The darkness of sexual abuse and the light of the Risen Christ

As I walked into a darkened church to celebrate the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday night two weeks ago I uttered a prayer:

‘Dear Lord, help me to realize and celebrate the fact that your light is greater than any darkness.’

The specific darkness I had in mind as I uttered this prayer is the darkness of sexual abuse of children, particularly by those in the Catholic Church entrusted with their care. This prayer was a reflection on what so many Catholics have experienced over the past month, with the continuing concern over sexual abuse of children by priests worldwide and the way the Church has, and has not, responded to the abuse.

For many of us, the events of the past month have brought us back to the height of the sexual abuse crisis in the Archdiocese of Boston in the early 2000s. As much as any diocese, we have experienced the depth of the darkness of sexual abuse and the light that can be brought by caring for survivors and redoubling our efforts to protect children.

My thoughts and prayers during these days have, in a particular way, been with all the courageous women and men who have shared with us painful stories of betrayal and abuse. For these people and their families, the news stories not only re-open suffering, they can become another barrier to re-claiming their faith and friendship with God.

Because of the extraordinary generosity and compassion of so many who have guided the response of the Archdiocese of Boston over the past decade, there are ever so subtle signs of light breaking through the darkness. For example, for our schools and parishes it is now a normative part of our shared life together:

to teach our children lessons in personal safety,

to ensure that all clergy, staff and volunteers participate in annual criminal background checks,

to promulgate codes of conduct,

to require all those, including clergy, who teach and work with the young to receive a mandatory course of instruction to provide for a safe environment (Protecting All God’s Children), and

to seek out parishioners with professional talents and caring hearts to serve on parish Child Abuse Prevention teams to support the parish’s efforts in keeping children safe.

Survivors and their families continue to show us the way to renewal with what is needed for their own healing. Over nine hundred survivors and their family members have contacted the Office of Pastoral Support and Outreach since 2002. The door and phone lines remain open to listen and to care. Cardinal Seán and priests of the archdiocese have quietly met with countless numbers of survivors of clergy abuse as we carry one another along the path of forgiveness and hope. Some of the most moving and memorable moments of my time as vicar general have been meetings and conversations with survivors of abuse and their families.

As we continue to journey together during this Easter Season, the Sacred Scriptures remind us of the original disciples who moved courageously from despair to hope and from the darkness of sin and death to the newness of the light of the Risen Christ. May the Risen Lord continue to shed His light on every place where darkness dwells. And may we follow the Light.

Father Erikson is Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia of the Archdiocese of Boston.