Each Holy Week and Easter Season we are reminded as a Church of our call to live out Jesus' Paschal Mystery. It would be easy to focus only on Jesus' glorious resurrection rather than on the suffering and death He endured. But, they go together.
Recently, we have read and listened to national and local media reports about sexual abuse within the Catholic Church. This is a very painful topic to discuss for all parties involved. Sexual abuse is not an easy subject to consider. Most of us would rather avoid its unpleasant nature. Yet, this is an issue that must be confronted by the Church and each of us.
As members of the Catholic Church we cannot close ranks and pretend that this difficulty does not exist. Denial will not make the problem go away; it will allow the cycle of guilt, shame, anxiety and pain on the part of the victims to continue.
I know some people speculate that this situation will lead to the downfall of the Catholic Church. I think the Church is being given an opportunity to live out Jesus' Paschal Mystery and trust that, out of this evil, there will be healing, hope, newness of life and greater love.
The primary focus of this issue needs to be the welfare of victims of childhood abuse. The Church must use all of its available resources to bring healing and closure for victims. It must also take steps to stop and help perpetrators.
Unfortunately, sexual abuse of children is not a new phenomenon in our world. For thousands of years children have been used by their elders to gratify the latter's wants. Most experts will say that present statistics on sexual abuse of children are grossly underestimated. Only a small percentage of abused children ever tell an adult of their trauma. Most fear not being believed or retaliation by their abuser if they speak out about their suffering.
Children have less resources and coping skills than do adults in dealing with the trauma of abuse. They are dependent on others to get their physical and emotional needs met. Immorally, there are adults who will use children's very vulnerability and need for attention, care, and love against them.
There is no question that sexual abuse of children is an inherently evil act.
What makes sexual abuse by a priest or religious brother or sister so damaging is that children are encouraged to respect and obey these "people of God." These are men and women who are often used as role models by the children's parents and society. They are also people who exert a great deal of control and power over youngsters and adolescents. When this influence is used for self-gratification and/or control at a child's expense, the behavior is evil.
What saddens me are the many good priests and religious brothers and sisters who are now being given suspicious looks. No longer are they able to interact freely with children. Thus, they are limited in their opportunities to engage in true, loving service to children.
Sadly, up to this point in history, most children do not get the help they need to deal with the emotional, physical and spiritual trauma until they are adults, if even then. Their life is part of Jesus' Paschal Mystery of prolonged suffering and slow dying.
Yet, resurrection can and must happen for them. We - each of us - have a responsibility to help children and adults who are victims of childhood abuse. Jesus' agony came to an end - so must their agony!
Now is a time to seriously look at the evil of sexual abuse of children within the Church and within society. Jesus was very clear in the love and respect to be afforded children. He exhorted that ". . .it would be better for anyone who leads astray one of these little ones who believe in me, to be drowned by a millstone around his neck. . ." (Mt. 18:6).
As a Church and as individuals we cannot become defensive or go into denial about this reality. Victims of childhood sexual abuse must not be revictimized by the Church or society. These innocent ones are Jesus suffering on the cross unjustly and through no fault of their own. But, they are still waiting for their Easter resurrection.
We cannot allow them to hang on the cross or wait in the darkness of the tomb of self-guilt, shame and terror any longer!
We need to become aware of this horrible sin against God's children. Out of our awareness there needs to be a loving response. We must be willing to risk ourselves by questioning an adult about a child's welfare. Our faith calls us to defend a living child who is exposed to life-threatening acts of sinfulness and evil.
As a Church we have an obligation to create systems of healing and support for victims and families. We must also deal realistically but compassionately with perpetrators. The cycle of sexual abuse must end now! We have a mandate and a responsibility as followers of Jesus Christ to be sources of healing, compassion, justice and love to our world.
Pray for victims and perpetrators of childhood sexual abuse. Pray for the Church. Pray, too, for ourselves that we might have the courage and compassion we need to bring God's goodness and love into this evil and all those suffering because of it.
- Sr. Mary Theresa Rozga 3/26/02