Discussing Church Scandal in the Classroom

Four tips for guiding a difficult conversation.

By Rachel Padilla

Scandal. It is not an easy thing to process or stomach. Our Church was rattled this summer as numerous instances of sinful behavior came to light. The worst part, the most difficult, is that these abuses were committed by those who should have been setting an example in virtue.

The reality is that this is not the first time the Church has seen sin. The Church is made up of sinners and our leaders are not an exception. We must understand this but we must also have hope. The Church is not holy because people in it never sin but because it was founded by God Himself. This is a guiding light amidst all the confusion.

For many of us, the question is how to address this situation with the young Catholics in our classrooms. As educators, we play a key role in helping them understand and process these scandals. As difficult as this topic may be for us to consider, discussing it with our students will be more so.

The exact manner in which the scandals are handled will vary by the age of students and individual circumstances. However, here are a few ways to guide that discussion.

Do Not be Caught Off Guard

In many cases, it may not be best for us to begin the discussion on the scandals directly. However, if the subject comes up, we must be prepared to address it. We must not presume our students are ignorant of what has happened. By not being caught off guard, we allow our students to feel comfortable bringing up such a difficult topic and thereby open a discussion.

Be Prudent

At the same time, this topic needs to be handled delicately. Children can be fragile, as we know, and it is important to understand the individual student before addressing such a sensitive topic. For some, it may be best for us not to address the issue in the classroom but to speak to them individually. There may be anger, or doubt, or even personal experience that impact how we handle the topic with certain students. Knowing your students is the only way to know with certainty how to best address the scandals with them.

Show Justice and Mercy

We must be honest. What has happened was wrong. Our students need to hear us say that. They need to be assured that this is not how Catholics are called to live. Trying to hide or sugar-coat the truth will damage far more than help. At the same time, we should remind students of God’s mercy. While we can never condone sin, we must also not presume to condemn the offender. Our students need to see that God loves even a terrible sinner. We are all sinners but He continues to offer his mercy. The difference is in whether we repent and accept that mercy.

Be an Example

Our students are looking to us to understand how to live as Catholics today. They see the witness we give. We may be personally wrestling with how to process the scandals. That is okay and, for older students, can provide an authentic example. Students also need to see our hope. We should continue to live our faith, accepting the failings of those who were trusted to lead us and trusting in Christ to guide His Church through this difficult time. By showing our students our faith and hope we give them the best response we can to the scandals.

These last few months have been difficult for the Church and for many Catholics. As educators and role models, Catholic teachers should work to ensure students are able to discuss the scandals and have their concerns heard and their questions answered. We must continue to provide an example of living our Catholic life in faith, hope, and love.

Image credit: George Martell/Bayard Inc, 2017. All rights reserved.

Rachel Gleeson Padilla is a campus minister in Colorado.

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