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Psychological Screening Might Help Churches Prevent Future Misconduct

Frank Franklin II
New research from a Chatham University professor seeks to prevent misconduct from clergy before they enter the seminary.

On today's program: A Chatham University professor is researching a type of mental health screening that could prevent people at risk of potential sexual misconduct from entering seminary; Amachi Pittsburgh, an organization that serves kids with incarcerated parents, shifted its focus from mentoring to supporting families' basic needs in the pandemic; and as vulnerable populations struggle to access vaccinations, those over the age of 65 are feeling disadvantaged navigating scheduling sites on the internet.

Chatham University professor hopes to help church screen out sexual misconduct

(0:00 — 7:05) 

A mental health screening for prospective clergy might better assess future priests, according to new research published in “Spirituality in Clinical Practice” 

“The key to an evaluation is how comprehensive it should be,” says Dr. Anthony Isacco, a professor and expert on the psychology of religion and spirituality at Chatham University. He’s leading the study into the psychology behind the issue. “There’s not one single test that is a silver bullet to answering this question.”

Isacco says the evaluation should include a clinical interview, meeting with the applicant over time, and gathering collateral information. 

Isacco explains the “red flags” one might be looking for include an inability to cope with daily stress, evidence of impulsivity, and a history of problematic sexual behavior.

In 2006, four years after the Boston Globe’s groundbreaking investigation of clergy abuse across the country, U.S. bishops adopted stricter norms for screening applicants for the seminary, including careful psychological assessments and evaluation of a candidate's psychosexual maturity. An August 2018 report by a state Grand Jury documented how hundreds of  Roman Catholic priests had sexually abused more than a thousand children over several decades. 

Isacco says guidelines put forth by U.S. bishops after the Boston Globe investigation created a standard of consistency, but he says there’s more work to be done to establish best practices throughout the church.

Amachi Pittsburgh is changing its focus, but not its mission in a pandemic
(7:08 — 13:06)

The pandemic disrupted every aspect of life for students. While this past year has opened the door to critical conversations about the importance of mental health and racial equity, how we are having these conversations isn’t’ the same. 

Amachi Pittsburgh, an organization that serves families and kids with incarcerated parents, has been having these conversations for years, providing programs and one-on-one mentoring. 

“When the pandemic first began, and the Zoom technology was still a novelty for many, our students still participated in our programming all the way through the end of the school year,” says Anna Hollis, executive director of Amachi Pittsburgh. “But in the new school year, I mean on top of some Zoom fatigue and I think the frustration of not being able to return to school with their friends, the students were just not as engaged. It’s difficult to get to know someone on Zoom.”

Hollis says the organization typically surveys new mentoring pairs after six months, but given the challenges of creating connections online, Amachi pushed the assessment back a few months. 

“Our team just became more heavily engaged in case management and supporting our families, and making sure that they were able to navigate the systems and able to access the resources that they needed,” says Hollis. This included helping parents who were trying to access unemployment benefits, checking if students have the technology, and providing meals and personal protective equipment early on in the pandemic. 

Hollis says in addition to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, the protests and rise of attention to racial justice issues showed the organization is not alone in fighting for equity. Racial justice, she says, is core to Amachi’s model of mentoring children with incarcerated parents to help them become leaders, especially when people of color are disproportionately affected by the criminal justice system. 

“We specifically have an Amachi Ambassadors program, which is for high schoolers, to really have that conversation about racial equity and to understand how they can become civically engaged in addressing those issues that affect their lives.”

A gap in technology-literacy makes it hard for older people to compete for vaccine appointments
(13:10 — 18:00)

When the state recently changed its coronavirus vaccine policy, four million Pennsylvanians became eligible to get their shots. 

People 65 or older found themselves competing with younger, and sometimes more tech-savvy people, to book their appointments. 

WITF’s Brett Sholtis reports, in some cases, social media and internet skills are giving those younger people an edge.

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.


Kevin Gavin is the host of WESA's news interview program "The Confluence." He is a native Pittsburgher and served as news director for 90.5 WDUQ for 34 years. Since the sale of the radio station by Duquesne University to Pittsburgh EPM, Inc. (now Pittsburgh Community Broadcasting Corp.), he served as Executive Producer of Special News Projects prior to being named as host of "The Confluence" five years ago. kgavin@wesa.fm
Marylee is the editor/producer of The Confluence, the daily public affairs show on WESA. She got her start in journalism at The Daily Reveille and KLSU while attending Louisiana State University. She took her passion for audio journalism to UC Berkeley's graduate program and worked in public radio at WPR in Madison, WI, and WOSU in Columbus, Ohio.
Laura Tsutsui is a producer for The Confluence, WESA's morning news show. Previously, she reported on the San Joaquin Valley with the NPR affiliate station in her hometown of Fresno, California. She can be reached at ltsutsui@wesa.fm.
Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Isabelle is a student at George Washington University studying Political Communication. She loves all things Pittsburgh sports and serves as a sports anchor for GW-TV. In her free time, she enjoys museum hopping and walking her dog, Stevie.
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