Diocese of Harrisburg Explains Abuse Protocol

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LOWER PAXTON TOWNSHIP -- The announcement by Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane that the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown covered up child sex abuse crimes came as a shock to people all over the area. It raised questions about how other dioceses prevent child abuse.

Officials with the Diocese of Harrisburg are deeply troubled by Tuesday's announcement about child sex abuse in the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown over the course of four decades.

The Diocese of Harrisburg includes five counties in our viewing area: Columbia, Montour, Northumberland, Snyder, and Union.

Spokesperson Joseph Aponick says it has an aggressive youth protection program in place.

"Protection of youth and their safety is utmost in our minds," Aponick said.

The Diocese of Harrisburg does several background checks on any employee or volunteer who works with children.

"We do state police, we do Department of Public Welfare, and we do the FBI clearance as well on most people. We do more background checks than are required by the state," Aponick said.

There is also a bi-weekly newspaper published by the Diocese of Harrisburg called "The Catholic Witness." An ad runs in each issue with phone numbers to report abuse.

Information is sent to all of the schools in the Diocese of Harrisburg so the students are aware of what to do if they ever suspect a case of abuse.

Mark Totaro is the Victim's Assistance Coordinator in the Diocese of Harrisburg.

"We have a victim's assistance hot line, an 800 number that rings only on my desk. I'm the only one to field those calls," Totaro said.

Totaro meets with the victims and files a report with authorities. His role is to help the victims in any way he can, including setting them up with counseling.

"I've been doing this for 12 years. We have a zero tolerance policy. Action is taken immediately," Totaro said.

Officials with the Diocese of Harrisburg stress they want to create the safest place of worship possible for children.

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