Light Finally Shines on Child Sexual Abuse

I must respond to the commentary from Zenon Szachowicz in The News & Advance on January 11. He writes of some reservations about the seriousness of the sexual abuse scandal that has plagued the Catholic Church. Why do the media focus so intently on this "crisis" in the church while appearing to ignore the degree to which it exists in other institutions or in the general population, the writer wants to know. That is a valid question. The answer, I believe, is that we naturally hold the church and clergy to a higher moral standard than we do worldly institutions, as we should. We want to believe that somewhere in this world there is a safe haven ‹ a place where people can be trusted, where the laws of God mean something. That doesnt’t excuse perpetrators of sexual crimes ‹ especially against helpless children ‹ anywhere else, of course. These crimes are abominable, regardless of where they occur. Sadly, we are less sensitive to abuse in the world at large.

The writer also believes some victims who have come forward are just adding fuel to the fire and may have invalid cases or be money-hungry. While it is always possible that such sympathy mongers or opportunists will make unsubstantiated accusations, I suspect that the vast majority of victims are indeed justified in their claims. The crisis has always been there. It is as old as the church, and older, and it is surely not limited to the Boston diocese. Sexual abuse is the secret shame of far more people than we care to think about. It is not easy to come forward and admit such a violation; it is practically unthinkable for a child who is confused and afraid of the consequences. I know because I was molested by a relative when I was eight years old. I could never tell my parents. I never told anyone until I was in my pastort’s office one day in my thirties, weeping and hopelessly depressed without fully realizing why. I acknowledged what had haunted me for 25 years that day. It was the beginning of a long healing process.

Sexual abuse scars a child for life. Many people fail to recognize the source of their pain until many years down the road. They are at risk for major depression and other serious mental disorders if there is no intervention. I have been face to face with many such individuals, listening to their stories. I assure you that the memories never go away. I can recall each incident in my own life as clearly as if it were yesterday. Unless yout’ve experienced it, you have no way to understand the horrible pain and confusion that accompany this type of abuse. Sadly, a parent or even a grandparent is often the perpetrator. I have known cases where the other parent refused to believe the childt’s accusation. Imagine living in that kind of unholy nightmare. Thatt’s exactly what sexual abuse in the church is.

Pedophilia is a disorder for which the recidivism rate is high. It is very difficult behavior to change. The Catholic church is guilty of not responding to knowledge of abuse by removing the offending priests from positions where they can harm children. It is guilty of keeping its eyes closed to the truth, and many lives have been destroyed because of it. Perhaps crisis is not the right word after all. Perhaps we need one stronger ‹ apostasy comes to mind. While the media are often myopic in other areas, they are right to stay with this story. The Catholic church has not taken care of its problems, as we have seen. I am not a Catholic basher. This is not just a Catholic problem. I hope and pray that the church leaders will do some honest soul-searching and will come through this stronger and more committed to their faith and humanity. We need the church strong now more than ever.

© 2003 Deborah M. Thurman