Last time we diagnosed some of the main issues of “child-protection” programs like VIRTUS. Today we’re going to discuss the medicine.
Abdicating adult responsibility
The very fact that we feel suspicion and fear are our only allies in the work of protecting children from harm demonstrates a certain hopelessness to combat the root of the problem: a disordered view of human sexuality.
And it’s no wonder. We as a society wallow in a culture of death, where sexual deviancy is rampant and sexual “sins” are celebrated on sitcoms, highlighted by Oprah, and accepted by school districts that throw up their hands and pass out condoms in the face of pre-teen intercourse rates.
It’s often easy to see the problem (if we open our eyes). It’s harder—much harder—to accept our own responsibility for it. The truth is even many “good Christian adults” would find it hard to acknowledge that they’ve been desensitized by the hyper-sexualized themes in our favorite TV shows and popular movies, much less buck the trends by closing our pocketbooks or writing to the stations. Not to mention the numbers in our own camp who battle sexual addictions such as pornography and therefore feel less-than-worthy to take a stand for what they know is right.
So we accommodate the status quo, our complacency allowing society to slide further down the slippery slope. And when the effects of a hypersexualized, limit-free, “nonjudgemental,” gender-confused culture bear fruit in pedophilia, incest, and abuse, we do what? Cry foul and turn all our efforts to protecting children through “safe environment education” that strips them of their innocence?
Is it just me, or is the focus here terribly unbalanced? Instead of focusing on the illness causing the gaping wounds in our culture, partially enabled by our own complacency as adults, we force mere children to help put a Band Aid on the symptoms. Instead of emphasizing the burden of responsibility parents and adults have to create an environment in which children can flourish and develop because their critical needs for healthy touch and affection are met, we emphasize the negative, and subject our little ones to lessons on how to be wary of inappropriate touching from adults. We tell teachers that even innocent hugs are inappropriate. We mandate our diocesan volunteers and workers to cycle through “safe environment training” but allow many of the same to spread teachings (as well as to act openly) in direct opposition to the Church’s teaching on sexuality in classrooms and parishes.
The burden, it seems, falls heavily on the children. Those who need affirming touch and affection for their emotional and psychological growth are deprived of it by adults who, on the whole, prefer sexually explicit entertainment and loose sexual mores over the responsibility and stability of healthy family life.
What happens when these needs of children are not met? What happens to any of us when a particular need is not met in a healthy way? For example, if we skip breakfast and are unable to eat because we are busy all day, when a plate of greasy or otherwise unhealthy food is set before us, our hunger compels us to eat it, despite the diet we originally committed to. Likewise, if these children are deprived of healthy physical affection, they’re going to accept and indeed seek out any physical affection they can get, making them easier prey for abusers—and increasing their chances to become abusers themselves. This does not even mention the amount of children who get into non-marital sexual relations because they have not had a healthy experience of love.
Getting to the Root, Healing the Wound
We cannot afford to let the battle cry of “child protection”—as important as it is—eclipse the need to address the cause of the problem. If the people attending training sessions like the ones put on by VIRTUS come away thinking only of how they can address the symptoms and are oblivious to the disease, it is doing more harm than good. A conversion needs to take place in each heart that leads us to ask not just “How can I protect children?” but “How can I love these children enough to do everything I can, in my own life and in the community around me, to stop this cycle?” And the answer to this question must include
–strengthening traditional family life
–healing sexual wounds
–promoting understanding of the truth of human sexuality
–spreading the message of redemption and hope
Ultimately, any program that will satisfyingly address the root causes of sexual abuse must have its foundations in Theology of the Body. Why? Essential to the message of the Gospel and Theology of the Body is the reality of redemption.
So many people think that the Catholic Church is simply about setting down more and more oppressive rules and to keep us from all of our fun and freedom. In truth, Christ came to “set our freedom free” (Gal 5:1), where by entering into His paschal mystery, through drawing on our Baptismal graces, we can be set free from the chains of lust and love with His perfect love.
Many people think that this is an impossibility, some crazy ideal (even good, “holy” Catholics). John Paul himself answers this accusation by stating:
Only in the mystery of Christ’s Redemption do we discover the “concrete” possibilities of man. It would be a very serious error to conclude… that the Church’s teaching is essentially only an “ideal” which must then be adapted, proportioned, graduated to the so-called concrete possibilities of man, according to a “balancing of the goods in question”. But what are the “concrete possibilities of man?” And of which man are we speaking? Of man dominated by lust or of man redeemed by Christ? This is what is at stake: the reality of Christ’s redemption. Christ has redeemed us! This means that he has given us the possibility of realizing the entire truth of our being; he has set our freedom free from the domination of concupiscence. And if redeemed man still sins, this is not due to an imperfection of Christ’s redemptive act, but to man’s will not to avail himself of the grace which flows from that act. (Veritatis Splendor 103)
In essence, this means that if a person still lusts (which is one of the root causes that drives a person to commit sexual abuse), it is not because Christ doesn’t have the power to take away their lust, but that they need to avail themselves more to His grace and allow Him to continually crucify their fallen desires. Through this gradual process, they can be set free to truly love.
If our bishops really want to end the child sex-abuse crisis once and for all, they need to implement programs that are going to give a holistic approach to sexuality, not ones that create an atmosphere of fear. The programs must provide an adequate anthropology that explains clearly that while we are fallen human beings, “redemption is a truth, a reality, in the name of which man must feel himself called, and “called with efficacy” (TOB 46:4). Sure, this process will take more than a 3-hour Friday night program, but the sacrifice of providing real answers will pay off in the long run. We need child “protection” programs that place Theology of the Body at the core of their pedagogy, so that we can begin to truly build a world that doesn’t simply respect the gift of children, but also the gift of our sexuality.
Without this, we really are just making the problem worse.