ORLANDO | April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. As we are called by God to care for one another, Bishop John Noonan calls upon all people of good will to safeguard those whom we encounter , those within our parish communities. Providing safe environment policies since 1986, clergy, religious and members of Christ’s faithful continue to review safety matters for young people and other vulnerable populations as we learn more about and grow in our relationships with each other.
Diocesan staff regularly assess its offering for safe environment education for students in faith formation. As a result, Circle of Grace was initiated a little more than a year ago. In the announcement, Bishop John Noonan said the goal “is to educate and empower young people to actively participate in a safe environment for themselves and others.” He hopes young people and their parents/guardians understand “each one is held within a circle of grace; each one is beloved.”
Daniel Boyd, director of Laity, Family and Life, said, “Circle of Grace teaches young people how to think and speak about their experience of giving and receiving love. It gives them language to articulate what they know intuitively, that they are created to experience God’s love in the Sacraments, in the created world, and especially in healthy relationships with friends and family.”
Director of Children’s Ministry, John Molloy, explained the program is presented to children in faith formation from kindergarten to 12th grade. Each session is age appropriate. “We teach about the dignity of the human person from a very young age,” Molloy said. “God loves you and that in your ‘circle of grace’ – everything within your arm’s reach – helps you figure out who belongs in your circle of grace and who does not.”
Teaching the sacredness of the body, created in the image and likeness of God, the program empowers individuals to understand their worth and right to protect themselves and those around them. Although parents can “opt out” of the program, Molloy says, “This is equipping children with tools and language to let a safe adult know or someone outside of their parents… to say something is wrong.” The program encourages young people to recognize when something does not feel right. Parents who decline training receive a packet outlining the lessons and offering suggested talking points with their children.
Molloy notes many parents confuse Circle of Faith with sex education, similar to what is offered in public schools. Instead, Circle of Grace employs the ideals of Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation, Joy of Love, commemorated this year on its fifth anniversary. The exhortation affirms the domestic Church is grounded within the family, from which God’s love flows. Pope Francis said, “We are called to accompany, to listen, to bless the journey of families; not only to chart the direction, but to make the journey with them; to say . . . the Church is with you, the Lord is close to you, we want to help you safeguard the gift you have received.” Molloy assures the Church desires to guide and accompany families in their efforts by providing tools and resources to facilitate and encourage necessary conversations.
While most often catechists present the session(s), when possible, churches with mental health professionals often ask these parishioners to assist. Regina Boyd, Daniel’s wife, is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor who attends Annunciation Parish in Altamonte Springs. In 2019, prior to the COVID pandemic, she shared the program with students in formation grades K-8.
“People like to put mental health into a category,” Boyd explained. “Unfortunately, it still has a stigma attached to it. Mental health is just health. The same way you would go to the eye doctor and get glasses or get your physical once a year, we should also be checking up on our mental health… because we are being good stewards of our bodies that God created.” She added, “When we do these things to take care of our bodies, we are doing a spiritual work because the body and soul are so intimately united… we are affirming that dignity we’ve been given by God, created in His image.”
Molloy said it is important to teach at an early age, “You are loved as you are. Everything in this space is loved by God and God is with you in that.” As that understanding develops, one can address a child’s thoughts and struggles reminding them, “God is still with you in those moments. If you are feeling like something’s not right, God is telling you to find help.”
PREVENTING CHILD ABUSE: Support and Reporting Resources
Statewide (DCF) Abuse Hotline 1-800-96-ABUSE
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255
Diocese of Orlando, Victim Assistance Coordinator
Randy Means 407-246-7179
Catholic Charities of Central Florida Behavioral Health Services
Catherine Galda or Kyle Osborn 407-658-1818