Protecting Children

Protecting Children

by Sr. Margaret Anne Meyer, MMM   U.S.A.     05/10/2021

back of man with childChildren have always been very precious to me. When I returned from Africa where I had cared for sick children for over thirty years and saw how lovely they are, it surprised me that anyone could even think of molesting them? God seemed to be shining out of their enchanting eyes.

This love of children, perhaps came from the care I gave my younger brother, Albert. I was ten years old when Albert was born, and I cared for him as if he were my own child. We were inseparable and I took him everywhere with me and when I entered the convent at seventeen, he felt abandoned. I did not realize this until later. I loved the family visits and after Profession of First Vows, I went home for ten days before traveling by boat from New York to Ireland. This was in 1958, before jet engines were discovered and it was much cheaper to travel by ship than to fly.

I studied medicine in University College, Dublin and after 6 years I qualified in 1964. After an intern year and further training I went to Uganda in 1966. I loved the people and loved looking after the sick children. Many children were malnourished because of harmful customs. We learned how to enter into dialogue with the mothers about how they could feed their children in a healthier way. The mothers loved their children and wanted them to thrive.

I also served in hospitals in Tanzania and Nigeria before coming back to the United States in 2002 for family reasons. Unfortunately, my mother died suddenly six months after I had made the decision to come home. I felt incredibly sad; both in losing my mother and losing the opportunity to serve overseas.

My new assignment was to visit schools in many dioceses throughout the United States. I talked to school classes about the children in the African countries where I had served as a missionary doctor. At this time, in 2002, the child molestation scandal in the Roman Catholic Church was just being exposed in the newspapers. Soon it would become mandatory for anyone who was in contact with children to have your fingerprints taken for a criminal check and to undertake a course for training in Safe Child Protection.

I had heard my sister-in-law speak of predators in the neighborhood. On this course I was surprised to learn that the abusers are often trusted family members of friends who appear to be very friendly and safe with children. They groom the children to like and trust them. The parents think they are safe in their care. The abusers warn the children that no one will believe them, and it is better to keep what is going on a secret.

The first case study was a man who ran a roller-skating rink. The parents would drop a child off for the afternoon and the person got to know the parents who thought he would take care of their children. He would choose a few and molest them in a small dark room.

The second case was that of a woman who was secretary to a priest. She would entrust her 12-year-old daughter to him while she did her shopping.

The third was a man who encouraged his son to have his friends over for a sleep-over. He would tell them to all take a bath together and would take naked photographs of them. The store developer showed the prints to the police, and the police arrested the father for taking the photographs.

The fourth was an English teacher who kept a girl after school hours with the alleged purpose of helping her with her lessons and then molested her.
All these children were abused for several years before the truth came out.

I felt so sorry for them and wondered how the scars of this trauma wounded them for life.

Then a few months ago, the Mission Office told me that my Virtus Training certificate (Child Protection) which I received in 2004 was out of date. I would have to do the course again. This time it was online because of Covid 19.

It took me a little while to reconnect that the videos I was now viewing were the same four cases mentioned above and the victims, as well as the abusers, were now getting treatment and had grown through this tragedy. They were anxious to help others not fall into the same trap.

When I completed this course, I thought of drafting an article in our parish bulletin to encourage parents to take this Virtus Training for the Safeguarding of Children. All the parents would have an opportunity of learning how they could protect their children from sexual abuse and child pornography. Everyone thinks that this could never happen to my child, and it is such a tragedy when it does happen. What similar course in your country is available for you to take?