A recent news item in the N.Y. Times (Saturday, March 28, 2009) followed up an earlier report on the abuse of young girls in Brazil.
The story centered on a nine year old girl who was impregnated as a result of rape by her stepfather. The girl who was pregnant with twins was taken to a doctor for an abortion. A Brazilian archbishop ‘summarily excommunicated everyone involved – the doctors for performing the abortion and the girl’s mother for allowing it – except for the stepfather who stands accused of raping the girl over a number of years… a high ranking Vatican official supported (the archbishop’s) recommendations.’
What the church does or doesn’t do about this looks to us like a huge opportunity for some serious gut checking on whether its doctrine reflects the compassion and common sense of its founder, Jesus of Nazareth, or whether political considerations dominate its teachings.
The reality that the apparent abuse of young girls by family members is increasing in Brazil got our attention. Healthy families provide for the safety of children. Unhealthy families do not. Healthy churches too help families become healthier. Reactive leadership at best misses the point, at worst, unintentionally perhaps, reinforces the behavior. It’s not excommunication that should be the first response – whether that’s dogmatically consistent with the teachings of the church or not – but compassion for the child. Isn’t that what Jesus taught? We think good religion like a good marriage takes the needs of the child first.
We think good marriages embrace challenges and go to great expense of effort and thought to ‘do the right thing.’ Good marriages embrace conflict, open to new ideas, look for effective and empathic ways to communicate, define their vision taking into consideration as many critical factors as possible.
Abuse usually looks like unilateral action by the person in power. It looks like disregard of the needs or dignity or legitimacy of the one abused. Whether it’s the church, or the parents, or the doctor or the principal or the judge – the full weight of responsibility for conscientious response to something so abhorrent as the rape of a child is on those with the power to do something that is compassionate first of the child or children.
“Suffer (that is to say, ‘let’) the little children to come to me, for they are the kingdom of heaven.”
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