When I worked in Rome for the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, the Commission received permission from the Holy Father to have episcopal conferences celebrate a National Day of Prayer for the victims/survivors of sexual abuse. Upon sharing this powerful healing opportunity, some responded saying the problem of sexual abuse did not exist in their country and having such a day of prayer would cause shame. Since sexual abuse exists everywhere, in every corner of the world, with the rich, the poor, the highly educated, the illiterate, the young and old alike, I personally felt a strong argument was needed to move those who believed that the sexual abuse of children from a “does not exist” position, to a “What can I do to protect the children and vulnerable?” position.
I began to think about what could be the universal, global, air-tight argument that the Catholic Church can use to advocate everyone’s responsibility to establish safe environments for children and the vulnerable; even in the face of non-believers who think children and the vulnerable are not at risk. I decided the argument to apply our belief as Catholics in the sanctity of life to this issue. If we call ourselves Catholic, then the sanctity of life is a sacred truth we hold as fact. A natural follow-through then would be to put policies and practices in place to uphold the sanctity of life for everyone. In doing that, there would be no room for any abuse of any type to anyone.
Activating the practice of the sanctity of life automatically protects the little ones and the vulnerable.
As Catholics we believe that everyone, every single one of the 7.7 billion people in the world (and growing by the second) are sacred and made in the image and likeness of God. Look to your right, look to your left, look at the people on the news, look at the people at work, in the streets, at the grocery store, in villages, farms, cities, in the country, and even look in the mirror; there is nowhere you can look without seeing someone made in the image and likeness of God: God who is the Alpha and the Omega. Nothing is more precious and sacred than that. The sanctity of life applies to everyone you see.
The evil one will try to deceive us, but we know the truth: Everyone is sacred and thus deserves respect and protection regardless of their situation. No one is exempt from this respect and protection. It is all of our responsibilities to uphold the sacredness and dignity of every person — not sit on the sidelines and close our eyes.
So when anyone, from anywhere says that sexual abuse of children and minors does not exist in their world, tell them you wished they were right, but facts show differently. As Catholics and followers of Christ our job is to live and practice the sanctity of life: protecting all people, respecting all people because that is who we are, that is what we believe, and that is what we do.
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception parishioner Teresa Morris Kettelkamp is a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.