Upholding the teachings of the Catholic Church
Volume XVII, No. 4
Developing a Child-Safe Environment
Can we change our degenerate culture?
by Rita Joseph
Anyone who has followed the sensational media headlines this year -- particularly those in Australia and the United States -- regarding the sex abuse and cover-up scandals in the Catholic Church, would know that the Church, our Church, is once again in deep, deep trouble.
I say our Church, and I mean it. There is no Australian Church or US Church or Church of Rome, neatly partitioned off from each other. Neither is there a men's church and a women's church so that we women can wash our hands, or, worse, join in the frenzy of accusation and blame. There is only the One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church, and that Church is the Body of Christ. We live in Christ. He is our life's blood -- He is our being. We belong not just to Him but in Him. Just as God knitted each one of us into our mother's womb, so we are knitted into Christ's body -- the Church.
When Christ hurts, we hurt. Simple as that.
So it follows that when some members fail, we all partake of that failure. Just as we all must contribute to the healing. Somehow, when there's trouble, it's just human nature that we tend to want to weasel out -- distance ourselves. Assert our independence -- after all, to be independent women is one of the most celebrated values of the modern world. Like Cain, we're tempted to blurt out: "I'm not my brother's keeper!" But is our innocence and detachment for real? I doubt it.
What started me thinking about this was a visit earlier this year to Saint Patrick's Cathedral in New York, where I heard an excellent sermon by the cathedral's pastor, Monsignor Eugene Clark. He traced five specific influences that may explain but not excuse, he said, some of the priestly failures now scandalizing both the faithless and the faithful. First, he spoke of a flawed moral theology known as Proportionalism. Put simply, this theory said that while abortion, fornication, adultery, divorce, remarriage and contraception all remained sins, they could be permitted if one had a "proportionate" reason. Second, he spoke of liberal society's near universal attack on celibacy -- the assumption that life without sex was radically unhealthy psychologically -- and he suggested that this proportionalist reason seems to have sufficed for some 3% of clergy to set aside sexual abstinence.
The third element Monsignor Clark isolated was the powerful press and government insistence on homosexual rights, which has quickly evolved into statements that there is nothing morally or socially wrong with sodomy. This, he suggested, may have led to a fear of excluding homosexual candidates from the priesthood, which raises his fourth concern that there also had been a general weakening of other high standards in choosing candidates for the priesthood.
Monsignor Clark's final point was that we need to understand the influence of our pagan culture. Popular culture, he said, has created a sex-saturated society. "Not even the Weimar culture of Germany of the 1920s and 1930s, thoroughly degenerate, touched the whole of society and its children as does our electronic media -- it keeps liberated sex before all young people -- all of us -- all their waking hours. Every vice is a popular option, every day. It is a culture created by the media that now strongly attacks the failed 3% among Catholic clergy".
And it is this fifth influence that I'd like to examine more closely. You see, it is not just the media that has created this culture.
Removal of traditional checks and balances to protect children
The judiciary, the medicos, academia and our political representatives - all of them have contributed to the culture of sexual license that has removed many of the traditional checks and balances that hitherto have served to protect children. Among other things, they have contributed to:
- a culture where children can be deemed unwanted, disposable, at the service of adults' whims;
- a culture where children are dressed up and displayed as "sexy" little adults;
- a culture where children's sexual development is forced, fast-tracked through dubious sex education programs;
- a culture where the sexual rights of children are proclaimed by United Nations agencies and government and non-government organizations to be "the same as for adults";
- a culture where a child's right to be protected from premature sexual initiation and statutory rape is often replaced by the "new" right to contraceptive and abortion services, and the "new" right to privacy, so that such services can be provided without parental knowledge or consent;
- a culture where any expectation of chastity among adolescents is rejected as "unrealistic", where instead adolescent exploration of "sexual orientation" is encouraged and "sexual experimentation" condoned as a "normal" part of adolescence;
- a culture where societies will no longer commend a father and a mother married and faithful to each other as being best for children;
- a culture that upholds lesbian, homosexual and multiple partnerships as being the moral equivalent of a marriage, and that lies through its teeth to insist that children are just as well protected in the flux of a parent's serial sexual relationships.
It seems to me that we should be taking the fight right back up to the purveyors of this culture, pressuring them to check out their own record with the same thoroughness as is being applied to the Church. We should demand a comparably rigorous public audit of what the media and all the other authorities, judges, politicians, doctors, teachers, police, parents and guardians have done or left undone to have created such a disastrous moral environment for children.
Pornography, sodomy, adultery, prostitution, contraception, abortion whatever immorality legislatures have failed to endorse, judicial activism has usually managed to legalize. Meanwhile, lobbying continues unabated for lowering the age of consent, while abortionists, family planning providers, and even some school counselors and teachers, continue to tolerate and to conceal underage sexual activity on the basis that as long as "safer-sex" guidelines are followed and reproductive health services provided, they do not see these children as victims.
Developing a child-safe environment -- a joint task
At the recent US Bishops' Conference in Dallas, the keynote address given by Australian Archbishop Philip Wilson of Adelaide was notable for its outstanding clarity. He acknowledged first that real care must be given to all victims of sexual abuse: "you must feel their pain and suffering", he said, "and stand in solidarity with them". Second, he told the bishops, "you also have to have proper procedures to make sure justice is done". He then went on to say:
"You also have to lead in the formation of a proper culture that establishes and supports proper relationships, especially with children. You have to develop as far as possible a child-safe environment".
But we all know the bishops can't do this on their own - each of us has to help create in our own families and our own communities a child-safe environment. How best do we do that?
Valuing each child from conception
We must go back to the very creation of each child -- we must recognize in the relationship in which that child is conceived "the holiness of the heart's affections". A faithful, loving and holy relationship, the security of a sanctified marriage, the lifelong graces from the sacrament of holy matrimony -- these constitute the proper milieu in which to provide enduring protection for children. The secular world -- especially the movie and television world -- has so long despised and pilloried this great sacrament that few people retain any sense of the true meaning of marriage and its gift of stability and faithful promise to the children of that marriage.
We all have a grave obligation to help our bishops establish a child-safe environment by taking up the pro-life fight with renewed vigor. No environment can be deemed child-safe where all legal protection has deliberately been removed from the child in the womb. The proliferation of the morning-after-pill, other chemical abortifacients and abortion surgeries, increasingly condoned by politicians and judges around the world, have served to make the mother's womb potentially the most dangerous environment to be encountered in the whole life-cycle of the child.
According to the latest United Nations Population Fund figures, some 50 million surgical abortions are performed each year -- that means, we know, 50 million children conceived only to be destroyed. Add to these numbers the hundreds of thousands of children artificially conceived in in vitro fertilization (IVF) clinics, only to be classified as "spare embryos", surplus to their parents needs or wants. And then those not used for lethal experimentation are exposed to room temperature, where without the protective environment of their mother's wombs, these tiny embryonic human beings expire, their lives deemed expendable, unwanted, unlived, unloved.
This is the great human tragedy of our times: that so many mothers and fathers have cooperated with abortionists, pharmacists and IVF clinicians to deliberately deny the protective environment of the mother's womb to each human child conceived. The natural protective dynamic of procreation has always been that the mother protects the child in her womb while the father protects the mother and child. Yet now so many children are condemned to perish in a deliberately created hostile environment, victims of their parents' "right to choose".
Child abuse in the womb/outside the womb -- logical inconsistency in response
This widespread lethal abuse of the child in the womb has been promoted by the proponents of excessive sexual liberalism, one of the most dominant ideologies of our time. This ideology has decreed that this kind of abuse is necessary to facilitate adults' sexual rights, especially to facilitate what UN human rights terminology calls "the right to have a satisfying sex life". In this sexually liberal society, lethal physical and chemical abuse of a child in the womb is accepted with equanimity, and conducted with impunity. Why is it then that this equanimity and impunity has not been extended to the sexual abuse of a child outside the womb? Why has there been such an outpouring of angry public demands for the prosecution of child sexual abuse -- by some of the same people who view abortioin as a "right"?
Why the focus on Catholic clergy?
What really lies behind our sexually liberal society's focus on the small minority of Catholic clergy that have committed this particular kind of abuse?
If it is the case that these public attacks are motivated by a sudden blinding realization that self-discipline and responsibility in sexual relations must be everywhere exercised by everyone so as to provide for all children a safe environment in which they can live and grow, then we must all cheer, and thank God, and provide every support and encouragement.
If however, as I suspect, secular condemnation is to remain focused only on clerical abuse of youngsters, to be cordoned off from all other areas of child abuse, then I believe we have a lot of work to do.
If the latter is the case, then it would seem that the subliminal message reads something like this: "Even your Catholic priests can't abide by God's alleged rules on sexuality, marriage and procreation, therefore it's all a load of codswallop and we're all free to do anything we want, with anyone, anytime, anywhere, notwithstanding a few of our own ad hoc rules. Such rules may include requiring mutual consent, mandating use of a condom, providing contraception and back-up abortion, enforcing anti-discrimination laws against those who deny the moral equivalence of homosexual and heterosexual acts etc.".... And so the fool says in his heart -- there is no God.
We all have some share in the blame
But folly is not the sole preserve of unbelievers. As Catholics, our collective failure to protect all children is perhaps best understood in terms of that old maxim "in necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus caritas" (in necessary things unity, in doubtful things liberty, in all things charity). The necessary things for creating a child-safe environment were misclassified by too many Catholics for too long as doubtful things about which we were all said to be obliged (in charity, you understand) to allow others their liberty.
In the heady excitement of the sexual revolution, too many lost sight of the reason behind the age-old rules that govern sexuality, marriage and procreation. They failed to appreciate how critical these absolutes are for maintaining the delicate, painfully-woven seamless protection that must serve each defenseless child from conception through to full maturity. The rules governing proper use of God's gift of sexuality have a purpose, a powerful and incontrovertible logic - to protect the children that are conceived through the exercise of this gift. The primary purpose of these rules is to secure for each new generation of children at least some semblance of order and belonging and trust, an understanding that they are loved forever and are themselves to learn to love faithfully. The commonsense of these rules is precisely to secure the common good, of both parents and children, to secure an enduring sense that life is good, that it has sense and meaning and opportunity, and is well worth living to the very fullest of each one's abilities.
To protect children society needs to return to natural law principles
It is rational thought and rigorous logic, not sexism, nor prudishness, nor homophobia, that dictates the fundamental natural law moral imperatives concerning sexual responsibility. Aquinas says that we have natural inclinations, like the rational pursuit of truth, self-preservation, reproduction and the raising of our young. Such precepts of natural law as do good and avoid evil direct our reason toward pursuit of these naturally desired goods. Thus reason brings us to a recognition of the prescriptive natural laws that are particularly relevant to reproduction and the raising of children, and that rule out contraception, abortion, adultery, sodomy, as well as all sexual acts with children and all sexual acts outside marriage. These acts are always and everywhere wrong, just as it is always and everywhere right for each child to be born into a family, according to the universal positive natural law affirming that it is good for each of us to be raised in a family.
Other relevant natural law principles commonly recognized are that each entity should be allowed to persist in its being and that one should not directly attack any basic good in any person (including oneself) not even to divert bad consequences; that we should favor the common good, that we should pursue it with reasonableness, that we must be accountable for the consequences of our actions, and that we must not ignore the goodness of any basic values, such as the natural endowment of each child with parents of opposite sex.
Alfonso Cardinal López Trujillo, President of the Pontifical Council for the Family, at the recent UN General Assembly's Special Session on Children in New York, spoke out strongly against "the moral pollution of the environment that spiritually impedes children from breathing pure air". Family and states, he said, cannot avoid the requirements of a human ecology. When moral values are trampled on, when the atmosphere is artificially charged with eroticism, when the meaning of human sexuality is emptied and trivialized and children are even induced into unspeakable "lifestyles" and behavior in an alarming climate of permissiveness, the cardinal says, the risk of violence grows. And yet, he sees good reforms coming: "Albeit with considerable delay, as there have already been numerous victims, it seems that many are starting to react, to revise their attitudes, and to reinforce legal norms to avoid devastating consequences".
Optimism -- the Church will survive
The Cardinal is an optimist -- and rightly so. When this is all placed in the perspective of the immense complexity of the age-old war between good and evil, isn't all this, for us the faithful, just one more battle to be fought with stoicism and determination?
There should be no doubt that the divinely ordained universal Holy Roman Catholic Church is going to survive this, as she has survived everything else. And then this in itself will be added to the 2000-year-long list of victories-out-of-apparent-defeats that provide incontrovertible ongoing proof that the Lord, as He promised, is with His Church even to the end of the world. It has always been the case that the flawed human nature of so many of the Church's leaders, even some of the Popes, has only served to strengthen our understanding of the divine nature, the divine supervision and infusion that renders the Church indestructible and ultimately triumphant.
The Church has always been a mixed bag of sinners and saints. We should encourage our faithful priests to make a massive effort to shrug off the media-driven guilt-by-association being put on them, and continue to preach from the house tops, especially to continue to preach the truth about God's gift of sexuality and its proper use.
It is critical that our faithful priests renew their moral fight. The Church's response must be bold, clear and unequivocal on all matters of morality that our immoral and amoral contemporaries don't want to hear. No matter how many sins of priests and laity are exposed and publicized and paraded, moral truths remain true, and that truth has its own power that can't be silenced or discredited ever.
Rita Joseph has represented family concerns at UN conferences, and writes and lectures on social issues especially concerning women and families, and has made a special study of the Holy Father's writings on family and on women. She has previously lectured at the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family Studies in Melbourne. Rita and her husband live in Canberra, Australia.
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