September 14, 2012

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Opposing abuse should be a natural Christian effort

Cynthia DewesWe’ve all been shocked over the past few years by stories of abuse—abuse of children, women, minorities, you name it. At first, my smug reaction was to wonder what dark hole these abuser people must be coming from since they didn’t sound like anyone I’d ever known.

For that matter, I didn’t feel much sympathy for either the abuser or the abused. After all, in my experience no family member, family friend or even neighbor had ever suffered abuse or abused others.

But then I remembered my mother’s school friend, now the mother of nine children, who was routinely physically and sexually abused by a man who appeared to us to be decent. It was a time when scandalous behavior or even unpleasantness of any kind was not made public. We tended to belong to a “suck it in and keep still” society.

My ignorance and unwitting indifference also extended to the abuse of minorities, people of other races, religions etc. because I didn’t know anyone personally involved. But I had certainly read about it and seen it in movies. I knew about abuse only in the abstract, at the back of my consciousness.

Not only that, but because of my well-protected childhood and contented later life, it was hard for me to imagine being either a victim or a perpetrator of abuse. I couldn’t fathom why any woman would stand still for being hit or yelled at violently by a man. Or why anyone would even want to hurt someone else, especially if they were smaller or weaker.

Acting on mean prejudices against people of other nationalities seemed to me to be a European thing since I had the typical American point of view as a citizen of a unified melting pot. As for minorities, they always appeared to me as people first, and only secondarily as Jews, blacks, Hispanics or whatever. And hurting children or animals seemed so unthinkable that I just didn’t think about it.

Now we hear more than we ever wanted to know about abuse. The clergy sexual abuse scandal in our own Church comes to mind. People, including most Catholics, are outraged by the longtime ignoring of the problem by Church leaders. Not to mention their outrage at such sinful betrayal by the avowed religious abusers.

This brings up still another kind of abuse—the abuse of power. Some leaders of the Church abused their sacred power. When those in charge of anyone or anything betray the trust bestowed on them by their authority, it is simply wrong. It causes moral harm to the perpetrator as well as the victim.

This includes parents or teachers in charge of kids, or employers or supervisors of others’ work. It means anyone smarter, stronger, richer, bigger or more powerful in any way than another. It includes animal keepers or kids on the playground or bureaucrats or anyone who can impact the natural environment.

Sounds like a big responsibility, doesn’t it?

Well, it is.

This is where the Christian moral ethic should kick in or at least humanistic good will toward others. Of course, that’s why the Church’s sexual abuse scandal is so truly scandalous—because it opposes Christian morality.

Unless we were raised by wolves in the wilderness, we all know how we should behave toward others. Namely, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Lk 6:31). That’s still good advice, and it comes straight from God.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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