This year, the beginning of National Child Abuse Prevention Month overlaps with the final weeks of Lent.
During April, we are reminded about the abuse that children have suffered and are encouraged to be pro-active in protecting all children from becoming victims of any form of abuse.
On Ash Wednesday, we were marked with ashes and the words, “Repent, and believe in the Gospel.” As a Catholic community, we must continue to repent for the horrific actions of those clergy who harmed children. We cannot relegate what happened years and decades ago to past tense because victim survivors and their families still live with the injury.
This is an ongoing effort; we can never become complacent. Even if we see progress, which gives us hope, we can always see signs of weakness or failure, which require renewed dedication and intentional attention, to help victim survivors in their ongoing healing.
Due to COVID, we were not able to schedule Masses for Hope and Healing in 2020 and the first part of 2021. But in September and November 2021, and in February of this year, we resumed these gatherings — one in each of our diocese’s vicariates.
Individuals who had experienced some form of abuse and many others among our parish communities who were aware of the trauma of sexual abuse wanted to gather in solidarity with victim survivors and to pray for healing of all who have been affected by abuse.
After each Mass, I had the opportunity to listen to people who were victims of abuse and to their families. Counselors were also available for those who sought additional help in their healing process.
During these Masses, we prayed for healing of those who have suffered injustice, including those who have left the Church and may never return. We also prayed for those who caused the suffering that they recognize the sinfulness of what they did and that their repentance includes accepting responsibility for their deeds.
We turned our attention to the tragedy of abuse, coming at the hands of those most trusted, and we sought grace to move forward with renewed hope and with a deeper commitment to authentic expressions of love and healing.
The Church should never have been — and should never be — a place which is the cause of injury or harm to one of God’s children. Justice requires a price to be paid for injury, to provide healing for those who have been harmed.
While we repent for the sins of the past, we also focus on the present and future. Later this month, our diocesan Office of Safe Environment will publish its annual report in which it details our ongoing efforts for protecting children and vulnerable adults. These efforts are more than policy; they are reminders that we are to remain attentive to this mission.
We know that we are most effective in this regard when we are intentional in establishing safe environments for our children and when we train adults to be vigilant in keeping children out of harm’s way. We have made progress in this regard, but we can never put aside our efforts to make that progress.
As we observe National Child Abuse Prevention Month and immerse ourselves in the final days of Lent, let us — individually and as a faith community — continue to pray for victims of abuse and for our Church that all may experience the healing provided by our merciful God.
At the same time, let us remain pro-active in protecting the most vulnerable among us so that no one will ever suffer the scourge of abuse again.