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Rebuilding Trust
By Susan Hines-Brigger


An Internal Struggle
Search for Healing
For Teens and Kids: The Importance of Trust
10 Tips for Child Safety

The other day my youngest daughter, Riley, was watching the Disney movie Aladdin. I had been working on the June "Church in the News" column for this magazine and needed a break. For a day and a half, I had been chronicling the fallout of the clergy sex-abuse crisis across the globe. To say I was feeling a bit sad and overwhelmed is an understatement.

As soon as I sat down, I was immediately struck by one of the lines in the movie. Aladdin extends his hand from atop his flying carpet and says to Princess Jasmine, "Do you trust me?"

The line struck me because trust is an issue I've been struggling with personally and as a mom for a while when it comes to the Catholic Church.

In fact, just last week I received a letter from our parish asking if my fifth-grade daughter would be interested in being a server at Mass. My faith told me to answer yes; my maternal instincts gave me pause.


An Internal Struggle

You see, the clergy sex-abuse crisis has touched my parish. It has affected people I know. I have written about it in this magazine just about every month since June 2002. And it has profoundly affected my ability to trust.

10 Tips for Child Safety

Teresa Kettelkamp, executive director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Secretariat for the Protection of Children and Young People, developed the following list of 10 tips for child safety, in conjunction with Child Abuse Prevention Month in April.

1. Sexual molestation is about the victim.
2. No one has the right to have access to children.
3. Common sense is not all that common.
4. Child sexual abuse can be prevented.
5. The residual effects of having been abused can last a lifetime.
6. Feeling heard leads toward healing.
7. You cannot always predict who will be an abuser.
8. There are behavioral warning signs of child abusers.
9. People can be taught to identify grooming behavior.
10. Background checks work.

Further explanation of each tip is available on the bishops' Web site, as well as information on other initiatives the bishops are implementing in response to the crisis.

For instance, during a homily in our parish a few weeks back, the priest was preaching about how the pope, bishops and priests are the shepherds of the Church and how we members need to listen to them more carefully. I was so upset with the idea that our leaders— many of whom had turned a blind eye to the abuse for years—somehow were more worthy of trust and respect than we in the pews, that I completely missed the overall message of the homily.

And when I read the reports of abuse in Ireland, Germany, the Netherlands, etc., I wondered, Why is this just coming to light? Why didn't bishops and priests jump on this when the crisis first erupted in 1985? Why should I trust anything the Vatican or bishops say when their actions so often say something different? Where next? I wonder about those things both for myself and for the sake and safety of my kids.

But I also see suffering on the other side of the equation. I pray for priests who have no reason not to be trusted. I wonder how they must feel when a child wants to give them a hug and they worry about what others might think. In the end, no one wins. All because some people broke a sacred trust!

I know that abuse is not exclusive to the Catholic Church. I've listened to the reports that abuse in the Church does not occur at a higher rate than in other places in society. I'm aware that I should be just as worried about my kids' teachers and coaches as I should be about our pastor.

But I guess I feel that my children and I should be safest in the company of Jesus' followers, those who walk the talk of Jesus' words: "Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these" (Matthew 19:14).

Search for Healing

The tricky thing about trust is that, once it's broken, it is hard to fix. There's always that small broken place that never quite gets fully repaired. With time and work, trust can be reestablished, but it's never the same.

In June 2003, this magazine tackled the issue of the clergy sex-abuse crisis. The title of that special issue was "Crisis in the Church: Our Search for Healing." Seven years later, this mom is still on that search and wondering if and when that healing will come.


I remember when I was a teenager—and now that I'm a mom—what a key part trust played in my relationship with my parents. When I gave them a reason to trust me, I found that I was given more freedoms and responsibilities. When I broke that trust, however, such as by missing my curfew or failing to follow through on something I promised I would do, it took me a long time to regain their trust.

Trust is at the heart of every relationship we have. For instance, if you told a close friend a secret and asked him or her to keep it confidential and then that person proceeded to share it with others, would you be as open to trusting him or her again? Or, if you lent your brother or sister something of yours and it ended up getting broken, would you be quite as willing next time to loan something of yours? Broken trust can even have serious or deadly implications.

Take some time to stop and think about the issue of trust in your life. Are you a trustworthy friend? Whom do you trust the most? How important is the issue of trust in your relationships?


Do you have ideas or suggestions for topics you'd like to see addressed in this column? If so, send them to me at "Faith-filled Family," 28 W. Liberty Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202-6498, or e-mail them to

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