Family First?

The second thing I want to acknowledge is how complex the circumstance you face is. It's times like this when I am grateful for the Mormon teaching that the atonement is infinite -- that it encompasses not only individual transgressions, but the infinite causes and consequences that ripple outward from each transgression. For the sexual abuse of children does not happen in isolation; it involves entire communities. Your daughter is a victim. The individual who abused your daughter has also likely been an abuse victim -- most perpetrators are. Your life has been impacted by abuse, and it is causing you an additional burden of concern. Your ward and stake leaders are probably mortified that this happened on their watch and fearful of legal consequences. And how can mere mortals heal this intergenerational bundle of grief, violence, and shame? Mere mortals simply can't.

But this does not excuse mere mortals from working actively to prevent abuse, to create healing conditions for victims and their families, and to deal justly and compassionately with perpetrators. Which leads us to the very difficult question of how to live in a spiritual community that includes those who have hurt us or our children. Over the past two decades, the Church has come in for a great deal of criticism and even faced large legal penalties for the way it has handled child sexual abuse occurring in Church-affiliated contexts. Consequently, it has taken a number of steps to disseminate more information to local leaders -- including establishing a 1-800 hotline -- about the proper handling of abuse cases. There has been some progress, but because the Church is a human, all-volunteer institution, there can be great variance in how policies are administered in local units. 

One thing in your query that raises a giant red flag for me is that an alleged multiple child molester has been "reassigned" to another ward as a temporary remedy. I understand that you and your family have practiced restraint and kindly attempted to protect his family from embarrassment, but I hope for the sake of the community that appropriate information has been disseminated to the male and female leaders of the new ward in order to make sure that this individual does not have unsupervised contact with children. Secrecy will not protect either the abused or the abuser. Secrecy fosters abuse. Other families need to know in a spirit of loving and compassionate forthrightness when individuals in our spiritual communities have issues that create hazards for themselves and young children. Only in this way can families appropriately support the perpetrator in preventing circumstances where further abuse may happen. Cases like these cannot be individually "managed" top-down even by very caring and skillful ward leaders; people must know. I hope your stake president is alert to this, and if not, I encourage you to continue to meet with him to express these concerns and be an advocate for preventing further abuse.

A third issue I sense in your question is this:  what should we do when the institutional Church isn't meeting or protecting the needs of ourselves, our families, and our children?

Most devout Mormons prioritize obedience -- including church attendance -- above all else. Many times, we are willing to put aside or sacrifice our individual needs and our families' needs in order to be obedient. In this case, please, please, please don't. Your first responsibility as a parent is to support and foster the health and growth of your daughter. Sacrifice that to nothing. She is not Isaac, and you are not Abraham. The Church should serve the interests of the child, not the other way around.

It is equally important to make sure that you and your wife have the space and support you need to process the feelings this matter brings up for you:  for our little ones are so very perceptive, and if you are harboring tension, or anger, or swallowing your own feelings of frustration, your daughter will sense it and it will influence the way she processes the abuse. Feelings like anger and resistance are often appropriate instinctual responses to potentially harmful situations. What happens if you model for your daughter that she should swallow or distrust the healthy instincts that lead her to protect herself by establishing boundaries to keep out people who have harmed her? I encourage you to take whatever steps you feel are necessary to do right by your daughter and to foster your family's sense of peace, security, well-being, wholeness, and confidence, even if that means skipping Church once in a while.

And -- though I think it's unlikely that they would do so -- if your local priesthood leaders withhold the blessings of the temple from you for making a carefully considered decision to skip stake conference to help your family as it recovers from abuse, I'd humbly suggest that there is something profoundly off-kilter in your stake, and that you should feel good about continuing to make prayerful decisions with your spouse to serve the best interests of your family.

Readers? It's a serious topic, and this brother and his family deserve our support.  What words of kindness, wisdom, or perspective can you contribute?

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12/7/2010 5:00:00 AM