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A scandal's silver lining.

During a stint as a high school religion teacher last year, I was required to attend a workshop on recognizing the signs of child sexual abuse by adults. Despite the importance of the topic, one colleague's comment summarized the general feeling: "We didn't cause this mess! Why should we have to waste a day on it?" And so, with no small amount of complaining, we went, gathering with about 400 other teachers from around the Archdiocese of Chicago. What we learned blew us away.

We learned, for example, that up to one in four girls and one in seven boys experience some form of sexual abuse before the age of 18. We learned that abusers were most often a relative of the victim, or else a close acquaintance, often an authority figure. We learned that perpetrators include not only clergy but teachers, coaches, and others whom children trust. And we learned that the signs of abuse are often both obvious and tragically overlooked.

Despite all the sorrow surrounding the sexual abuse of children by priests, it's hard to deny that the soul-searching and consciousness-raising about the topic is the scandal's bright silver lining; the tragedy, perhaps, is that it took events of such magnitude to wake us up. But awake we are, and good thing, too, because the work is far from over.

Such is the message of Judge Anne M. Burke, the outgoing interim chair of the U.S. bishops' National Review Board, which oversees the bishops' Office of Child and Youth Protection, in an interview with U.S. CATHOLIC's editors ("Nothing but the truth: The unfinished business of the sex abuse crisis," pages 12-17). While she discusses her frustration with some bishops, Burke also offers us yet more silver linings, beginning with the creation of a first-of-its-kind lay board charged with auditing bishops' implementation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.

In the board's members, too, Burke found a group of dedicated and generous Catholics, including one who never missed a meeting despite suffering from the progressive symptoms of Lou Gehrig's disease and another who participated in a conference call the day after brain surgery. Above all, the creation of the bishops' Office for Child and Youth Protection itself is a step forward indeed.

One might think that, after hearing so many heart-wrenching stories and experiencing firsthand the failure of church leaders to protect children, Burke might be ready to throw in the towel. On the contrary, she assures us, her faith is stronger than ever, renewed by the example of her colleagues on the board and encouraged by the new lay voice rising in the church, speaking not only on behalf of children but also for the renewal of the church as a whole.
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Title Annotation:editors' note
Author:Cones, Bryan
Publication:U.S. Catholic
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Jan 1, 2005
Words:461
Previous Article:A light shines in the darkness.
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