I went back to that article on the BBC website after reading another the other day entitled: “Who are the fifty-five bodies buried at the Dozier School?” It describes a real horror: “Within the past year, anthropologists working for the University of South Florida (USF) have exhumed the remains of fifty-five children on the grounds of the now-shuttered Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys.” The rest of the story is a disturbing account of physical abuse at the reform school, which operated from 1900-2011. (In addition, such facts have to be laid out alongside the truly horrific statistics of abortions in the United States.)
American culture is appallingly hostile to children. Not only does our obsession with power and violence lead to this hostility, but our Enlightenment sense of the mere utility of kids promotes the killing of unborn children because they are inconvenient. The statistics on violence and kids in Catholic situations are probably comparable to those in the rest of society because our institutions show similar incidences for all the other social deviations.
The deeper problem for Catholics – and all those who have a sane view of such things – lies in the irreplaceable value of children in society. Vatican II taught that: “By their very nature, the institution of matrimony itself and conjugal love are ordained for the procreation and education of children, and find in them their ultimate crown.” Wipe out the children, or abuse them in some other way, and marriage itself becomes a kind of horrible farce, an evil caricature of true union and true love. Our own sin and societal evil will always lead us to underestimate just how much damage is done.
The Council went on to speak about the treasure of the union of the married couple: “As a mutual gift of two persons, this intimate union and the good of the children impose total fidelity on the spouses and argue for an unbreakable oneness between them.” The good of the children is part of the spiritual and material cement that holds the couple to increased efforts in lovingly relating to each other and their kids, with deep respect as persons imaging the personal God.
More profoundly still: “As living members of the family, children contribute in their own way to making their parents holy. For they will respond to the kindness of their parents with sentiments of gratitude, with love and trust. They will stand by them as children should when hardships overtake their parents and old age brings its loneliness.” (Vatican II) The wonderful interrelationships of parents and kids create a network of grace and truth.
These are not sectarian values, but are founded within the natural law and elevated by God’s grace. At no point are the parents held as more valuable than their children. What the Council did was to safeguard the interrelationships constituting the family instead of giving overriding priority to the rights of individuals – and thus the priority of adults – and distorting what a family actually is. The Council’s teaching that children assist their parents in becoming holy takes us into the most transcendent dimension of the phenomenon of human family. This may in fact provide the key to the strange connection in the United States between children and violence.
If the human family is created to bring people to holiness, then of course we will oppose that reality in proportion to our sinfulness. We will also conceal it in proportion to our sinfulness. Notice that the information cited above about the Dozier School came from foreign and not domestic news services. The larger issue is that the spirit of this world does not want our holiness. This is where the Church faces a challenge.
Putting aside the clergy and laity who are anti-family, the rest of the Church should be engaged in building families at every opportunity. The abuse scandals have seriously disrupted the Church’s work with children. No surprise there. If children are a source of holiness then of course the Evil One will attack the Church through children.
By making them more expensive to operate, society is squeezing out Catholic schools that usually teach values that are an affront to a corrupt society. Congregations of religious are getting out of caring for children because they are seeking more “relevant” ministries. The choice of what is relevant comes from a sinful society that has no business deciding such things. But that truth has not yet risen to consciousness on any great scale here.
Family is one thing that Catholicism should be going all out to develop and sustain. Maybe it would lead to a rebirth of the Church and the culture. But for now, “the problem of violence against children [is]. . .much more acute in the U.S. than anywhere else in the industrialized world.” (Michael Petit)