Monthly Archives: March 2014

War on Kids?

Yesterday, one of the members of Pope Francis’s new council on child abuse, a victim herself, noted that Bishops who made wrong decisions and/or attempted to cover-up abuse incidents should be made accountable. Her perspective is crucial to the council – it offers insight the Church has not had at this level before. And her desire to share her experience in reprimanding those responsible is admirable.
Catholics have been sorting through the damage done by sexual abuse scandals for some time now. Progress has been made on many fronts. For instance, Catholics who will spend time with children or young people in any fashion, be it offering communion during Mass or leading a youth group trip, must receive training on sexual abuse, how to spot it and how to stop it. Trainees hear specifically from abusers and how they chose and abused their prey. Not really the way anyone wants to spend a weekend afternoon. Catholics also undergo state police background checks.
To date, the Church has been the only group to face such disturbing sex abuse scandals on the open public stage. Many people have stereotyped all Catholic religious as predators and pedophiles. I myself have friends who have left the Church over this issue and have known more than one victim. I’ve even come to know there was a violent pedophile teaching in my Catholic high school when I attended. And yes I’m angry about all of those situations.
It’s true that many cases brought to Church fathers were not handled properly. I believe much of this was out of fear as well as unfamiliarness with such crimes. Mistakes and oversights lead to great heartache and pain for victims and their families. Yet even with the amount of dialogue, discussion and arguing that has resulted because of Church sex scandals, children are not any safer than they were before.
But that’s not because of the Church, which may now be one of few groups, organizations or institutions looking for credible ways to deal with the war society has declared on children.
One of the first things Catholics learn in the abuse training they receive to work with children are some scary statistics.
One in four women/girls in the United States is sexually abused by age 18.
One in 10 men/boys in the United States is sexually abused by age 18.
Let me say that again. One in four girls. One in 10 boys.
In real life, that means if your son plays on a sports team, it’s likely at least one of those boys has or will be abused. If your daughter has a sleepover with 10 friends, at least two of those girls have been or will be abused.
That’s a lot of kids. That’s also a lot of abusers. In fact, it’s so many that we can’t keep blaming priests for all abuse. There simply aren’t enough priests on the planet to be guilty of all these crimes. The probability that you and I likely know at least one abuser is very high. A friend, family member, colleague, spiritual leader, other kids, other parents. Abusers can be anyone.
Think about it. Even today with the Church making stronger efforts to battle this problem, it seems stories of abuse – sexual and other – are more prevalent than ever, and more scary than ever. There are the three women held as sex slaves in Cleveland from their tween to adult years. Multiple men and women arrested for selling infants and toddlers, usually their own, for sex on the Internet. Or how about the two blonde sisters from an affluent Pacific Northwest family kidnapped by drug dealers and sold to a variety of “johns” while debilitated by drugs? There are enough of these that I see a new one daily on my Facebook feed. More on Twitter, even more in the traditional media. Few of these abusers are clergy.
Put instances like those together with the physical abuse of children and babies, and sometimes stories of inhumanity to children will dominate an entire evening newscast. We weep. We set up trusts. We Tweet, we discuss. We pass more and more laws to protect that fail to make a difference. And then go back to our sex and violence saturated lives to wonder why this happens.
We live in a society where children, especially the smallest of the small are seen as an inconvenience at best, and annoyance at worst. Parenting is hard, but unlike our parents generation, today society puts adult desires ahead of everything. Millions of babies haven’t made it past the womb, sacrificed to adult convenience in abortion mills. Getting into the world isn’t always better. Parents shake, smoother and out right kill to make infants “stop crying.” They don’t feed them. They don’t change their diapers, talk to them, hold them, make sure they get to school. But worst of all, they are objectified. Little girls dress like little tarts – styled by their favorite singers, movie stars and the parents who honor celebrities a little too much. Boys see their fathers watching porn, and they begin to objectify their female friends. Anyone remember the Ohio football team rape? Or how about the people, including other young girls and parents, who stood by and let it happen?
Sex abuse, or any kind of child abuse, is not solely the sin of Catholic religious. While the Church certainly has guilty among its numbers, we are all responsible for the war on children in some way. Do you look the other way when you know something isn’t right about a child? Do you teach your children to bully? Are you afraid to report for fear of shining light on your own mistakes as a parent? Do your kids see you watching porn, frequenting strip clubs (ladies that goes for you, too), or making crude comments about other men and women?
When you see a young person, girl or boy, sexually objectified or abused, do you remember that they too are someone’s child? When you see Miley Cyrus degrade herself for money, do you remember that she is someone’s daughter? Do you buy your kids video games where they can be the criminals themselves? I used to find many of these things harmless…until I had two daughters.
We all need to start putting children first in our minds and hearts. They need a helping hand through this scary world we’ve created. Think about what they’re absorbing and the impact that has on their development, and on the future of the world. It’s easy to point fingers at the Church and clergy who have fallen. It’s harder to fight child abuse when we find that the monsters are all around us…and sometimes, even are us.

Until we meet again

I’ve been a Catholic my entire life. I went to Catholic school from first grade through graduate school. But even people like me, perhaps especially people like me, can still learn something about their faith.
I lost an old friend this week. A man too beautiful, too loved and too young to meet his Maker just yet. He apparently thought differently.
In the last few years, he and I both struggled with some of the most trying times of our lives. Unexpected events had resulted in long, tiresome battles with depression. It was odd that two people who had a rather casual relationship in younger years had found one another again to talk about the emptiness we felt few others in our lives could ever understand.
For a time, we walked side by side in the darkness, checking in on each other, talking one another down from emotional cliffs and mountains. As we drifted in and out of contact, it seemed we were both improving.
When I first heard of his passing, I naturally thought I didn’t give enough. But having walked to the edge and looked over myself, I know that no one can “fix” someone who has lost the will to live. The healing has to start within.
So many of us love troubled friends and family – it is said that one in four Americans will experience psychological distress in their lifetimes. It can be somewhat disheartening for Catholics when it comes down to suicide. Like me, you probably remember learning that suicide is condemned by the Church.
This bothered me. I understood why taking the life that God gave us would be wrong. What I didn’t understand was how someone experiencing the trauma of depression could be considered responsible. Doctors had told me that my depression was chemical – not something that was my fault or desire, but something that occurred physically in my body like any other disease. How could God consider a sickness with a bad outcome a sin?
I went to a source for comfort I had never sought before: the Catholic Catechism. I think God guided me there. Not only to gain perspective on my friend, but on myself. It seems that today’s Catechism takes into account what we’ve learned about the medical details of depression. It notes that in situations of severe distress – emotional, psychological, etc, – God can and does extend His forgiveness when we believe in our own worthlessness.(Catholic Catechism Chapter 2, Article 5, Section I, Respect for Life, 2282-2283).
Catholics pray for those who fall to suicide and bury them through the Mass, petitioning God to forgive the deceased. This comforted me. No longer conflicted by the Church’s older teaching on suicide, I was confident my prayers could help my friend find his home with God.
It was also comforting to me in relation to my own life. Being able to understand someone’s suicide, knowing personally the feeling that all lives connected to your own would improve without your presence, is unnerving. As a depressed person, I became overwhelmed with the desire to help those I loved by removing the “me” obstacle from their lives. Being suicidal is not always selfish, as many label it. For me, it was a desperation to give those I love a freedom I felt I did not deserve myself.
The viewing for my friend was crowded, even in the early afternoon. There were flowers, notes and drawings from his children, remembrances galore. Memories of good times, pictures of happiness from years ago were also swirling around online among friends. I wondered how he could not have felt this outpouring of love while he lived. Then I remembered that when I sank to my lowest, I could not sense it either.
I also found I had only good memories left of my friend, some I had forgotten for years. Ice skating in the park when we first met. Bad movies we saw together and sitting together in the back of the boat on a haunted mine ride at the local amusement park. Stolen kisses that never turned into a real romance, long phone calls and driving fast in a black Mustang ragtop on a hot July night.
Memories of real living from a man who felt his only option was death. Memories that are helping me heal the wound of his absence. God speed old friend. I for one will remember the living in your life. I do not despair, God understands the extent of your suffering. I know we’ll meet again in heaven.

The Real Test for Parents?

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about the New Jersey teen who tried to sue her parents after she, unhappy with the rules of her home, decided to move out and in with her boyfriend.
I have two daughters. One of whom is running toward pre-teen at breakneck speed. The other one is following everything the older one does. So naturally the description of the girl who lawyered-herself up was disturbing to me. Catholic school, cheerleader, good student, nice family, bad-boy boyfriend. Not that they were describing my girls. They were describing me at 17.
I’ve often looked back at the years of my life between the ages of 17 and 22 and realized there must have been an angel on my shoulder. It was probably all that praying my mother did. I was never a bad kid. But a few steps to the left here or a few to the right there, and things could have been MUCH different. Truthfully, not only am I lucky I escaped young adulthood with my life, it’s downright amazing I came away with no more than a broken heart.
All these things digested together give me a stomach ache. They also concern me about the randomness these days of raising girls.
Case in point. I know two young women, roughly the same age. Both come from middle to upper middle class families. Both sets of parents are wonderful, respectable people. Each did well in school, both attended very good schools in affluent districts and participated in extra-curricular activities. Both had/have friends and siblings.
Both girls went to college. I presume both had “fun” – it is college after all. One is a second year surgery resident, starting a period of medical research, and getting ready to marry another resident this spring.
The other, after changing majors from engineering to (I’m not kidding) wine/vintning, dropped out of school, moved in with a boyfriend. On one Christmas break, she surprised her mother with the news she had had an abortion. The next, she brought a small photo album of the child she gave up for adoption. She never completed a degree and is in financial straits.
When I think of these two ladies, I often wonder what the hot button was that triggered their futures. Was it something that could be foreseen? Is there a lesson here that will help me raise my girls? Do I even have a right to expect mine to achieve some standard of success that I think is appropriate? One that validates me as a parent over them as humans with choices?
One of my favorite passages in any book is the section in the Prophet by the remarkable Kahlil Gibran where he discusses parents and children. Gibran reminds us that our children are their own people. That our job is to safeguard them until they are ready for the world, or until the world is ready for them. Then it’s our job to stand back and see what happens. Wait for the results of our most important worldly test.
I’m a big believer in letting my kids make mistakes they’ll remember and learn from. Especially in cases where their father and I offer them advice to avoid the mistake, and they don’t take it. Within reason, of course. They are still young.
But I picture this day when I, like a mother bird nudging her young from the nest to fly, or like a parent letting go of that bike for the first time, release them into the world with my fingers crossed behind my back and a tear in my eye. And I’ll be hoping beyond all hope that they have that angel on their shoulder as well, guiding them from lawyers who tell them I still owe them and the myriad land mines and pitfalls of the first few steps into adulthood.
Like my mother, and I bet like New Jersey girl’s mother, and the mothers of those other two young ladies, I’ll continue praying that God’s paid the electric bill on those lights guiding the way to fulfillment.

Why do we give up instead of take on?

With today being Fat Tuesday, I’ve been talking to my girls about their Lenten sacrifices. My older daughter is quite ambitious on the topic. My younger one seems to know her limits.
The older has told me that she’s giving up her Disney Infinity. Considering this is her favorite gift from Christmas and her birthday, and that she has been canoodling Grandma into buying her new characters every few weeks, I was a bit surprised. Her teacher has been talking to her class about really making their sacrifice matter. I don’t want her to fail on this, or start hating Lent for it. So I let her in on the Sunday escape clause. I think we’ll make it now.
The little one has decided to give up M&M’s. I’m not exactly sure that she eats M&M’s all that much. But it definitely wasn’t going to be Smarties ( like those way too much) or cheese, like her girlfriend from school. She certainly will have a better time of it than her sister, who she will likely terrorize by plugging Infinity into X-Box at every opportunity.
I was never real big on giving things up. I’d give up gum, but I was never a huge gum person anyway. I always felt bad about it, but I just could never bring myself to give up something I loved so much, that by the third week of Lent I’d be dragging to Sunday like a man lost in the desert, parched for a piece of chocolate or some ice cream.
I get the point of the sacrifice, but who says you have to give something up? It seems kind of futile when we almost always go directly back to the waiting arms of whatever we gave up. Take the relatively new phenomenon of giving up social media. Its kind of like seeing how long you can hold your breath. When you give up Twitter or Facebook or whatever, you know your going back full force just after Jesus meets Mary Magdalene in the garden.
Instead of giving it up, how about doing something really hard with it? Use it to spread God’s Word. Tweet the Gospel. Facebook an anti-abortion message. Or, be really bold. Take on the people who bash Pope Francis with disgusting and pornographic comments. No one really sees you giving up Facebook. How about going out on a limb. Proclaim your Catholicism – and maybe draw some ire your own way.
If that frightens you, try showing people you’re a Catholic in other ways. My personal attempt this year will be volunteering in a food bank. I’ve always wanted to do more service work, but never seemed to find anything that made me feel comfortable. This year, I finally get it. I’m not supposed to feel comfortable. So I’m hoping when Lent ends, not only will the food bank be sick of me, I hope my kids will be complaining about me dragging them out there with me.
At this Sunday’s Mass, we had a visiting priest from the Byzantine right. He said that to have a truly productive Lent, you need sacrifice, prayer, and alms giving. There are so many ways to do these things that do not involve candy, soda, gum or electronics. Why not try to be patient in traffic? Why not let someone cut into a line of traffic when those famous orange barrels make their appearance? Pay someone else’s bill in the drive-thru. Give someone who looks sad a compliment. Check in on an elderly neighbor, or give a young mother in your neighborhood an afternoon off by watching her baby. How about being courteous and friendly with a store cashier, or leaving a waitress a little extra in her tip? Do something for someone in your family that they aren’t expecting.
Lent is not just time to give up something it seems impossible to live without. Especially when your going right back to it anyway. Do something that makes a real difference – something that another person will remember. Something that has a potential to last. Something that identifies you as a Catholic.