A retired state police captain who ran the Megan’s Law Section of the Pennsylvania State Police and now lives in Milton will help the Diocese of Harrisburg fight child sex abuse.
Her work could help other dioceses, as well.
Janet A. McNeal, who has 26 years of law enforcement experience and also worked on sexual misconduct response teams involving non-Catholic clergy, said she will develop policies that she expects the diocese could share throughout the Church.
“I want to find out where the wheel fell off, what caused these problems to continue for so many years,” McNeal said.
She began work Monday under a three-year contract with the diocese.
“I approached them in August,” McNeal said, noting that was right after a Pennsylvania grand jury report named 301 priests accused of child abuse. “I have a lot of experience in this, knowledge and training, and I felt like I could be helpful. ”
“Captain McNeal brings a wealth of experience with her,” diocese Bishop Ronald W. Gainer said. “As a contractor with the diocese, she is a neutral party, with no conflicts of interest, who has dedicated her entire professional career to seeing that justice is served and survivors of a range of crimes, but specifically sexual crimes, are heard and supported.”
Besides her experience with the state police, McNeal, a mother, grandmother and a Protestant, said she also served voluntarily for about five years on the religious clergy sexual misconduct response team for the United Methodist Church’s Susquehanna Conference, which covers much of the central and northeastern parts of the state. She was on the team with nurses, teachers, laity and others, all of whom were trained to respond to reported incidents of clergy sexual abuse.
“We responded after clergy had been removed to help the congregation understand what happened and help heal,” she said. “We also did victim advocacy.”
McNeal noted clergy sexual abuse is not unique to the Catholic Church, though every few years publicity arises from a Catholic diocese, such as Boston and Philadelphia and this year all of Pennsylvania, where accusations come to light.
“It’s been one of those things, it reared its ugly head then subsided,” she said.
She said when she first opened her consulting firm, which helps companies create policy and training related to such issues as sexual misconduct, recognizing and reporting child abuse and bullying and cyberbullying, her first client was Presbyterian.
McNeal also participated for a couple of years on an ecumenical task force for multiple denominations, where she and others presented scenarios to help church hierarchy with sexual-based issues that the church had to confront, such as integrating a sexual offender back into the congregation and confronting pornography addiction.
Through her firm, Law and Grace Consulting, she will review youth protection programs and develop programs and policies, according to the diocese. McNeal, wife of Pastor William McNeal of Bethany United Methodist Church in Milton, will operate independently, reporting directly to Gainer.
“McNeal has been granted complete access to all the diocese’s records,” according to the diocese. “In addition to reviewing every case reported to the diocese, McNeal will also meet with survivors to hear their stories and determine what stage they are at in the healing process.”
“There is a two-fold purpose,” she said. “I want them to know they have been heard, that their voice matters and they were heard by someone who could make a difference for them. I want to give them their power back by helping with their healing.”
She said she will encourage them to participate in every program.
McNeal will review the reports to look at what happened but is not investigating the cases as a police officer.
“The diocese has investigators for cases not resolved,” she said. “I’m going to look at the reports from an investigator’s standpoint so I can help them move forward.”
She feels she definitely could make an impact, given her background and experience as a state trooper investigating and prosecuting sexual abuse cases, as a corporal overseeing the cases and running the Megan’s Law sex offender registry and making policy recommendations.
“I also have experience in the religious community, and I’m married to clergy.”
She and her husband have lived all over the state, given both of their jobs. He was transferred to Milton about a year and a half ago, she said.
The Tioga County natives are the parents of two married children and grandparents of five, ages 9 to 17, she said.
After three years, she and the diocese will assess her work and determine whether to extend her contract. She said sharing the policies with other dioceses would be up to Harrisburg diocese.
“I will be shocked if they don’t,” she said.
She said the bishop is dedicated to ridding the Church of the problem.
“I was impressed with his compassion and desire to get this done,” McNeal said.