Put Out into the Deep

Assuring a Safe Environment for Children

My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

There are many months named for particular causes, none which is timelier certainly for we who work in the Church than National Child Abuse Prevention Month. This month recognizes the importance of families and communities working together to prevent child abuse and neglect, and promotes the social and educational well-being of children and families. It is important that the effort to protect children is one that is undertaken on all fronts: family, church, school, and in our wider society. There have been many efforts to accomplish this, all of which need the cooperation of all of us to provide a safe environment for our children to help them come to maturity without the experience of any type of abuse. It is also important for them to gain an understanding of their human sexuality and the place it has in their personal development.

There is no greater example of modern Church understanding of sexuality than the Theology of the Body that St. John Paul II annunciated over a series of weekly audiences, all of which were eventually put into a book form. A true understanding of human sexuality from the moral point of view is so important to our culture today. Aberrations and misunderstandings have caused incalculable damage to young people. This has been especially the case when the abuse took place within the Church or by those who represented the Church. Today, the Church has made and will continue to make not only reparation to those abused, but also undertake prevention education and efforts to protect our children. In our Diocese in Brooklyn and Queens, we use the Child Lures Prevention program to empower children to keep themselves safe by teaching them how to recognize, interrupt, stop and report inappropriate behaviors and situations. We train all children in our schools and faith formation programs every year. You can view more about the Child Lures program here: https://vimeo.com/316835233

What we can do as a Church involves not only ourselves but the families of our children who need to take responsibility for talking directly to their children about sexual abuse. Sexual education and sexual abuse prevention need to be combined in frank and age-appropriate talk with children by their parents. Unless children understand their own bodies and that their bodies belong to them, and they must be protected, they never develop the appropriate language nor the confidence in a loving trusted adult to be able to disclose any violation of a boundary by someone else.

Unfortunately, in today’s world, our society uses sex to advertise almost everything. It is almost insidious how this has happened. We are desensitized to the advertising that we see each day, all of which uses sexual innuendo for whatever they may be selling. Our television programs have reached sexual expletives levels that certainly were not common in the past. Unless we prepare our children to understand their own sexuality, they will easily adapt to the society’s view of their bodies as a means of pleasure and manipulation, instead of as a gift to be treated with true reverence because it is a means by which to love in the image of God.

In our schools, especially public schools, we need to be careful because of the infiltration of the LGBTQ agenda. Recently, a pastor came to me reporting a parent of a public-school child bringing him one of the texts books on the kindergarten level which seems to promote same-sex relations and so-called “new families” with two mothers or two fathers. Certainly, this is not a direct promotion of abuse; however, it can confuse our children. Unless we are clear in our moral orientation, we cannot impart a healthy understanding of their own human sexuality to our children.

Unfortunately, there have been many victims of sexual abuse in the past. The Church is doing all that it can to assist victims in their rehabilitation. Since 2002, an extensive support system for individual counseling by licensed mental health professionals chosen by the survivors themselves has been in place. This continues even under the payment settlements have been reached under the new IRCP (Independent Reconciliation Compensation Program).

Over the last five years, victims have volunteered and become active in our diocese by forming our Survivors Advisory Board which advised us on developing support and providing outreach to assist in the healing process.

One of the key events each year is the annual Mass of Hope and Healing, this year scheduled for Tuesday, April 30, to be held at St. Athanasius Church in Brooklyn at 7 p.m. This Mass planned by the survivors themselves gives us the opportunity, in the context of the Eucharist, to find that reconciliation and forgiveness so necessary to their healing process. It is also an opportunity for the Church to come together as a whole – victim-survivors, their loved ones, the lay faithful and our clergy – in support of those who are suffering and also in action towards works of repairing and rebuilding our Church community.

As a society, we must put out into the deep waters creating a society where the innocence of children can be protected, while at the same time educating our children in the value-centered understanding of human sexuality. All need to contribute to this effort which is a societal family-based issue. Whatever the failures of the past, we must now make sure that a safe environment is provided for all of our children.

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