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By Susan Hines-Brigger

Church Sex-Abuse Crisis Hits Close to Home


What Can Catholics Do?
What Can Families Do?
For Teens: Find Someone to Trust
For Kids: A Note to Say Thanks

Visit our new Conversation Corner! This month: How has the clergy sex-abuse crisis affected your family?

The ironic thing about crises is that we always tend to think of them as affecting someone else, somewhere else. “That can’t happen here,” we say. Then we’re blindsided when it does.

As a Catholic journalist and the author of this magazine’s “Church in the News” column, I have spent a good amount of time over the past months following the clergy sex-abuse crisis, beginning with the trial of former priest John Geoghan in Boston.

I reported the incidences of abuse and their fallout, but the datelines of the stories seemed distant: Boston, New York, Florida, etc.

That was until the day I turned on the local TV news and saw my parish—the parish I have attended every Sunday growing up, received my First Communion, Confirmation, marriage preparation and now attend with my own family. A former pastor was accused of—and did not deny—having abused several young men at a nearby Catholic high school. Suddenly the crisis seemed all too real to me. The dateline of the story was now my hometown, my neighborhood, my parish.

What Can Catholics Do?

Parishes and Catholics across the country have had to come face-to-face with the horror of sex abuse. The laity felt angry, betrayed, concerned and fearful for their children. (For an overview of the current crisis, visit St. Anthony Messenger’s online feature, “Clergy Sexual Abuse
and the Catholic Church.”

In Boston, a group of Catholics concerned with the situation came together to discuss their feelings about the crisis and formed Voice of the Faithful (VOTF). The goals of the organization, according to their Web site (, are to support those who have been abused, support priests of integrity and shape structural change within the Church. Their theme is “Keep the Faith, Change the Church.”

During the June meeting of the U.S. bishops in Dallas, Bishop Wilton D. Gregory of Belleville, Illinois, spoke during his presidential address of the Church’s need for the bishops to work with the laity in finding solutions to the current situation. “We realize, as perhaps never before, our corporate need for and this grace-filled opportunity of working more collaboratively with our devoted laity, religious and clergy,” Bishop Gregory said.

During the meeting, the bishops passed the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young Adults, which states that any priest who had abused a minor in the “past, present or future” would be permanently removed from ministry. The bishops also established a set of canonical norms to accompany the charter which, if approved by the Holy See, would become Church law for the United States. (The full texts of the Charter and pending norms are available at

What Can Families Do?

For many parents, the current situation plays upon their worst fears: that their child would be hurt or abused in some way and they are unable to prevent it. According to the National Network for Child Care, “By age 18, one of every four girls and one of every six boys has been sexually abused,” and “Eighty-five percent of sexual assaults on children are committed by someone the child knows and usually trusts.” 

There are, however, steps you can take to inform and protect your children.

• Teach your child about his or her body parts and the privacy of those parts. Tell your child that no one has the right to violate that privacy against his or her will.

• Tell your children that it’s O.K. to say “no” when someone—anyone—touches them in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable. Also let them know they don’t have to express affection, such as kissing a relative, if they don’t feel comfortable doing so.

• Listen and talk to your child about anything and everything. Let your child know that he or she can come and talk to you, no matter what. Discussing the little things, such as what happened at school each day, helps build trust for when more serious topics arise.

• Report any suspicion or incidents of sexual abuse to authorities.

• Get involved to make sure that your parish or school has some type of prevention program in place.

Next Month: World Mission Sunday



For Teens: Find Someone to Trust

Whether you're prepared for it or not, you and your friends are the future of the Church, so your opinion on the current sex-abuse crisis is very important. What are your feelings about the situation? What would you do if someone you know was a victim of sexual abuse, not necessarily by clergy, and came to you for help? Do you trust someone enough to discuss with them a serious issue such as this? Is it a parent, a friend, a relative? Reflect on these questions and then discuss them with a friend or a group of friends. Sometimes talking about difficult issues can provide insights you have never thought of before.

For Kids: A Note to Say Thanks

It seems as if all you hear about the priesthood these days is bad news. But the fact is, the majority of priests are hard-working, caring individuals. You can help them feel better about their work by sending them a note of encouragement. Make a card expressing your thanks and support for all they have done. Give the card to a priest at your parish or to a priest who's a family member or friend. You can also support your priest by sending an e-greeting through

Do you have ideas or suggestions for topics you'd like to see addressed in this column? If so, send them to me at

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Participate in this month's online poll.
Faith-filled Family Poll September 2002
Do you think the bishops' Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People does enough to protect against sexual abuse?


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