Monthly Archives: April 2015

Are We All Complicit in Child Abuse?

I see them on the news and in the papers everyday. Story after story of adults hurting, abusing, or trafficking children. I’m sure you do too.

Young girls raped in their own homes, schools, and neighborhoods. Babies attacked for crying too much. Toddlers used to hide or run drugs. Kids starved and beaten for punishment. Boys taken advantage of for their perceived weakness. Parents trafficking their own children for financial gain. It never ends.

I also hear the outrage and see the comments on social media condemning the abusers, who in many cases are the child’s own parents, or someone they trusted. As a Catholic, I know a number of people who have left the Church over the priest sex abuse scandals.

But the real story of child abuse, be it sexual, emotional, physical, is much deeper than the idea that “there are bad people out there.” Statistics tell us that one in four girls and one in ten boys will be sexually abused by age 18. If you have children, that means multiple kids in their school classroom. Multiple kids on their soccer team or cheerleading squad. 

Even more than that, it means most of us actually KNOW an abuser. Stop and think about that for a moment. It could be someone in our neighborhood, someone in our social circle – perhaps even someone in our family.  Child abusers are not that rare boogie man we’re all taught to fear. They are everywhere.

No one wants to hear this. No one wants to think their children aren’t safe from abuse. Yet they are not.

I have two young girls in Catholic school. Many would tell me they’re in greater danger there, considering the number of priests accused of sexual abuse. Yet I disagree, particularly for two reasons. First, research done by the Church has found that overall, about 2 percent of priests are/were involved in such abuse. That includes retired/ deceased religious. That’s about the same percentage as the general population. 

Secondly, the Church has gone well beyond any other organization that has found itself embroiled in child abuse scandals. It stopped making excuses, started investigating, and set up advisory boards to study and deal with cases that surface. Pope Francis himself became intimately involved. ANY adult that comes in contact with a child on Church property must go through a training course and have a clean state police background check. That includes parents who work in the lunch room, parishioners who administer communion at Mass, cleaning staff, athletic coaches, grandmothers who visit a class to read a story – everybody. Clearance to work with children must be updated every three to five years.

Of course nothing is perfect. There is still a possibility of danger within the Church, but I know now that danger is also everywhere we go. We know this simply from what we see in the news. In addition to educating ourselves as adults, we must also find ways to teach our children to protect themselves, to be cognizant of what and who is around them at all times. This is difficult for kids – it’s their nature to focus on whatever is on their mind, and being conscious of what’s happening around them is usually not a priority. And it’s  hard to teach this skill without generating fear as well.

Yet somehow we must. We cannot let them grow up in a dangerous world without the tools they need to survive. Unfortunately, this is going to mean doing some of those “right” things we would often just rather blow off.

We need to learn to control our own anger and behavior. We need to be frank with children about how sex is a beautiful act, but also how it can be used for evil. We must protect their childhood and modesty – girls shouldn’t look 20 at 14, and boys need to be taught that women are not simply for their pleasure. We adults need to pay attention to what we’re showing them. We worry about what books and lessons are age appropriate, but we never seem to worry about what entertainment is age appropriate. We must.

Take some time today to think about what your children are exposed to even in the smallest way. What are the lyrics of their favorite songs? How does their favorite singer dress or dance? Do they have friends that are much older or younger? Do they see inappropriate movies? Do you know and trust their friends’ parents? Who do they talk to online? Who are they playing games with over the Internet? What example do you set for them? 

Kids of all ages are impressionable. Make sure they get the right message – that their bodies are their own and they should be on guard. As for those little ones who depend so heavily on adults, be vigilant. Be helpful to overwhelmed young parents. Stop telling yourself it’s safe for a seven year old to have unsupervised access to the Internet. Teach your sons how to respect girls and be gentlemen. Do what you can to keep them from becoming victims – or abusers.

Take that outrage you feel about the abuse we encounter everyday, and stop looking away. There are children who need you to care. 

Living a God-Centered Life Includes Loving Everyone

I like to think of myself as a pretty open minded person. But a lot of people would wonder if I told them I am in agreement with the religious freedom laws that have been implemented, and debated ad nauseum, around the country. 

I grew up Catholic, obviously, and I continue to practice my faith. I am in no way what I would call a good Catholic. I struggle. Hard. But I try to be true to Catholicism to the best of my ability, as does my husband, and we raise our children in the faith.

It was not until adulthood that I truly understood that Catholics were looked down upon by others. I had heard we were, but I really didn’t get it or see it. The crux of my personal faith has always been to love others, do good, and confess when I screwed up. Who could argue with that?

I’ve been shocked this past week to see just how scandalously Catholics and other Christians are talked about by others. I understand feelings on religious freedom are volatile. Everyone thinks they’re right. But somehow it seems no one is being tolerant with anyone.

I do not believe that religious freedom laws are about gay vs. straight. I believe they are designed to allow people to live by their religious convictions without retribution. And yes, I realize this becomes complicated when we start talking radical Islam. But as we have seen more and more in the last decade, an odd desire to make people homogenous has trumped our uniquely American right to religious expression.

Since it’s hanging out there allowing some to defame good people with no cause, I think it’s important to remind both Catholics and non-Catholics what we are supposed to believe when it comes to gays and same-sex marriage.

Catholics are NOT called to hate and discriminate against gays. Period. It’s written as such in the Catholic Catechism. We ARE called to believe in the sanctity of life. The only way God creates human life on Earth is through the union of a man and a woman. When He calls a man and a woman to commit to His plan through their love, we call it marriage.

Yes, life can be created outside of such a relationship, either by sexual relations between an uncommitted man and woman, or in a laboratory, in various ways. Yet for Catholics, the creation of life is meant to be God-centered, something He alone does, naturally, through the complimentary bodies of men and women. Catholic doctrine discourages the creation of life outside of God’s natural law, be it by hetero couples unprepared for parenthood, or by gays who use biochemical methods to achieve family. (Yet Catholics are called to love the children who result from these unions as they love any child.)

Many Catholics don’t feel gays, who cannot create life through their union without supernatural means, meet the definition of “married.” Yet we find ourselves in situations where people we love and care for are involved in same sex marriages and relationships. We DON’T stop loving people who engage in gay marriage. Our Catholicism requires us to leave judgement of their decision in God’s hands. We truly love them, even if our faith does not affirm their union as true “marriage.”

Catholics, like everyone else, are not perfect. I know Catholics who react viciously to gays. I know others who want to see the Church change it’s centuries-old definition of marriage because the world’s acceptance of same-sex marriage demands it. I’m sure neither approach makes God happy. But I know He would extend love to all people, as should we.

As Catholics, we are called to live God-centered lives. Marriage is about God creating life. Even though some couples will never conceive, the potential for God to use spouses to create life must exist in marriage, no matter how remote.

Religious freedom laws aren’t about gay discrimination. They are about being able to hold your belief or non-belief in God at the center of your being, without being forced to violate your conscience. Even if you yourself are a “sinner,” as we all are.

Our gay friends, family, neighbors and fellow Catholics bring a beautiful color to our world, and offer experiences and gifts like no others. Their value to society is priceless. But the beliefs and God-centered living of religious people are as well. One must not suffer at the gain of the other. 

If Catholics follow the catechism and welcome gays openly as God demands, and gays allow for Catholics to celebrate their life-focused marriages, we can all live without prejudice, and continue in our beloved traditions.