Unconditional Love

    May 2000

    "Adults Must Be Educated"
    Responses by Religious Communities to Child Sexual Abuse
    By Jade Christine Angelica

    In this passage from her book, A Moral Emergency: Breaking the Cycle of Child Sexual Abuse, Jade Christine Angelica argues that religious communities should put their greatest effort into educating adults, since they are the ones who may commit abuse.

    Nelson Mandela, President of the African National Congress, is convinced that education can change the world. But in the area of child sexual abuse, this essential question remains: Who is being educated? The majority of educational programs sponsored by religious communities focus on educating the children the victims to protect themselves. By asking and expecting our children these small, vulnerable and precious human beings who have not yet reached the age of majority or the age of consent, or perhaps not even the age of reason to protect themselves, we are also asking them to be responsible for repairing a part of the broken world that they did not break long before that world becomes theirs.

    A few of the denominations surveyed in 1991 had made a minimal effort to educate clergy and seminarians about child sexual abuse; even fewer had attempted to educate their own congregations. But in order to begin dismantling the destructive myths surrounding child sexual abuse and to begin making a difference, adults must be educated about the severity of the problem and about the serious consequences. Since adults are the perpetrators, only they possess the power to end the abuse.

    Justice programs sponsored by the religious communities surveyed acknowledge the existence of child sexual abuse and consider it a serious issue. However, most programs include child sexual abuse within the broader issues of domestic violence and/or child abuse. Despite these admirable efforts and the best of intentions, when child sexual abuse is included with other social concerns, another opportunity for denial is offered. The combining of issues allows people to keep that which is "too cruel for mind and memory to face,"1 hidden in the shadows. Child sexual abuse is an issue of social and religious concern that needs to be swept out from underneath the rug and put in the spotlight in order for change to occur. If religious communities truly want to address the problem of child sexual abuse, a singular, deliberate focus on the issue is necessary.

    Pastoral care and counseling are essential religious responses to victims and survivors of child sexual abuse and their families. Continuing and increasing support of these programs is important. Long-term psychotherapy is often the treatment of choice for victims of child sexual abuse. Individual and group therapy can be effective methods of individual healing, and could even deter future abuse. However, therapy and counseling offer solutions only on an individual basis, only to a few people, and therefore cannot be expected to have a major impact on a systemic problem that affects millions of people. Prevention is the preferred approach. Education of religious adults is my recommended method for beginning the prevention effort.

    1. Gloria Steinem, dustcover review of Secret Survivors by E. Sue Blume.

    This passage is reprinted from Jade Christine Angelica, A Moral Emergency: Breaking the Cycle of Child Sexual Abuse (Kansas City, Mo.: Sheed & Ward, 1993), 88-90.

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