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How we care through the church

Each year, April is designated as National Child Abuse Prevention Month to raise awareness and maintain focus on preventing harm to children. As part of the community, the Diocese of Arlington and its parishes play an important role in raising awareness of this critical social issue and preventing its occurrence in collaboration with civil authorities. 

capm logo Children expect and deserve to be nurtured toward adulthood by their parents and other significant adults in their lives. Sadly, some members of the church have been a part of the problem of child abuse, and that betrayal can never be minimized. The experience of church leaders in addressing abuse has heightened awareness and sensitivity to the reality that many members of our congregations have suffered a form of abuse and are in need of our care, concern and compassionate response. 

The Child Welfare Information Gateway lists “protective factors” for preventing child abuse and neglect as: nurturing and attachment in family relationships; knowledge of parenting and child development; parental resilience and coping skills; social support connections for parents, concrete (financial, food, health) support for families; and social and emotional competence of children to form relationships with others. Not every child grows up in an environment with those protective factors, and as a result some experience abuse, be it physical, verbal, sexual, emotional and/or psychological. 

For those who have been harmed in the past, the church needs to step forward. How can church communities reach out to those currently abused and those abused in the past who are now adults?  

First of all, acknowledgement of the pain and need for support and healing must be shown through the church’s usual ministries, prayer services and Masses for the specific intention of God’s grace and healing for those who have been harmed. Many of these persons are suffering silently, and knowing that the church recognizes and cares about their pain is important.  

But what of the next step? How do we assist on a personal level? While some may prefer or need professional assistance, much good could come from knowing how and when to approach and be available to those in need.  

When someone asks for help, it is important to accept them in their pain, realizing there may be little you can do to change their circumstances and feelings. However, it is equally important to realize your presence and compassion can be so critically important to their healing process. In this way, being open to the person next to you in the pew can help begin the process. Adults who have survived abuse often have a great deal of resiliency and a certain type of coping skill that has allowed them to survive and succeed in some areas of life. Yet they are in need of the affirmation, social support and caring of another person to recognize their own self-worth. For those who have been harmed by their parents, caretakers, teachers or coaches, relationships can be frightening and difficult to build, and a gentle, patient persistence might go a long way toward helping the process along. 

Moncher is diocesan Victim Assistance coordinator.


Find out more

For more on diocesan Child Protection Office, call 703/841-3847 or go to arlingtondiocese.org/child-protection/

To report a case of abuse within the church, call the Victim Assistance Office, 703/841-2530 or go to arlingtondiocese.org/child-protection/how-to-report-sexual-abuse/

For families with parenting concerns, contact Catholic Charities, 703/425-0109, 540/371-1124 or ccda.net; or the local county child protective services, 800/552-7096 or dss.virginia.gov/family/cps/index.cgi


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020