When I was twelve years old, a teenage kid working the ticket booth at the movie theater told me I could pass for seventeen. I developed early and I had the curves to attract attention. But although I may have looked older than some of my peers, emotionally I was far behind them. I was sheltered and dreamy and utterly naive. I was in a dangerous place, but I didn’t know it. I could have become a target for anyone with a twisted sense of morality, or just a raging case of hormones.
Fortunately for me, I had protective parents. The distance between their farm and the town didn’t hurt, either.
Not all kids are so lucky. During the thick of the sex abuse scandal in the Church, I was working as a liturgy director. As one who worked closely with schoolchildren, I went through the training that was put into place in our diocese. Volunteers, staff–everyone has to take it. We use Protecting God’s Children, or Virtus. I went to a two-hour training session, and every week thereafter I was expected to read a lesson that came via email, along with a test question at the end. They tracked compliance.
Most of the time (I’ll be honest) I was impatient with it, because the lesson imparted was common sense. But now I think maybe that’s the point. If we take time to think about issues related to the safety of our children, most of it is common sense. The trouble comes when we get distracted or complacent and aren’t aware. The point of the training is awareness.
In the long run, the most important thing the Virtus training did for me was to sensitize me to the issue. The fact is that if there is a pedophile around, he (or she) will find a way to subvert the procedures put into place to protect our children. That means the impetus is on me as a parent to teach my children about their inherent dignity as a human being, especially where matters of sexuality are concerned, in such a way that they recognize threats to that dignity, and have the confidence and courage to respond.
The lessons of sex I learned as a child dealt with the danger of premarital sex and the value of chastity, but I don’t remember really learning why. Maybe this is because I was a rule follower, so if you told me to do something, that was all I needed; any other information given might well have gone in the “useless information” file.
In adulthood, though, outing the damage and dysfunction caused by obsession with unrestricted, no-strings-attached sex has become my passion. When even Catholics resist making the connections between the dysfunction in the culture and the birth control they depend on, I’m very aware that my kids are besieged. They’re not going to get a holistic vision of the human person unless I give it to them. And they’ve got to have the whole picture; they’ve got to know why, or there’s no chance that they’re going to resist a cultural paradigm that pushes so hard in the opposite direction.
Until recently I always thought of this in terms of peer relationships–hookup culture, pre-marital sex, etc.–but recently I realized that the lesson is just as important in helping prevent abuse by authority. Because when you know the incredible dignity of this body you inhabit, you are much less likely to allow someone else to do something to damage that dignity.
I planned to write a single post on this topic. I woke up at 2 a.m. this morning and, unable to sleep, pounded out almost 1200 words on it. In the light of day, fleshing it out, I’m about halfway through it. So I’m going to hit “pause” for today and beg you to come back tomorrow, when I’ll talk about what we are doing with our kids.
In the meantime I’d like to know what your dioceses and/or parishes are doing to guard their young from predators. If you can, please leave comments here rather than on Facebook (even if you do so anonymously), so that everyone can see.