Mike Hoffman has been a relentless advocate for child protection since the first day I met him some years ago and we founded this magazine with other Catholic survivors of clergy abuse.
Every survivor of abuse is a role model in his or her own right. Mike continues to give generously of his talent, time, and treasure to promote child protection programs within the Church, to raise awareness outside the Church of the excellent programs available, and to advance child protection practices to keep every child safe in every corner of our world—including serving, now, as President of the Board of Child Abuse Prevention – Illinois.
People underestimate survivors. In my experience, they underestimate our resilience, and our faith, and our determination to help protect children and families from what we suffered. People also underestimate our spiritual capacity to push back against the darkness of abuse and the deeply running current of evil in the world. And, unfortunately, in this world, there is much need for the uncommon wisdom and resourcefulness we survivors have not chosen to gain but have not hesitated to share.
My work has led me to work, beyond the work of Healing Voices and Spirit Fire and other faith and healing programs, to volunteer in providing operational support for professionals dedicated to eradicating the scourge of human trafficking, which has become a disturbingly lucrative and global “market” phenomenon.
Here is what human-trafficking work has revealed to me.
The world in which I live now, as an adult recovering from child abuse, is far more, not less, dangerous for children than when I was a child, indeed even than when I was a target of abuse. Now, unlike then, the internet delivers skilled traffickers into every household in every demographic in every single region of America. They are motivated groomers to begin, targeting children on social media at 12 or younger and cultivating these young people over time into compromised and compliant victims.
So, yes, I am an advocate for child protection programs in Catholic schools and other settings. They are more important than ever. Having tech-savvy programs to reach kids and parents is critical to shut down the free movement of traffickers online into the palm of a child’s hand. (For some good at-home training, check out the free, online KidsSmarts programs by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.)
It’s a surreal experience for me, as a survivor of clergy abuse, to participate in survivor ministry and anti-human trafficking work. It gives me a clear reason to be grateful the United States Church has a mandatory child protection program, with a commitment to training. Because the dangers of the world evolve, the program must evolve. Our program and training can and should also progress with our shared progress as individuals and as a Church.
My interest in supporting child protection programs in the Church is twofold. First, to keep Catholics, both adults and children, aware in age-appropriate ways that help protect against new generations of predators. Second, to ensure training and community vigilance reaches beyond parishes, indeed beyond the Church, so the positive impact of our living faith can reach beyond “our own backyard.”
Local news continually covers increasing incidents, or increasing revelations, of abuse within other churches and schools, at daycare and at sports, in the entertainment industry and globally, and within the pitiful nightmare of foster care. With such bleak news, it is worth taking a moment to see the full context and now, more than ever, to understand that the Church is learning quite painfully and terribly slowly responding—and in the process wounding many victims—to a dark reality that is everywhere.
As ever, reflections such as these leave me with a cautious hope toward child protection policies in the United States Catholic Church and with a profound regard and gratitude for what victim assistance coordinators and survivor ministry professionals can potentially do for all survivors, for the Church and for the world.
Teresa Pitt Green is co-founder, editor and contributor for The Healing Voices Magazine and co-founded Spirit Fire with Luis A. Torres, Jr., as a survivor-led Christian restorative justice program to disseminate healing for survivors, families, priests and the whole Church. Teresa offered one of two survivor testimonies at the USCCB General Assembly in Baltimore, November 2018 and is one of the founding members of the PCPM virtual Survivor Advisory Panel. For over 15 years, Teresa has offered workshops and events for priests, survivors, families and diocesan groups, and she is a prolific writer, speaker, as well as survivor advocate who provides spiritual support directly to survivors, families, priests and others.