I have fielded countless emails, Instagram messages, comments, and texts from faithful Catholics these last few weeks. Most carry the same tone of concern and horror for what is coming to light: an egregious lack of transparency and honesty in the hierarchy, a terrifying lack of integrity where it comes to matters of sexual morality, and a smug assumption that the average Joe – or Jane – in the pew would never find out.
We’re finding out.
I shared my frustration with a priest friend yesterday, a faithful man who is valiantly struggling to lead his religious community in holiness. He shares my rage. He sent a letter to the parents of the young men who are in formation in his community, outlining the steps their community takes to ensure that chastity is the rule and not the exception. It gave me some ideas for what I can do as a parent to ensure that my children are safe and well-informed, as it becomes necessary and age appropriate, of the current crisis we face in the Catholic Church.
My oldest is not yet 8, so thankfully we are not having detailed conversations or answering horrifying questions about the current news coverage. We have done an okay job of shielding them from the details. I could probably be more careful with my phone conversations or dinner table talk when the kids have scooted off to play.
We have always instructed our kids openly about body safety and boundaries, encouraging them to tell us if anyone ever makes them uncomfortable or asks them to do something that scares them or makes them feel funny.
We’ve given them the real names for the various components of the reproductive system, and have emphasized repeatedly that only mommy and daddy and the doctor (with a parent present) ever have the right to touch their genitals, and then only to help them if they are sick or to wash them in the bathtub or at diaper changing time.
We’ve talked about grown ups or older kids or even age-group peers who make their tummies feel funny, who hug too hard or touch in the wrong places. We’ve had a couple incidents with our kids being put in uncomfortable positions by other children, and as we’ve navigated the fallout we’ve refined our family rules and our best practices as parents.
We don’t do sleepovers. We don’t do overnight camps or send our kids on out of town trips with other families. We have certain family members and friends whom we trust to baby-sit, and we politely decline other offers or avoid situations where we are not 100% confident in the sexual and moral integrity of the adults in question. We don’t send our kids to the neighbors’ houses to play for the most part, and we don’t allow them to play with their friends in our own home with their bedroom doors closed.
It sounds overprotective, but from our experience, it is basic common sense. Our kids are not smothered. They ride their bikes unescorted around the block, they run wild and free in playgrounds and parks and at parties and barbecues with our friends, they speak confidently to adults when they are in our presence, and they climb as high as they are able to in the trees of their choosing.
We do not want them to have a stilted childhood, but we do want them to have a safe one.
As they get older, we will increase their freedom. We will let our boys serve at the altar if they feel so called, and we will ensure that any altar server training or trips include parent volunteers. We will continue to welcome our priest friends into our home, providing concrete examples of holiness in religious life to our children. We will bring our kids to the sacraments, particularly reconciliation, trusting that our pastor and associate pastors are beyond reproach, and also insisting on confessionals with see-through doors or confession in an open pew in the main sanctuary. We will begin having the painful conversations about bishops who hurt seminarians, about priests who hurt children, about men who pledged their lives to God, but who lived their lives for satan.
We will do this in conjunction with instructing them about healthy sexuality. About the good and holy gift of marriage, and of sex within marriage as a bonding and creative force for holiness and sanctification and new life.
We will teach them about the complementary nature of men and women, explaining that some people struggle in their sexuality and have wounds that cause them great difficulty in their lives. We will teach them about the inexhaustible mercy of God in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and the life-long struggle for chastity and sexual integrity that is the responsibility of every baptized Christian.
So my question to you, dear fathers and bishops, is this: what will you do to help us?
Will you continue to turn a blind eye to sexual deviance in your seminaries? Will you turn a blind eye to homosexual activity in your ranks? Will you shuffle the bad apples around from assignment to assignment, destroying the lives of children and entire families in the process? Will you own up to the mistakes that have been made in the past, and commit to taking immediate action when predators strike in the future? Will you hold yourselves to a level of purity that is beyond reproach as an example to those who are subordinate to your authority?
Will you overturn some tables with us, now?
Will you rage with us against the evil that stalks our institutional Church like a demonic predator, rooting out the perpetrators and helping bring them to prosecution to the fullest extent of the law?
Will you link arms with us in fasting, in penance, and in prayer; in calling for and facilitating the criminal prosecution of the men who have ruined lives and snatched away souls?
Will you bring to bear on the problems we face the full weight of your priestly authority, performing exorcisms as necessary and demonstrating with your own example a model of