After years of humiliating sexual-abuse scandals, Roman Catholic Church officials are trying harder than ever to convince parishioners that they're doing everything they can to prevent such tragedies from happening again. That means public education, training programs and—in the New York Archdiocese—a surprisingly direct, abuse-themed coloring book for kids that's being sent to parishioners across the area. At first glance, "Being Friends, Being Safe, Being Catholic" is what you'd expect from a Christian handout: lessons in loving thy neighbor and knowing we're all special in God's eyes, plus a fun word search with names of people whom kids can trust (parents, counselors, teachers). Many of the book's cartoon-sketch drawings, which were created by a church volunteer, are light in tone and narrated by an angel looming overhead. But on one page, the angel warns of an online predator—with chest hair exposed—who attempts to chat with a child; on another (shown above), the angel implies that children should make sure they're never alone in a room with a priest.
That's an unusual approach, says David Clohessy, the national director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, but not necessarily a bad one. "We welcome any innovation," he says, "especially from an institution that has such a horrific track record." The coloring book is intended as a supplement to the prevention curriculum mandated by a 2002 U.S. bishops charter—a way for adults to broach a topic that is "not the most pleasant to talk about," says Edward Mechmann, the director of the New York Archdiocese's Safe Environment Program. He says the book (along with comics about molestation, for older kids) has been shipped to about 700 schools. Administrators are then given the option of distributing them. "Teachers love it," Mechmann says. "It's a nice little vehicle for speaking to kids about [abuse]." Talk about alternative education.