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Catholic school students in Chicago learning about the warning signs of abuse

Catholic school students learn to spot abuse
Catholic school students learning about the warning signs of abuse 04:15

Catholic leaders are gathering this week at the Vatican for a summit on clergy sexual abuse. To illustrate the scope of the problem, in December, Illinois' attorney general reported church officials in that state withheld at least 500 names of accused priests. The Chicago archdiocese is taking action.

At Northside Catholic Academy, CBS News was there as a third grade class sat down to take sexual abuse prevention training. The program is run by the Archdiocese of Chicago for all kindergarten through 12th grade Catholic school students.

Mayra Flores trains teachers like Meredith Flynn to carefully use age appropriate language with students on how to detect, resist and report sexual abuse. Flores said she doesn't worry the students are too young, because she said that's what "perpetrators are counting on."

"We adults are uncomfortable with it. We say we want to protect their innocence. Well this is a way of protecting their innocence," Flores said.

"We talk about our private body parts and anything that is covered by a swimsuit and knowing that that's for them alone," said Flynn.

Students at Northside Catholic Academy. CBS News

"We live in a dangerous world and kids are precious to us," said Cardinal Blase Cupich. "We feel that it's important to protect them but we also have to admit that we do so within a backdrop and where children have been injured."

Since they started the "Safe Environment Program" in 1992, Cupich said incidents of abuse "dropped dramatically." Those programs were put in place after nearly two dozen Chicago priests were credibly accused.

Now the cardinal has been tapped by Pope Francis to head a high stakes meeting at the Vatican this week for an unprecedented global meeting of bishops.

"The days are organized over three themes: Responsibility, accountability and transparency," Cupich said.

Cupich said he understands the frustration of survivors.

"I'm frustrated too by it. This is a watershed moment. It's a moment in which I think there is going to be dramatic change in the way we handle these cases," Cupich said.

Back at Northside, a new generation is learning about abuse.

"Now I feel a lot safer so if I'm in a situation where I don't feel comfortable, now I know what to do," one student said.

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