BY KATHY KANE
The story of a patient from the St John Vianney Center being found on a school campus, has been making the news recently. I was the parent who discovered the patient on Bishop Shanahan’s campus back in December. I was in the parking lot and saw the man coming from around the side of the building, walk right past the front entrance and continue along the sidewalk of the school. His presence on the campus was very odd, so I followed him in my car and watched as he crossed the street and returned to St. John Vianney Center, a hospital that treats the behavioral and psychological needs of the clergy.
I am not going to get into all that has transpired with that particular incident; instead I want to focus on the broader issue of the Vianney Center allowing patients unsupervised off campus privileges. For now, I will just say that the parents of the school were only alerted after I requested that be done, and the police were alerted when I found that the school did not file a report of a patient from the facility being on the school campus. The Archdiocese has released a few statements about this situation, and although what they have said is not untrue, the statements certainly do not reflect my efforts to make sure the parents and police were alerted to the security breach.
The Vianney Center treats a variety of issues including addiction, mental health and sexual disorders. There are very few religious treatment centers left in the U.S. Odds are if a clergy member is making the news for some type of transgression they may be heading to Vianney for treatment. Such was the case of Msgr. Kevin Wallin, the priest dubbed “Msgr. Meth” who was federally indicted for operating a meth ring. He was in court last month trying to be released to Vianney. Luckily, the judge kept him in federal custody. Not so lucky for us however, are the priests who have been released on bail and then come to Vianney – facing charges for crimes such as possession of child pornography, indecent exposure and obscene conduct, to just name a few recent cases.
I have had a few discussions as well as a meeting with staff from Vianney. Some patients at the facility are allowed the privilege of unsupervised walks around the neighboring community of the facility. Patients being treated for child porn related issues would not necessarily be prohibited from these off campus unsupervised privileges. This shocks me. As a social worker, I have never heard of patients whose condition for their addiction, mental health or sexual disorder requires inpatient hospitalization, being given this privilege. There are many levels of privileges given to patient at similar non acute facilities, but giving patients a map and sending them off unsupervised into the local community is something I have never come across before.
The Archdiocese has said that no patients who are determined to be a threat to themselves or the community are allowed this unsupervised privilege. I find that interesting because as a parent and a social worker, I consider someone who views or possesses child pornography to be a threat to children.
In New Jersey recently there were arrests of men charged with child porn possession. The thoughts of the New Jersey Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa are direct and powerful: “The children they watch being tortured are violated again by their actions, and these offenders may pose a danger to other children because of their predilections. We will remain ever vigilant to stop this predatory behavior against children.” I could not agree more, child pornography is not a victimless crime and a person who views this depravity for their own personal enjoyment is a risk to children.
Aside from the criminal justice patients, I believe it is unsafe for Vianney to allow any patients, regardless of their diagnosis, to be unsupervised in the community. Obviously finding a patient on a school campus proves that point.
Margaret Reif and I have been working on this issue for the past few months and will continue to do so until we feel that the children in the community are safe. Margaret has been involved for the past two years with efforts of protecting children in the Archdiocese as well as the legislative efforts for victims and children in Pennsylvania.
We have expressed our concerns to the Archdiocese, elected officials and law enforcement. So often in our society we wait until tragedy occurs. In this case we are not waiting. We have sounded the alarm that this is a community problem for all children as Vianney Center is located near schools, parks and shopping centers. Children deserve to be safe. When we fail them – we fail as a society.