Many years ago, a pastor had to intervene with a retired priest who was an occasional presider at daily and Sunday liturgy. He gave off one of the clear warning signs. And the alert was just as much (if not more) that altar servers would avoid him than his penchant for friendly roughhousing in the sacristy.
When I was reviewing some training materials recently, this section struck me:
Goes overboard touching, for example, wrestling and tickling children.
In Protecting God’s Children® sessions, we discuss the difference between the “roughhousing” that goes on in families and that between outsiders and other people’s children. However, the fact that someone is a relative does not mean that all physical contact between that person and the child is appropriate or non-threatening. Pay attention to the nature of the touching and the comfort of the child. If the child does not seem to be comfortable with the situation, interrupt it. There is a real need to monitor everyone that comes in contact with children in your family. Notice the way they touch children. Do not be afraid to intervene if the touch is making you or the child uncomfortable. Don’t assume that just because the adult is a family member, the touch is appropriate and welcome.
And while this unit was focused more on unwelcome touching in families, I remembered that it was decidedly uncomfortable in the confrontation of this priest. I was not the point of confrontation, but I was designated the “enforcer” of the rule that altar servers would vest, then wait in the narthex for the priest–not in the sacristy with him.
I remember the distinct discomfort in my relationship with the man afterward. I was almost ready to excuse the whole confrontation by saying, “We all have to be careful these days,” but I hesitated a few seconds. So it came out of his mouth instead. Along with a few vague and bitter statements. I just nodded and went about my business.
I remember this piece from above:
If the child does not seem to be comfortable with the situation, interrupt it.
Even one child. I have to keep in mind that while it is possible one lone individual might crave attention by entrapping an adult, it is more common for a predator to zero in on one vulnerable person. Like the Nature program my wife was watching last night. A predator bird had attacked a penguin, probably because it was already weak from illness. Predators know to swoop in on kids with low self-esteem, or who are nervous, or otherwise “weaker” than peers who will quickly dismiss adult attention with the edge of creepy.
It’s not an easy task to be watchful and protective of kids. I’m amazed at parents who seem mostly clueless about their own offspring. On the other hand, I’ve learned to read my own daughter’s moods and attitudes. And that can be void of pretty at times. But the world isn’t always pretty or comfortable, is it?