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Spotlight Report

Archdiocese to put focus on prevention

New appointee says education about abuse key

By Sacha Pfeiffer, Globe Staff, 10/5/2002

Saying he has ''a foot both inside and outside'' the church, the man recently named to oversee implementation of new child protection policies in the Boston archdiocese described himself as ''uniquely qualified'' for the job, citing his roles as a deacon and church employee - and as a husband, father, and grandfather.

''Yes, I am part of the archdiocese and I do work in close association with the bishops,'' said Anthony P. Rizzuto, the former executive director of the office of Catholic cemeteries, who last month was named cabinet secretary overseeing the church's new Office for Child Advocacy, Implementation and Oversight. ''Yet the diaconate represents a body of people whose experiences exist outside the archdiocese.''

Rizzuto, 53, speaking publicly for the first time yesterday in back-to-back interviews with media outlets, said he has a ''very close personal relationship'' with Cardinal Bernard F. Law. Law, he said, asked him personally ''to be part of the process of healing and restoration'' following the clergy sex abuse crisis that erupted in January.

Rizzuto, who often assists Law during Sunday Mass at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, began working informally at the cardinal's residence part-time in February, helping organize the church's annual meeting with parish and lay leaders and ''listening sessions'' with parishioners. He was formally named to Law's cabinet Sept. 13.

In his new post, Rizzuto's immediate goal is to begin teaching the more than 200,000 children in parochial schools and religious education classes how to protect themselves from sexual and other types of abuse. Initially, the church's educational efforts will target students in kindergarten through fourth grade, and eventually will be expanded to later grades.

Beginning this month, Rizzuto will also launch training programs for the church's 200,000 employees and volunteers - including priests, teachers, seminarians and hospital workers - aimed at teaching adults to recognize and prevent abuse.

Initially, five volunteers from each parish will be trained by professional instructors; those trained volunteers will then train other volunteers. Rizzuto estimates it will take between two and five years to complete all training, but hopes to have trained all teachers and parish staff by spring 2003.

Rizzuto, who has a doctorate in psychology and worked as a clinical psychologist for Greater Lynn Community Mental Health Center and Union Hospital in Lynn in the 1970s, retired in 1999 after a 20-year career with the US Air Force, where he rose through the ranks to lieutenant colonel. In the service, he worked primarily at military medical research labs studying cognitive issues, including how people make decisions under stress or fatigue, an experience he says helped prepare him for the clinical and psychological aspects of his new post.

A Malden resident, Rizzuto and his wife, Joyce, a Catholic school teacher, have five children, and two grandchildren.

Rizzuto, who said he felt ''drawn to the church'' as early as his college days, was ordained a permanent deacon in 1996, a position that allows him to assist priests in baptisms, weddings and funerals, but not to celebrate Mass or hear confessions. Permanent deacons are typically married men who were active in parish life before their ordination.

''I have a foot in both the sacred and secular worlds, and that uniquely qualifies me to be able to put forward these types of programs,' Rizzuto said, adding that he ''admires'' Law and believes he remains an effective leader of the archdiocese.

''I think he's a holy person, and I think he has accepted responsibility, asked for forgiveness, and is working as hard as he can to help me put programs in place and educate parishes ... to prevent this from ever happening again.''

Responding to earlier media reports that church officials said a lay person would be appointed to the post he now holds, Rizzuto replied the church said only that a person who was not a priest would be named to the position, and that that report was `misinterpreted'' to mean a lay person would get the job.

Sacha Pfeiffer can be reached at pfeiffer@globe.com

This story ran on page B3 of the Boston Globe on 10/5/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.


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