Here we are at another Wednesday. Time to turn to the People of the Second Chance's poster series, Never Beyond. If you are new to this campaign, you can read more about it and find links to all of my Never Beyond posts here.
POTSC is definitely holding our feet to the fire as grace-givers this week. The poster is supposed to encourage discussion about pedophile priests and the scandal that ensued when it was discovered that the Roman Catholic Church had protected rather than punished some of these priests. Have a look at this weeks image:
As a disclaimer, I would like to say that POTSC is not trying to criminalize every member of the Catholic clergy, nor am I. I would urge you to go read the original POTSC blog post on this subject and also to read the discussion that has been taking place there since Sunday. This is a subject that has brought up some hard memories for many and it also has shown that when God asks us to forgive, He never said it would be easy.
God's purpose for my blog has been for me to use my stories to further His purpose. I also am not a researcher or someone who has vast amounts of worldly knowledge. So I am going to have to approach this poster, as with the others, from the viewpoint of what I do know.
Let's start with what I know about sexual abuse. I know that I was molested at the age of about 3 or 4. To the best of my ability to recollect, it was not an ongoing occurrence, but once is more than enough. The perpetrator was somebody I knew.
Another connection I have with this painful experience is a friend of mine - a female - admitting to me that she had molested her son. I am the one who turned her in to the authorities. After her son was taken away from her the next day, she cut herself in front of me. She tried to kill herself a few days later (at least I think that is what she was trying - she took a type of pills that makes you sick but does not kill you). We found out later that she had also molested the daughter of a friend of mine. Years later, that daughter is finally read to talk about it and she has called to ask me questions.
There is also someone whom I love dearly that was molested by an Episcopal priest. His whole life was disrupted and sent down a completely different path than it would have traveled otherwise by what happened to him. It is not my story to tell, so I won't go into further detail. Let me just say that I hurt for him. I do.
So where am I with grace and second chances on these issues?
I could easily write a book about each of these situations, so it is hard to distill it down to a few sentences in a blog post. I do not want to minimize anyone's hurt nor do I want to over-simplify the process it takes for everyone involved to heal. I'll put an effort into at least letting you know where I am in the process.
Let's start with what happened when I was a child. It was real. It changed how I relate to men - it sexualized much of my interaction with the opposite sex. I thought that was just the way things were. So there was long-lasting damage. I tried to minimize all of it for years or even blame myself. I don't do that anymore. It was not my fault. It was wrong. And the perpetrator is someone you would have expected to protect me rather than hurt me (of course, who is it that we actually expect to hurt someone? Wouldn't you expect everyone to protect a child?). Even knowing it was wrong, I have chosen not to confront this person. There are reasons for that and if you think it will help you by knowing them, please email me and we will chat about it. I am not going to spell it all out here because it would hurt other people and I could hardly call it giving grace if I hurt other people in the process. To take it a step further, as part of my recovery process I have made amends to my perpetrator for transgressions - real transgressions - that I have committed. This person is known to my husband and has been in my home. Have I been able to give a second chance to this person? Yes. Through an amazing miracle of grace, I have. It almost feels surreal sometimes. Forgiveness didn't bring with it huge amounts of trust. I will say that I have never left this person alone with my grandchildren and I don't plan to. But I treat him like a fellow human rather than a monster.
Now about my friend who molested her son. I still struggle with this. Since I turned her in, I was what is called an "outcry witness". The Assistant DA who prosecuted her case called me to talk about it and asked what I thought about several options for sentencing. Truth be told, I wanted them to sterilize her so that she could never have another child who could be hurt by her. She had had treatment for her issues at one of the premier facilities in the world and I found out that she had even been reported to Child Protective Services previously for the same thing but they let her keep her son. And she kept repeating the cycle. I should tell you that I know what horrible things happened to her as a child. I even used it to shut her parents up when they blamed me for the whole mess. There was never going to be a "winner" in the situation, but several people - including the perpetrator - tried to make me the loser somehow. I would expect this is why I have had such a hard time letting go of it. I know I am no better than her. I have hurt a child. You can split hairs and say that I didn't hurt a child in a sexual manner, but please don't to that in front of me. I know that I am as unworthy of forgiveness as she is. That Christ died for my forgiveness (and hers) anyway is something that leaves me in awe. I will have to continue in prayer that I can forgive all involved in this sad situation. (You could pray for me too, if you are so inclined.)
As for the loved one who was hurt by the Episcopal priest, I have not been asked for much in this instance. I know about it. I pray about it. I wonder how many other children might have been hurt. I wonder if any of the leaders in that church knew about it and might have covered it up. I hurt for those involved.
So how have these stories affected my overall approach to the subject of sexual abuse and grace? I struggle. I think all children have the right to be protected. I think knowing that someone is hurting a child and covering it up is shameful. I think humans get themselves caught in situations where they have to make hard choices. I believe in accountability. I think being able to trust God when He might ask you to go against the prevailing attitudes of society is hard and lonely. Psychologists tell us that pedophiles can rarely, if ever, be rehabilitated, hence the advent of sex offender registries. The Bible tells me that nothing is impossible for God. I think God is that big. Thoughts on either side of this subject go back and forth in my head like ping pong balls. Can we protect and forgive at the same time? Does giving a second chance mean letting (former) perpetrators near our children again?
Each time I am forced (in more than a theoretical way) to deal with these situations, I have to take it to the Cross. And I wonder if - other than taking it to the Cross - if I am not approaching this from the wrong direction. Jesus told us about how He wanted us to treat "the least of these". I think we can agree that in our society, pedophiles and other sex offenders are very much the least of these. So maybe giving a second chance does not mean restoring a Catholic priest to his former position as headmaster of a school. Maybe it means looking him the eye like we would other humans. Maybe it means giving him a drink of water. Maybe it means giving him food or shelter or clothing. If he shows up on my doorstep in the middle of a storm with nowhere else to go, do I bring him in out of the storm? Do I pray with him? If he had walked many miles because nobody else would give him a ride, would I get down on my knees and wash his hot, tired feet? Jesus served the very people He was going to die a gruesome death for. Am I able to do anything remotely like that?
Only sometimes. Only sometimes.
If you have any questions or thoughts at all on this, please share in the comments. I want to know where you stand. And please continue the journey through this Never Beyond series with me. I think we are all going to learn much about grace before it is over.