Have You Spoken With Your Kids About Clergy Sex Abuse?


Even as recently as a month ago, I still hadn’t discussed the clergy sex abuse issue with my children. Both attend Catholic school and my oldest is an altar server.

We had the “good touch/bad touch” talk when they were little and over the years I’ve encouraged them to always trust their instincts. Child predators can exist anywhere and I hope I’ve prepared them for that reality. But clergy sex abuse adds a whole new more challenging element to the discussion. It’s difficult enough for adults to distinguish between faith in God and faith in the people who represent Him.

I spoke with my children. I’m glad I did. It seems kids know more than we think they do and it’s important to put that knowledge in context. I hoped to encourage their respect for priests. But I explained that, like any human, they are capable of good or evil.

What was far harder to explain was why Church leaders didn’t stop the abuse and still aren’t doing all that they should. The legal intricacies – both civil and canon – are meaningless to children who have been taught what Jesus would do.

Have you spoken to your kids about clergy sex abuse? If so, how did you handle it? If not, why not? Please comment.

Please help us create a discussion resource list. Send us any links and books you have found helpful. One of my favorite books is “Protecting the Gift: Keeping Children and Teenagers Safe,” by Gavin De Becker.

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29 Responses to “Have You Spoken With Your Kids About Clergy Sex Abuse?”

  1. Hey Susan – maybe you could find a child psychologist that specializes in this that would be willing to do a guest post with tips for parents on the best way to approach this. I can only imagine it was a difficult conversation to have and I know you’d want to say the right things in the right way.

  2. The DeBecker Book you spoke of is one of my favorites. A must read for every parent. It should be read at every phase of your child’s life.

  3. Yes, I did. We had to because our pastor was arrested, and my children attend the adjacent Catholic school. Our 13 year old daughter put an innocent comment/observation on her FB status, that errupted into a barage of hostile comments by kids/parents. The school told the kids not to believe what they heard/media, etc. I was told by the school principal that our pastor was a victim. We had kids yelling at our children that there were no arrests, our pastor did nothing wrong, that the medial was making it all up, that the media hated Catholics. So add distrust of everyone to that mix, on top of what happened in thier own community, and you don’t think that adds to the confusion?

    Our 9 year old daughter had nightmares, and was scared because she received confession and communion from our pastor. My husband and I have read everything, including the Grand Jury reports, and explained- what we could and what we felt was appropriate- to each of our kids. We had to share the truth, because no one else was, we did not agree with the handling of it in school, and the rumors and lies that the kids were passing around were just horrible. The most disturbing was the turning on each other, by children and school staff.

    My husband and I discussed these issues with the school principal, and the acting pastor. There really has been no satisfactory conclusion there. We were treated pretty hostiley, until the day before the additional 21 names were released. Coincidentally, my husband and I had a meeting with the principal and the acting pastor the evening before the release of the names. Ours was one of an appeal to try and help the kids, all of them, and ask the school to try and create an atmosphere of nuetrality with the staff. Oddly enough our exact words, were repeated in the next communication envelope that went out.

    This is why I am so upset, and angry. I am angry at the lack of support given to all of the kids. I am angry that I beleived our pastor and the Church in 2005, and that I didn’t read everything available to me then. I am angry that they like to send home papers and have you attend child safe training courses, yet when you attempt to protect your own children, or others, it is not taken seriously. I’m angry that 20+ Catholic schools have closed in the Philadelphia Archdiocese, yet there is money for our pastors defense. I am angry about numerous other things, that I won’t list here. But along with that anger is a lot of hurt, for myself and my family, and really for all of the faithful and thier families.
    No matter what you think or believe about the current situation, one truth remains; parishoners, parents and the kids have done nothing wrong. These priests did. To say that it has no affect on the kids is so false. Our pastor was apart of the kids daily life and school activities and presided over every sacrament and major school event.

    The denial of events is overwhelming to me. I understand the desire to not want to believe. I could even understand it, had this been the first time sexual abuse has come up in the Church. But it isn’t.

    Thank you for allowing me to vent. I happen to believe the airing of the truth…good, bad and the ugly, is the only way any of us will ever heal.

  4. “The legal intricacies both civil and canon are meaningless to children who have been taught to do what Jesus would do” So true Susan.
    Children operate on a different level than adults. They sometimes are able to see things as they really are,there is a raw honesty that exists with children.I would love for Cardinal Rigali and the Auxilary Bishops to meet with a group of 100 children and try to explain everything to them. Can you imagine the questions these children would ask? Can you imagine the honest feelings they would express?

    My children were to young to understand the events that transpired a few years ago.This time however I have been asked questions for which I have no answers.My husband and I have had open and honest dialogue with our children. It is not a “taboo” subject in our house.
    The only way that I have been able to make any sense of it for my children is to become involved. My children are well aware of my involvement in this cause.They both helped to make the signs that we used at the rally last month.I want to show them that when bad things happen in the world,it is up to us to try to fix them.I shared with my children the conversations I had with survivors at the rally. How important it was for me to be there for these people who have suffered so much.
    A few months ago when I encountered a breach of the Safety Environment program,I worked for 6 months within the Archdiocese to have policy enacted so that no other child would encounter a situation that affected my daughter and a group of children. When after all that time I found out the policy was approved,the first person I shared the news with was my daughter. She high fived me and said “Way to go Mom’
    Can you imagine being a child or teenager at this time and trying to make sense of all that is happening? These children are where the future vocations will come,these children are the future of our Faith.We need the “good priests” to join us.Stand up for children,be a role model.Show them that you are there for them.What could be more important than protecting children and preserving the Faith?
    Last month at the rally there was one priest and one nun. This time I want to come home and tell my children that there were many,many clergy that joined us in standing up for children.The opportunity is there to be role models for our kids. Join us next Friday May 6th at noon outside the Archdiocese building. Support our children and support the survivors.
    I have been careful to explain to my children that not all priests are guilty of abusing children,the harder part is trying to explain how many clergy did not do the right thing when the abuse happened and more children were put at risk.
    Along with the raw honesty that children possess,they also have an enormous capacity for forgiveness.Any priest who speaks up and stand up for the kids will be a hero in their eyes. These kids not only need that,they deserve it.

    • Kathy Kane,
      Have you ever wondered why children baptized into and raised in the Catholic church so often drift away from attending mass etc. when they leave home for college, militaryservice etc.?
      It’s because they know deep inside that it all is a fraud. And they are correct in that. If they are like myself, they later on begin to have second thoughts, fear hell and return to the church hoping for salvation. They don’t find it. i didn’t.
      I had to search and search and , gee! What do you know? I found it in the Word of God– the bible. Of all things. Sheesh!

  5. You know that the Philadelphia church kept known pedophiles in the church despite the fact that a Grand Jury said that those priests were still dangerous. The Cardinal still hid them from 2003 until this year.

    You know there are more pedophiles still there, and you know that the Cardinal knows about some of them. There are probably 2-3 times as many as have already been indicted. They can still hide, (and be hidden) due to the nature of the crime – the fact that so many kids don’t come forward. You still haven’t fought hard enough to find them.

    You know that these pedophiles read the grand jury report, and it taught them “best practices”. They now know what a great idea it is to tell 10 year olds that this is what God wants, and if they tell anyone, they will go to hell. God is more important than your parents.

    You know priests will still get horny, and horny guys take risks. The legal penalty is only 5-7 years in jail. Horny guys have taken bigger risks, even without “best practices”.

    Now the safety of your children depends on the ability of a 10 year old to make that decision in a split second. The priest tries to bring them into a room, the child freezes, forgets what Mom said, is confused by what God wants, and before you know it, their life is never, ever the same. Now they can add the fact that it was their fault for not doing what Mom said instead of what God said.

    At 10 years old.

    • Patrick, as well as you have described it, I believe it is even more wicked and damnable than that.
      Here we have a child, perhaps @13 years old– a man [perhaps even a priest] fondles this child and awakens feelings that the child doesn’t quite understand, but is virtually powerless to resist since these feelings are not controllable, but are spontaneous. In some cases, evidently , this leads to further experimentation and also to guilt because the child has been indoctrinated to believe he is sinning when enjoying sexual pleasure. This is the abomination committed by those possessing the power and authority over their victims. So very , very sad, and unnecessary because these men have no real authority from God.

  6. This is very important because you are not with your child all the time as they grow older. I did this and they know that their are good priests and bad priests…….just like Jesus had Judas. To trust their gut and if something does happen God forbid to tell us so we can stop it because that’s what parents do protect their kids. What are C4C plans as far as gathering together as a physical presence? What was the concensus. Fri May 6? With SNAP etc?

  7. There will be the usual First Friday Vigil on May 6th in front of the Philadelphia Archdiocesan offices at 222 North 17th Street in center city.

    All of welcome to participate in prayer, picketing and protest.

    Sister Maureen Paul Turlish
    Victims’ Advocate
    maturlishmdsnd@yahoo.com

  8. Since my main concern in this whole mess is to keep my children and other children SAFE, I (and my husband) felt that we had no choice but to talk to our children so that they are aware of the dangers and can do their best to avoid a bad situation. They also needed to know that we will always back them up should they feel they have to “disobey” in order to keep themselves safe. We also told them they are not allowed, even if asked by someone up at their school, to go to the rectory alone or with only a few kids and they are not to be alone with a priest.I informed our principal of this as well and she was gracious and understanding, assuring me that she would pass it on to my children’s teachers. Her support was encouraging to me. We also had to explain to my daughter why we no longer wanted her to altar serve. She had just finished training and was about to begin. We chose to avoid any situation that might bring any of our children closer to the possibility of abuse. The one situation that the children asked us about and that left us somewhat perplexed as to an answer was whether or not they should go to Confession where they ARE alone with a priest. We told them we would only want them to do so if we are right outside the door, but, honestly I don’t feel comfortable with them alone in that room at all. Any suggestions on this one? Sister Maureen?

    So, yes, we spoke with our children, and, quite frankly, I greatly resent that I had to talk to my innocent children about this horrendous situation. We had to try to discreetly explain to a 9 year old little boy why he can’t go to the rectory and why Mommy walked out on a sermon when one of the first letters from Cardinal Rigali was read (the one saying that there were no other priests to be worried about….of course, a few weeks later the other priests were put on leave and are under investigation). We should NOT have to talk to our children about this, but they have forced us to do so and I RESENT it. WE have to look out for the safety of our children beacause the Archdiocese of Phildelphia has continued to keep them in danger. We have to educate them on things that should not even be entering their childish minds yet and that prove very confusing to them (priests are supposed to be good, holy, right?) How sad is this state of affairs?

  9. Thank you Susan for the very practical and important advice. As we try to clean up this mess,we must first make sure our children get our maximum attention an protection to make sure there are no new victims. Warm regards, Jerry Slevin

  10. I am a female survivor of priest abuse that began when I was 14 (I was groomed). I am now 74. My life has been chaos. Believe me, my kids did not go to Catholic schools. When our oldest daughter came home one day and reported that her drama teacher (a male) wanted the students to play like they were the ocean and roll over him on the floor, I was in that principal’s office within minutes. Our daughter had refused the assignment although some of the other students did participate. That guy was thrown out of that school within a week. Our grandchildren have been watched like a hawk by their parents and grandparents on both sides. Because we never know, and now that the proof is in on a global basis, my advice would be to take your childen out of Catholic schools and find an alternative. There is danger everywhere, of course, but the RCC has consistently failed to protect the children who are our future. They created the problem, they refused to do anything about it, they deserve dissolution. Sincere best wishes!

  11. Thank you Susan for asking this important question of your readers. It is heartening to read the letters of all who have commented, especially the letters from Dee, Kathy Kane and Jackie. The honesty and determination that these parents demonstrate gives hope that our Church will survive this crisis. Keeping the reality of this sad situation before our eyes, and realizing that our clergy are more often than not unable to speak up for the Faithful in the pews, it seems that the young families are going to demand the change that is necessary for our Church to be truly responsive to its People.

  12. Kay4Justice——with respect, are you at all aware of the sexual abuse in public schools? the statistics in new york are well documented and astounding, for instance. you have got to be delusional about advising people to take kids out of catholic school now. there is not enough space to address the confusion i have with your statement. it is really unclear what school your daughter attended and what year with the drama teacher who was removed. could you be clearer (because you said she did not go to catholic school). also, why do you think that teachers are not removed from all schools. just recently, athletic teacher was removed from a catholic high school and the allegation is being investigated. he is on leave. in the public schools, they are sent to the “rubber rooms” where the teachers are paid for years (our taxes), pending the investigations. they report to school, sit in rooms all day,watching tv, playing cards, whatever-a lot of times, they are moved to other schools. sorry, it is unclear what you are talking about. i would like to understand why you make that statement in 2011. i am so sorry for your abuse as all should be are but you are talking about 50 years ago.and then your chidren went to school 30 years ago?? things have changed in all schools. society has also changed-parents are much more aware/there are norms of behaviour-you have to get clearance to work w/children. i think you are talking apples and oranges.

    • Senga,

      Thank you for bringing up the standard Catholic response and the argument that I used when I was 4 years old – “Look over there at someone else”.

      Catholic apologists first say that child rape happens everywhere. It may but it is more prevalent in Catholic schools and churches than anywhere else. Otherwise, point me to worldwide statistics or proof of another organization that has this many proven cases.

      Next, point me to the organization that hides it like the Catholic church. Other organizations do their best to distance themselves from the pedophiles.

      The Catholic church has hidden them for decades, and there’s a reason. The problem is MUCH worse than we know about so far, and all the priests know it. That’s why they all shut up about it. Name one single priest that has jumped up and screamed, “I’m not a pedophile, and I can prove it. Give me a lie detector test”.

      They know that a huge percentage of their peers wouldn’t pass such a test, and they’re trying to protect the brotherhood regardless of the potential danger to children.

      • Patrick, You bring up an interesting point about statistics. I haven’t read any that say child sex abuse is or isn’t more common in the Catholic Church. I guess that’s some homework for me.

  13. sorry…6o years ago is what you said…and i just realized the topic was clergy abuse only. i was addressing teacher abuse as well because the blogger was unclear

  14. Senga-The athletic director you are referring to from the Catholic school was arrested and will be dealt with in the criminal justice system.Had a public school teacher been arrested for the same crimes,they too would be held acccountable within the criminal justice system.

  15. No problem, Senja. My daughter was in a public school and that incident was in the 1970’s. My point was that she refused to participate and reported the teacher’s actions to me. I am well are that there are abuse problems everywhere, even in families. It would be great if we could just wrap our kids up in a bubble and protect them from the bad things in life, but we cannot, or they would never learn to be themselves. All best wishes to you and yours.

  16. Also, Senja, priests and nuns are set to a higher standard than others (teachers, et al) because they are God’s representatives on earth. The abuse itself is bad enough, but the conspiracy of silence is terrible and has to be stopped. It took me years and years to ‘deprogram’ from the RCC. For me, right now, it is good to be alive, to know that God is right here with me and to see young families fighting for the protection of their children. I hope they win the battle. I will also tell you that the church dumped my perp in the Air Force as a chaplain… at taxpayer expense, and he travelled all over the world leaving victims in his wake…

  17. To Kathy Kane—-what was missed here???the only reason i saw need to make a comment was because Kay4Justice says “my advice would be to take your children out of catholic schools and find an alternative”. i wanted her to clarify her story about her daughter’s drama teacher in a school many years ago. now it is clear it was a public school and the teacher was removed in a week. plus, she herself was abused she says by a priest 60 years ago-still not clear why she advises to take kids out of catholic school now. from my estimation, it is a pretty safe place to be. the writer admits that she understands,, there is danger everywhere and you have to watch your children.

    furthermore, i am familiar with the athletic director who was arrested. he was removed within hours.he is a layman, he had no record of abuse, the authorities were properly notified as advised. i had to post on that one because it needed to be clarified about archdiocesan policy as an issue was being incorrectly made about wording in a news release and things were getting a little confused.

    lastly, i think that there are a lot of out of towners on here that are unfamiliar with the situation here and they just make these comments that are not really relevant. sorry, that’s my sincere take on it. i take a lot of it with a grain of salt anyway as on any blog like this.

  18. to further clarify my own post here. the athletic director was on the internet, not in the school. i should not have used that example. that is another issue. i am writing in haste. next time i will take more time. and i wish others would indeed clarify their remarks as well.

    • Agnes I was responding to your statement that in public schools the teachers are sent to rubber rooms where the teachers are paid for years (our taxes).Any teacher public,private or archdiocesan who is arrested for the crimes that this recent athletic director is accused would be removed from the school.
      My children attend Catholic school,the comment that Kay made did not offend me at all.I also did not find it delusional as you stated. From her own experience she is entitled to her opinion.If that is what she felt she needed todo to keep her children safe,no problem.I will continue to keep my kids in Catholic School and I will continue to speak up for the protection of children.

  19. Sometimes I am led to respond without first reading previously posted comments. Thisis one of those times. You cannot protect your beloved children by telling them lies. Priests not only are mere humans, they do not [contrary to what popes declare] have powers from God making them special in any sense whatsoever. This is backed up by the bible, not just my word on it. Nowhere in scripture will one find any thing validating the idea that Christ instituted a priesthood to offer any kind of sacrifice. Christ Himself is the High Priest in the bible and He alone offered the one , holy sacrifice for sin. I challenge anyone to correctly provide scripture that validates the idea of a priesthood instituted by Christ for the present dispensation of grace according to the word of God in the new testament.

  20. this is getting a little petty here-i sign SENGA, why would i be addressed AGNES. all i can figure now is that if you do not agree with every comment made here (some are pretty outragious, you have got to admit) that you are the enemy and need to be found out or demeaned somehow. wow!!

    as far as people being out of town, there are quite a few of the small amount of people that contribute here. what is the point in writing if you cannot question some things that people say. there are a lot more than i have addressed-but who the heck has the time?? there are a lot that say the same thing over and over again. you are going to go the way of code pink. you should rename your group something else. this is ridiculous.

    • Senga, to whom are you addressing the above comment? As publisher, I would ask that you use the private contact form to let me know the specifics of a hostile reply. One of my site requirements is respect. I certainly don’t agree with all the comments, but I do think it’s important to have a variety of viewpoints. This forum allows people to speak – finally. As for renaming the site, I’ll have to take a pass. I’m Catholic and I’m for a change in the way Church leadership deals with sex abuse. Therefore, I find it appropriate.

  21. Senga When you comment to me on the site you always use my name.I took a shot and thought maybe Senga is meant for Agnes. Sometimes on the site when we are able to refer to each other by name it makes the interaction a little less formal. I realize that you are not happy with the site for many reasons,you are more than entitled to your opinions.
    I realize that you find many comments on the site to be “specious”,I find many of the comments to be very well informed. Anyone who has conflicting opinions on the site is certainly not the enemy at all.If anything it just inspires me to work a little harder.
    What you don’t realize is the amount of contacts and relationships which have developed off site. Each day Susan and I correspond through email with people who have connected through the site. There are many Catholic parents ready and willing to become involved in ensuring the protection of children.I have had the pleasure of speaking to them on the phone,corresponding through emails and meeting them in person.It has been an honor.
    I am confused as to what you mean about being “found out” I don’t think this site is any type of hiding place where people are afraid to express their opinions. Many use their full names and one brave soul even posted his phone number!

  22. This blog is giving me hope. I am beginning to believe that the parents of children in Catholic schools may be the best hope we have for true reform in the Church. God bless…

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