Better the World; Better Yourself/ Responsibilities of Citizenship
This paper below was written by Pokrov’s intern. We appreciate this young high school student’s help to us, and commitment to the issue of abuse in churches.
In my life, and in the lives of many other church-going Americans, child abuse has become all too familiar an issue. Throughout the history of religion, most notably in the Roman Catholic Church, the molestation of children has been a “well-kept” secret. To this day, heinous acts are continually committed in churches; often times by the priests themselves. Unfortunately, the majority of incidents go unreported. For my service learning project, I opted to volunteer updating databases for Pokrov.org, an organization dedicated to spreading awareness of abuse in the Orthodox Church. The website tries to educate Orthodox Christians that abuse is not limited to the confines of the Catholic Church. The site keeps records of Orthodox priests who have been convicted of abuse, as well as an archive of law suits that have been filed against churches and clergy men, and an extensive database of news articles pertaining to abuse in the Orthodox Church. Pokrov makes connections with people who have survived abuse and attempts to help them personally. Victims of abuse, especially those who claim to have suffered at the hands of a priest, find their stories are doubted, even criticized (Pokrov). Pokrov reaches out and lets survivors know that they believe their story. More often than not, this reassurance inspires people to come forward (whether their actions are to press criminal charges, to file a law suit for damages or to bring charges to church court) and hold the church responsible. I feel that by volunteering to help Pokrov, I have in some small way helped to spread awareness of the issue, because only by acknowledging the problem can we truly take measures to begin resolving it.
Since the origin of religion there have been rumors of child abuse by members of the clergy. Critics argue that “the vast majority of abuse by priests who victimize persons under the age of 18 has taken the form of hebephilia — involving post-pubertal children who are often 16 or 17 years of age” (Child Sexual Abuse by Roman), and that the notion of assaults on pre-pubescent children is blown out of proportion. However, recently, many of these reported acts were brought out into the public eye. In the majority of cases involving priests who commit sex crimes, attempts by the church to conceal the problem are apparent. In nearly all reported cases, the offending member of the clergy were relocated, and all too often, the abuse continued (Old Roman Catholic). To date, 4,450 of the 110,000 Roman Catholic clergy have been accused of molestation of a minor, a shocking 4% (Child Sexual Abuse). Within the past 20 years, “officials in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange covered up for priests who molested children, shuffling predators from parish to parish and diocese to diocese, protecting them from prosecution and failing to warn parishioners of the danger” (Orange Diocese Give Details). Cover-ups like this are the usual response of the church to an issue that should be dealt with more severely. Rather than ignoring the problem, we as a nation should address it.
Efforts to sensitize people to a subject that is seldom discussed are on the rise. Organizations like Pokrov are starting up nation wide, encouraging victims to come forward, to face the problem head on. SNAP, or The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is another group that occasionally works hand in hand with Pokrov to combat church abuse. Groups like SNAP and Pokrov seek to help victims of church abuse by encouraging them to share their stories. The hope is that by sharing stories, victims will feel a sense of companionship to one another; see that they are not alone. Once the abused accept the truth about what happened to them, they can ban together and speak up against abuse (SNAP). Spreading awareness is one of the only inhibitors of further attacks.
The federal government does not distinguish molestation in the church from molestation elsewhere, so the same laws apply. “Megan’s Law,” which was passed in 1996, established the mandated registration of sex offenders in all fifty states. This law maintains that the public has the right to access all necessary information about sex offenders that may be living nearby as a means of protection (VIRTUS Online). Previous congressional acts opposing child abuse include “The Lynchner Tracking and Identification Act,” allowing certain offenders to be cataloged and tracked by the FBI, and the “Wetterling Registration Act,” which orders any person convicted of committing a crime against a minor to register with their local police departments (VIRTUS Online). The acts taken by congress in response to the general issue of child molestations do not drastically impact the occurrence of these acts; however, it does help to give the public a sense of security. With regards to abuse in the church, there have been no specific actions, and the best defense against future crime is to make sure that the public is aware of the risks, and that those who have suffered come forward, and that those who have instigated are dealt with.
Reflection on Issue
In my own opinion, I think that there isn’t a heavy enough focus on preventing any kind of child molestation, especially in a place of sanctity and peace such as a church. I happen to be very sensitive about the topic of child abuse, primarily because some people I am very close to were sexually abused at the church that I attended. After witnessing first hand the aftershock an incident of sexual assault can have on the psyche of a young child, I take the issue much more seriously. Victims of sexual abuse suffer more psychologically than victims of any other crime. This is because the victims (rape victims included) feel a deep rooted sense of guilt for what was in fact done to them. An overwhelming majority of sexual abuse cases go unreported, and I personally feel that this is a most tragic statistic. It also enrages me that many cases that occur “on holy grounds” are ignored simply because no one wants to believe that their priest is a pedophile; a rank in the clergy should not be a shield against prosecution. My opinion has even grown stronger after researching the issue. I read about hundreds, even thousands, of cases of alleged abuse that were ignored. Furthermore, I was shocked to learn that several known child molesters are still permitted to hold positions as priests and other clergymen, and consequently a number of them offend again. For the time being, I feel that harsher punishments for people who commit these heinous crimes should be enforced, perhaps deterring potential offenders. Other than that, I think that all we as a society can do to help is to acknowledge the problem, be sympathetic to the known victims, and encourage people who have suffered to report their attackers in hopes of sparing other potential victims. Although it can never be fully prevented, child abuse is a crime that desperately needs to be addressed; we need to protect our children.
Today I began my community service by volunteering for Pokrov.org by helping to updating the information on their computer systems database. I know, it sounded high-tech to me too, when I first heard about it. Well, I learned something today, updating databases is pretty boring work. I took names and dates of Ordinations and repetitively typed them into spread sheets. I want to lie and say that I enjoyed what I was doing, but that would be wrong. I think that this was possibly the most boring “busy-work” that I’ve ever had to do in my life. I started to get very uncomfortable sitting in front of a computer, so after my first half hour I took a break. I went outside and drank a soda. I started thinking about what I had just been doing. I began to wonder if I was even helping anyone at all, I mean all I was doing was systematically putting information onto a computer, who could that possibly benefit? I returned to my work. I remember reading the names of some of these reverends; very amusing. I can’t remember exact names, but most of them sounded along the lines of “Koffslovski.” That’s beside the point. I worked for about another hour, the whole time I kept thinking, “Oh yeah, I’m making the world a better place,” although I didn’t believe it.
On my way home I pondered further the meaning of what I had just done. What did it matter? It suddenly dawned on me, I may not have been preaching to people to report abuse, but simply by helping out at Pokrov, I had in some way benefited the cause. I realized that if I hadn’t updated the databases, someone else would have had to. Pokrov is not even a non-profit organization, so hiring employees is out of the question. By contributing my efforts to a seemingly meaningless task, I had helped enhance the ability of the site to educate people; to spread awareness. In retrospect, I feel pretty good about the work I did, because even though I may have hated it, it was helping a cause that I stand firmly behind. My only regret is that I was not able to make a bigger contribution to the efforts of Pokrov.
Reflection on Experience
When I look back on this experience, I can’t help but feel that even though I didn’t initially expect to, I took something out of it. I have learned and begun to understand that when you feel strongly about an issue, you have to do something about it. Any effort counts, even pointless secretary work. I feel that the responsibility of citizenship is to acknowledge a problem, and devise solutions. To me, being able to volunteer my time to something that I am compelled to support was one of the most enriching experiences of my life. My mentality about service has been dramatically altered. I now have come to understand that if you care about an issue, volunteering doesn’t have to be a chore. Before, I would have called charity a waste of time. Generally, I am not able to motivate myself to do any form of volunteer work. I simply don’t do that sort of thing. Even when I was a kid in Boy Scouts, I would always do the bare minimum of the conservation hours. Through this project, I have discovered that it can make you feel so fantastic just knowing that you are helping a good cause. This discovery has changed my mindset as a person too. I can do something that seems grueling and pointless, but still want to do it because I know that it is working towards the benefit of people everywhere. The best part about this is that I honestly didn’t plan on getting anything out of this project, but for some reason I did. I learned that one person can make a change in the world, it may be a small, insignificant change, but it is still a change none the less.
1. Child Sexual Abuse by Roman Catholic Clergy May 5, 2005.
2. Orange Diocese Give Details on Sex Abuse. April 25, 2005.
3. Old Roman Catholic Church of America. May 9, 2005.
4. Pokrov. April 9, 2005.
5. SNAP. April 14, 2005.
6. VIRTUS Online. May 13, 2005.