Children are precious. Their simplicity, their sense of wonder and enthusiasm, their laughter at play are all infectious. Their innate way of receiving and giving tenderness, their way of seeing reality with a trusting and pure gaze, cannot fail to touch our hearts and fill us with hope for tomorrow, Pope Francis recently observed.
Children are truly a gift. Yet, as with all else in this fallen world, young people are subject to the human condition. Some are raised in poverty and poor living conditions despite the best efforts of their parents. But others have had grave wrongs perpetrated against them, including physical, mental, emotional and/or sexual abuse.
To draw attention to this evil and what we can do about it, April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. During this month, government agencies, community groups, and churches are encouraged to work together to share child abuse and neglect prevention strategies and promote the well-being of children and families. This responsibility belongs to everyone as a matter of charity and justice, and the Archdiocese of Washington is strongly committed to child safety in the Church and throughout society.
“Concern for the child, even before birth, from the first moment of conception and then throughout the years of infancy and youth is the primary and fundamental test of the relationship of one human being to another,” said Saint John Paul II in an address to the United Nations (Familiaris Consortio, 26). We can all do our part to protect the dignity of all human life and ensure our children are in safe environments at home, at school, in our neighborhoods, and at church.
Our local Church has long been pro-active in protecting children. Since 1986, the archdiocese has had a stringent written policy on child protection, one of the most comprehensive of any organization – public or private – entrusted with the care of children in Maryland or the District of Columbia. This policy mandates reporting of suspected abuse to civil authorities, education for children and adults, and background checks for clergy, employees and volunteers who work with minors. Also included is information on healing for those harmed and what to do if there is an allegation. These efforts are overseen by a Child Protection Advisory Board of predominantly lay experts.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has a variety of child abuse prevention resources on its website. The archdiocese has also developed a series of safety tips, including advice on Internet safety, sexting, healthy teen relationships, and bullying. Children in archdiocesan schools and religious education programs are also taught how to recognize abuse and protect themselves.
Our efforts to combat child abuse begin with ourselves, with our own families in our own homes, including our spiritual family. The Catechism reminds parents they have an obligation to love and care for the children that are entrusted to them by our heavenly Father (CCC 2221-31). Likewise, the Church that is our Mother has an obligation toward our little ones.
“Families need to know that the Church is making every effort to protect their children. They should also know that they have every right to turn to the Church with full confidence, for it is a safe and secure home,” Pope Francis has emphasized. Most especially, “everything possible must be done to rid the Church of the scourge of the sexual abuse of minors and to open pathways of reconciliation and healing for those who were abused.”
Being most vulnerable, our young people require us to care for them and protect them from harm. Child Abuse Prevention Month calls our attention to this obligation in charity and justice. Let us all be vigilant in helping to provide a safe environment for all children and to help those who are victims of abuse find healing.