All in the Family: Responding to the USCCB Call to Prevent Child Abuse

When the USCCB announced that April is to be Child Abuse Prevention Month, cries of "hypocrisy" arose from various quarters. Despite generous financial settlements and other efforts on the part of the bishops to make amends for their brother bishops and priests at the vortex of the scandal, emotions and tempers continue to flare among disgruntled Catholics — even those not personally affected by the scandals.

This week at, I was invited to join a discussion group by a woman who identified herself as Catholic … and immediately started up a discussion about the USCCB press release, which she called "A little hypocritical, don't ya think?" Nearly two dozen women logged on, each one more outraged than the last, over what they perceived as the bishops' weak, empty gesture after tolerating so much evil for so long.

The immediate temptation, of course, was to shove my proverbial light under a bushel and run like hell. Or even just stay quiet – I had joined the group only that day, and no one would notice. But I had been invited to this particular party, and in the end I couldn't bring myself to slink away. After fourteen years in the Church, I've seen that my spiritual family has its faults … some have clay feet; others have hot heads or stiff necks. Me, I have a big mouth.

So, I told this group of cyber-strangers exactly what I thought … that I'd watched the same stories, and been similarly horrified by the instances of priests being reassigned rather than laicized and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. I've also been appalled by opportunistic leeches who brought charges against innocent priests just to get a payday. When bishops failed to protect victims, some wanted to protect innocent priests, others did not understand the insidious nature of this kind of abuse. And yes, some had less noble motives characterized by hubris that years later still leave us sputtering and speechless.

Even so, I never seriously considered pulling up stakes and moving on to greener pastures – something I undoubtedly would have done before I became Catholic. I stayed because, to paraphrase Father John Riccardo, "Church history is full of Peters and Judases. One does not forsake Peter because of Judas." Now that I had found the historic fullness of the faith, the Church founded by Christ, I was going to stay in the boat and let God sort it out when we reached port. In the meantime, I wanted to help those who are floundering find their way (back) into the boat.

What has been difficult, however, has been responding charitably other Catholics who have chosen to tune out those who are still struggling. In response to the USCCB announcement, a columnist on one Catholic news site gave the journalistic equivalent of an eye roll over the "liturgical guides" that are part of the resource kits the USCCB is offering parishes who want to do more to raise awareness about child abuse. He said nothing about the positive aspects of the bishops' decision — including how many lives might be helped because of it. The only person who commented made a disparaging remark about the liturgical abuse that could result from parishes using the guides — as though mentioning something as distasteful as child abuse in the prayers of the faithful would somehow taint the liturgy.

Sometimes I feel for our bishops. No matter what, someone is rallying to crucify them. At what point do we take up our crosses and follow? Granted, proclaiming an "awareness month" doesn't undo the pre-existing damage, any more than justice is served by lining the pockets of attorneys with hundreds of thousands of diocesan dollars. And yet for some, such corporate prayer could be a necessary component of the healing process.

It isn't pleasant to think about child abuse, in all the forms that abuse takes. We don't want to acknowledge that predators still lurk in unexpected places … the family friend, the neighbor kid, the assistant coach. We don't like to think of the church family whose grandparent strikes out in frustration when the kids get too loud, or the mother who wounds with her words. If healing is ever to come, we must be willing to name the darkness … and pray together for it to end.

Father God, we are all your children.

You bring healing when we are in pain,

You are light when we stumble in the shadows,

You are courage when we turn away from light.

Make us fearless in our quest for truth,

Give us patience with those blinded by rage,

Teach us the wisdom of prayerful silence,

And the gently spoken word.

Mother Mary, pray for us.

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