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The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

'A voice for the voiceless'
Kiley O’Brien ’25, Assistant Features Editor • July 18, 2024
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Lilli Dellheim '25 M.A., Special to the Hawk • July 13, 2024

A time to protect God’s children

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A call for responsibility to be placed where it should

After taking part in the Catholic Church’s current methods of child abuse prevention, VIRTUS training, I am more convinced than ever that the system needs to change.

VIRTUS trainings are the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s main resource in combating issues of abuse, something that is unfortunately prevalent in the area.

I sat for this two-and-a-half-hour-long, Protecting God’s Children, in the basement of Saint John the Baptist Catholic Church in Manayunk and could not help but ask myself if I am part of the population that should be the target audience of concern for the Church.

I love my Church. I just don’t know if I can trust it anymore. One thing the training stressed was the impact the fear of not being believed can have on the victims.

This is what keeps individuals from reporting for years after these abuses take place. I can’t even begin to imagine the damage done when after a victim reports abuse, nothing happens. They are silenced.

At most, the priests are quietly reassigned to a new parish, with new parishioners who are vulnerable and unaware the priests they are supposed to respect and admire are the very ones they need to be careful of.

As a female and a friend to individuals who have been sexually abused and mistreated, the thought of victims being ignored infuriates me.

As a practicing Catholic, the thought of the Church not being a safe space saddens me.

The last thing a victim of abuse should have to experience is going to Mass the following Sunday and see their abuser in the pulpit.

The main thing that needs to change is the responsibility these VIRTUS trainings put on volunteers, teachers and other lay people to protect and spot abuses rather than expecting clergymen to hold themselves and their brethren in Christ accountable.

I remember watching an older man during our training raise his hand at one point and ask, “Where were the parents?”

Whether or not this man meant to, he alluded to the crux of the issue and the reason why so many were surprised when these allegations began to surface.

Priests and members of the religious communities have historically had a role in society as being trustworthy and virtuous.

The Church is supposed to be a safe place, a spot of refuge, a bright spot in a world that is something dark and cruel.

But what role can the Church serve when it in itself becomes a vessel of darkness and cruelty to society’s most vulnerable members?

I think teaching volunteers how to report  suspicions and instances of abuse is important.

But, I also can’t help but lack confidence in the reports being validated because of the lack of action that has already been seen once the Church’s leadership is made aware of these instances.

In a video they showed at the beginning of the training, aptly named “When to Protect God’s Children,” two priests were interviewed at several points about the Church’s desire to keep children safe.

After watching the video, I decided to Google the priests who had been interviewed, Gregory Aymond and Raymond Boland. Both of them had recently been charged with covering up abuse.

My doubts in the Church’s handling of instances of abuse don’t lie in the failing of having these cases reported, it’s what happens after.

It has become evident by recent events that the Church’s way of responding to claims of sexual abuse is very much in need of repair.

At one point in the training, one of the strategies suggested was to look out for people who think the rules don’t apply to them.

Specifically, they were talking about the rules many schools and churches have surrounding conduct around children, limiting the physical interactions allowed.

But, when widened beyond an individual school or church, I think there is some wisdom here.

Any institution that places limited accountability on its leadership is doomed to have its membership taken advantage of and mistreated.

I spent a majority of my time in this training asking myself what the solution to the current state of the Church is. I don’t have an answer. But the way things currently are isn’t working.

The first step, I believe, is actually addressing who is to blame.

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