Hard Lessons Learned Over the Past 10 Years
By Colleen Sulsberger
A recent article from Sister Mary Ann Walsh, Director of Media Relations for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, described some key learnings gained by the Church, since the establishment of the Charter to Protect Children and Young People by the US Bishops in 2002:
• The guiding principle when confronting child sexual abuse is to remember that it is most of all about the person who was abused. It is not about the offender, the institution or anyone's reputation. It is about helping a child.
• Sexual abuse of a minor is a sickness that can be contained through vigilance but will not disappear. Incidents of sexual abuse are still occurring in the one place that ought to be the safest place. We cannot let our guard down. The work is not finished.
• Critical situations impel people and institutions to change. We have seen the culture of our parishes and schools evolve. People now accept that child sexual abuse exists and are willing to help stop it from occurring. They no longer assume someone else will take care of it.
• Child sexual abuse is a reality society must confront. No institution is immune from it. Learning to respond to the victim of abuse is the first job of any institution, community or family.
• The court of public opinion holds institutional leaders to a high standard. Leaders who forgo an immediate and appropriate response to abuse of a child do so at their own peril. There is hardly any other issue which evokes such intolerance as not acting in the face of child sexual abuse.
• Parents are willing to step up and make sure parishes and schools are following policies and procedures to protect children. With this critical issue, few people reply, "I just don't have time to get involved."
• The task of protecting children can be shared. Clergy, employees, volunteers, parents and teachers realize that bystanders can be their allies in protecting children.
• Child sexual abuse is a hard topic to discuss, but training adults to protect children has given the topic a forum where the uncomfortable reality can be discussed.
• Victims of child sexual abuse can heal and live productive lives. Steps that help bring them toward healing include seriously listening to their stories and expressing profound sorrow for what they have endured.
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