Protecting children: Don’t let dedication deplete reserves of compassion

Drew Dillingham of the USCCB office of child protection is pictured in Rome Jan. 31. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Drew Dillingham
Catholic News Service

(Fourteenth in a series)

ROME — To have compassion means to suffer with another. It is a trait we as Christians seek to live out every day. Many of us labor, personally and professionally, to carry out Jesus’ call to provide compassionate support to others. In our society, for example, mothers, fathers, priests, nuns, doctors, psychologists, nurses, social workers, teachers and many others dedicate their lives to helping others. In this way, many of us are fulfilling our vocations to love God and to love one another as ourselves.

Too often, however, we forget that in order to love one another, we must also love and take care of ourselves. Sometimes we spend so much time helping others carry their crosses that we forget we also are carrying our own. Spending time to help others, with no consideration of our own spiritual, physical and mental needs can lead to “compassion fatigue.” This is what my classmates and I learned at the Pontifical Gregorian University on Wednesday as we wrap up our studies on safeguarding minors. While we looked at this issue in terms of child protection and victim assistance, compassion fatigue can affect anyone whose role includes helping others on a consistent basis.

Dominican Sister Catherine Marie talks with a patient at a facility in Hawthorne, N.Y., in 2011. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

According to Charles Figley, an expert in psychology and mental health:

“Compassion fatigue has been described as the ‘cost of caring’ for others in emotional and physical pain. It is characterized by deep physical and emotional exhaustion and a pronounced change in the helper’s ability to feel empathy for their patients, their loved ones and their co-workers. It is marked by increased cynicism at work, a loss of enjoyment … and eventually can transform into depression, secondary traumatic stress and stress-related illnesses. The most insidious aspect of compassion fatigue is that it attacks the very core of what brought us into this work (to help): our empathy and compassion for others.”

One of the biggest obstacles to identifying and treating compassion fatigue is our struggle to recognize that the experiences, emotions and feelings of those we help can affect us negatively. As someone who enjoys reading stoic philosophy, I often find myself falling into that trap. For example, in Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, you can find ideas like, “Reject the sense of the injury, and the injury itself disappears,” or “When something happens that makes you feel bitter, treat it not as misfortune, but say ‘to bear this worthily is good fortune.'”

promiseThese types of stoic ideas can be helpful in some ways, but they also lead to the idea that we ourselves can always rise above our emotions and feelings. Our experiences in life show this not to be true. As Rachel Naomi Remen says, “The expectation that we can be immersed in suffering and loss daily and not be touched by it is as unrealistic as expecting to be able to walk through water without getting wet.”

pledgeTrue happiness requires more than just our own use of reason. It requires the recognition and management of our emotions, the help of others and the grace of God. One way to recognize if you are experiencing the effects of compassion fatigue is by using the Professional Quality of Life Scale. This scale is used by those in professions that help others to measure whether they need to take some time to provide for their own self-care. Those who have been providing care to others in their personal lives may also find this scale helpful.

Self-care can take the form of anything that relieves your stress and simply makes you happy. For example, hobbies, physical exercise, athletics, watching movies and comedies, being with those you love, taking a vacation and spending time with God through prayer. Mass or Eucharistic Adoration can be used to prevent and treat compassion fatigue. If self-care is not enough, it is also helpful to seek the assistance of other professionals.

Eucharist adoration at St. Margaret of Scotland Church in Shelden, N.Y., in 2009. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

Compassion fatigue can affect all of us. In order to continue our vocations to provide compassionate care to others, it is important to be as kind to yourself as you are to others. So this week, I hope you take some time to take care your neighbor AND yourself.

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Drew Dillingham is the Coordinator for Resources and Special Projects with the Secretariat for Child and Youth Protection at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, D.C.  He is attending Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University’s interdisciplinary program for a diploma in safeguarding minors. He is an avid reader of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations and shares his April 26th birthday. Dillingham also dabbles in the works of Bishop Robert Barron, thanks to the ongoing encouragement of his wife, Kim. 

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Posted in Protecting Children blog

REWIND: Busy morning at the Vatican

While much of America was still sleeping, Pope Francis welcomed Donald Trump to the Vatican, then led his usual Wednesday general audience in St. Peter’s Square. Here’s some of what you missed.

Here’s the announcement of the official American delegation:

And here comes the president:

But early in the meeting, a little misunderstanding:

Later, this clarification:

And the meeting goes on routinely from there.

And Pope Francis is off to his weekly general audience:

Meanwhile, the president met the Vatican’s secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin:

And the first lady visited sick kids in the hospital:

And there was also time for a little sightseeing:

The Vatican newspaper weighs in:

For more, read our main story on the meeting:

… and our story on the pope’s general audience:

Posted in CNS, politics, Vatican | 2 Comments

Word to Life — Sunday Scripture readings, May 21, 2017

“If you love me and obey the commands I give you, I will ask the Father and he will give you another Paraclete — to be with you always: the Spirit of truth.” — John 14:15-17a

 

May 21, Sixth Sunday of Easter

      Cycle A. Readings:

      1) Acts 8:5-8, 14-17

      Psalm 66:1-3a, 4-7a

      2) 1 Peter 3:15-18

      Gospel: John 14:15-21

 

By Jean Denton
Catholic News Service

I love the progression of this week’s Old Testament and New Testament readings, and how they speak to the “communication” of the Holy Spirit among believers.

The first reading tells about the apostles laying hands on new believers who then received the Holy Spirit. The Gospel talks about the Father sending an Advocate, “the Spirit of truth,” to those who love him, to live in them and reveal God to them (one might add, again and again).

During a confirmation preparation program I helped lead, parents joined us for one of the sessions, and at its conclusion we invited them to join the sponsors in laying hands on their children and other candidates in silent prayer.

We hoped the young people would feel the warm reality of God’s presence in the human touch of those who love them and who wanted the Spirit to come deeply into their lives. Subsequent comments from some of the candidates suggested that that was, indeed, what happened for them.

But comments from parents indicated that they, too, were touched powerfully by the Spirit as they laid hands on their young people. These were people who had held and hugged their kids throughout their 16 or 17 years of life, yet several remarked that they were thankful to have the opportunity, in the words of one, “to do this for my child.” Many were moved to tears.

I laid hands on their children, too, and I can vouch for the fact that I truly sensed the Spirit of Jesus passing between us. As Catholics, we are fortunate to have tangible symbolic acts, such as laying on hands, to bring alive our spoken or silent words in prayer.

And we don’t come out of the experience wondering, “What just happened?” The Gospel explains it, “On that day you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you. … And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him.”

QUESTIONS:

How has God been revealed to you in the laying on of hands — either as the one laying on hands or the recipient? What other tangible prayer experiences have you had, and how has God been revealed in those?

Posted in Word to Life | 1 Comment

Protecting children: A survivor’s search to heal after abuse

Drew Dillingham of the USCCB office of child protection is pictured in Rome Jan. 31. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Drew Dillingham
Catholic News Service

(Thirteenth in a series)

ROME — Among all the people I have met in Rome, I was most honored to meet Veronique Garnier on Wednesday. She spoke to me and my classmates about how she was able to rebuild her life after she was sexually abused by a priest when she was 13. For more on her story, you can read her testimony in French in La Vie. She has graciously allowed me to share her experiences on my blog this week.

Veronique’s presentation was the most important of the semester. Thanks to her courage, she was able to share with us what she thinks is valuable in the recovery process for those abused. These are lessons my classmates and I can bring back to our own episcopal conferences, dioceses, parishes and religious communities. For example, one of the most crucial tasks of both clergy and laity is personally accompanying and listening to those who have been hurt.

promiseVeronique was able to come forward to disclose her abuse because of her strength, faith and the grace of God. The personal accompaniment of Bishop Jacques Blaquart of Orleans, France, was also very important in her recovery. The relationship between Veronique and her bishop, which was based on listening, as well as the action of her diocese to hold healing and spiritual services for survivors of abuse (like Anointing of the Sick), was very helpful in her spiritual recovery process.

Archbishop Francisco Javier Martinez of Granada and diocesan priests lie prostrate in front of the cathedral’s high altar in 2014 to ask forgiveness for sexual abuses committed by several priests in Granada, southern Spain. (CNS photo/EPA)

Thanks to the Pontifical Gregorian University’s diploma course, as well as my experiences with victims/survivors, I know some of what it takes for those abused to begin their path to healing. However, it is the survivors themselves who offer the most practical and pledgeinsightful advice. For this reason, I would like to share four pieces of advice from Veronique that are meant to mend the faith of those who have been sexually abused. This advice is taken from an interview found in La Vie and has been translated here from French.

Four pieces of advice for mending one’s faith written by Veronique Garnier:

  1. Share your feelings with God

You can tell God everything, even when you are angry with him, even if something about him in the Bible shocks you deeply, even when we feel abandoned for a long time. Expressing your pain, your anger, your grief is also having a relationship with him. The Psalms — which illustrate every human emotion — help. At first, the words used in the Psalms may seem far removed. But, little by little through prayer, they increasingly become our own. The verses of the Psalms express what I feel better than my own words. In fact, I sometimes apply them to everyday life.

  1. Accept that we cannot forgive (at first)

The Bible tells us to forgive 77 times. So, it’s never over! But sometimes we can’t. Just as God allows mankind to be free to do evil, we are also free to forgive or to not forgive. No one has the right to make us feel guilty when we don’t succeed. The only one who can lead us along a path of forgiveness is the Holy Spirit, who respects our pace.

Catholic school students pray the rosary at Holy Spirit Church in New Castle, Del., in 2010. (CNS photo/Don Blake, The Dialog)

  1. Believe that the irreparable can be repaired

God can repair the irreparable. The road of resurrection is open to the most lifeless parts of our being: even if this path is slow, difficult and painful, we can trust in it and have hope.

  1. Lean on the Holy Spirit

When I was a child, I prayed to God a lot asking for the nightmare to stop. I was calling my Father. However, the abuse continued. On the other hand, the only prayer that was answered was when I asked for the Holy Spirit. God has never failed to do that: he will always give us the Holy Spirit. It is something I discovered very early on and this has never left me. But we must accept the element of surprise: we can never tell what is going to happen with him.

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Drew Dillingham is the Coordinator for Resources and Special Projects with the Secretariat for Child and Youth Protection at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, D.C.  He is attending Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University’s interdisciplinary program for a diploma in safeguarding minors. He is an avid reader of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations and shares his April 26th birthday. Dillingham also dabbles in the works of Bishop Robert Barron, thanks to the ongoing encouragement of his wife, Kim. 

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Posted in Protecting Children blog

Word to Life — Sunday Scripture readings, May 14, 2017

Word to Life for May 14, 2017

“Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us” (John 14:8).

 

Fifth Sunday of Easter

      Cycle A. Readings:

      1) Acts 6:1-7

      Psalm 33:1-2, 4-5, 18-19

      2) 1 Peter 2:4-9

      Gospel: John 14:1-12

 

By Jeff Hedglen
Catholic News Service

I was 19 when my cousin came to live with my family. He was just out of the Marines. He was not doing very well and was lost in many ways. When we were children we had been close, but it had been a few years since we had seen each other, and trying to re-establish our friendship was hard. To complicate things, my faith was becoming very important to me, and he rarely darkened the door of a church.

I took this in stride though. We had many conversations about the meaning of life, God and faith in general. He had a lot of opinions, but he was not ready to believe that God existed, much less believe that God loved him and wanted a relationship with him.

Try as I might, I could not get him to budge. One night while we were lying in our bunk beds talking about life and faith, almost arguing, he finally said in an exasperated tone, “I’m not going to believe in God unless he comes down here and shakes my hand.” I had no idea what to say to that. I simply stared at the bottom of the top mattress with my mouth open and my mind empty.

I realize now that my cousin was no different from the first disciples. They had been with Jesus for three years and still did not completely understand who he was. At the Last Supper Philip said to Jesus: “Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.” Jesus responds rather incredulously, “Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”

Twenty-five years ago, lying in that bunk bed, I felt the same way. Didn’t my cousin know Jesus had already come and revealed himself? He grew up Catholic and had heard all the same readings I had heard. What was I to say to this lack of belief? No words came, so I did the only thing I could think of; I silently asked God to come down and shake his hand.

I wish I could say that the next day he experienced a divine handshake, but though the hand of God was continually offered to him, it would be many years before he grabbed hold.

QUESTIONS:

How would you have responded to the challenge, “I’m not going to believe in God unless he comes down here and shakes my hand”? How does Jesus reveal the Father to us?

Posted in Word to Life | 1 Comment

Word to Life — Sunday Scripture readings, May 7, 2017

"He walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice" (John 10:4).

“He walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice.” (John 10:4)

Fourth Sunday of Easter

      Cycle A. Readings:

      1) Acts 2:14a, 36-41

      Psalm 23:1-6

      2) 1 Peter 2:20b-25

      Gospel: John 10:1-10

 

By Jeff Hedglen
Catholic News Service

I clearly remember Captain Picard from “Star Trek: The Next Generation” looking at a contraption on a wall and saying, “Tea, Earl Grey, hot.” The machine would beep, then magically a steaming mug of tea would appear on a shelf. The first time I saw this, I was amazed that all he had to do was say what he wanted and it appeared. Now, voice recognition software is a part of most smartphones and many computers.

If I push a button on my phone and say, “my hot wife,” a few seconds later I am speaking to my wife. I can also say, “Play Beatles,” and the next thing you know my phone is playing music. Sometimes modern technology really blows my mind.

But voice recognition software is not a new thing. It is built into our DNA. We know some people’s voices so well that we do not need caller ID to tell us who is on the other end of a phone call. Yet, there are many more people whose voices we could not pick out if our lives depended on it.

The most important use of voice recognition is the theme of today’s Gospel. Jesus says the Good Shepherd walks ahead of his sheep, and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice. Hearing the voice of God is simple, but it is not easy.

It is simple because it is no different from recognizing the voice of a friend. The more we get to know a person, and the more time we spend with that person, the easier it is to distinguish that friend’s voice.

The difficulty comes in that we do not get to hear God’s voice with our ears. Another complication is that the best way to learn to recognize his voice is to study his word. This takes time and effort, but if we learn the way he speaks in the Bible, we will learn to differentiate among the voices we may hear in our mind.

There are three possible voices in our head: God’s, ours and the voice of the world. Each one is vying for our attention, but it is the voice of God that is calling us forward all the way to the green pastures of heaven.

QUESTIONS:

Was there ever a time when you clearly heard the voice of God? What was that like? What are some obstacles to hearing the voice of God? How can we overcome them?

Posted in Word to Life

Protecting children: The torrent of sexually suggestive images, behavior in society

Drew Dillingham of the USCCB office of child protection is pictured in Rome Jan. 31. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Drew Dillingham
Catholic News Service

(Twelfth in a series)

ROME — In this week’s blog, I will take a break from writing about my courses at the Gregorian to discuss an interesting experience I had last weekend.

My wife and I decided to take a trip out to an Italian theme park. Before we left, we were aware that the park called itself “family-friendly.” What that meant did not completely sink in until after we arrived.

Upon queuing at the entrance, we realized that family-friendly meant that the median age of park attendees was around 9 or 10 years old. This did not bode well for us in terms of how many rides would be enjoyable for adults.

Nevertheless, the spirits of my wife and I were lifted by the joyful energy of the children around us as well as the smiles on the faces of the parents who accompanied them. So despite the fact that only a couple of rides looked very exciting to us, Kim and I happily entered the park alongside (well a few long meters away from) the frenzied mob of children and their parents as they rushed through the turnstiles at the park entrance.

The Observation Wheel at an amusement park in Budapest, Hungary, in 2013. (CNS photo/EPA)

My joy was quickly replaced with incredulity when the park’s dance team came out to greet everyone as they passed through the main gate. As all the little children gathered around and placed their full attention on the team, music for the song “Baby Got Back” started playing. The dancers — who were adults — were gyrating to the repeated lyrics of “my anaconda don’t want none unless you got buns, hun.” The lyrics in themselves may have not had much of an effect on the children considering they were in English and not their native Italian. But the fact that the dancers were making sexually suggestive movements and we could all see their underwear must have, at least subliminally.

I understand that the dances were probably meant for the viewing pleasure of adults; however, children were still present. As both a future parent (God-willing) and someone who works in the field of child and youth protection, I was disturbed by this display because of the messages this sends to children in terms of sexuality.

First, as a potential parent, I asked myself what message this sends to boys and girls who have just begun to try to understand the role of sexuality in their lives. For girls, it sends the message that they are meant to be sexual objects to be used by others. For boys, it sends the message that it is socially acceptable to view women as sexual objects. It also poses risks to the creation of healthy relationships between the two sexes as peers during childhood, adolescence and adulthood.

Dancers perform on stage in Dresden, Germany, in 2016. (CNS photo/EPA)

Second, in terms of child protection, I question whether this type of sexual exposure to children is a sexual offender’s dream. I say this because it is well-known that offenders groom their victims by exposing them to sexual images — in a way (though in a much lower degree and indirectly) doesn’t this type of public sexual exposure do the offender’s job for him?

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I wish I had noted how the parents of the children reacted when all of this occurred. Did any parents avert the eyes of their children or physically remove them and take them elsewhere? I don’t know but that could be one option in this situation. What parents could also do is use a moment like this to explain to their children that this type of song and dancing is not okay, especially for children. It could also be a quick opportunity to talk about healthy relationships and grooming behavior. Though not many people would want to talk about these topics at that immediate place and time, perhaps it could be spoken about later at home.

Sexual displays pervade all areas of society, not just theme parks in Italy. To me, it makes no sense to expose children to sexuality, as studies done in psychological and moral development tell us, before children can understand how sexuality fits into their emotional and relational lives. Understanding sexuality and its proper use is already difficult for children, especially because of the limited way in which it is sometimes taught within our families and in the church.

pledgeThe way sexuality is currently presented to children in our societies confuses children as they begin to learn more about what sexuality means — especially when we bring them into contact with images and ideas that should be meant only for adults (and in many cases, not even adults). As a society, especially a global society (believe me, this happens in the United States as well) and as a church, I hope we will work to make the world truly “family-friendly” by considering the needs of children first.

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Drew Dillingham is the Coordinator for Resources and Special Projects with the Secretariat for Child and Youth Protection at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, D.C.  He is attending Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University’s interdisciplinary program for a diploma in safeguarding minors. He is an avid reader of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations and shares his April 26th birthday. Dillingham also dabbles in the works of Bishop Robert Barron, thanks to the ongoing encouragement of his wife, Kim. 

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Posted in Protecting Children blog