It is good to pause and reflect on a specific cause or issue from time to time. It gives us the opportunity to raise awareness, to educate, to take action, and to move towards achieving a goal.
And so it is with National Child Abuse Prevention Month. We have much to learn, but we have learned so much. There are things we can do after we have identified that a child is being abused, but we must continue to work towards preventing it.
Preventing abuse in the Catholic Church is the goal of the Vatican. An outline for doing so in the United States was drafted by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in their Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. It was written in 2002 on the heels of the revelation of the sexual abuse problems in the Church and later updated.
At their Child and Youth Protection web site, they offer many resources to work towards this end.
Churches have implemented programs that ensure safe environments for children. Bishops, priests, teachers, staff and volunteers have to pass background checks and go through a program that helps them prevent and identify child abuse. For me, this was extremely helpful when working with children. It put me on alert in the School of Religion program and high school youth ministry where I watched for signs of abuse in kids. Sadly, the home is not a safe place for some.
In addition to the adult training, children receiving any form of Catholic education are taught how to help keep themselves safe. What grooming looks like. To trust their gut. To have a trusted adult in mind that they can go to with concerns. As a parent, I was pleased to have this reinforcement from the Church to what I had taught them at home.
I firmly believe the worst days of sexual abuse by priests are behind us. Our bishops are trying their best to handle unbelievable circumstances, but there are some that just don’t get it. The drip-drip-drip of reports of priests who have abused (generally years ago) and bishops failing to respond appropriately serves as a reminder that they are still in the pipeline. I think, sadly, it would be negligent to believe there are no bad apples in the bunch.
This journey is a difficult one. The personal journey of the survivor. The ecclesial journey of the Church.
The pain and agony that a victim feels in indescribable. It doesn’t feel like carrying a cross. It feels like being thrust upon the cross and left there in agony for a very long time.
The humiliation and shame felt by innocent priests, we cannot imagine. On top of that, they have to minister to those who have been broken by abuse. The falsely accused priest will never get his reputation back. The people of a diocese that has been bankrupted because of the actions of abusive priests are victims in a different way. Faith is tested and too often lost. A bishop bears the burden that no one knows. And the pope simply stands alone.
Sexual abuse causes incredible pain that reverberates throughout the Church and touches every single person alive. It is the devil at work trying to destroy the Church that Jesus founded. He has inflicted great damage.
The good news is that he has been discovered and is being stopped. Evil will not win.
This journey through pain is one towards healing. Through forgiveness. Towards hope. It is taken one day at a time, one challenge at a time. Inevitably, it requires forgiveness of the offender which summons a courage that is only possible by the grace of God. With prayer, Reconciliation and the Eucharist, God provides it if we but ask. It is with forgiveness that we can celebrate true freedom.
April is National Child Abuse Prevention month. Every month is child abuse prevention month.