The administrator of Thomas More Prep-Marian High School spoke Thursday of steps the school has taken to ensure the safety of students since the scope of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church came to light in 2002.
In a press release Thursday afternoon, the school acknowledged some of the priests and brothers of the Capuchin Franciscan Province of St. Conrad who served on the TMP staff were among those listed by the province Thursday as friars with credible allegations of sexual abuse.
The Capuchins oversaw much of the Catholic education in Ellis County for more than 90 years, beginning with Hays Catholic College in 1908 and ending in 2000 when the province, citing a lack of resources, turned TMP over to the Salina Diocese and the Hays parishes.
The allegations against the 13 friars are mostly from the 1970s and 1980s, but range from the 1960s to 2010s. Only one case is known to have taken place at TMP — Ron Gilardi, who taught at the school from 1988 to 1996. He was prosecuted in Ellis County in 2001 and pleaded guilty to a charge of indecent liberties with a child.
In an interview with The Hays Daily News Thursday afternoon, Principal Chad Meitner discussed the school’s prevention and awareness measures.
“Our first concern is with the sorrow for what the victims went through, and steadfast determination to make sure it never happens again,” he said.
TMP is compliant with the United Bishops Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, a set of procedures established in 2002 in response to the reports of clergy abuse brought to light by The Boston Globe.
Since 2003, criminal background checks are performed on all TMP employees and volunteers, Meitner said. Students from kindergarten to 12th grade are given age-appropriate training on abuse awareness and prevention.
“We have to protect their physical well-being, their emotional well-being and their spiritual well-being. We know that abuse damages all of those things within us as humans, especially with youth,” Meitner said.
The education is updated every year to ensure it is more effective, he said.
“It’s a topic in our religion classes. We want to make sure the students, in an age-appropriate way, are part of the discussion about abuse and how humans treat each other and how we mistreat each other, and specifically in the context of our faith and the scandal,” he said.
Should a student or even an alumnus inform the school of possible abuse, Meitner said the school has a plan of how to proceed.
“The first steps are to communicate with the police and then the diocesan office, the abuse prevention personnel at the diocese, and then to cooperate fully with their investigation and assist them in protecting the child,” he said.
If the victim is still a minor, the school would work the parents to offer counseling.
“The parents would be the primary decision makers on which kinds of services would be appropriate for their child. We would help them find a third-party counselor or therapist, or if they wanted to use our counselors, they could,” he said.
It doesn’t matter when the abuse took place, either, Meitner said.
“The diocese is very clear that past allegations — and there have been some that are over 100 years old — we still would investigate those. You’re not ever going to get the answer, ‘Oh, that happened too long ago,’ ” he said.