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…


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.

Subscribe to CE
(It's free)

Go to Catholic Exchange homepage