When can we stop talking about sexual abuse?

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Safe Environment


I am often asked, “When will we stop hearing about reports of abuse or how badly reports were handled by those representing the Roman Catholic Church?”

We know there will continue to be reports from the past until all victims are able to come forward. We also know there will continue to be reports of how badly allegations were handled by church hierarchy because the Catholic Church has been and is expected to do what is right and just.

My response to this question has often been: “We, as church, cannot change what has happened in the past, but we can change how we respond to past and any new allegations and our response to survivors.”  We can also change the risk of the evil of abuse of the most vulnerable in our society by being leaders in protecting and preventing abuse of any kind from happening to any one in any institution or community of which we are a part.

My response may not relieve any of us from the fatigue, grief and anger we feel from continuing to hear the media’s reports on sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. My response does not change the reality that in our world — there is and will continue to be those predators who seek self-gratification by preying on the most vulnerable. My response will not change that there may be leaders who will still prioritize the protection of the institution’s reputation over the people that make up the institution. My response may not help those who continue to recall their own pain and experience of abuse every time they hear another story or account. But my response is the only way I have learned to bring about restoration for victims of abuse and for the church and our community.

So, why do we still have to talk about it?

Behind this question is the reality that abuse in our church and in our communities is disturbing and uncomfortable and we want it to go away.

So when will “this” end and why do we have to keep talking about “this?” When we clearly know what our prevention plans are and carry them out. When we open our eyes to the signs of abuse, no matter how uncomfortable it makes us and contact those who can help even if it means lives will be disrupted. When we look honestly at ourselves and reflect on where we might engage in behavior or tell jokes that degrade the worth of another. When we stop trying to find scapegoats to a human problem and recognize that anyone among us can harm another person. When we challenge the idea that silence and avoiding hard realities are the best forms of protecting our children from the evils of the world. When we stop choosing blindness over a willingness to look at the root causes that discourage us from seeing all people as deserving of equal value.

Until the Kingdom of God is fully realized, we need to continue our efforts for justice, for an end to poverty and discrimination, for reconciliation, for a culture of life and for a world where every person is seen as the image and likeness of God and treated with dignity and respect. As people of faith, we must love one another as God first loved us.

Until this time, we all have the responsibility to protect the vulnerable and seek healing for victims. We must also trust in God for strength and peace to do what needs to be done and change what needs to change within ourselves, our families and our community.

n The writer is director of the Office of Safe Environment for the Archdiocese of Anchorage. She can be reached at (907) 297-7736.

'When can we stop talking about sexual abuse?'
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