On Saturday, February 16, Theodore McCarrick, former Bishop and Cardinal of Washington DC was laicized by Pope Francis. McCarrick was in isolation after his resignation in 2018. This important move by the Vatican comes after more than thirty years of sexual scandal being prominent in the news media. The Catholic Church had failed to protect her children, but more despicably had sacrificed the same children on the altar of public perception by covering up the abuse. The Pope, as well as the new generation of Church leadership has made great strides in accountability of abuse, as is seen in the defrocking of McCarrick. The message is being declared: no matter how high you are in the Church’s organization; your indiscretions will not be hidden. It seems the sacrificial altar is being dismantled.
Lest, it be thought this is a piece disparaging the Catholic Church, it is not. It instead is a commentary on the current cultural willingness to sacrifice our own children. The Catholic Church does not stand alone as a house of faith failing to protect its children, as news reports continually break, including the Southern Baptist Convention. It is within the Houses of Faith context that this seems the most alarming, since a large tenant of faith is the protection of the “least of these.” To be fair, children are not safe anywhere.
The Department of Education hired Charole Shakeshaft for a 2004 review of literature concerning sexual misconduct with in the Public School System. Her findings were alarming. As the news was focused on the Catholic Sex Scandals, she stated, “ … the physical sexual abuse of students in [public] schools is likely more than 100 times the abuse by [Catholic] priests.” She reported 10% of public school students had been abused by an authority at school including sexual harassment, rape and/or sexual abuse. The governmental school systems were just as likely to cover up the abuse of children as the church. The Shakeshaft report states that teachers accused of abuse were moved to different districts, with Superintendents knowing they were passing the trash, putting more children in harm’s way. In 2016, the Department of Health and Human Services reported more than 50,000 children being sexually abused in school systems across the United States.
Shouldn’t the church and schools be thought of as the safest places for our children? As it turns out, these places, as well as the family home might be the least safe places for our children to be. In 2019, the church, schools and even homes are moving to progressive strategies to protect children. New policies and a push for transparency, as well as a move to hold accountable those who would cover up abuse, as is seen with the McCarrick defrocking.
Jonesy and I joined in with the active children’s ministries volunteers of our church in the Stewards of Children training offered by Darkness to Light (D@L.org) this past week. The program, presented by the Barren River Area Children’s Advocacy Center, is meant to give strategies to prevent and respond to sexual abuse through their 5 STEPS TO PROTECTING OUR CHILDREN. This training, while difficult to walk through due to the sensitivity of content, is a valuable strategy to protect the children left in the care of adults. The idea of being stewards of children is a profound one. The connotation of stewardship suggests care and responsibility for that which does not belong to you. Our culture has failed in this stewardship as is seen in the prominent stories of the Catholic Church, The Penn State Sandusky travesty, the Southern Baptist Convention, and the Public School System in America. The power of public perception and the fear of legal remedy has lead to many children being victimized by predators and then again by a system failing them in the aftermath.
Next Tuesday, we will explore the prevailing reasons our culture has devalued our children and how the current stands taken by Virginia Governor Ralph Northam and New York’s Reproductive Health Act could be affecting negatively the progress of protecting our children. Be sure to follow along and join in on the conversation.