CENTERVILLE (CBS) - When parents bring their children to Our Lady of Victory Catholic Church in Centerville for religious education, they're asked to sign a document, obtained by the I-Team, which absolves the church of liability, and puts it all on the parents.
It's called the Parental Contract for Diocesan Activities, and in it parents agree that: "Should we choose to allow another adult to provide supervision to a child, the ultimate supervision and safety of that child is still our responsibility and ours alone."
And further that: "We specifically agree not to hold the Diocese or any of its employees or contractors liable for any accident, illness or harm that may result from the trip or activity."
Mitchell Garabedian, a lawyer for hundreds of people sexually abused by Catholic priests, was critical of the parental contract.
"What they're saying in this document is whatever happens to your child on our watch, whether you're around or not, is not going to be our fault legally," Garabedian said, pointing out that in the Diocese of Fall River alone, he has represented more than 100 children molested by a dozen priests and other Catholic church employees.
The Diocese is saying, "If your child is sexually molested by a priest or a deacon or whoever, and you're around or not around, we're not going to be responsible," Garabedian added.
We also talked with parents as they were leaving Our Lady of Victory with their children after a session of religious education.
"It's just like any other form that you have to sign, be responsible for, when the child leaves your sight," said one mother.
"I'm comfortable being responsible for my kids at all times," said another mother.
Father Mark Hessian, pastor of Our Lady of Victory, said the parental contract was not drafted by his church, but comes from the Diocese of Fall River.
"We basically, through the document, say to parents, help us be the eyes of the safety of your children," Father Hessian said. "Since this scandal has broken upon us, we're trying to engage parents in shared responsibility."
Garabedian did not see it that way.
"Why would anyone in their right mind give their children to someone who says, sign this document even though we're never going to be responsible for the health, safety and welfare of your children," Garabedian said. "Would you do that with a babysitter?"
A spokesman for the Diocese of Fall River said the parental contract is used only for the religious education program and that all church staff and volunteers must attend an abuse prevention workshop and undergo a criminal record check.
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