What the Church says to the ‘little ones’

By Robin Darling Youngprofessor of theology, University of Notre Dame A recent catch-phrase among anti-abortion Catholics goes: “What will you … Continued

By Robin Darling Young
professor of theology, University of Notre Dame

A recent catch-phrase among anti-abortion Catholics goes: “What will you say to the babies?” It refers to the ancient belief that aborted infants will see harsh justice done to their selfish parents on Judgment Day- already in the second century, the Apocalypse of Paul pictured parents in hell judged by the souls of their babies. Updated for the abortion polemic, this question asks not only parents, but all voters, how they would justify their vote for a “pro-abortion” politician such as Barack Obama.

This Holy Week the question has an unintended association. What will the Roman Catholic Church say to the “little ones” about whom Jesus is reported to have told his disciples “If any of you scandalize one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea.” (Matthew 18:6)

Its defenders, Pope Benedict XVI among them, claim that the Church is judged unfairly; that the problem is widespread; that the New York Times and other publications are part of a conspiracy to destroy the Church. These noisemakers hope, perhaps, to change the subject.

Charges and counter-charges about who knew what and when, whether or not bishops or even the pope should resign, bitter controversy among lay Catholics, and Church defensiveness are shaping much public discourse on this matter. Throughout all this, Catholics are ignoring the core of the problem: that children were raped.

As anyone raped as a child can attest, there are three chief elements in the event. The first is the relationship between the rapist and the child. This is often one of trust, or at least gullibility, with respect to the person who desires sex with the child. Often manipulation occurs, if the action is not an act of brute force. The child is coaxed, played with, fondled and finally penetrated – often literally, and always psychologically.

The second element is the sexual act itself. Adult rapists want to achieve coitus with the small bodies of children. Often since they know this is wrong, they can also enjoy the thrill that they might now, or one day, be discovered. They can enjoy the thrill of domination, and the temporary bliss of coupling. They can enjoy their betrayal of the Church in which they are themselves often prisoners, and they can enjoy the art of hiding and dissimulation. The Church, being a very old institution, has long suffered the “imperfections” of illicit sexual partnerships among its clergy and, to be fair, among religious sisters. The predictable results of such dishonesty has been lying and turning a blind eye – “a scandal is not a scandal,” a prominent Midwestern archbishop told me once, “until it is public.”

The third element is the lasting state of mind of those who have been raped. The children who were fondled, penetrated – often painfully – and then abandoned are forced into a different game. They have had to protect their abusers through enforced silence. They may have developed a love for their abusers that will haunt them for the rest of their lives. Because they have been forced into sexual activity before they are ready for it, they will come to expect this kind of treatment – and they will reproduce it. It is well known now that pedophiles cannot be cured – the state of mind that causes their actions has also caused them to objectify other human beings, and to use them as an accompaniment to their own internal, and impotent, fantasies. But rape victims cannot really be cured, either – the act continues, and they continue to be penetrated and hurt, and they continue to seek someone resembling their rapists, in order to rectify, or to repeat and understand, their original violation.

It is monstrous to obscure the pain of these human beings damaged by agents of a Church that claims to represent Jesus and his teachings. For these damaged children the offending priests, bishops, and now the pope himself are responsible. The deaf boys of Wisconsin, and all the children ruined and silenced by the Church are, unlike aborted babies, still alive, are still being raped by Fr. Murphy and all the other abusers, and they are now asking the Roman Catholic hierarchy what they will say to these young children whose parents placed them in their care.

In Holy Week it is only just that the Church should be compelled to have something to say to them.

Robin Darling Young is Associate Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame.

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  • usapdx

    The time is now for a NEW POPE and for him to call VATICAN III to turn the RCC around. Any admistrater in any cover up these crimes must resign and have their day in court if they violated civil law and thoes other that commit the crime of sex abuse or rape of a child must be put out completly and have their day in court. The idea to with hold the truth of such cases to protect the image of RCC is nuts. I feel that BEN16 whould like to turn the RCC back before Vatican II in ” ordinary time ” of the dark ages.

  • YEAL9

    Obviously ordination in any religion is not assurance of good behavior !!!!!www.eutimes.net/category/criticism/pedophilia/”Yet another prominent Orthodox rabbi has been charged with sexual abuse. This time it is Rabbi Mordechai Elon, one of the foremost rabbinic leaders of the Israeli Orthodox movement and former rosh yeshiva at the flagship Yeshivat HaRav, where last year a Palestinian mounted an assault which left several students dead. The result was that students of the yeshiva and other far right Jews went on a rampage and tried to burn down the home of the family of the perpetrator of the attack. Elon’s brother is Benny, a former MK for a far-right pro-settler party.At one time the rabbi was so renowned he’d hoped to be named chief rabbi. Alas, that hope is all but dashed as he was charged several years ago with abusing boys at his yeshiva:The panel later said that two people, whose complaints alleged acts from about 25 years ago, had been under 18 at the time.More recent alleged acts involved students of Elon who were 18 or older. Since its initial disclosure, the panel reports having received one more complaint of an alleged underage encounter…What is unusual about this case is that a splinter group of the Orthodox community is taking the position that the entire prosecution is an attempt to destroy rabbinic authority and the Orthodox movement. It calls for refusal to cooperate with state authorities (or to deal with the charge through a beyt din).”From: “Facing calls to curb child sex abuse within its churches, in June the Southern Baptist Convention — the largest U.S. religious body after the Catholic Church — urged local hiring committees to conduct federal background checks but rejected a proposal to create a central database of staff and clergy who have been either convicted of or indicted on charges of molesting minors. The SBC decided against such a database in part because its principle of local autonomy means it cannot compel individual churches to report any information. And while the headlines regarding churches and pedophilia remain largely focused on Catholic parishes, the lack of hierarchical structure and systematized record-keeping in most Protestant churches makes it harder not only for church leaders to impose standards, but for interested parties to track allegations of abuse. “

  • areyousaying

    As one who has and is still going through what the author described here, I’m even more furious, hurt and amazed the Vatican now is comparing me, as one who speaks out about what I suffered, to the Nazi’s who killed the Jews!How low can this pope, his church and it’s complicit members go to open more bleeding wounds and inflict more pain on me and the other victims, including William Donohue calling us “gold diggers” as if we were just some little-boy-sex workers who could be paid off for our “services” by this obscenely rich church?Is this really what Christ had in mind, Catholics, when he, himself, as you claim, founded your “Church” ?

  • annedanielson


  • truecatholic

    Why cannot some of you get your head around this. What other religions, or professionals do has nothing to do with this.Yes, abusers were in the priesthood. Yes they still are but probably to a lessor extent, yes the Church has new guidelines (in N.A.). Yes probably most of the bishops are following them.BUT. Nothing has been done about the bishops who protected and transfered priests so that they could, and did abuse again.When Cardinal Law lies dead in the Tiber weighted down with rocks, we will know the Church takes the bible seriously.

  • monav

    Ms. Young…you understand! I hope your understanding is not from personal experience.But I want to add a fourth element to your description of the effects of sexual abuse. When you are assaulted by a Catholic priest not only is your body violated, your faith is violated too. I have had my faith in the Catholic Church and my trust in its leaders ripped from me. I have had my faith in the ultimate goodness of the universe, and my trust in an afterlife where I will find peace and justice, torn apart just as my insides were torn as a child.Day after day the papers reveal more details about the Church’s systemic support for pedophiles and suppression of victims. Night after night I am haunted by nightmares of men in black hunting me down.I can no longer sit in a church and be calmed by its mystical quiet; I can no longer sing Mozart’s Requiem in the cathedral choir and be transported by its beauty. Church causes panic attacks, trembling, and tears.Victims don’t have the support of their parishes or the succor of the sacraments. But the pedophile priests still have that. They get absolution and free counseling; victims get accused of being after money or of trying to destroy the church. This Easter season I especially missed my faith, my church, my god.