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Living with Christ and one another in safety
Irreparable harm to dozens of lives was caused by the sexual abuse committed by Jerry Sandusky, a former football coach at Penn State. His method, which has been followed by sexual predators for generations, was to develop trust with young and vulnerable children – and then to exploit it. This egregious method works if the victims keep silent – which the perpetrators threaten them to keep – AND if the institution in which the abuse takes place looks the other way for fear of having its reputation tarnished. That happened at Penn State. For years. And the university is now paying a heavy penalty for its silence; but nowhere the psychic and spiritual cost that is still being paid by the victims because of stolen innocence and the betrayal of trust.
“For only in you can we live in safety” is a response in both the Morning and Evening Prayer services from the Book of Common Prayer. We have been praying these words for generations – and we do so because at some deep level we believe them to be true. That our safety is in the living Christ. This does not mean that by wrapping ourselves in Jesus we will be safe from all harm. But it does mean that with Christ we are committed to doing all we can to make the world a safe place.
The Episcopal Church in general and the Diocese in Newark in particular have taken great effort to insure that we live with one another – and with Christ, in safety. We have developed protocols for congregations – and have established training programs for clergy and laypeople. “Safeguarding God’s Children” training is required every five years of all clergy, diocesan employees and any layperson who serves as a chaperone at diocesan events. Many congregations have commended this program to anyone who has contact with children and youth. All of this has made a difference. The church’s attention to the wellbeing of all its people – especially children, has created a veritable vaccine of safety. This program may not protect our kids from all harm, but it has helped us develop a discipline of being watchful – of not being silent; and knowing what to do if safety is compromised.