Shattered Innocence

I was nine years old when the beauty and innocence of my childhood faded…

I had been outside, riding my bike, when I ran in to get a drink of water.  My mother, who had been reading the local newspaper, was quietly weeping.

I asked her why she was crying.  I looked over her shoulder to see what she had been reading and saw a picture of the sweetest little boy.  He had the face and smile of a cherub, a head full of dark curls, and very large, brown eyes.  I asked who he was.  I don’t remember his name, but I’ll never forget his beautiful face.  As I gazed into those eyes, my mother told me his parents had beaten him to death.

He was four years old.

Perhaps my mom shouldn’t have told me; raw with emotion and lost in her own pain, she had blurted the words without thinking.  I wept for another child for the first time in my life.  This little boy would never ride a bike or run in the park.  It was incomprehensible to my young mind.  Almost immediately, my lighthearted nature and joy evaporated.  A true depression, a sadness that I couldn’t articulate for many months, enveloped me.  I lost interest in day to day pleasures.  I quit playing outside.  Fear and anxiety dwelt closely in my heart.  My world was no longer safe.

It took several months before I could pull myself out of that depression.  Nine years old and no one really knew just how disturbed, how profoundly changed I was by the death of a child I had never known.  I kept my secret for many years and only recently shared it with my mother as we were discussing the importance of maintaining purity and innocence in the life of a child…

Innocence.

A state of blessed “unknowingness” that is markedly different from ignorance.  So many of our children are increasingly subjected to sights, sounds, and situations which may mar or altogether destroy their innocence.  Most Catholic parents are vigilant keepers at the gates of the family castle, seeking to provide a refuge against the irreligiosity of the world and its seductive whispers.  We set up filters on computers, block-out television channels or eliminate commercial programming completely, screen videos and literature, and make every effort to know as much as possible about our childrens’ friends.  Additionally, some of us have chosen “the road less traveled”: educating our children at home to shelter them from the storm of secularism and accepting the monumental responsibility that is inherent in being the primary role model of the seven cardinal virtues.

And yet…we can still be bombarded from the most unlikely sources.

As a vehemently pro-life Catholic, I’m well aware of the challenges that exist in spreading the truth about the horrors of abortion and the industry of death.  I’m proud of the men and women who have put their very freedom on the line to protect our littlest brothers and sisters.  These gentle souls, by their prayers and sacrifices, and their peaceful protests continue to send a message that is counter to the hatred that is so rampant amongst the pro-death camp.  Prayer is, and always will be, the most effective way to counter evil in this world.

Alas, there are those within our movement who have begun to despair, and in that despair have sought to win souls and save lives through “shock and awe.”  Graphic depictions of aborted and mutilated children are paraded on banners, emblazoned on trucks and carried on placards.  These are real babies, little boys and girls horribly mangled and nearly unrecognizable.  How heinous and frightening the reality of abortion!  Is it any wonder that not a few young women have changed their minds after viewing these images?  Fr. Frank Pavone of Priests For Life shares the following observation:
“There is no single thing that I have seen more powerful to change people on abortion than simply showing them the pictures… When people see what abortion does to a baby, they are stung to the heart and their consciences are awakened.”  Should not our reaction always be one of fright, disgust and extreme heart-wrenching sorrow?  When working against the hardened hearts of adults who have hidden themselves from the reality of the violence of abortion, it would seem that these tactics are particularly effective.

But what if you were six years old…what would you think?  Could your parents explain it away in a nice, tidy manner that would make it okay to display this dead child’s body?  Can a death so horrible, delivered by the hands of those who should love, protect and nurture this life be explained that easily to one so young?  Would you be surprised if this young child consequently had nightmares after seeing these images; contemplating and hearing the horrible reality?  Would it be surprising if eventually, after years of viewing these images, the child ceased to weep or feel revulsion, having become desensitized after having seen them so often?

I’m simply not satisfied with the answer that seems to imply that “the end justifies the means” when it comes to exposing young children to images of such extreme and graphic violence.  Our young and innocent ones should never be asked to bear this adult burden of knowledge.  Somehow, I can’t imagine our Lady carrying one of these banners…I imagine Her banner would hold the body of another Innocent Victim.  One that doesn’t scandalize the innocence of childhood, but convicts the heart of the sinner with a message of everlasting peace, love and redemption.

As a nine year old, I gazed upon a lovely photo of a child who had been murdered.  Not his beaten and bruised body.  A beautiful photo of a living child.  And I’m haunted by the image and the knowledge of the death of that very small boy.

I believe these images are necessary and can be a powerful tool when placed in the right hands, and used properly.  But their efficacy is certainly far below that of prayerful and peaceful protest.  As we are trying to to change the hearts of adults, these images should never be used in the presence of young children.  No adult, no matter how well-intentioned in this very important fight has the right to scandalize the innocence of another parent’s children.  We mustn’t make the fatal mistake of discounting the sensitivity of our little ones just because we understand, because the stakes are so high and because we’ve begun to believe that only by extreme action will we accomplish our goals.

Have we really entered a place where we believe that the bloody image of an aborted child has more power to convert than the image of our Lord crucified?  What of the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe?  Did not our Lady appear in radiant splendor, beauty Her banner,  to counter the horrors of human sacrifice?

Evil is rampant in our world.  We would never take our children into the “dens of iniquity” to show them that evil exists.  It is scandalous to expose young children to a graphic depiction of any despicable, sinful or perverse act… we must preserve and protect their innocence with the same vigilance that we have for the babies being lost to abortion.

Last week, the children and I participated in a peaceful protest outside an abortion clinic, taking our turn as prayerful witnesses for the sanctity of life.  No sign holding, no passing out literature.  Just prayer.  Remembering this: “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words” — St. Francis of Assisi.

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  • SolaGratia

    These horrible, graphic pictures do have a place in the war against life. Some people will not get it any other way – they need something powerful enough to penetrate their comfortably complacent indifference like a mental 2×4.

    And yet I agree there is a need for discretion to protect our more sensitive little souls from having their innocence violated any sooner than necessary. Most sites – like Fr. Pavone’s PFL – who show these pictures do so with discretion rather than “shock and awe” though.

    Fr. Pavone has been in the pro-life movement for a very long time. He knows well the power of prayer and peaceful protest. At the same time, he also knows well the hardness of many people’s hearts. This is not a case of ‘either’ this ‘or’ that. Just as God is Truth, those awful pictures are part of Truth, too.

    God gives us many weapons to use in the battle for life & it requires discernment to know when to use them. The problem is with those who would use the heavy artillery on everyone indiscriminately rather than with the use of the heavy artillery itself.

    I watched the people at the DNC in Colorado brought up short by the sidewalk display “When you say you are pro-choice, is this what you mean?” with the many pictures spelling out the reality of abortion. It is powerfully effective when used judiciously.

  • ‘Shock and awe’ strategy works best when its used sparingly… Use it too often, and we’ll begin to get dismissed as ‘the same old’…

    That said, it strikes me a love for an unborn child comes naturally when the family is strong… A person who grew up in a broken home (who just might wish they were never born) may find it difficult to conceive the joy and love for a baby simply because they’ve never experienced it themselves…

    So, along with our fight for pro-life, i suggest we should return to the roots… Focus on building better family relationships and slowly inculcate in everyone the value of being human, and treating others so. If we do that effectively, the children of today will grow up with a strong sense of humanity, and hasten the end of abortion.

  • CherylDickow

    kevnjosf,

    You are so right! Building better families and catechizing our children in the Truth of our faith is so important to turn the tides of secularism. I encourage every parent of every young (9-14) Catholic girl to check out the “All Things Girl” series written by best selling Catholic author Teresa Tomeo, along with Molly Miller and Monica Cops (whose non-profit organization is http://www.RunwaytoReality.org).

    This series of five titles weaves the teachings of JPII’s Theology of the Body and Feminine Genius throughout. It is such an excellent, fun way to teach our girls what it means to be a daughter of the King and respond to God’s call upon their lives. The book titles are:

    Friends, Boys, and Getting Along
    Mirror, Mirror on the Wall…What is Beauty, After All?
    Girls Rock!
    Mind Your Manners
    Modern and Modest

    This link can be copied and pasted into a browser window:

    http://www.aquinasandmore.com/index.cfm/title/All-Things-Girl—Book-3/FuseAction/store.ItemDetails/SKU/20954/

  • wgsullivan

    My wife and I teach 7th grade CCD. These 7th graders know about abortion but not the nuances. They seem to have a disconnect between knowing abortion is bad, the taking of an innocent life and actually understanding for the abortion to take place someone must go in there and do horrible things to a baby. If we describe what an abortionist does (in a cautious manner) you can almost see bewilderment in their faces.
    That may be innocence but I also find these kids at the ripe age to become soldiers for the unborn. Once they understand the atrocity, as an atrocity, the Holy Spirit seems to well up in them.

  • bambushka

    Kimberly, I applaud you for the witness you gave in front of the mill. I, too, along with my husband spent many hours storming the gates of heaven this fall on the sidewalk, late at night. Many people, pedestrians, would approach us and ask what we were doing there. Many would join us in prayer, some wanted to debate. Of those who felt the need to express their anger at our intrusion into women’s rights, I wish I had had pictures of the children in the buckets. Our world has become so desensitized to horror and gore that even these pictures fail to touch the hearts of many. The pictures are looked upon as just casualties of convenience.

    Lord, have mercy on us.

  • Pingback: Shattered Innocence… « Catholic Family Vignettes()

  • I am a post abortive woman – I have two thoughts on the graphic photos. The first thought is: “is that MY baby?” The second thought it, America will not end abortion until America sees abortion.

    Daily, we are bombarded with the news of death, murders and war. Daily we are bombarded with advertising, which sells, not the product, but sex. Daily we are bombarded with immodest clothing.

    Since our sons were young, we have spoken to them of God’s love for us, how He created us and we are His. We have also taken our sons to March for Life – there we have encountered the photos of aborted babies. There we have suffered, not for us, but for the babies that were aborted. My sons have looked at the photos and we have spoken of them. The conversations were “How could ANYone do that to a baby?”

    Our answer is, “We don’t know, but there are law makers that support this type of death and that is why we are here.”

    Are the photos that of my baby? I will never know – do I like seeing those photos – no, but I also know that if my children do not know the reality of abortion, they may fall prey to abortion.

    When we are matter of fact about abortion, about life, I believe our children are better equipped to deal with reality. Our three sons (yah, I know, it sounds like a cliche!) are extremely pro-life. They know what abortion means, they know what it looks like, they know how it injures men and women. They discuss it at school – they are not able to be taken in by the euphemism of “choice.”

    My two thoughts meld into one and that is “for the glory of God” are children are our future and they may be the ones that are able to overturn this current culture of death.

    Similarly, we take our children to funerals – they have viewed bodies of the deceased. Death is not an enemy – it is a step in our eternal lives.

    God Bless

  • KMc

    My mother was the 1st president of Right to Life in our town in the early 70’s – as the youngest of nine I grew up viewing these graphic pictures and I have to agree w/ the author. They do not belong where ANY child can view them – I now co-lead my very active parish Respect Life Ministry and we will absolutely NOT allow graphic materials of any kind in our racks or on our information tables. Nor will we participate in praying in front of clinics where people hold those graphic photos: any child in a car who drives by and sees those photos is traumatized/desensitized, this does nothing for building up a culture of life…it may actually do the reverse!
    Viewing those photos at such a young age did not help me become more pro-life, there were times when it dang near made me not care. How could a woman kill her own child? Well, how could any adult purposely do something that would harm an innocent child? I have a 14,12,6 and 2 year old NONE of them have EVER seen those graphic photos and they are very involved with my pro-life work but I do NOT take them to clinics to pray because others show up with those photos. Maybe in high school I will view SELECT photos with them but it will be ME who does that, not someone on the sidewalk.
    I have seen folks with giant pictures of babies developing in the womb – what a NICE alternative in front of those clinics: this is what YOUR baby now looks like!! How precious! Choose life!
    Graphic photos have a place: college campus’ (used wisely), adult only conferences/seminars, medical conventions, on-line as Fr. Pavone does so people have access to that info if they need it – but it should NEVER be in front of a childs eyes. Let us preserve what our society keeps taking away: childhood innocence! Just my thoughts….KMc

  • Bruce Roeder

    Great point! Seeing graphic images of a bloody and traumatized human being does nothing to promote a culture of life.

    So I’ll taking down all of the crucifixes from the walls of our home today!

  • jwismann

    I find it interesting that we are so worried about our self-obsession with innocence. If we were living only one hundred years ago our nine year old children would most likely have to help bury at least one of their younger siblings or had to watch their daddies beat up a slave woman. If we are to go to certain Churches, especially on other continents we see many images of a battered, bloodied, and murdered Christ and His saints. Have we become so weak that we cannot even allow our children a little suffering? It seems to have done pretty well for you.
    In every movement that has been won in this country the brutal images, or in some cases the people who were being abused(obviously better off than the little babies who have to die because they could actually be there in person, breathing), have been used to show the injustice. I see the images as very traumatic, as well they should be. IT IS MURDER! Keeping our children from the images can only further the horror because they do not see it. Would you not give more to the starving children in Africa if they were begging at your front door. (Oh, and by the way they watch each other die every day. Should we put them all in a box so that they cannot see it therefore no one will ever raise up to save themselves.)
    I do not mean to sound aggrivated, and I do agree that we should use the pictures sparingly. However, I saw these pictures when I was a young boy and my family was on the choice side. Those images have stuck with me all of these years. Yes they bothered me at the time, but it really bothered me that my family shrugged it off as a fanatical tactic to make poeple conform to their ideology. When my children see the images I tell them that the baby was hurt very badly and that we have to try to stop the mean people who do this. Maybe I am wrong, but after 2,000 years of staring at a crucifix I do not think that the Church has desensitized people from that sacrifice.
    Lastly, I do feel that we need to display the only true salvation from this obamination, which is the crucifix. Jesus will end this through our diligence. Thank you for all that you do. God bless. Mary, mother of the aborted, pray for us.

  • asdwanamaker

    The problem with this view is that very little else works.

    I mean, gentle approaches have yielded such great results…

    Crosses on the lawn are laughable they’re so insignificant.

    My Knights of Columbus council WASTED hundreds on a monument to unborn victims of abortion. It gets overgrown with weeds and even if it were not, nobody would ever pay attention to it.

    Placing a rose on the altar for every year abortion has been legal is just plain stupid.

    Nobody shows up to sessions outside of Mass for proper conscience formation on the issue.

    Efforts to educate our children on the issue through Catholic schools and CCD are a joke and a failure. Catholics kill their unborn children at a rate equal to or greater than the secular society.

    The movement is disorganized. It has wasted millions on legislative approaches, all of which that are about to be undone with a single stroke of a President Obama’s pen. And more Catholics voted for this man than voted for a more pro-life alternative.

    We engage in activity that is more effective at assuaging our own consciences than it is in saving the lives of babies and the souls of their mothers.

    The big problem: the forces of the culture of death are far more committed to killing babies than we are to saving them. Until we come to grips with that reality, babies will continue to die by the millions.

    Just as peaceful, prayerful protest wasn’t effective at ending the atrocities of the Vietnam war, they will not be effective at ending abortion on their own. Anyone who denies the effectiveness of photographic evidence as a means for ending injustice simply didn’t pay attention in the 20th century.

    I’m not suggesting we should indiscriminantly display photos of abortion for young children to see. However, the arguments made by the author are frequently used to object to the use of such photos with ANYONE.

    Feel free to continue opposing the most effective means of changing hearts and minds. Babies will continue to die and their mothers’ souls will continue to be in peril.

  • KMc

    Jesus on the cross is not dismembered and chopped up – I have no issue w/ my kids seeing the numerous crucifixes in my home…but that does not mean I let them view the Passion. I spoke ONLY from my experience and opinion, it is the sarcasm and anger from those who feel those pictures are the ONLY way to reach people that solidifies my opinions.
    I will protect my kids because I can = they are not in a box. They were there at Life Chain when people yelled obsenities at us….they were also there when a lady pulled up all mad asking what I thought should happen to all those “unwanted” babies. My kids watched as I calmly spoke about the millions of couples waiting to adopt newborns in the country – this lady calmed down and spoke very nicely – she thanked me and drove off peacefully.
    My eldest has experienced the meaness of people who do not agree with us – but I am still their mom – they will see those photos when my husband and I feel it is apporpriate, that is why we are their parents and no one else is. If others feel differently that is fine, as noted…that was MY opinion. I will pray at the clinics but will not bring my kids and I know many who feel the same way.
    I have been involved with pro-life work for over 30 years…in every aspect of that work. I speak from experience and personal preference, I did not like seeing those images as a child, it gave me horrendous nightmares – what is wrong with not wanting my children to go thru that? Do I force it on them to prove how pro-life we are? To ignore the individual sensibilities of each of my chidren would be wrong – if your children are ready for those images that is your right as their parent, do not deny me my right.

  • Mary Kochan

    It should be up to each parent. And because of that, we should take care not to expose children, because if we do so we are taking away another parent’s right.

  • faz643

    I agree with the author that these images should be used in a judicious way. One year while teaching high school CCD, one of the teachers had a pregnant daughter. An ultrasonographer who worked with our CPC came in and did an ultrasound on her for the teens to see. They were able to see, first hand, the reality of life within this woman. Then they viewed the Silent Scream. They were shocked, but my point in doing this was simply, “This is the reality of abortion. What ever position someone is espousing on this subject, this is what they are talking about.” I wanted them to know, as they were setting out into a world hostile to life, what the facts were behind all the language wars using ‘choice’ and ‘rights’ as a sheild to hide the ugly reality that is being promoted.

  • Bruce Roeder

    I apologize for my sarcastic remarks.

    Most children in the USA in middle school are pro-life; most who graduate form college are pro-choice. We are losing the children. I submit that most of them do not understand the reality of what an abortion is.

    In order to protect our sensibilities, we have come to call abortion “a woman’s right to choose” and many Americans of good will support such a poorly described “right.” Tragically, many Catholics in the USA are among them.

    Most of these people do not truly know what they are actually talking about in reality when they refer to this issue. In the media, it is referred to as a private, sensitive, almost intimate, medical procedure. In reality, it is brutal murder of a completely innocent and vulnerable human being. In the vast majority of the pulpits in our Catholic Churches, it is never, ever mentioned. Every single year since Roe, this happens legally to over one million human beings in the USA alone. There have been some small declines recetnly, but considering the huge number of abortions that still occur, any objective conslusion must be that the pro-life efforts to date have not been effective.

    So the question is, how can we more effectively wake up the majority of our fellow citizens to what is actually going on so we can change this national horror?

    I submit that if even those in the pro-life movement consider showing people what abortion actually IS to be off limits, then we had better get used to having a third of our babies killed in the womb.

    Because what we have been doing up until now won’t stop it.The evidence shows that respecting our children’s sensibilities leads to most of them supporting “a wmoan’s rigth to choose” by the time they are twenty.

  • KMc

    My mother, who spent the last half of her life doing pro-life work, felt the same way about showing us all those pictures…of the 9 kids only 2 are solidly Catholic and pro-life. I understand why she felt we needed to see those pictures, I respectfully disagree. In explaning to my older boys what happens during an abortion I see it makes impact enough for now…the visual aid can wait a few years. They are both “in love” with babies, pray for another sibling each night, and are eager to read the the pro-life material I out out at church – They helped drop off our Baby Shower items collected around the Roe v. Wade anniversary = they were very moved by the volunteers at the pregnancy center who wept at the thousands of dollars of new baby items we were able to give to them…the discussions that followed were precious and life affirming even if we did discuss, in detail, the evils of abortion, the reasons why a woman might feel she has not other choice. As noted, my boys are not livng in any box….they are doing front line work and I believe it is building a solid foundation for active pro-life work for them all in the future.
    The evidence I have seen first hand is that kindness will trump shock effect in most cases – kindness does not mean ignorance or forfeiting truth. I could go on and on about the fruit of our “positive” approach to respect life work within our parish, many MANY lives have been changed a numbers of “liberal” Catholics have embraced now living a culture of life. As with my own mother, I respectfully disagree, that does not mean those photos have NO place in pro-life work…they just, in MY opinion, have no place in my home or where children will view them without parents approval.

  • wgsullivan

    One thing that keeps coming to mind when I read all the comments and the article is this: as part of our parish’s upcoming mission we will have the diocesan Eucharistic Miracle display for all to peruse. Maybe that’s who we need to do more focus on, maybe we need to have Him more on display and build from there. The change may start with our Catholic kids knowing Christ better and His miraculous gift the Eucharist.
    Maybe if we educate all a bit better on the Christ in us, they would better understand how wrong it is to kill the Christ in others through abortion. Maybe they would see that if Christ chose, as man, to first dwell in the womb it must be a very holy place.

  • Leila

    This is so interesting! I agree with Mary that every parent has to use his or her own discretion, which we have done with our seven.

    Here’s my story: My parents never showed me graphic pictures, but I used to go to their bookshelves as a kid and look through their books. One of the books I saw when I was still in elementary school was called “Handbook on Abortion” and had full color pictures of aborted children (it was a pro-life resource). It was stunning to me, and I was STAUNCHLY pro-life ever since.

    I don’t think my parents know to this day that I saw that book.

    For His good purposes, God must have needed me to see those photos.

  • Piper

    I too counsel women outside abortuaries and feel uncomfortable when others turn up with huge, photos of aborted babies. I have learned that women going in for abortion are more likely to come talk to calm, prayerful witnesses to Life!

    These posters do have a place (ie; Obama rallies! and I disagree with a letter written by a woman to all our diocesan clergy – concerning how her 7 yr old was traumatized by these photos. She should know what her candidate endorses and accept the fallout)but again these photos should be sent directly to pro=choice politicians and not plastered on street corners where young ones can see them.

    Keep praying for our countries leaders! God bless!

  • Bruce Roeder

    When the Allies liberated the concentration camps in WWII, Eisenhower ordered his commanders to organize, man, and resource mandatory visits for the local citizens to force them to see what they had allowed. He committed precious resources to this task while combat operations were still underway, not to be cruel and to shatter their innocence, but so it would not happen again.

    I believe we err in not forcing people to see the true evil of what is going on at industrial levels within our country to so many of our precious, innocent children. Therefore, it will continue to slay the babies at such monstrous levels, sheltered by our “civilized manners.”

  • jiminycricket

    Did we not see pictures from the mass media of some of our soldiers hanging from a bridge in Iraq? Did we not see pictures of soldiers being dragged through the streets there and in other places like Somalia? Anyone remember the photo of a South Vietnamese office shooting a VC conspirator in the head? Do we remember the naked Vietnamese girl running down the road? Do we not publicize squalid conditions for our vets? Do we not publicize images of our vets with missing limbs? Do we not publicize blood/painful pictures from suicide bombings throughout the world and also same type of pictures from the hospitals where they take the wounded? These horrors of war are/were used effectively to turn the tide of public opinion. I was a carrier of one of these pictures recently. My photo faced the opposite side of traffic as it was stopped. A man rolled down his window and absolutely screamed “Do you mind?”. I responded, “No sir, I do not mind at all”. He retorted violently, “I have children in the car”. I responded back. “And I have one on the front of my sign”. I am certain that his kids heard the complete dialogue. If I have sinned against my God and them for doing that, I ask forgiveness. If I have moved them to see the child instead of the “choice”, all glory to God and may they be ever blessed.

  • asdwanamaker

    Piper writes:

    These posters do have a place (ie; Obama rallies! and I disagree with a letter written by a woman to all our diocesan clergy – concerning how her 7 yr old was traumatized by these photos. She should know what her candidate endorses and accept the fallout)but again these photos should be sent directly to pro=choice politicians and not plastered on street corners where young ones can see them.

    That is ONE place for them. However, one of the reasons we’re where we are today is that the pro-life community has focused too much time, energy and financial resources on legislative solutions.

    The problem is that those legislators aren’t likely to change their minds until the hearts of a majority of their constituents cry out. Sadly, the rage of the abortion advocacy is crying out louder than the holy outrage of pro-lifers at the ballot box. And to the “Catholic” politicians you suggest we send these pictures to, the ballot box is where the loudest statement is made.

    Not until the nation (as in the people) turn away from abortion will any legislative solutions take on any real meaning.

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