Throughout the month of April, our country observes National Child Abuse Prevention Month. During this time, we should pause and reflect on the gift of our children and the great responsibility of protecting them.
The Catholic Church teaches us that “the dignity of the human person is rooted in his creation in the image and likeness of God” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1700) without distinction of age, race, of nationality or sex. It is fundamental that our dignity requires respect for his whole person. In his profound and historic apostolic exhortation, “Familiaris Consortium“, said Saint John Paul II, “particular attention must be devoted to children by developing a deep esteem for their personal dignity, a great respect and a generous solicitude for their rights” (26).
It goes without saying that all violations of human dignity are totally inconsistent with natural law and fundamental Christian values and ethics. We must commit ourselves to reforming and eradicating them from our culture and within our Church, in particular the attacks on the dignity of the child by sexual abuse, which take on a particular and unique gravity and horror.
Protection of the most vulnerable is good and necessary because all physical, emotional and sexual abuse is grossly disordered and inherently evil. Such protection is essential to the healthy spiritual development of each child and to the flourishing of the People of God as a whole. The mandate “to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Mt 28:19) is the mission of the Church, and therefore the mission of each member of the Church working for its salvation. This mission requires that those to whom the Gospel is preached have the opportunity to meet the Lord in “Word and Sacrament” in a safe setting. This encounter often takes place when an environment has been created that allows individuals to open their hearts and minds to encounter the living God without any internal or external threat.
We cannot escape the reality that the pain of child sexual abuse affects all of society. The damage caused to the human person is staggering. The USCCB Charter for the Protection of Children and Youth recalls that “The damage caused by the sexual abuse of minors is devastating and long-lasting” (4). I have spoken to many victims over the years, and heard and seen their pain, frustration and anger as these brave survivors navigate the healing process. To assist in this healing process, 94 healing masses and prayer services have been offered since 2004 for those receiving ministry from the Diocesan Office of Victim Support; more than 250 attended retreats for surviving victims; and there were many other opportunities for prayer, education, counseling and support.
I pray that our efforts will help each survivor to flourish and achieve the healing, wholeness and holiness that Jesus desires for all. It is also important that our seminarians and priests receive training in working with those who have been so deeply hurt, and we continue this training to this day.
The Diocesan Office for Child and Youth Welfare helps me ensure that all clergy, staff and volunteers who have substantial contact with children understand our responsibility to protect children. Since 2004, the Diocese of Arlington has provided adult safe environment training to more than 69,000 adults and conducted background checks on more than 67,000 clergy, employees, and volunteers. In accordance with our policy, the Diocese has automatically reported all allegations of child abuse to local law enforcement since 2002.
These processes are not only the result of the 2002 Dallas Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. They are also concrete ways of living the Church’s teaching of social justice.
Background checks, the verification process and Diocese training are just a few of the ways we keep children safe. I am committed to ensuring the creation and maintenance of appropriate boundaries to promote safe environments for all. Your participation helps to ensure every day that we protect our children to the best of our abilities, that we obey the command of Our Lord: “Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as they are” (Mt 19:13).
Sexual abuse is more common in our culture than you might suspect. According to research:
- One in five girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before they reach the age of 18.
- The Virginia Department of Social Services estimates that sexual abuse affects approximately 18% of all children and youth.
- In Virginia alone, in the state’s 2021 fiscal year, more than 7,500 allegations of child abuse investigated by child protective services were resolved ” founded”.
- This year, the Commonwealth of Virginia has already received more than 575 human trafficking allegations. It is estimated that only 1% of victims of human trafficking are rescued.
- Every 30 seconds around the world, a child or adolescent is sold into slavery through labor or human sex trafficking.