The arrest of former St. Margaret Mary Parish Pastor Stephen Pohl on federal child pornography charges proves the value of teaching children about abuse, and how important it is to report anything that makes them feel uncomfortable.
The case began only after a student told his mother the priest had pulled him aside after school to take a series of photos on his cellphone. When Pohl asked him to sit with his hands on his knees, with his legs spread apart, the boy followed the priest’s orders, but told his mom it felt “weird.”
Over a few days, the boy’s parents asked Pohl to show them the pictures he had taken, receiving one image, but not the one the child reported. They asked again for all the images, and Pohl said he had deleted them. When the couple ran into Pohl out shopping and insisted on seeing his phone, they discovered photos of not only their son, but other boys posed in similar manner.
They contacted the parents of another boy they recognized, who said he had a similar experience posing for Pohl, so they contacted authorities who discovered up to 200 images of St. Margaret Mary students, all clothed, but some deemed “inappropriate,” as well as digital evidence of child pornography on laptop and desktop computers Pohl used.
We congratulate the boy’s parents, who clearly spent time with their son helping him understand what kind of touching or behavior is OK and what isn’t, and for instructing him to let them know if anyone ever made him uncomfortable. Had they not done that, the investigation and arrest might never have happened.
It’s likely the parents are ensuring their children get the help they need to understand and cope with their own thoughts and feelings on the matter; however, even as recovery is ongoing, we hope they – and all parents –continue to teach their children about abuse, about what is and what isn’t OK. Teach them to not keep secrets and to tell a parent or another adult if they don’t feel right about something that another has done with or to them – that they will believe and help them.
Silence is the real danger here. Had the boy, who trusted his instincts, and his parents, who kept their pledge to keep him safe, not spoken out, another case of child exploitation might have slipped beneath the prosecutorial radar, exposing other children to risk.
Teach your children about abuse, about appropriate and inappropriate touching, that their body belongs to them, and to report anything anyone does that makes them uncomfortable. Helping children protect themselves is a powerful step to preventing and stopping abuse.