Current Events/My Culture/Teen Culture

Sexual Crime: How the Church Responds

The current state of our world is pretty crazy. There’s all kinds of political drama and social issues that no one can seem to agree on, and there’s a stronger tide than ever to bring sexual crimes to light — to pursue justice where people have been abused. For years, many women and men who have been victimized, remained silent, fearful of not being taken seriously or experiencing negative repercussions for speaking up. However, now that survivors are being brave enough to share some of the darkest things they’ve had to endure, our world is beginning to recognize that sexual harassment and assault is taking place way more often than any of us would like to believe.

The Source: Use vs. Love

The source of these problems has a lot to do with the way our broken world has replaced love with use: people aren’t giving themselves to one another in love; they’re using one another for pleasure, which is why many feel entitled to abuse others sexually. We certainly have a duty to do everything in our power to combat these problems at this source; namely, by choosing to love and never use others.

However, just because we’ve embraced Church teaching on human sexuality, and therefore, can understand the source of the issues behind sexual abuse doesn’t give us permission to look beyond particular instances of abuse, and be concerned purely with their source. The sad reality is that sexual abuse, harassment, and assault takes place in all kinds of contexts. Even the Catholic Church, which does a lot to confront and prevent sexual crime, isn’t entirely immune from it. Where it might be tempting as a Catholic to spiritualize or minimize sexual crimes because of our faith we now have a duty to take them more seriously than ever.

Our Response

All that said, what are some things we can do in order to ensure we’re dealing with these issues head on as they come up?

1. Be heroic
If you have been abused in any way or if you’re suspicious of abuse taking place around you, you can be heroic enough to make a difference. The thing about being a hero is that it’s never easy. To recognize that you’ve been a victim and tell someone about that is an incredibly difficult thing to do, that I wish no human would ever have to endure. To recognize that abuse might be taking place around you and say something about it is always going to be incredibly challenging. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done.

Even if you don’t know of an explicit act of abuse, but you or someone you know is uncomfortable around a certain person, someone is acting too friendly to them, or you’ve overheard conversations about someone trying to take advantage of another person, no matter who you are, you have a duty to be heroic. The only thing worse than abuse taking place is to be a bystander, aware that something could be wrong, and refusing to say something. Please, I beg you, if you’ve been abused or suspect abuse, reach out to a trusted adult to address the reality.

2. Be honest and speak up
It’s a good thing to identify and assume the best of the institutions, environments, and people that we’re surrounded by. However, it’s just as important to be honest when we see flaws in them. Just because we love our school, our church, our sports team, etc. doesn’t mean we can turn a blind eye to bad things that are taking place.

It won’t be easy, but if you have any suspicion that sexual abuse is taking place in any area of your life, please honest enough to be acknowledge that bad things can still happen in contexts that were meant to be good and brave enough to say something about it.

If it’s taken place at home, please tell a trusted adult, a local authority, a teacher, school counselor, or youth minister. If the abuse has taken place at a job or in a school, tell a parent, teacher, or counselor, and ask them to guide you through the proper reporting process. And if the abuse has taken place at church, reach out to your local diocese to get the proper reporting information — typically, it’s encouraged that victims report sexual abuse directly to the local district authority. The Church stands for justice so it should be the absolute very last place that you are fearful for speaking up if you’ve been hurt.

3. Listen
Please don’t minimize the hurt of victims and survivors who have shared their stories by not taking them seriously. Whether their case has been reported, investigated, tried, or not, anyone who speaks out because they’ve been abused is brave and deserves to be heard. Additionally, please don’t refuse to believe the testimonies of victims who have been hurt by figures you respect and admire; it’s heartbreaking to know that people we love and look up to would ever do something wrong, but it’s far better to lose a role model than it is to live in a false reality that doesn’t demand accountability from all people — including our most treasured figures.

4. Sexual crime is different from sexual sin — treat it as such
Sexual sin is a serious matter, but not all sexual sin is sexual crime. When a person’s sexual sin causes them to commit a sexual crime (harassment, assault, abuse), repentance, prayer, and healing ought to take place but additionally, legal justice must take place. We can’t just assume that all sexual sin will be dealt with by God alone. Yes, God will have justice in the arena of sexual sin, but, He has also asked us to live according to laws of society that uphold natural law. That means, where sexual laws are broken, civil justice must take place.

5. Be aware of, but unafraid of the darkness
The evils of sexual assault, harassment, and abuse are tragic, especially when we know it can take place in the places where we’d never expect. That said, we can’t assume that the darkest realities of humanity reflect anything that’s true of God. The evil that exists in our world and even in the people in our Church should not give us a reason to draw away from God and His goodness, but rather, seek His mercy and redemption all the more.

We can’t let the messiness of this life discourage us from continuing to seek eternal life with our Lord. There are ways we need to and should be addressing these problems as they come up, and even at the source, and, more than ever, we must trust in God’s justice in all these matters. He is a good and loving Father and the wounds of His children never go unnoticed or uncared for.

About the Author

Leah Murphy

As a graduate of John Paul the Great Catholic University, with a background in video and a passion for that wild place where faith and culture meet, she lives to tell God's love story to the world, in the digital space. Dwelling in California, she spends all her free time doing all the things with her friends, enjoying the best music out there, and going on every adventure that comes her way.

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