PHILADELPHIA – In the wake of the priest-abuse crisis, the Roman Catholic archdiocese of Philadelphia debuted a short film that urges teens to report sexual violence.
The film reminds teens that victims are never to blame and that abusers are often trusted adults — including parents, teachers and priests. The clergy-abuse issue is not otherwise discussed.
Cardinal Justin Rigali introduced the film Monday to an audience of several hundred people at St. Joseph's University, including selected students. He said afterward that the goal was to give hope to victims, not to dwell on abusers.
Within the last decade, many U.S. Catholic dioceses have faced lawsuits from former students and parishioners who say they were abused by priests when they were children.
The film, called "The Gift of Innocence," will be shown to students in 10th through 12th grades — roughly between the ages of 15 and 18 — at all 21 archdiocese high schools. It stresses the Catholic belief that human sexuality is a gift from God that should not be taken by force or intimidation.
"There's so much sexual violence in our society," Rigali says in the film. "The dangers are so real. Young people are bombarded by the possibility of this assault."
In the film, Delaware County District Attorney Michael Green cites statistics that one in five girls and one in 10 boys are the victims of sexual violence by the time they are 18.
The program comes three years after a Philadelphia grand jury named 63 Catholic priests with documented sexual-abuse histories. Prosecutors concluded they could not file criminal charges against priests or their supervisors because of Pennsylvania's statute of limitations.
"It is in no plan of God that anyone would be the victim of sexual abuse," Bishop Joseph McFadden told the youngsters Monday.
Thanh Le, 17, a senior at John W. Hallahan High School, acknowledged the potential difficulty of discussing sexual abuse with an adult.
"It can be intimidating," Le said after seeing the film, which suggested teens reach out to a friend if they cannot talk to adults; that friend should then encourage a report to an adult.
"You don't know if there's only one victim — there could be other victims," she said.