NEW YORK (Reuters) - The New York Roman Catholic Archdiocese is using comic and coloring books to warn children about sex predators, drawing critics who say they fail to alert kids that priests may pose a threat.
The 28-page comic book "Archangel," published in September, tells the story of a teenager who relies on St. Michael the Archangel to report the sexual abuse of two female students at his high school by the father of one of their friends.
The book is designed for children over 10, and is being distributed to schools and religious education programs in New York, archdiocese spokesman Joseph Zwilling said. It is also available free online.
Accompanying it is a coloring book for children under 10, available in English and Spanish.
"It's part of our much broader effort to help give children the information they need in order to keep themselves safe," Zwilling said.
The books appeared several years after reports of widespread abuse of parishioners by Roman Catholic priests in Boston, Los Angeles and other cities, and received wide attention this week after being profiled in Newsweek magazine.
Carmen Durso, a lawyer who represents some of those victims, said the books take a moralizing tone that might have the opposite effect of persuading children to report abuse.
"They're kidding themselves if they think they're going to create with these things a situation where kids are going to talk to someone," Durso said.
The books fail to point out that sex offenders are likely to be people in trusted positions, including religious leaders, said David Clohessy, who said he was sexually abused by a parish priest as a child.
"It's appropriate for an audience of Catholic kids to be told that even Catholic priests and seminarians and bishops and nuns can do these things," Clohessy said. "Usually adults who hurt kids aren't strangers, but are grown-ups who you like and your parents trust and other adults trust."
Zwilling said the books are meant to warn children of the danger in general, and at least one victims' support group called them a good step.
"I can only applaud the diocese for their creativity," said John Moynihan, spokesman for Voice of the Faithful.
Editing by Eric Walsh