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In this world, things sometimes occur that we have trouble wrapping our heads around.
For the most part, these are traumatic events or extreme behaviours, and we try to imagine what it might be like to find ourselves or someone we love going through the same thing. This sense of empathy is an important attribute that helps us connect as human beings.
Over my years working with people who have undergone many types of trauma, I have found myself imagining a lot of things that were not part of my own life experience. It hasn’t been easy. For instance, I’ve never been able to put myself in the mindset of someone who chooses to sexually abuse children. I’ve seen, first-hand, the devastating impact such trauma has over a lifetime.
Recent events in the news have brought this impact to the forefront of my mind. There have been a number of news stories in St. John’s concerning the 30th anniversary of the Mount Cashel scandal, which opened people’s eyes to the harsh reality of sexual abuse of children by clergy members and the ways that such events were covered up by the church, government and police.
As some of the victims spoke about how their lives are now, it became clear that what they endured as children — as well as the trauma of testifying publicly at the Hughes Inquiry into these events — left a lasting and indelible imprint on their lives.
It was recently announced that in March, an appeal will be heard in the Newfoundland Supreme Court for a group of men abused at Mount Cashel in the 1940s-1960s, whose civil trial a year and a half ago found the church was not responsible and ruled the Christian Brothers were a separate entity from the church. Sadly, many of these men have died and other survivors may never find justice for what happened to them.
As I watched some of the news coverage of the summit, I was struck by the symbolism of the group of older men in the upper echelons of the church meeting behind closed doors, while outside in the courtyard, groups of survivors of abuse huddled in protest, pushed again to the outskirts of power within the church.
Ironically, at the same time, there were reports coming out of Rome about the summit convened by Pope Francis to look into the worldwide abuse of children by clergy and how such events were dealt with by those higher up in the hierarchy of the church. While there is a sense of hope that such a meeting is finally happening, and it appears the church may be ready to come to terms with this issue, there is also a deep sense of cynicism about whether such a conference will lead to any substantive changes in the long run.
As I watched some of the news coverage of the summit, I was struck by the symbolism of the group of older men in the upper echelons of the church meeting behind closed doors, while outside in the courtyard, groups of survivors of abuse huddled in protest, pushed again to the outskirts of power within the church. Those optics do not provide a sense that any concrete and organizational change is about to occur, and a radical change is what’s necessary if real change is forthcoming.
The sad reality is that while such a summit is appreciated, it comes 30 years too late. Other organizations in society that deal with the welfare of children have been forced to make changes and acknowledge their failures in protecting the most vulnerable people in society. That it has taken the church this long to come to this point is not good enough. How many additional children suffered such abuse over the past 30 years that could have been spared had they acted in a timely manner?
While I can’t get my head around the mindset of an abuser, I equally can’t understand the mindset of someone who could cover up such crimes, move the abuser to a new location where such behaviour can continue and take three decades to be open to making changes to address the problem.
The time for talk is past and the time for action is now.
Brian Hodder is an LGBTQ2 activist and works in the field of mental health and addictions. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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