My Problem With VIRTUS Training

A little bit ago, while working on my Pope Madness! series for Aleteia, I posted a simple question on my Facebook wall.  “John XXIII or Pius XI?” was all it read, and what followed was a lengthy, amusing thread where Catholics and non-Catholics alike weighed in on everything from their papal pick, to knock-knock jokes, to sushi.

It was like a funny little parish picnic, social media-style.

Then, as always happens, The Comment came.  You know the one: “You must stop having fun with your faith because, priest rape.”  Seriously.  Apropos of absolutely nothing, in pops someone who hasn’t posted on my FB wall in a million years, with a friendly little reminder that Catholics suck because, you know- predator priests.

To my absolute, ridiculous pride, people responded charitably and patiently with the woman.  And, to the commentor’s great credit, she was willing to return that civility in her follow up statements.

Ultimately, though, her stance boiled down to this: “No Catholic anywhere can ever again celebrate their faith because of the evil actions of a group of men.”

Think about that.  Two thousand years of art, philosophy, education, social teachings, and charity, and we can never again be allowed to enjoy it because, priest rape.

Even more jaw-dropping than that thought is the fact that so many Catholics seem to have internalized this shame.  In an attempt to avoid being a target for anti-Catholic trolls out there, they keep their head down, shut their mouth, and try to stay off the radar.

This unwillingness to rock the boat has been used against us, the laity, in the form of the VIRTUS program.  The bishops have allowed what should have been a cut-and-dried training session on how to recognize warning signs of sexual abuse to swell into an atrocious, hysterical leviathan.  We, the laity, so concerned with being “in compliance” and not wanting to give off the impression that we’re somehow condoning the sexual abuse of children, are being expected to endure a poorly thought out program in retribution for sins that weren’t even ours.

Over on Aleteia, I discuss my experience with VIRTUS, the problems I see with it, and explain why I think the entire program needs to be overhauled.


  1. says

    This is exactly why my mother chose to turn her back on me when I became Catholic and chose the same for my children. She basically accused me of setting my children up to be molested and abused. She has since come around and apologized for her short sightedness but I know she is still very wary. I chose to convert after the scandal and it was hardest for me when fellow Catholics asked why I would choose to join this church. Since converting I have found so much purpose, joy, and fulfillment in my church and faith. It’s difficult for me to put into words but thank you, Cari for doing so for me!

  2. says

    I am totally shocked by this. I am a catechist in the Diocese of Orlando, and all we had to do was sit through a short presentation at home, answer questions on line to make sure we listened, be fingerprinted and have a background check.

    As the victim of childhood rape myself, watching the short presentation alone sent me through about 3 days of nausea, and there was really nothing explicit. I could absolutely not have endured the Virtus training. Would not have. Just shocked and praying that doesn’t come to a diocese near me.

  3. says

    Cari, I agree that VIRTUS seems like too little, too late. I was in Slash, telling my story to the U.S. bishops, when they came up with the Charter. All diocesan priests and lay staff and volunteers in the U.S. are required to fulfil the required training. Depending on the presenters and trainers, it can be helpful or not. But, it is better than nothing, in my opinion.

    I remain a faithful Catholic, despite the abuse and the fact that my abuser got off scot free. No dismissal from the priesthood (he had already left to “marry” his pregnant girlfriend), no criminal charges (past the statute of limitations). My rage runs deep, and I agree that innocent Church volunteers shouldn’t bear the blame for the priests who violated children, including myself. It is complicated.

  4. says

    Cari, your article is spot-on. I too went through VIRTUS training when it first became mandatory, and to be honest I felt like it really put alot of unnecessary info into my head. I would compare it to watching the TV show “Criminal Minds” – I watched it once and said “never again” because I don’t want to learn to think the way that criminals think..and I don’t think we need to do that in order to protect our children.
    Your point about the little 8 yr old girl being forced to tell her story to the whole world is the truth. Why any parent would subject their child to that lack of dignity and privacy is seriously beyond me.
    This whole thing reminds me of another diocesan program that I was once a part of: Project Truth, the “abstinence education” program for studolvement with this program. I have major regrets about my past involvement with it. We would go into classrooms and talk about the benefits of saving sex until marriage. There were some major flaws to this program: 1) it was government funded, thus an “abstinence” program as opposed to “chastity”. Really screwed up idea to pair up with a gov program to promote faith values, in my opinion. 2)A casuality of allowing a gov program into the diocese was the type of people who were hired for said program. They hired a dude who really didn’t even believe in the whole abstinence thing anyway. He just needed a job, and he got the job because of his level of education and the fact that he was a minority. We went to a middle school together to talk about abstinence and I watched in horror as he used the term “dry humping” in front of 7th and 8th graders. It was disgusting, degrading and completely unnecessary. Plus, who the hell even uses that term?! Definitely not the group of kids he was talking to. I felt sick about the whole thing. Here was a program supposedly designed to protect kids from the consequences of sex outside of marriage and they’re innocence is being robbed by some of the things they’re hearing in that very program!
    Too bad the diocese couldn’t have just spent the money and hired more folks like myself and a few others who actually believe in the message of chastity and understand what the church really says about it. Seems to me they’re putting their eggs in the wrong basket and these kind of programs need a major baptism.

  5. says

    I went through some sort of training…I’m not sure if it Virtus or not..but it wasn’t really like what you describe. There were no videos with victims talking or breaking up into group discussions. It was basically just a powerpoint presentation on how to recognize the symptoms of abuse and what you should do and how to avoid any accusations against you (ie. never be alone in a room with kids, etc.). It also talked quite a bit about elder abuse.

    I think the point of it was more like “anyone who works with kids is a mandated reporter” so they must know the signs and what to do.

    The one thing that put me off is they did mention about how the kids do that program you mentioned and that parents AREN’T allowed to attend that session with their kids. That made me livid. If my kid is going to learn about “good touch/bad touch” I darn well want to know what they are learning. The implication was that “if you have a problem with this, you are abusing your kids.” WTH???!!?? Anyway, it didn’t really sit right with me.

  6. says

    Cari, I left a comment on Alteia too but I wanted to say one more thing…the training I had was only an hour long video with follow up questions, and a back ground check where they followed up with a former employer and friends/family, etc. It wasn’t three hours like yours and overall, the presentation was very professional. I wasn’t disgruntled by it at all (I see it as necessary) but a lot of moms I friends find the whole sex training for the adults and kids disturbing.

    That’s all. I’m done now.

    Off to feed children or something like that…

    Happy Tuesday.

  7. says

    I also went through the same video and three hour training just so I could volunteer in my child’s class room at school. Did yours also have the park montage with with creepy guy hiding behind the tree? I don’t think this virtus training will prevent offenders and while, I believe it is good to give some tips for how to spot abuse or warning signs, the videos and stories was very disturbing. We also have to all go through a background check and in my mind that probably is the best way to at least weed out the real creeps though you can’t prevent everything.

  8. says

    I believe I watched this for missionary training in the summer of 2007. It was way intense. I dropped out of training for personal reasons about three weeks in, but I wonder if I would have been asked to actually discuss this sort of private thing with children we worked with.

  9. says

    If you think virtus is bad, you should try praesidium! They have praesidium in the Norwich diocese. Even though I was virtus trained when I went to the Norwich diocese (having come from the Hartford diocese), they made me take it. That was even more extensive and obnoxious than virtus. As a victim of sexual molestation and rape myself, it brought on so many triggers its not even funny. Truth be told, I couldn’t even finish all of it – a friend of mine finished it for me. So as much as I think virtus is the most annoying (insert: I don’t even read the articles monthly, just answer the questions) program, it wasn’t triggering as the other one was. Oh…and with praesidium, you have to be renewed yearly – meaning you have to sit and listen to the SAME lecture over and over and over. Last time I had checked, I wasn’t accused of sexually molesting a minor, yet I’M the one that has to deal with the punishment?! Yeah, that’s right and just. *rolls eyes*
    Now, if you’ll excuse me, you reminded me that I have a virtus training sitting in my email. *groans*

  10. says

    Cary I had to do VIRTUS training in my old archdiocese and it absolutely made my blood run cold. So overly-informative and so slickly produced…I felt nauseated the entire class. Then I got into it with our instructor about how ‘pedophilia’ is an entirely different sexual orientation, apparently, from homosexuality, which is what I felt the majority of the criminals were waxing eloquent on. I mean, these were young 20-something guys offending on 17-year old boys. But apparently that is something entirely different from ‘homosexuality,’ even though all the creepers on this video offended on same-sex victims. Exactly what I wanted to do with my Thursday morning: discuss the finer points of varying sexual deviancies in child offenders with our diocese’s ‘enforcement’ volunteer. Vom.

  11. Becky says

    I know this is not timely but a friend of mine just went through the VIRTUS training and I got a brief email that she was shaking with anger and getting a migraine. I have not yet heard exactly what upset her, but I started looking around to see if anyone else said that they had a problem with it. I found your article, and I was surprised to realize that it was someone I already know! I mean, you don’t know me, but I greatly enjoyed “Pope Awesome” and your blog.

    Anyway, I have realized that the VIRTUS training system is a huge HUGE money making machine and therefore is not likely to be swayed by merely moral objections. Have you done any followup to see if it can be improved at all?

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