It makes you sick in the stomach. The stories are extravagantly poignant. The cases are too close to home. The psychological pain is excruciating. Lives have been completely wrecked. Families have been downright destroyed. People have lost their faith in God and in humanity.
The church’s reputation has been decimated. Our view of people in power has radically shifted. Our understanding of the compassion of God has been put to the test.
And it’s because some idiot has chosen to abuse a child.
The stories are far too prevalent. And I can’t for one minute think I have the emotional capacity to deal with hearing much more. Not because I don’t want to, or because I’ve become somewhat inoculated from human suffering, but because the raw, emotional hurt that comes to the surface is just… well… difficult.
I can’t begin to imagine or comprehend the story of a survivor of sexual abuse. I hesitate even to write this paragraph, because I don’t understand the pain. All I know is that the stories are all too frequent, and the breadth of reach of such vile behaviour has in recent years spread far too wide.
I know some survivors. I’ve heard some of their stories. One lady took decades before she let go of much of the bitterness that had held her back from having a positive outlook on life. One young man still carries the psychological weight of abuse on his shoulders.
To every survivor: Please don’t give up. Please don’t stop running the race, until you find justice and closure. Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. May your day of vindication come.
Entire family units are caught up in the trauma of abuse. While individuals may be groomed and abused, entire families become broken. The ordeal is never just experienced on the individual; the psychological scarring spreads like wind across close circles of influence.
And somehow the family or community that surrounds the survivor needs to try and hold it all together, despite the facts that all the while there’s anger and there’s confusion, and there’s feelings of powerlessness. Though, in those moments we attempt to be strong, to offer hope, to speak words of healing and offer prayers of blessing.
Despite feeling useless, we seek, by God’s grace, to become useful in demonstrating compassion and love to those who are hurting.
The local church
I’m in disbelief of the sheer numbers of cases of abuse that I’ve heard about in recent years from the global church (cases from decades previous, recent convictions, former priests, etc).
The church has all but lost the respect of the broader community. Credibility is a word it even struggles to spell. It’s still reeling from decades of unchecked abuse within its institutions.
There’s a lot of healing work to be done, in the name of Jesus Christ. And ‘holiness’ needs to find itself preached from the pulpit once again.
My heart sank recently when I read a social media post about a former Catholic Priest convicted of paedophilia. The discussion went like this:
“This Priest baptized my son. I feel nauseas.”
“He did our marriage; like actually officiated our wedding. I just can’t process that.”
“The Priest used to visit in our house on a regular basis. How could I let that happen?”
The story of the impact of clergy abuse has ripple effects. It destroys people’s lives, and it rips communities of faith apart. Suddenly the momentous rites of passage and sacramental celebrations of years previous feel devastatingly meaningless.
Of all things, Jesus actually speaks to this issue, where in Matthew chapter 18, verse 6, he says, ““If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” In light of what I’m writing about, I would suggest Jesus’ words are pretty strong and rightly so.
We stand by the words of Jesus.
The world would be better if children were safe; free from exploitation and free from the scourge of child abuse. We don’t want children to be forced to stumble.
The destructive path
Let me shine the light on this a little clearer: A pedophile creates a destructive path in our communities that takes years to repair. The selfish, lust-filled choices of one can ruin the lives of scores of people. And while they may experience a mere 3 to 6 years in jail (if even convicted), others experience a lifetime trying to find life, joy, hope and purpose.
There are no easy answers to fix the destructive path of a pedophile. Judicial proceedings must be swift. Redress must be generous. Survivors must be protected. Criminals must be convicted. Healing must be accessible. Society must be honest. Churches must be sanctified.
We may not stop feeling sick in the stomach, but we can pray that God might use us to make some meaningful difference in the life of a survivor.
Pete Brookshaw is the Senior Minister of The Salvation Army Craigieburn. He has a Bachelor of both Business and Theology and is passionate about the church being dynamic and effective in the world and creating communities of faith that are outward-focused, innovative, passionate about the lost and committed to societal change. He has been blogging since 2006 at http://www.petebrookshaw.com about leadership and faith and you can find him on:
Peter Brookshaw’s previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/peter-brookshaw.html