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Sowing the Seeds of Chastity

by Jeffrey Schwehm

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  • Description:
    This article critiques the Virtus program and says there is a way "to help prevent sexual abuse without creating an atmosphere of misrepresentation, manipulation, and hysteria" and that the Catholic Church "has the answer to this sexual abuse crisis in its great treasury of teachings on human sexuality that it has received from the Holy Spirit."
  • Publisher & Date:
    Catholic Exchange, 2004

Sowing the Seeds of Chastity

Why Sexual Perversity Should Be No Surprise

In our society, we have been planting the seeds and setting up the conditions for sexual perversity for decades. Pornography is readily available on computers via the internet, in books, magazines, television, and movies. Our society constantly bombards us with sexual images and messages. With all of these seeds of sexual perversity being planted, is it any wonder then that we are reaping the evils of sexual abuse perpetrated by soldiers, clergymen, and others? Perhaps we should not be so shocked at the awful behavior of some of our soldiers and clergymen. After all, we have sown sexual perversity and now we are reaping sexual perversity.

At the present time, all parish volunteers and employees who work with children in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee are required to attend a program entitled “Protecting God’s Children.” According to the archdiocese, those volunteers and employees who do not attend this program will not be allowed to work with children any longer.

The “Protecting God’s Children” program carries the brand name VIRTUS® and was developed by a group known as The National Catholic Risk Retention Group, Inc. According to their website, the goals of the VIRTUS® program are as follows:

“VIRTUS is the brand name that identifies best practices programs designed to help prevent wrongdoing and promote "rightdoing" within religious organizations. The VIRTUS programs empower organizations and people to better control risk and improve the lives of all those who interact with the Church.”

I recently had the opportunity to attend the VIRTUS program for our parish. While the VIRTUS program has set the lofty goal of wanting to “help prevent wrongdoing and promote "rightdoing", I am going to give you the reasons why this program will ultimately reap failure because it plants the wrong seeds.

Sowing Misrepresentation, Manipulation and Hysteria

First, the VIRTUS program does not tell us what the real problem is. The seed this program plants is one of misrepresentation of the problem. For example, throughout the presentation we were told that the problem is pedophilia. However, according to an article on page 4 of the May 16-22nd issue of The National Catholic Register, Dr. Rick Fitzgibbons, a psychiatrist, tells us: “The John Jay report has revealed clearly that the crisis in the Church is not one of pedophilia but of homosexuality. The primary victims have not been children but adolescent males.”

To make matters even worse, the presenter of the VIRTUS program stressed to us throughout the presentation that the Church scandal was not a homosexual problem. In fact, we were told by the presenter that adult males who prey on young boys are not really homosexual but are merely heterosexuals who are attracted to the feminine qualities of young boys.

The next seed the VIRTUS program plants is one of manipulation. We were required to watch two videos. On the videos were child victims of sexual abuse and their parents. The children described how they were preyed upon by their abusers. One young man, who could not have been more than 12 years old, was shaking during his description. Others were shown crying due to the heartache and pain. To make matters even worse, two convicted sexual predators were also showcased on these videos. One bragged that he had abused more than 500 children in his lifetime. The sexual predators gave details on how they would manipulate parents and children so that they could satisfy their lustful desires. In effect, the sexual predators gave us a short course on how to manipulate children and parents.

After viewing the videos, we were asked by the VIRTUS presenter to discuss our feelings. Naturally, all of us were disgusted and angry. Even before we viewed the videos, the presenter told us that most of us would find the information on these videos to be offensive. I found the videos to be exploitive of the pain of the victims and their families and I find it repugnant to give sexual predators a soap box from which to describe their exploits even if it is in the name of prevention. The goal of these videos was to create feelings of anger and disgust in the audience so that the audience could be manipulated to act. What did VIRTUS want us to do?

We were told by the presenter that everyone from parents to priest from teacher to coach is a possible sexual abuser and that no one was any more likely to abuse than anyone else. In addition, we were told that anyone who enjoys working with kids is someone that we should monitor as a potential abuser. The presenter encouraged us to report people to our pastors as possible abusers even if we just had a slight concern. The presenter even said that if we felt our pastor was not taking our concerns seriously that we should contact the archdiocese and the civil authorities with our concerns. We were told that reports could be made anonymously and that no one would be punished for making a false complaint. With the seed of hysteria thus planted, any Church employee or volunteer could have his reputation ruined by a single anonymous phone call without any way to defend himself.

In fact, the presenter told the story of a man who had attended one of her VIRTUS presentations. She said that during the presentation this individual objected to the message that anyone who works with kids is a potential abuser. This man even spoke with the presenter after the meeting about his objections. The presenter told us that she thought this man “was protesting too much” to the message of the program. So, she called this man’s employer and told his employer to keep an eye on him as a potential abuser. How the presenter could identify this man as a potential abuser after three hours in a meeting without any kids present is a mystery to me. To make matters worse, the presenter then held up her action as an example that every person in the audience should imitate.

Another problem with the VIRTUS program was that there was no mention of anything Catholic in the entire presentation. We were not encouraged to learn the teachings of the Church on human sexuality or chastity. We were not encouraged to attend Mass regularly or to pray. If I had seen this presentation in any other place besides a Church basement I would have thought it to be a secular production and program.

While the goals of VIRTUS are laudable, the means that it uses to accomplish these goals is scandalous. It plants seeds of misrepresentation, manipulation and hysteria and it will reap the problems of ruined reputations, hurt feelings, and ultimately abuse — including the sexual abuse it wanted to prevent. The VIRTUS representative informed us that a program similar to the one I described above will be in use in dioceses throughout the country for young children and their parents by autumn of 2004. God help us!

From the Treasury of the Church: Seeds of Truth and Chastity

There is a way to help prevent sexual abuse without creating an atmosphere of misrepresentation, manipulation, and hysteria. Dr. Rick Fitzgibbons tells us what the real need is:

The most pressing need is not for programs for elementary school children but for human and spiritual formation programs for priests and seminarians on the topic of the crisis in Church, priesthood, and sexuality…. Chastity should be presented as a healthy way of life.” — The National Catholic Register, May 16-22nd p. 4.
Dr. Fitzgibbon is correct. Instead of sowing the seeds of misrepresentation, manipulation and hysteria, as the VIRTUS program does, we need to be sowing the seeds of Truth. We need the Church to teach the clergy and laity what it means to be a chaste Catholic in whatever vocation or apostolate God has called us. One of the best presentations of these teachings on chastity is known as “The Theology of the Body.” Instead of suffering through three hours of an offensive video and presentation, why could our Church not require each parish to facilitate an adult spiritual formation program on the Theology of the Body? Steve Kellmeyer’s book Sex and the Sacred City: Meditations on the Theology of the Body would be perfect for these discussion groups. We could even make attendance at these spiritual formation classes mandatory for employees and volunteers who work with children in the Church. If we are going to make something mandatory for Catholics, shouldn’t it be something that is Catholic?

The Catholic Church has the answer to this sexual abuse crisis in its great treasury of teachings on human sexuality that it has received from the Holy Spirit. Unfortunately, some of our leaders refuse to use these gifts and prefer to use the so-called wisdom of our secular culture for help in sex education and formation in spite of the fact that this is the same secular culture that has been sowing the seeds of sexual perversion for decades. I wonder if, in a few years, these same leaders who reject the Church’s treasury of wisdom in favor of the wisdom of our decadent secular culture, will be like the farmer who was shocked he did not get tomatoes when he planted corn. Tragically, I think that will be the case.

© Copyright 2004 Catholic Exchange

Jeffery Schwehm is a former member of the Jehovah's Witnesses' Headquarters Staff in Brooklyn, New York and a former Lutheran. He currently serves as an Assistant Professor of Biochemistry at Lakeland College in Sheboygan, WI and is a member of St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Kohler, WI.

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