A group of clergy sexual abuse survivors in the Catholic Diocese of Davenport, Iowa did not ask for a financial settlement. They asked for a millstone: a large monument in the shape of a stone used for crushing grain that would be dedicated to the survivors of sexual abuse.
The millstone symbol comes from the gospels: “And whosoever shall cause one of these little ones that believe on me to stumble, it were better for him if a great millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea” (Mark 9:42).
The Millstone Marker in Davenport is a reminder of the suffering endured by the “little ones” of the diocese. It is a reminder to church officials to repent and sin no more. And, yet, despite the millstone monument and the monumental amount of information about abuse in our society, children continue to suffer and our churches and country continue to drown under the weight of abuse cases.
While much media attention has focused on the recent financial settlement with clergy abuse survivors in Los Angeles and San Diego, Domestic Violence Awareness Month calls us to see that this violence is not isolated in the Catholic Church, but is part of a pervasive system of abuse in all sectors of society. Abuse makes no distinction between biological families or religious families, daddy or Father Bob. Let us look at the statistics: 10,667 Catholic sexual abuse victims were counted in the 2004 John Jay study, but we know that the number of people who report such crimes are few; that the real number of clergy sexual abuse survivors far exceeds the number of reported allegations. Studies of Protestant churches from surveys done by Christian Ministry Resources show that there are approximately 70 new allegations of child abuse brought forward each week. Looking beyond the church we see that there are approximately three million reports of child abuse in the United States each year. It is estimated that one in three families in America suffers from domestic violence. One is six women living in the United States is sexually assaulted in her lifetime. It is clear: abuse is pervasive.
This month, let us remember the millstone monument in the Catholic Diocese of Davenport and the moral millstone that hangs around Catholic Church officials who allowed and, in some cases, continue to allow abuse to occur. But also let us not forget the moral weight and pervasiveness of abuse that we as a nation must face, just as the Catholic Church has had to do. Our nation is responsible for millions of millstones.
Nicole Sotelo is author of “Women Healing from Abuse: Meditations for Finding Peace” (Paulist Press), the first book of its kind for Christian women recovering from physical, emotional and/or sexual abuse. A graduate of Harvard Divinity School, she is currently Acting Co-Director of Call To Action, a nationwide Catholic organization seeking justice in church structures.