Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of May 13, 2002
Sexuality - God's grace-filled gift
Keeping children safe means telling the truth about sex
By MSGR. JIM LISANTE
In last week's column, I began to address the problem involving crimes against minors committed by some priests.
I'd like now to look a little closer at the situation, and suggest steps we can take to bring hope out of this pain.
Some commentators, looking at these sins involving Catholic clergy, have suggested that celibacy is the culprit. They suggest that its elimination would end the crisis. But the evidence of social science doesn't seem to support them. In fact, there is no proof that celibate priests are any more inclined towards acts of pedophilia than other males.
The abuse of children, sadly, takes place among people of all religions and of no religious faith at all. It happens among those who are married, single and celibate.
There may be room to discuss the future of priestly celibacy in light of declining vocations to the priesthood, but pedophilia is not the reason to eliminate the celibate priesthood.
Most people are wise enough to know that while the Church is all about people, individuals in the Church should not make or break our faith. As a priest you run into lots of people who tell you that they don't go to Church anymore. You ask them why, and they recount a "bad experience" with a priest or nun.
Truth is, every one of us could come up with some story of a person in religious life who hasn't been all they should be. But can't we allow them to be human? To make mistakes?
In the end, isn't it all about our relationship with God, not just the people who work for God? Most people, thank heaven, can separate the chaff from the wheat. They know that their faith is bigger than the individual sins of any priest.
As painful as it is, the current scandal can also be a source of instruction and growth. For example, I think we now know more than ever that our children are a precious resource. Their well-being is a priority we cannot take for granted.
It's our job as a society to protect them, and to question who is with them when we're not, and to know the character of the caretaker. We shouldn't be paranoid about our kids, just healthfully aware of where they are and whom they're with.
Another blessing that may come from these scandals is a new and positive look at our attitudes about human sexuality. For decades, Pope John Paul has been teaching a celebration of the "theology of the body," but most of us still view such topics in an uncomfortable way.
We too often see sex as something dirty, sinful or wrong – something good people may do, but certainly don't talk about.
And yet it's only by talking about this topic, especially with our children, that we can create in them a healthy ability to love themselves and their sexuality. Young people should see sexuality as God's gift to them, a gift to be treasured and cared for lovingly. Open discussion can do that. It can help our young people to know the right and wrong ways to live as sexual persons.
But the signal of silence complicates it for them. It suggests that "good people" don't talk about things sexual.
So when someone comes along and tries to exploit them and their sexuality, they think it has to remain a secret. And that's when it gets really bad for our kids.
It would be so good if these recent scandals could free us to sit down with our children, swallow our personal embarrassment about the topic, and talk openly about this grace-filled gift that is theirs.
Recently, I overcame some serious personal reservations to meet with a priest who admits he did exploit a minor. This broken person hates himself far more fully than you could imagine. He is despondent and without hope, because he knows what he did was terrible. He is a deeply flawed person, but not a monster — worthy perhaps not of our sympathy, but certainly of our prayers.
The scandal of child abuse is a wound that aches. But even out of this terrible darkness, light can shine, people can heal, steps can be taken to see that other children are not left unprotected. From every experience of pain and sorrow, new life can happen. Good Friday and its sorrow leads, thank God, to the power of resurrection.
May it be thus with our children.
(For a free copy of the Christopher News Note, Being a Good Neighbour, write: The Christophers, 12 East 48 St., New York, NY, 10017; or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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