Tuesday, May 13, 2014

What We Have Learned from the Sexual Abuse Crisis

By Deacon Bernie Nojadera

Executive Director

Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection

Child Abuse Prevention Month is not a celebration; it is a warning, an alert, a reminder of the evil in the world, and our responsibility as Christians to overcome evil with good.

Even horrible situations such as the sexual abuse crisis can lead to lessons learned. This is true of the Church who has heard the stories of those who have been sexually abused, and is trying to respond in the most educated, compassionate way. We have come to some understanding of how to address the problem, gaining knowledge that can benefit more than the Catholic Church.

Some of what we’ve learned:

- The guiding principle when confronting child sexual abuse is to remember that it is most of all about the person who was abused. It is not about the offender, the institution, or anyone’s reputation. It is about helping a child.

- People can learn.We have moved from disbelief to action. We have learned that what once seemed unbelievable, is, unfortunately, credible and must be faced. Training, reference checks, and background evaluations are a normal part of parish life to keep children safe. We recommend these steps for all who deal with youth.

- Sexual abuse of a minor is a sickness that can be contained through vigilance but will not disappear. Incidents of sexual abuse are still occurring in the one place that ought to be the safest place. We cannot let our guard down. The work is not finished.

- Critical situations impel people and institutions to change. We have seen the culture of our parishes and schools evolve. People now accept that child sexual abuse exists and are willing to help stop it from occurring. They no longer assume someone else will take care of it.

- Child sexual abuse is a reality society must confront. No institution is immune from it. Learning to respond to the victim of abuse is the first job of any institution, community or family.

- The court of public opinion holds institutional leaders to a high standard. Leaders who forgo an immediate and appropriate response to abuse of a child do so at their own peril. There is hardly any other issue that evokes such intolerance as not acting in the face of child sexual abuse.

- Parents are willing to step up and make sure parishes and schools are following policies and procedures to protect children. With this critical issue, few people reply “I just don’t have time to get involved.”

- The task of protecting children can be shared. Clergy, employees, volunteers, parents and teachers realize that bystanders can be their allies in protecting children.

- Child sexual abuse is a hard topic to discuss, but training adults to protect children has given the topic a forum where the uncomfortable reality can be discussed.

- Victims of child sexual abuse can heal and live productive lives. Steps that help bring them toward healing include seriously listening to their stories and expressing profound sorrow for what they have endured. As awful as the experience has been for a person, there is hope, a gift of grace from a loving God.

The Secretariat for Child and Youth Protection is a resource for dioceses/eparchies for implementing safe environment programs and for suggesting training and development of diocesan personnel responsible for child and youth protection programs

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