Before the many television shows that we now call “Reality TV” dominated prime time and what seems to be an infinite number of channels, I recall a handful of genres, such as comedies, cartoons, news, sports, movies, documentaries and dramas. In the early 2000s I found myself compelled to watch the drama, ER. I got caught up in the characters’ lives but especially the experiences of those who entered their television emergency room.
Soon I began working in a hospital emergency room as a medical social worker, I no longer felt compelled or even interested in watching the show. I was then experiencing the realities I once viewed from my living room and it no longer was a form of “entertainment” or “escape” from daily life. It felt uncomfortable.
The tragedy, pain, grief and struggles of the lives of those I interacted with were so real and, in that work setting, took on a new meaning, a sacred meaning.
Another movie, within the past few years, that felt the same way was the movie, “Spotlight,” which is about the 2002 Boston Globe story revealing the child sexual abuse crisis of the Catholic Church in Boston. The story disclosed the known number of abused, abusers and the hierarchy’s failure to respond in a manner protective of children and the abused. Then in the beginning of July of this year, I was reading my local paper, The Frontiersman. I stumbled across an article written by the regional publisher, Dennis Anderson, who referenced an event to be held in Wasilla with Walter “Robby” Robinson, former editor of the Boston Globe. The movie “Spotlight” which came out in the Fall of 2015 was based off Mr. Robinson and his spotlight team who published the story in January of 2002.
Some say this story facilitated victims and survivors coming forward across the country about their experience of abuse by Catholic clergy. Within six months of the story being published, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops gathered in Dallas to discuss and by majority, agree on the wording for the document that developed the Ministry of Safe Environment in dioceses across the United States. This document is called “The Charter For The Protection of Children and Young People,” simply referred to as “The Charter.”
I have served as director for the Office of Safe Environment for our archdiocese for eight years. Its focus is the prevention of abuse of the most vulnerable. We assist parishes and schools in promoting awareness of the dynamics of abuse, local criminal laws and archdiocesan policies and procedures. This information is available online at archdioceseofanchorage.org. But now I was once again, working in the reality that this movie revealed. Watching the movie and attending the presentation was uncomfortable, as it is for many when repeatedly hearing these stories of abuse within our church. But this discomfort made me evermore grateful to everyone who works to prevent and address abuse and injustice and it has led me to a desire to focus deeper, work more diligently and listen with a greater compassion of Christ.
When talking with local Catholic school educators last month about the Safe Environment Program taught to our children in our schools and parishes, we discussed the importance of helping children recognize when they feel uncomfortable and how to seek help.
My prayer and hope for all, especially the most vulnerable, is that our Catholic Christian belief in the dignity and sacredness of all human life is heard, believed and lived out. I have often used the following prayer at meetings to encourage listeners to be mindful to what Christ calls us. I invite all readers to reflect on its meaning.
Lord, Make Us Uncomfortable
God, bless us with discomfort at easy answers, half-truths and superficial relationships, so that You will live deep in our hearts
God, bless us with anger at injustice, oppression and exploitation of people and the earth, so that we will work for justice, equity and peace.
God, bless us with tears to shed for those who suffer, so that we will reach out our hands to comfort them and change their pain with joy.
God, bless us with the foolishness to think that we can make a difference in the world, so that we will do the things which others say cannot be done. Amen.
— Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM