fourth-grade Catholic school basketball team, to sit in on special training that was supposed to teach us how to make sure none of the kids on our team were abused, and how not to make sure we put ourselves in a position to be accused falsely of being an abuser.

I wrote the following post Jan. 7, 2009, for my old WordPress blog. I’m bringing it back because it will give you an idea of how some of the most loyal Catholics are dealing with the church’s pedophile problems, and how the church itself is in ass-covering legal mode to the point it’s treating the laity like they were the abusers. Also, because even though my family isn’t Catholic anymore, I’m still getting emails telling me there’s a new online refresher course for my special training.

If you are coaching a team at a Catholic school, or working with children there in any capacity, more than likely you have to go through something called VIRTUS training. Or as I call it, How Not to Molest Children.

I went through VIRTUS two years ago before coaching my son’s fourth-grade basketball team, and my wife went through it this year to teach first-grade CCD (stands for Confraternity of Catholic Doctrine — I had to look that up). I haven’t coached in a Catholic environment since then — the end of that year, we transferred our kids from Catholic to public school — but I still get emails updating me to online training, which I have to keep up with in case I ever do. The latest one came today, which I why I’m writing about VIRTUS now.

The major unvirtuous, if that’s a word, cloud over VIRTUS training is that it was designed by the National Catholic Risk Retention Group — the ones who provide the church insurance to cover costs associated with those pesky priest-molestation lawsuits. Like any corporate lawsuit prevention training, it focuses as much on how not to get in trouble as it does helping the actual, you know, children. It talks about ways to prevent yourself from being falsely accused. And when you go for your two-hour training, one of your first thoughts — well, it certainly was mine — was, why are we here? As I recall, it was clergy that was the problem, not the fourth-grade basketball coaches.

After two hours in the auditorium-like, tiled basement of St. Bede the Venerable in Chicago’s Scottsdale neighborhood, my feelings changed from cynicism to sadness. As easy as it is to joke about diddling priests, it was heartbreaking to the depths to which people have been shaken by the scandal.

I don’t mean that they are questioning themselves as being Catholics, or that they are even sympathetic to the criticisms lobbied at the church. Predictably, some groused the media was making too big a deal out of it. Particularly in Chicago, and particularly on the south side of it, Catholicism is deeply ingrained culture, not merely a place to go on Sundays and worship without ever taking off your coat. Being told not to be alone around a parish child, not to give anyone a ride home who isn’t your own kid, not to leave a kid with a priest until the parents arrived — whatever the sound, ass-covering reasons, for these hardcore, lifelong Catholics, this was like being told that we are not friends anymore. The best (and sometimes worst) thing about life inside a Catholic parish is its intense sense of community, and the message of VIRTUS training was that you no longer could trust anyone.

As you might have gathered, I am not a lifelong southside Chicago Catholic. I was baptized Catholic so my then-nonreligious parents could get me into a Catholic school, and I was later confirmed as an Episcopalian. [EDITOR’S NOTE: Now I go to a church affiliated with the United Church of Christ — letting priests be gay since 1972!] Before I got married to my wife — a lifelong southside Chicago Catholic [EDITOR’S NOTE: Scratch that last word now] — I had priests in two different archdioceses trying to figure out what I was. When I gave the priest my baptismal certificate, he saw that I was four years old when I was baptized and asked me, “This is REAL certificate?” I had no idea passing fake baptismal IDs was such a problem.

Still, I was sympathetic toward people who whole worldview was being rocked good and hard during VIRTUS training. Here we all were, wanting to do good by coaching or teaching kids, and we were being treated as potential molesters first, eyes and ears to potential molestation by others second, and maybe good-hearted people third. The pastor of St. Bede knew the vibe. He had been installed there not long after word broke that the Chicago Archdiocese had reached settlements for molestation by priests, including one who had served at St. Bede. Meanwhile, another former St. Bede priest was already in jail. The new priest, who seemed to me a genuinely nice guy, said a few parishioners greeted him by asking, to his face, if he was a child molester, too.

Guarding against child predators isn’t only a Catholic problem or concern, of course. Everywhere I’ve coached, I’ve had to fill out a form for a police background check. There are too many memories of kid-friendly coaches who turned out to be not so friendly. Heck, just run a quick Google News search and you’ll see it still happens, despite all the precautions. That’s why VIRTUS training exists. Yes, it tries to prevent child predators from entering the system or if they do, from getting out of hand. But it also exists to say to parents, don’t sue us — we tried.

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Former youth coach spotlighted by America's Most Wanted

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hamiltonJohn_lgIf you do a Google News search with the words coach and arrested, you’re pretty sure to find at least two to five youth coaches a week under suspicion of something. (Or you can let Arrestedcoaches.com do the work for you.) But it takes a real go-getter to graduate from algorithmic grab to America’s Most Wanted. Congratulations, John Hamilton!

According to the web site for the long-running Fox television program, an international manhunt for Hamilton, 38, of Centreville, Va., is under way, focusing on Germany and Denmark, the latter of which was a home country of one of his his victims. Some background from America’s Most Wanted:

For 20 years, coach John Hamilton was a fixture in the Fort Hunt Area of Northern Virginia.

He was known not only as a baseball coach, but also as an umpire and someone parents could count on when a child needed a ride home. Hundreds of parents and kids knew him and supported his family’s silk screening business.

But his warm personality and engaging smile, belied a horrifying double life.

In early 2009, a 24-year-old man approached police and reported that he had been assaulted during a four-month period in 1997 when he was just 12 years old.

The man said that he had seen Hamilton at a local convenience store with a young boy, and the sight convinced him to come forward. Since then, nine others have come forward.

Hamilton was arrested in May 2009 and charged with aggravated sexual battery and three counts of taking indecent liberties with a child by a person in a supervisory relationship.

A grand jury indicted him, and a judge set bond, which was revoked when he contacted one of his alleged victims.  He was let out on bond a second time and the judge didn’t ask for his passport.

Hamilton was to enter a guilty plea on October 7, 2009, that would have kept him in prison for decades.  He failed to appear in court.

Police in Virginia say the “getting lost” was facilitated with the help of his mother, who not only posted cash bonds for him but expedited her passport request so she could travel too.

Cops say that the mother and son went to Frankfurt, Germany in September 2009; she returned, he did not.

The Fort Hunt Youth Association said Hamilton stopped umpiring and coaching there in 2002. In its statement regarding Hamilton’s arrest, it noted that every coach goes through a background check. Unfortunately, if a person doesn’t have a criminal record, a background check, no matter how extensive, can’t tell you whether a coach is likely to be a predator. (I’ve found no indication Hamilton had any police record before his arrest.) All a parent or league official can do is set parameters for what is appropriate coach-player conduct, and keep their eyes open for anything that seems a little off.

Hamilton might not have been coaching, but he was still involved with kids. Police said at the time of his arrest, Hamilton had a male 16-year-old foreign exchange student living with him.

Written by rkcookjr

November 19, 2009 at 12:26 am

Child-molesting coaches and naked swimming: don't tell me about the good old days

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Practice just started for the fifth- and sixth-grade coed basketball team I’m coaching, and I’m fortunate enough to have as assistants two parents who have served as head and assistant coaches in the same league. I said they still needed to fill out the form so the Alsip (Ill.) Park District could check if they’re child molesters, and they nodded their heads. They know the drill.

If you’ve read my headline grabs lately, you might think: why do organizations bother to do this? There’s the gymnastics coach in Florida, the football coach in Washington and the softball coach in Oklahoma among a stream of arrests of youth sports authority figures arrested for sex crimes against the very children they are supposed to be training. It’s enough to make you wonder if, in America, we should be like Great Britain, making everyone pay to be on a Not A Sex Offender List in order to work with children. Heck, some of the vile search terms people use to get to this site makes you want to pour bleach on the Internet.

However, not that it necessarily will make you feel any better, your child is far, far, far, far, far, far, far safer on a sports team than he or should be with the past. That’s because even a cursory look at the local police files and an awareness that child perverts might want to be, you know, around children is well ahead of what like was like when, say, my 39-year-old self was playing first base in the North Muskegon, Mich., Little League in the early 1980s. At least now, an allegation can lead to arrest, and some of the weirder stuff that was pulled without anyone batting an eyelash is no longer looked at as normal.

Former NHL Stanley Cup hoister Theoron Fleury recently reminded us of this when he said in his recent book that he was a molestation victim of junior hockey coach Graham James, who has already served time regarding his conduct toward former NHL player Sheldon Kennedy and other children he coached. And we got another reminder with the continuing saga of the late Philip Foglietta and the trail of destruction he left in a long career as football coach at Poly Prep Country Day School in Brooklyn, N.Y.

On Oct. 26, seven alumni filed a lawsuit against the school, saying it knew that Foglietta abused “dozens, if not hundreds of boys” during his tenure from 1966-91, and condoned his behavior because he was a successful football coach and raised a substantial amount of money for the private school. A 2005 lawsuit filed by an alumnus was dismissed because the victim did not file it within five years of turning 18. By suing based on a conspiracy, there are no statute of limitations issues.

If you read the victim testimonials on the site of the White Tower Healing Foundation, dedicated to serving the children Foglietta abused — and I would recommend a strong stomach if you do — you can see the coach was the classic molester. He picked out kids from troubled homes, or who were in a precarious situation with the school, or had self-esteem issues, or all those. He started with little touches here and there before graduating to more rank abuse. He sent the message — even if he didn’t have to say it — that any child who accused him of doing wrong would never be believed.

In short, it’s the sort of conduct that has the Catholic church and its members in knots, the classic tale of how an authority figure abused his power and influence to abuse children, destroying young lives in the process.

Why aren’t I hedging and saying that Foglietta was an alleged molester, given he was never convicted of a crime? Because the school in 2002 sent a letter to alumni acknowledging that “a former faculty member/coach” had likely molested children at the school. Also, because Foglietta died the year before that letter was written. The evidence is overwhelming against Foglietta, and there’s also no libeling the dead, you know.

According to the White Tower Healing Foundation, the school got its first complaint against Foglietta in 1972 — so it took 30 years for Poly Prep to cop to what was going on.

But, hey, who in 1972 would believe something like that? Especially in a time when a lot of schools made their kids take swimming lessons in the nude?

Mark Brown of the Chicago Sun-Times for two days, Oct. 27 and Oct. 28, has mined columns about this weird, weird practice, well-known, at least in Chicago, to anyone over the age of 50. At some schools, the boys had to strip naked to swim up until the early 1980s. Sheesh, it’s traumatic enough for most boys to have to change in front of each in the lockerroom. Who the hell thought having every single boy naked for an hour in a cold pool was a great idea?

Brown explains why people thought that was a great idea:

[Chicago radio host Garry] Meier said he and his classmates were given the explanation that school officials didn’t want them clogging up the pool with sand from their bathing trunks. As someone who didn’t frequent the beach, Meier found that to be one of many explanations he’s heard through the years that don’t hold water.

At Thornton High School in south suburban Harvey, former athletic director Ed Fredette said it was just a matter of not wanting to deal with the logistics and expense of providing clean swimsuits to every boy.

“It was a total embarrassment. It really was for years,” Fredette said, meaning for all concerned, not just the swimmers. Fredette said he finally got the school to provide boys with swimsuits, which had been the practice all along for girls.

Still, he said he never heard a complaint at the time from students or parents.

“You think we could do that today? No way, Dick Tracy,” said Fredette, now 73 and living in Alabama.

So while there are still plenty of coaches who get in trouble for abusing children, it’s not nearly as bad and strange as it was in the good old days. I think I see you all nodding your heads. You know the drill.

Written by rkcookjr

October 28, 2009 at 9:41 pm

Sex offenders on the sidelines

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These days as parents we’re all trained well enough to find sufficiently creepy the 40-year-old guy who stops by the park to play football with a bunch of 1o-year-olds he doesn’t know. Forget if there’s an unattached child running around at a youth league game. It’s the unattached adult we worry about.

This sensitivity, perhaps hypersensitivity, to strange adults (even those who don’t appear, well, strange) might not always be well-placed. But we know from enough viewings of Dateline, how-not-to-molest-children training and sex offender registries that child predators are everywhere, waiting for an opening to buy your child an ice cream and lead him or her to places you don’t even want to think about.

That was the thought when Jeffersonville, Ind., across the Ohio River from Jason Stinson’s Louisville, passed an ordinance in 2007 prohibiting sex offenders from entering city parks. However, the law did allow for offenders to apply for exemptions — say, if they had a kid, their own kid, playing in a game.

Eric Dowdell, convicted in 1996 of sexual battery of a 13-year-old girl, filed for one of those exemptions. But he did something more: he sued the city (with the help of the Indiana Civil Liberties Union). And on Tuesday, the Indiana Court of Appeals, overturning lower court decisions, ruled in Dowdell’s favor by a 2-1 margin.

The basis for that ruling was that Dowdell, as per his sentence, was taken off the Indiana sex offender registry in 2006. According to the Jeffersonville/New Albany News and Tribune, the appeals court majority wrote that Jeffersonville’s ordinance “is unconstitutional as it applies to Dowdell because he served his sentence and completed his requirement to register on the sex offender list before the ordinance was passed.”

Had Dowdell’s case come up a few months ago, he might have lost again. But on April 30, the Indiana Supreme Court, in Wallace v. State of Indiana, overturned the conviction of an Indianapolis man on charges of failing to register as a sex offender because he had been convicted and served his punishment before Indiana’s sex offender registry was in place. The court said applying current law to something that wasn’t an offense at the time violated the Indiana consitution, and the U.S. Constitution spells out explicitly that states can’t pass ex post facto laws, nor can the federal government.

The Indiana appeals court had more criticism that just barring offenders no longer on a registry. From the News Tribune:

While the Court of Appeals’ decision would only apply to people who were no longer required to register as a sex offender when the ordinance was passed, the opinion was critical of the “excessive” steps that must be taken for a convicted offender to receive an exemption.

Chief Judge John Baker described the exemption process as “extraordinarily burdensome and virtually illusory.” He notes that the offender must provide a “legitimate reason” for the exemption and would have to go through the application process each time a new activity arises.

He writes that the offender is required to provide a “plethora of documents” to the judge, and even then, the judge still must find that “good cause” exists for the exemption. Baker wrote that the ordinance never specifies what would constitute “good cause.”

The court also found that by requiring the offender to notify a sponsoring league organization before requesting an exemption, the offender also is exposed to humiliation.

Interestingly, the same appeals court ruled in favor of a Plainfield, Ind., law that barred anyone currently on a sex offender registry (though not those who had formerly been on one) from entering a cit park. The Indiana Civil Liberties Union has appealed the case to the state Supreme Court, and with the Wallace ruling, there’s some sense it could win.

I have to admit, cases like this challenge my usually let-freedom-ring, liberal ideals. Perhaps that’s because I’m dealing with this issue on a more personal level. Three years ago, the father of one of my daughter’s best friends, who lives only a few houses away, was arrested on charges of distributing child pornography. Believe you me, that was not a pleasant conversation with my kids, the one where my wife and I tried to ask a 6-year-old girl and an 8-year-old boy if they ever saw anything, um, unusual in the house, or if the neighbor ever did anything, um, strange to them. Fortunately, nothing happened. (Turns out he was a distributor only, not a creator.)

It was an uncomfortable, interminable time as his case would through the court system. Beyond how to negotiate allowing my daughter to play with her friend while staying away from a creep (she had to come right home if he showed up), I also coached his daughter on softball for two seasons. He mostly kept a low profile, knowing that everyone knew what he was accused of doing (it was in the local paper and on the TV news). But usually he would show up in the middle innings, standing away from the crowd, but close enough I could hear his grating voice cheering on his daughter.

I asked a fellow coach, an attorney, what we could do. Clearly, this guy made everyone uncomfortable. Being an attorney, this coach said, well, the guy gets his day in court, and there’s nothing we can do. I glumly accepted he was right, but I also warned him that we shouldn’t be surprised if parents object when he showed up. (Surprisingly, to me, no one registered any sort of formal complaint.)

Now my former neighbor is in jail, serving a two-year sentence. It’s a breath of fresh air, really — at least I know where he is and most importantly, where he isn’t. Both my daughter and her friend still play softball — different teams now, but still the same league. So what happens when he’s released?

I know he’ll be on an offender list. But while I know he’s served his time and probably won’t do anything with parents about, I personally can’t stand the thought of seeing him at games. In particular, I can’t stand to think about what perverted thoughts are going to be on his mind as he watches kids play. Maybe he’ll be rehabbed, but the recidivism rate is high in this sort of crime. I’d be more than happy if there were invisible fencing around every field, and that this guy wore a collar and got his neck zapped if he ever stepped too close.

I guess that’s why we have laws and courts and such — to balance our baser instincts with fairness and sanity. I can understand completely why Jeffersonville isn’t happy to see Eric Dowdell show up for a ballgame. I also can understand why the courts say he can. The whole thing  turns my stomach in knots.

Before you spring for private lessons…

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…think of one Don Y. Kawamoto, pictured at four o’clock, who allegedly has touched the lives of  young tennis players in south suburbs of Indianapolis. And I don’t mean that in a good way. From The Indianapolis Star:

Greenwood police say more victims could come forward in their investigation of a former high school tennis coach accused of inappropriately touching teenage girls. …

Police say Kawamoto, a long-time private instructor who was fired as the boys tennis coach at Greenwood High School last month, has assaulted more victims. …

bildePolice say Kawamoto was instructing students on how to hold a tennis racket or how to serve a tennis ball and then would place his hand on the girls’ breasts during the assaults.

All of the incidents took place during private lessons in a detached indoor practice facility at Greenwood High School, 615 W. Smith Valley Road, according to police.

The first victim, a 15-year-old Southport High School student, said Kawamoto touched her on two occasions on Jan. 1 and Jan. 2 during private tennis lessons.

During that investigation, Kawamoto admitted to touching the girl intentionally for his own sexual pleasure and that he had touched students in the past for his own sexual gratification.

And the story goes on to say that after Kawamoto’s Jan. 14 arrest, a 15-year-old and a 16-year-old told police he had touched them on occasions too numerous to remember an exact count.

As was told repeatedly in my how-not-to-molest-children class taught by the Catholic Church, an adult coach should NEVER be alone with a child, for two reasons. One, bad stuff can happen because no one is looking. Two, if Kawamato is indeed innocent — which he technically is because he hasn’t been convicted of anything — he placed himself in a vulnerable position by having no witnesses around to refute the girls’ tales.

One-on-one, intensive private lessons can be a great thing, whether you’re signing up your child to learn how to pitch a softball or how to speak French.  But if you have no assurances there are going to be other adults or activity around, I would insist as a parent on being able to stay and watch the lesson as a condition of forking over my fee. If a coach gives you a hard time about it — “Your child will be nervous with you watching,” etc. — find another tutor. And tell everyone you know what happened.