Friday, May 22, 2009

The Face of God: In Ireland? Memphis?

On April 16 I did a post called, “Who Wears the Face of God?” which was a book review of Kim Michelle Richardson’s book, The Unbreakable Child. I was so struck by the importance of getting Kim’s story out there (she was one of many orphans abused by nuns and priests in a Catholic orphanage in Kentucky) that on May 1 I also posted an interview with Kim. Because I’m still dealing with the affects of abuse in my own life, this is an issue that’s close to my heart.

So when a friend called on Wednesday to ask if I’d seen the articles about the Irish Commission’s report after ten years of investigation into the abuse of more than 30,000 children in Ireland over a seventy-year span, I immediately looked up several sites, starting with The Guardian and then the Bloomberg Report. Finally the news made it to Memphis with a short piece in Thursday’s Commercial Appeal.

Ritualized beatings and rapes that have been covered up by the clergy for decades. The report was set up by former Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, who, according to the Bloomberg article, “in 1999 apologized to abuse victims on behalf of the state for a ‘collective failure to intervene, to detect their pain, to come to their rescue.’” The report gathered oral evidence from more than 1,000 people, and concluded that “when confronted with evidence of sex abuse, religious authorities responded by transferring offenders to another location, where in many instances they were free to abuse again.”


My reactions have ranged from tears to anger to hope that maybe someone is finally going to be held accountable, which might at least slow down these atrocious abuses within the Catholic Church, if not elsewhere. But then I read with sadness, in the Guardian article, the new Archbishop of Westminster’s response to the report:

“I think of those in religious orders and some of the clergy in Dublin who have to face these facts from their past which instinctively and quite naturally they’d rather not look at. That takes courage, and also we shouldn’t forget that this account today will also overshadow all of the good that they also did.”

Courage? I’m fuming as I type those words of this man who is supposed to wear the face of God. But instead of telling you my thoughts, I’ll share the response of Patrick Walsh, a member of the Irish Survivors of Child Abuse (Isoca), an organization set up to help victims:

“Rubbish is too kind a word for what the archbishop has said.”

John Kelly, the Isoca co-ordinator in Dublin, said: “Now that the Ryan [Laffoy] commission is finished, we call upon… Pope Benedict XVI to convene a special consistory court to fully investigate the activities of the Catholic religious orders in Ireland.”

Let’s pray that Benedict responds with true compassion, as one who is definitely supposed to wear the face of God.

This afternoon, while I was on the phone with the friend who first told me about the Irish Commission report, another call came in. This time from a friend who has been volunteering at a Memphis city school this past year and has befriended a young girl there who confided in her a couple of weeks ago that her stepfather had been “fondling” her. The girl’s biological father had abused the girl and some of her siblings, and now her stepfather was abusing her. The friend/volunteer talked with school authorities, who called the Department of Children’s Services, but when they went to the home to investigate, the girl was afraid to tell the truth. After the social worker left, the girl’s mother and stepfather hit her, warning her never to tell. They have also told her she can never see the woman/volunteer again. This woman goes to their church, so they are not allowing the girl to attend church either. She’s a prisoner in her own home.

I spent part of the afternoon today on the phone trying to figure out how to help. The volunteer who reported the abuse is afraid to identify herself more, because the abuser knows her. I followed up by calling DCS myself to file a separate report, and to encourage them to go to the home and look for bruises on the girl, from her parents’ beatings.

Then I called Kim Richardson (author of The Unbreakable Child) and asked if there was more I could do, and she encouraged me to call the police department directly, asking for someone in the special unit for crimes against children. No one at the precinct I called seemed to know of any such thing, and they gave me the phone number of the Child Advocacy Center, so I called them. The police officer who works there had left for the day, but they put me through to her voice mail, and I left a message. In the meanwhile my husband reminded me that one of the security guards at our church is a policeman, so I called him. He’s getting in touch with an officer who deals with crimes against children and I’ll be able to talk with him tomorrow.

We all need to do everything we can do protect these children. Their parents are supposed to wear the face of God. Their teachers are supposed to wear the face of God. Their guardians at every level, especially priests, are supposed to wear the face of God. Home, school, church—these are supposed to be the safest places on earth. But when they’re not, we all need to step up and help.

Where to start? According to the home page of the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services:

“If you believe a child has been abused or neglected call 877-237-0004 to report it.”

You know, for these children, you might be the one who wears the face of God.


Anonymous said...

Amen and Amen.

--katie e.

Anonymous said...

I am so proud of you for standing up and making an effort for another life! I was burned trying to step in 25 years ago for one of my brownies and her Mom. Dad moved them away and we oculd never find them. We also had a suicide of the sibling of our children's very good friend. Kids shouldn't have to deal with such grown up things as an abusive adult and when they do it seems to sap all their reserves while trying to act like all is well. Your actions here may cause someone to draw the strength to step in and make a difference. I am so proud of you!

Julia Smith said...

Look at the wild goose chase you were put on when you stepped up to the plate for that girl. No matter that systems have been put into place to supposedly help little human beings. What's the use of them if they don't provide the help the girl needs - not later, now.

Thank you for not giving up.

Susan Cushman said...

Thanks for your support, Julia, but on a positive note, I did hear back from the Child Advocacy Center today, and they assured me the case was active. I also missed a call from someone in the MPD on Saturday, but his message said that he's aware of the case. I hope to talk with him tomorrow. Keep up the prayers, and thanks for leaving a comment.

Susan Cushman said...

Just listened to a great podcast interview with "The Unbreakable Child" author, Kim Richardson, here: 21 minutes and well worth it.

Amber said...

I just happened apon you. I want to say you ARE SO RIGHT. I am an ex-social worker, and I live in California-- so all I can say is, this happens all over. I myself made more than one report, when I knew after the child had been abused for talking, and I could not seem to get anyone to MOVE in order to really protect the poor kid. It just made me sick.

You are right that we need to know WE may be the "face of God" to kids who have no one. Even if we can't fix it that minute, at least they know someone in the world is witness to their pain and their truth. But if EVERYONE cared, if no one looked away, we could do so much!

Bless you.