Child Abuse in the Church: A Parent’s Response, Part 1

Rhodes - What light through yonder window .....

Rhodes – What light through yonder window ….. (Photo credit: BR0WSER)

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.

Part 2 is here.

My one and only post about Connecticut


Dignity (Photo credit: true2source)

When the first updates appeared on Friday, I searched Google just enough to see what everyone was talking about. Then I went into internet withdrawal. I don’t need to know the details. The whole thing is horrible; me getting cut to shreds about it isn’t going to change anything. I can hurt, I can pray without knowing all the gory details.

But neither do I want to ignore the topic altogether. So today and only today I will share my thoughts.

In the wake of this shooting, all the predictable sound bites are coming out–on both sides of the political divide. What upsets me is that after an incident like this, when our world has lost a slice of its future, people cling to political philosophy more strongly than ever, as if those philosophies, whatever they are, are more important than the people they’re supposed to serve.

This should be a time for everyone to realize that we need to find some common ground, to work together toward a future in which twenty young children dying a violent death in their classroom is impossible.

Things are happening in this world that require us to acknowledge the change. In many ways, humanity is the same from age to age. Every generation thinks the next one is going to hell in a handbasket, all the way back to the ancient Greeks. But some things defy such casual dismissal. The shootings are worse now than they were when we were kids, and there are more of them. We must acknowledge this and accept that something has caused that change. We can’t stick our heads in the sands and pretend like our political, personal and entertainment culture doesn’t have an impact. The violence is worse, and it’s not going to get any better unless something changes. Maybe more than one something.

Some say that something is gun control. Others toss out the usual objections: someone determined to commit carnage will find a way no matter what laws are in place. Or: it’s tragic, but this is the price we pay for a free society.

Some people say we have to treat mental illness; if anything makes clear the need for universal health coverage, this is it.

Then again, maybe it’s the fault of violence in entertainment. If movies weren’t so violent, this would never happen: The great art-imitates-life vs. life-imitates-art debate.

Or maybe we can blame the breakdown of the family, and wag our fingers at culture of 50% divorce, extreme promiscuity and all the associated societal ills–out-of-wedlock birth leading to poverty leading to culture-wide desperation. A return to traditional values would cure all.

You know what? There’s at least a grain of truth in virtually every argument I just listed. If there is a solution to this horrible problem, it’s going to be achieved by abandoning the fringes, and finding common ground.

Common ground. This means everyone has to give a bit of what is precious to them. We’ve got to pry our stubborn brains open and look for the nuggets of truth in opposing philosophies. Even more fundamentally, we need to change ourselves. Because we contribute to the climate of disrespect for human dignity. We are part of the problem, too.

When we hurl unreasoned, impassioned invectives at people who think differently than we do: we are part of the problem.

When we share belittling, demeaning jokes about public figures we don’t like, because we think they’re funny: we are part of the problem.

When we watch murder dramas hour after hour, night after night, in which the writers dream up ever-more violent and horrific ways of knocking off human beings: we are part of the problem.

When we go to movies in which violence is pretty much the story: we are part of the problem.

When we watch “reality” shows that are filled with people shredding each others’ human dignity in the name of winning or ratings: we are part of the problem.

When we refuse to have civil discourse and reasoned discussion, based on facts, with those whose points of view differ from ours: we are part of the problem.

When we leave vitriolic, scathing, dignity-shredding comments anonymously or otherwise on blog posts or news articles: we are part of the problem.

When we refuse to seek common ground–in other words, compromise: we are part of the problem.

I know some may find it offensive to equate how we treat each other with murder. Tough. Disrespect for the human person reaches its climax in murder–it doesn’t start there. It starts small, with us, and builds, layer upon layer, until tragedy strikes. And that means we have to act. We have to change, because right now, our children are paying the price.