God’s word to the Ephesians through St. Paul: “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret” (Ephesians 5:11-12).
The day of exposing is upon us.
By now you’ve probably heard or read about the report concerning sexual abuses in the Catholic Church in Pennsylvania. The reports are horrific, disturbing, and shameful.
It might be comforting to think that this is a Catholic problem. That perhaps the priestly vows of celibacy are to blame. That perhaps we then are shielded from this horror.
The truth is most certainly otherwise, however.
First, if part of the Church hurts, we all weep together. We join with our lay Catholic brothers and sisters, along with what faithful priests and bishops there are, in shock and horror. We join our prayers with them that God would comfort the abused as well as purge His Church of this evil.
Second, the sobering fact is that sexual abuse affects every facet of our society. Let me give you some disturbing statistics (note: links to sources at the very bottom):
- Approximately 3% to 6% of Catholic clergy have been accused of sexual misconduct 
- There were 8392 reported victims of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church from 1950 through 2002; i.e. 160 per year on average 
- Various Protestant-focused studies on sexual abuse by clergy report a varying degree of prevalence, probably depending on the way abuse is defined. The numbers range from 1% to 38.5% of clergy engaging in some form of sexual misconduct; I find it hard to believe it’s as high as the latter number, but the point is that abuse is present in Protestant churches as well 
- Faith-based insurance companies providing coverage to Protestant churches average “260 claims of alleged sexual abuse per year” 
- In public schools, nearly 10% of students report inappropriate sexual encounters between someone in authority (teachers, administrators, other school personnel) and themselves 
- In the military, approximately 5% of active duty and reserve personnel report being sexually assaulted each year 
- The Boy Scouts of America has also had problems with abuse spanning many decades, averaging 75 known cases per year from 1959 to 1991 
- Only about 10% to 30% of cases are reported [6 and 8]
- Of cases reported to police, over 98% are found to be true (i.e. false reports are exceedingly rare) 
- About 20 percent of girls and 8 percent of boys will be abused before they are 18 years old 
- About 40 percent of abusers of children are older or bigger children, rather than adults 
- Those who are sexually abused are over 10 times more likely to try to commit suicide than those who were not abused 
The point being that sexual abuse is a large, society-wide problem. In every segment of society, there’s a certain percentage of predators taking advantage of others and preying on the weak, young, or dependent. Many organizations are ill-equipped to handle it, because it goes underreported, people don’t want to believe it, and few organizations have structures in place to deal with it. Due to the spotlight on the Catholic Church, they have put in place structural ways to better deal with the problem, although much work remains to be done (indeed, the peak years for abuse were the 1970s, although that’s no comfort to the abused).
In the Old Testament, when Joshua led the people of Israel into the promised land after their long sojourn in the wilderness following their captivity in Egypt, he told them: “And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).
Everything is ultimately a First Commandment issue: “You shall have no other gods before Me.” That’s the issue. All the other commandments flow from this one. Joshua tells the people, either serve the Lord or remain in captivity to the gods you knew in your captivity, for false gods hold you captive to sin and death.
The sexual immorality in the Church and society at large is due to the hold that these false gods have over us. Satan is intent on destroying the bride of Christ and driving people into despair and suicide. God created man and woman to join together as one flesh to complete each other, and this union reflects the mystical union that Christ and his Church have as one body. Sexual sin is a rebellion against this order; it drives people apart from each other and away from the Church. Many times young people leave the Church when they go off to college because they are engaged in sexual sin; they come back to the Church later when married or chaste because they no longer engage in such overt sin and therefore no longer recoil from the presence of the Lord.
Sexual abuse is therefore the most heinous of evils: it preys on the young and dependent, greatly harming them and also destroying their faith, particularly if it occurs in a church setting or by someone in the church. After all, if the body of Christ betrays sacred trust and if – God forbid – pastors and priests who proclaim the Word of God and administer His Sacraments are the perpetrators of abuse and assault, how much harder is it for those abused to see past these evil men to behold the loving Savior and Father who these evil men are supposed to represent.
Like I said, though, this abuse exists throughout society.
Given that there are abusers in every organization, how can we best prevent it, protect the victims, and punish the perpetrators?
First, we need to acknowledge that evil exists and that there are people who will prey on the vulnerable, particularly children, those they perceive as weak (physically or socially), and those with developmental disabilities (a further alarming statistic is that 90% of people in this category will be abused in their lifetime).
Second, and related to the first, we need to realize that this can happen to us or our loved ones. Given the percentages, it is very likely that we are friends with someone who has been abused, pressured, or harassed; or, it may even be us who have been abused. Most times, this abuse is unreported.
Third, we need to expect more from those in authority. Leaders – whether they are clergy, teachers, scout leaders, or anyone else in a position of authority – need to be held accountable for their abuses of trust. As part of this, we also need to realize that those we trust most are fallen people also and can be the perpetrators of these actions.
Fourth, there are some concrete steps we can take:
- If you are a leader (a pastor, priest, teacher, manager), guard your own actions and don’t put yourself in situations you shouldn’t be in. Minimize or avoid private one-on-one interactions; i.e. if you have to counsel someone in private, do it in a public area or with someone else outside of ear shot, but who can observe that nothing improper is going on (I know some pastors who meet with parishioners in their office, but with windows and with the door open – some also take their wives with them to meet parishioners who then wait in a separate room or area).
- If you are in charge of an organization, conduct background checks or reference checks on individuals wishing to work or volunteer for it. Establish policies about supervision of children and ensure that there is always more than one adult around a child and that no child is left with a lone adult.
- Contact the police if abuse occurs.
- Listen to your children, their friends, and your friends for warning signs of abuse. Trust them if they tell you about abuse. And if they tell you they don’t want to go to a friends’ house or feel uncomfortable around someone, believe them and try to find out the reason why.
- Watch out for potential predators. Oftentimes, you will feel that something is not right, before you can articulate it (I’ve had personal experiences of this). Predators will often be very friendly and seek to ingratiate themselves into the family in order to get close to kids and get them to trust them.
- Read up about how abusers groom their victims and what to watch for.
- If you have kids, talk to them about this issue, let them know that they are in charge of their own body and don’t force them to show physical affection to others. View the tips at https://childluresprevention.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/Tips-for-Safeguarding.pdf
The RAINN organization provides a helpful guide on how to recognize signs of abuse as well as potential abusers. Please visit their page to read the full guide here: https://www.rainn.org/articles/warning-signs-young-children. The Child Lures Prevention organization also has a very helpful guide: https://childluresprevention.com/resources/molester-profile/
This world is a fallen place, beset by evil due to the Fall of Adam and Eve. We, as the Church, as the salt and light of the world, owe it to our children and others to fight against this evil with the light that exposes it. In this fallen world, justice is often delayed, but God will bring justice in this life or the next; the evil will be punished, and the abused comforted.
And as for all the faithless fathers, mothers, and others who have neglected their duties or worse: when those whom we trust let us down, we can hopefully remember that we have our faithful Father in heaven, our faithful mother the Church, and our faithful brother Jesus Christ. And for those who have been abused, know that you have the love of the Church, the prayers of the faithful, and Christ himself with you in your suffering and sorrow. He died for us. He conquered death for us. He is with us now through Word and Sacrament. He gives us his very own body and blood for our healing and salvation.
He says: “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me” (John 6:54-57).
So, in the midst of a fallen world, we say to Jesus: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” Amen.
 https://www2.ed.gov/rschstat/research/pubs/misconductreview/report.pdf and https://edsource.org/2014/schools-failing-to-protect-students-from-sexual-abuse-by-school-personnel-federal-report-says/57023#.VUTXbfAoHHw
 http://sapr.mil/public/docs/prevention/DoD-Plan-to-Prevent-and-Respond-to-Sexual-Assault-of-Military-Men_Approved.pdf and https://www.gao.gov/assets/680/673515.pdf and https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_briefs/RB9841.html
(Image: By Helgi Halldórsson from Reykjavík, Iceland – darkness, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=33782100 )