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?

promise

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.

– – –

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, April 30, 2017

"Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?" -- Luke 24:32

“Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?” — Luke 24:32

April 30, Third Sunday of Easter

     Cycle A. Readings:

     1) Acts 2:14, 22-33

     Psalm 16:1-2, 5, 7-11

     2) 1 Peter 1:17-21

     Gospel: Luke 24:13-35

 

By Jean Denton
Catholic News Service

I once served on a parish committee that was tasked with developing a comprehensive design for the interior of our new sanctuary. The idea was to plan the entire decor so that all the artistic elements combined — stained glass, statuary, wall decoration, crucifix — would create a meaningful space to enhance worship.

During our discussions, some committee members observed how the atmosphere in certain churches seemed to enliven the presence of God. Our design consultant, an accomplished artist in a variety of media, also reminded us about the quality of art to both teach and transport.

Our task turned out to be arduous, partly because of members’ differing tastes in art. But mostly we labored over what images to include that would best speak to our worship and enrich the formation of our faith community.

I wish I had paid more attention at the time to the Gospel story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus, because it reveals all the elements of God’s comprehensive design for our life with him.

In this passage from today’s readings, the disciples are confused and having doubts about Jesus after his death.

As their faith appears to be wavering, Jesus explains in detail who he was, why he came and how his resurrection now confirms their beliefs and, moreover, signifies the reality of the world’s salvation.

Our worship at Mass effectively mirrors the disciples’ experience on the road to Emmaus. Imagine yourself on the road with them that day as you enter the sanctuary for Sunday worship: Needing a boost to your faith, you listen to the Scripture interpreting the teachings of the prophets, reminding you of Jesus’ life and ministry and what it meant to you.

Just as your heart begins burning with renewed understanding and inspiration, the Liturgy of the Eucharist begins. You recall the disciples seated at table with Jesus, remember his paschal sacrifice and at the moment of consecration you recognize him in the breaking of the bread.

Our daily lives can easily pull us away from our faith. That’s why we are drawn back into church each week, so our hearts will burn again in an atmosphere where we can walk with Jesus and be reassured of his promise.

QUESTIONS:

If you met Jesus on the road, what doubts in your faith would you want to discuss with him? What in your worship environment enhances your communication with God?

Posted in Word to Life

Protecting children: Good shepherds heal their flock, protect it from wolves

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

(Eleventh in a series)

ROME — Time has flown since I arrived in Rome almost three months ago. As my studies at the Gregorian move into weeks 9 and 10, classes have begun to place an even greater emphasis on the theological aspect of child protection and healing. For example, the title of a couple of my seminars this week were “Images of God” and “Jesus and the Children.” One of my favorite quotes from Pope Francis easily ties into these subjects.

In an interview published in America magazine in 2013, Pope Francis was asked: “What does the church need most at this historic moment?” His Holiness replied:

“The thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds…. And you have to start from the ground up.”

To me, what is most interesting about Pope Francis’ answer was his emphasis on healing from the “ground up.” How can the church heal itself and others from the “ground up” especially in terms of protecting children and healing victims/survivors?

A child in St. Peter’s Square holds a figurine of baby Jesus for a papal blessing at the Vatican in 2013. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

One way to build from the “ground up” is through a deeper understanding of Christ’s teachings concerning children. Throughout the Gospel there are extensive accounts of Jesus’ love and concern for children. This deep love and concern for children can provide the basis for our efforts to protect children and heal victims/survivors of child sexual abuse.

Jesus’ attitude toward children was revolutionary for his time: even his disciples rebuked the children who were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. Jesus, however, invites the children to come to him (Mt 19:13-14). He insisted children be removed from the peripheries of society and instead be placed directly in its midst (Mt 18:2). He chose to place children at the center of the room so that they could be loved and protected, rather than out of sight and out of mind. In an era where children were seen but not heard, Jesus sent a clear message about the inherent dignity of children and their value to society and the church.

Jesus was not naive; he was mindful of the existence of those who wished to harm others. In John 10, Jesus declares, “I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I will lay down my life for the sheep” (Jn 10:14-15). Throughout the Gospel, Jesus makes reference to the wolves who must be kept from the flock (Mt 10:16). He describes himself as the Good Shepherd who defends his people from the wolves in their midst.

Jesus with children depicted on a window from St. Gerard Church in Buffalo, N.Y., which closed in 2008. (CNS photo/Patrick McPartland, Western New York Catholic)

Jesus shows us that to fall short of our responsibility to protect children from those “wolves” is to damage our relationship with him. According to Bishop Robert Barron, “When the disciples disputed about which of them is greatest, Jesus said, ‘If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all’ (Mk 9:35-37). Then he took a child and in a gesture of irresistible poignancy, he placed his arms around him, simultaneously embracing, protecting and offering him as an example. The clear implication is that the failure to accept, protect and love a child, or what is worse, the active harming of a child, would preclude real contact with Jesus. Perhaps this is why Jesus warns that for whoever leads a child astray, it would be better “for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea” (Lk 17:2).

promiseAnother major part of Christ’s ministry was his mission to bring mercy and healing to all he encountered. Jesus healed the wounded, comforted the suffering and brought mercy to those who most needed it. Based on the accounts of Jesus’ extensive advocacy for children in the Gospels, it is no surprise that many of those he healed were children: the daughter of Jairus (Mt 9:18-19; 23-26; Mk 5:22-24; 35-43; Lk 8:40-42; 49-56); the son of a royal official in Capernaum (Jn 4:46-54); and the daughter of a Canaanite woman (Mt 15:21-28; Mk 7:24-30).

pledgeThrough prayer and reflection on the Gospel, we can understand what it means to love, protect and heal. This understanding will lead us to consider the well-being of children as a top priority. We can use our faith to build from the “ground up” and create a culture in the church in which beliefs, attitudes and behaviors are reflective of Christ’s, and that means being deeply concerned about the safety of children and the care of those who have been abused.

– – –

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 | 3 Comments

Word to Life — Sunday Scripture readings, April 23, 2017

"You rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, as you attain the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls." -- 1 Peter 1:8-9

“You rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, as you attain the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” — 1 Peter 1:8-9

April 23, Second Sunday of Easter (Divine Mercy Sunday)

      Cycle A. Readings:

      1) Acts 2:42-47

      Psalm 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24

      2) 1 Peter 1:3-9

      Gospel: John 10:19-31

 

By Sharon K. Perkins
Catholic News Service

We all know people who endure hardships and trials but who never seem to complain or grumble. They manage to remain positive and joyful through it all. I wish I could count myself among those people, but I admit to being sometimes a bit slow to see the silver lining in the cloud.

Yet, one cannot read any of today’s readings without being lifted up to another plane. Six times the words “rejoice” and “joy” are used, and several more times the biblical writers burst forth with words of thanksgiving and spontaneous exultation. And why shouldn’t they? It is this resurrection joy, spilling over into praise, that propelled Jesus’ followers to “evangelize” — literally, share the good news.

In his apostolic exhortation, “Evangelii Gaudium,” Pope Francis taps into this same joy when he writes: “The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew.”

On Divine Mercy Sunday, we rejoice in the knowledge that in the resurrected Lord, each of us is loved without recrimination, without strings attached and without limits or preconditions. Sometimes we’re like Thomas and it’s hard to see Jesus, the face of the Father’s mercy, but Jesus continually reveals himself to us in new and unexpected ways. We’re blessed to be “those who have not seen and have believed,” living lives of joy and praise in such a way that others are able to see Jesus and believe in him.

It’s reasonable to read the Acts account of the early church as a legendary story in the distant past, out of reach for us today. But the pope exhorts: “I wish to encourage the Christian faithful to embark upon a new chapter of evangelization marked by this joy, while pointing out new paths for the church’s journey in years to come.” This is the day the Lord has made; let us be glad and rejoice in it!

QUESTIONS:

When have you been able to experience joy despite difficult circumstances? In what way has Jesus shown you the face of the Father’s mercy?

Posted in Word to Life

Welcome God’s love and share with others, especially the most vulnerable, says USCCB president

A stained-glass window of the risen Christ. (CNS photo/Octavio Duran)

WASHINGTON (CNS) — The faithful may feel unworthy of Christ’s love, because he “paid so high a price for our salvation, ” but “let us not be afraid,” said Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“Let’s allow ourselves to be taken — even seized — with Easter joy. As we proclaim on Easter Sunday, ‘Christ indeed from death is risen, our new life obtaining,'” the cardinal said in his Easter message April 16.

“Welcome the love of God into your life,” Cardinal DiNardo said. “Share it with those around you, especially the most vulnerable of our sisters and brothers. In this way, we proclaim with Mary, ‘I have seen the Lord.’ Sing joyfully, ‘the Prince of life, who died, reigns immortal.’ Happy Easter!”

Here is the full text of his statement:

“Through Christ’s passion, his burial in the tomb and his glorious resurrection, we come to realize the enormity of the Lord’s sacrifice for us. We may feel unworthy of his love who paid so high a price for our salvation. Let us not be afraid. Let’s allow ourselves to be taken — even seized — with Easter joy. As we proclaim on Easter Sunday, ‘Christ indeed from death is risen, our new life obtaining.’

“In the Gospel of John, chapter 10, Jesus says the shepherd calls his own sheep by name, ‘I am the Good Shepherd and I know mine.’ In chapter 20, how much fear and doubt must have gripped Mary of Magdala as she stood by the tomb?  There, it was Jesus who rescued Mary from her fears and darkness by calling her name. Listen carefully. Mary thought she had discovered the risen Lord, but it was the risen Lord who discovered her. Jesus calls out to each of us by name today as he did the very first Easter Sunday. His promise fulfilled. His word brings life, ‘I am the Good Shepherd and I know mine.’

“Jesus waits for you and me, embracing us in our moments of greatest need and desire.  Welcome the love of God into your life. Share it those around you, especially the most vulnerable of our sisters and brothers. In this way, we proclaim with Mary, ‘I have seen the Lord.’ Sing joyfully, ‘the Prince of life, who died, reigns immortal.’ Happy Easter!”

Posted in CNS

Word to Life — Sunday Scripture readings, April 16, 2017

"The right hand of the Lord is exalted. I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord." -- Psalm 118:16-17

“The right hand of the Lord is exalted. I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord.” — Psalm 118:16-17

 

April 16, The Resurrection of the Lord

Readings:

1) Acts 10:34a, 37-43

Psalm 118:1-2, 16-17, 22-23

2) Colossians 3:1-4

Gospel: John 20:1-9

By Jean Denton
Catholic News Service

I’ve long wondered why “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad,” was the responsorial psalm chosen for Easter, the most important celebration of the year for Christians.

Not that there’s anything inappropriate in it, but I’ve always taken it to mean each day is a gift from God, so appreciate it. The verse just never seems momentous enough.

However, considered in the context of the incredible event of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, these simple words in Psalm 118 speak the powerful truth: This is The Day. This is it — the ultimate outcome of God’s plan.

Indeed, we use that phrase, “This is it!” to signify a culmination, a moment of truth.

I remember once driving home from work on an interstate highway, going the 65 mph speed limit, and being hit from behind (!) by another vehicle. As I struggled in vain to gain control of my car, that vehicle actually hit me again! Sure enough, my life flashed before my eyes and confused thoughts flew through my mind as I began careening and spinning off the road, but I distinctly recall saying to myself, “I guess this is it.”

I knew intrinsically what “it” was: the end of my life, something I fully understood and always knew would come. (Amazingly, that wasn’t “it.” I was unhurt.)

In today’s reading from Acts, Peter excitedly recalls for his fellow witnesses “what has happened” since Jesus arrived: He was baptized, anointed by God with his Spirit and went among the people ministering and teaching; he was put to death and now he has been resurrected.

In effect, this is it!

As we celebrate Easter, Christ’s life flashes before our eyes and we see as a single “event” his message, ministry, example, death and resurrection — something we always knew would come.

This is The day the Lord has made, the eternal day that fulfills God’s desire for his beloved.

By believing in Jesus Christ the savior, we are drawn into this day and it becomes our truth.

Let us rejoice and be glad.

QUESTIONS:

How would you summarize the meaning and significance for your own life of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection? How will you respond?

Posted in Word to Life

Capturing the emotion of Christ’s final hours

(CNS photo/Barbara J. Fraser)

Photos and story by Barbara J. Fraser

HUARAZ, Peru — How does an artist depict the tension, emotion and drama of the Passion when crafting images of the Stations of the Cross?

To fashion the statues ordered by Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Las Vegas, Peruvian stone carver Antonio Tafur began with prayer.

He put himself in the place of the people in each scene — the scowling Pilate, who knew he was condemning an innocent man; the heartsick Veronica easing Jesus’ pain; the irate soldier driving nails into the cross as if Jesus were a criminal. Then he chose the precise moment that he wanted to capture, “the way a photographer does.”

“I want people to understand what Jesus was like,” he said. “And I want them to understand that there is a group of young people (the Don Bosco artisans) living in community, in peace and tranquility. (By following Jesus) you’re going to live differently.”

Station 1 (CNS photo/Barbara J. Fraser)

First station: “Pilate is judging Jesus, and the moment when he says, ‘Take him and do what you want with him,’ is the moment I wanted to show,” Tafur said. “Jesus says nothing — he accepts.” Pilate, his brow furrowed, grimly stares straight ahead. “He doesn’t want to be responsible for Jesus’ death.”

Stations 2 and 3 (CNS photo/Barbara Fraser)

Second and third stations, carrying the cross and first fall: “His father doesn’t answer — he feels alone.”

Station 4 (CNS photo/Barbara J. Fraser)

Fourth station, Jesus meets his mother: “I put Mary behind him, because Jesus has made his decision. ‘This is the path I must follow.’ She puts his hand on his arm (as if to say) ‘Don’t do it,’ but with his gaze and with his hand he says, ‘I must go.'”

Station 5 (CNS photo/Barbara J. Fraser)

Fifth station, with Simon of Cyrene: “Their eyes meet, as if to give him a bit of respite.”

Station 6 (CNS photo/Barbara Fraser)

Sixth station: “Veronica has the courage to step up and wash his face. Nothing matters to her except him.”

Station 7 (CNS photo/Barbara J. Fraser)

Seventh station, second fall: “The soldiers are there, and they’re aggressive. (The soldier is saying to Jesus) ‘It’s your fault that I’m doing this.’ I wonder what I would have been like if I had been a soldier.”

Station 8 (CNS photo/Barbara Fraser)

Eighth station, Jesus meets the women: “I couldn’t put all the women (in the sculpture), so I put one woman and her child. ‘Don’t weep for me; weep for your children.’ She is a follower of Jesus. She considers him a prophet. (She asks) ‘Why do you let them do this to you, Lord, if you have worked so many miracles?’ He tells her, ‘Weep for your child; be concerned about him.'”

Station 9 (CNS photo/Barbara J. Fraser)

Ninth station, third fall: “Jesus is crushed by the cross. He can go no farther.”

Station 10 (CNS photo/Barbara J. Fraser)

Tenth station, stripped of garment: “I saw him as the Lamb — like a lamb being sheared. The Lamb accepted it. He doesn’t resist.”

Station 11 (CNS photo/Barbara J. Fraser)

Eleventh station, Jesus is nailed to the cross: “This is the moment when (the soldier) nails him, with fury and with mockery. He doesn’t care about anything — he only wants to finish the job. (Jesus) is always looking up (asking his Father) ‘Where are you?'”

Station 12 (CNS photo/Barbara J. Fraser)

Twelfth station, Jesus dies: “(At this moment) he is alive, he is not dead. He feels abandonment, the absence of a Father.”

Station 13 (CNS photo/Barbara Fraser)

Thirteenth station, pieta: “This is a mother who has lost her only son. Jesus has died in her arms.” One white tear seems to glisten in Mary’s eye and another on her cheek. “Just as I reached that point, a white mark appeared (in the stone),” Tafur said. “If you work the stone with care, it will help you.”

Station 14 (CNS photo/Barbara J. Fraser)

Fourteenth station, Jesus is laid in the tomb: “You see almost nothing. Jesus is consumed by death.”

Antonio Tafur works on the carving of the Resurrection April 6 in Jangas, Peru. (CNS photo/Barbara Fraser)

Posted in art, CNS, Holy Week, Latin America | 5 Comments