Dear Edith: How do I raise my kids in the Church post this crisis?

August 17, 2018

Dear Edith,

This question comes in light of the recent abuse scandal coming to light.

How do I let my daughter (and, God willing, other future children) get involved in the life of the Church while still feeling safe?

I don't want to limit our involvement in the parish to Sunday Mass attendance. I loved going to Catholic school, altar serving, and being involved in the youth group at my parish growing up. I want my kids to have the same positive experience of growing up in the faith.

At the same time, I'm concerned for their safety, and would be apprehensive of my child being alone with a priest right now. Hearing stories of extensive grooming makes me doubt my own instincts and judgment of character.

Do I just trust that in the next 5-10 years (we only have a baby right now) things will be better? How can I better evaluate and manage the risks inherent in this situation?


Christina is a corporate real estate attorney in Chicagoland. She is married to her college sweetheart and mother of a cute little Catholic feminist.

Kids in Church Post-Crisis Response #1 - Amber

Dear Christina,

I write this response as both a Safe Environment Facilitator for the Archdiocese of Denver and as a Youth Minister. The revelations about the abuse crisis sicken me and as I look at the children I’m in charge of, I am full of worry, but also full of hope.

In my opinion, the best way to raise our children in a post-crisis Church is the way we have taught through Safe Environment Training (SET) since 2002: by being informed and aware. Here are a few ways we can do that:

1. Even if you aren’t training to volunteer in the Church, take a Protecting God's Children course.

These courses are designed to help you spot grooming behaviors that may be exhibited by the adults around you.

2. Set boundaries with all of the adults in your child’s life.

When training volunteers, I tell them that when I accept a role of authority in a child's life, I also accept the responsibility of teaching them how all adults should treat them. I might trust myself to give them long hugs, to share my personal social media accounts with them, or to be in a closed room with them – but will they learn more by my saying “no” to these things? Will saying “no” teach them to question when adults with dubious intentions ask for their Snapchat, want to be alone with them, or want keep secrets? Even with my own niece and nephew, I model the kind of behavior I expect from other adults in their lives, and they know by my example what they should expect.

3. If you haven’t already, teach your children the names of their body parts and teach them the importance of consent in every interaction.

For example, when we teach them that consent is required for a hug, it is easier for them to understand that consent would be doubly required for “new” interactions of any kind.

4. Teach your children that they can always come to you with their struggles.

Be attentive to how you discuss the virtues of chastity and modesty. We should speak of these virtues primarily in terms of the good they bring instead of hyper-focusing on what happens when we fail to live up to these values. This approach creates an environment where an abuser cannot use the excuses of “your parents will hate you” or “you also committed a sin that you can't talk about” in order to keep children quiet if abuse begins.

5. Know the adults that are in your children’s lives.

Feel free to be nosy. I allow all of the parents in my ministry to friend me on social media so that they can “monitor” my behavior if they so desire. You deserve to have trust built between you and those adults; trust does not need to be immediate or implicit just because of someone’s position. While you don’t need to be suspicious of every adult in your child's life (that would be exhausting), you can hold every adult in your child’s life to a high standard of behavior.

6. Teach your child about the Church as a community.

Model behavior of getting to know fellow parishioners, staying after Mass to chat, and volunteering. One of the most important things we teach in SET is that the more you know your child’s routines, the better you can notice when something is off. The same goes for the community at large: don't mind your own business. Get (or stay) involved and share whatever gifts, time, or talent you have. Be actively present.

7. Contact your parish office to learn who your SET facilitators are and who is SET trained.

All priests, catechists, and youth ministry volunteers (among others) are required to be trained. Get to know the person to whom you would report any suspicious behavior.

This response includes several recommendations, but that is precisely my point: there is a lot we can do in a post-crisis Church. I emphasize in every one of my classes that while horrible things might make us feel helpless, we are far from it. We can keep our children safe. We can cleanse the temple. We can be our brothers’ and our sisters’ keepers – and there is hope.


Amber McCulloch is the Director of Youth Ministry at St. Michael the Archangel parish in Aurora, Colorado.

Kids in Church Post-Crisis Response #2 - Katie

Dear Christina,

“When we’re threatened, we do one of two things: we fight or we flee.”

I’ll never forget the first time I heard those words in my 11th grade AP Psychology class. Often known as the “fight or flight” response, when faced with peril, we tend to either run toward safety or plant our feet firmly and defend our ground.

Since the abuse crisis again reared its ugly head, I’ve consistently asked myself, “In these moments of threat in the Church, will I run or will I fight?”

We’re not discussing hypotheticals here: there are reports of extensive abuse perpetrated by hundreds of priests against thousands of children over dozens of years, and then much of that abuse was systematically covered up by bishops, the very men who carry a crozier to signify the shepherd’s crook, designed to pull the sheep to safety, not push them toward the wolf. Reading these reports, hearing these stories, and witnessing more information come out each day, my gut instinct is to run away, to go off and hide, to leave the Church – because I feel threatened.

I’ve asked myself dozens of times, “Does every priest I know have some deep, dark secret? Have they seen or heard about abuse? Are they an abuser themselves?” I hate thinking this about men I’ve known for years, have trusted for a lifetime, and whose guidance I sought. Nevertheless, the questions have crossed my mind, and that’s okay. It is only when we ask hard questions and confront the realities facing us that we’ll be able to heal, move forward, and ensure this never happens again.

During this time, while many of us doubt and question a Church we’ve trusted and priests we’ve relied on, the desire to walk away is great; we want to run. It’s okay to be confused. It’s acceptable to be scared. It’s not uncommon to fear for your or your child’s safety. We learned about awful things that happened, and repeatedly so. For those of us who are parents, we would die to ensure it never happens to our own children. It’s normal to think that if there’s a place with repeated instances of abuse, then we would never want our child to go to that place.

At the same time, this is equally important to remember: there are still many good, holy priests who have not abused children, who still bring us the gifts of the sacraments with humility and good faith, and who can be trusted. The priests that have abused children and the bishops who covered up the problem are not the Church themselves. We are the Church. All of us. Not just those men with authority or collars, and not just those who committed various kinds of abuse. We are the Church and we have every right to be here, to remain, and to live and act as the Body of Christ - and we’re not going anywhere.

When our children become involved in the life of the Church, we must do our due diligence as parents: ask lots of questions, ensure diocesan safe environment protocols are up to par, become involved in the ministries our children engage with. Furthermore, if something seems off or doesn’t feel right, it is our duty to speak up. Whatever challenges and fears you face, I ask you this: please don’t leave the Church because of the sins of those who betrayed us. Please remain in the Church – because the Church needs you now more than ever.


Katie Prejean McGrady is an international speaker, educator, and author. She has spoken at events large and small, and has appeared on EWTN, Catholic TV, Radio Maria, and shows on The Catholic Channel on Sirius XM. She is married to Tommy McGrady and lives in Louisiana with their daughter, Rose, and dog, Barney. You can learn more about her here.

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