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
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
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 (www.voiceofthefaithful.org),
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 www.usccb.org/bishops/index.htm.)
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