During this Easter season, the church presents, in the liturgy of the Mass, the various apparitions of the risen Christ. We hear how even those who knew him best often failed to recognize Jesus when he appeared after his rising from the dead. Jesus’ body was changed. He had conquered death. His mortal body had become immortal because it was filled with the power of the Holy Spirit.
Once they saw him, however, the apostles were also changed: “…that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us; and our fellowship is with the Father and with his son Jesus Christ. And we are writing this that our joy may be complete” (1 Jn:1,3-4). Seeing the body of the risen Christ confirmed the apostles on the path to holiness and sent them on their mission to the world.
What we see changes the way we think and the way we live. As each U.S. diocese, and now the church around the world, continues to reach out to the victims of sexual abuse by some priests and bishops, many have tried to understand more thoroughly the circumstances surrounding this crime and sin. Trying to assure that no child is abused again, those examining these stories of abuse have seen certain constants come into relief. Usually a potential victim is “groomed” for some time before being actually abused. Often, in order to lower a young person’s defenses, the predator gives alcohol and shows pornography.
A few months ago, the archdiocesan child protection office sponsored a seminar on the effects of pornography. In recent years, pornography has become much more widespread because it is so easily available on the Internet. About 11,000 porn films are shot each year, and over $4 billion a year are spent on video pornography. For some people, more than had previously been thought, viewing pornography becomes addictive. It isolates a person and therefore harms or destroys relationships, even marital relationships. Beyond psychological harm, it seems that viewing pornography can change neurological patterns in the brain.
The younger the viewer of pornography, the more profound is the emotional desensitization and neurological patterning. Showing pornography to children is itself abusive, whether or not any physical sexual act follows. Mary Anne Layden, of the Center for Cognitive Therapy at the University of Pennsylvania, writes: “Overall, the body of research on pornography reveals a number of negative attitudes and behaviors that are connected with its use. It functions as a teacher, a permission-giver and a trigger of these negative behaviors and attitudes.”
Trying to prevent sexual abuse of minors has led the archdiocese to demand criminal background checks for every bishop, priest and deacon, as well as teachers, lay employees and even volunteers. Everyone involved with children undergoes Virtus training, a program designed to help adults recognize the signs of sexual abuse in children. The children themselves are taught to recognize and protect themselves against predators. To try to help those who have been abused so that they might heal and regain personal freedom, the archdiocesan Victim Assistance Ministry provides psychological and spiritual help and runs programs that enable victims to speak to one another in a safe environment. The sense of isolation that follows on abuse is often devastating. While there are patterns, each victim is unique and must be listened to before a therapist or counselor can be of help. Recognizing the part that pornography plays in “grooming” young people for abuse is one more piece in the complex skein of protecting children and helping victims. Coming to realize how pornography is used to abuse children might lead us to examine its harmful effect in other circumstances as well.
What we see changes our lives, for better or for worse. When the apostles saw the risen Christ, they became missionaries and the church was born. Much of what is seen today, by contrast, destroys innocence and leads people into sin. Easter shows us, however, that the bonds of sin are broken by Christ and need not imprison us.
The Easter season begins with the baptism of new converts at the Easter Vigil. They saw and heard something that changed their lives and led them to ask for baptism. The gift of faith enables them, and us, to see in a new way. The gift of baptism enables them, and us, to live in a new way, with the life of the risen Lord.
After Jesus gave the man born blind the gift of sight, he told him: “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind” (Jn 9:39). Our lives, here and hereafter, are changed by what we see. Even in the face of evil, however, Easter shows us how God brings life from death, good from evil.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Francis Cardinal George, OMI
Archbishop of Chicago