A Day to Recognize Atlanta-Area Catholic Scouts Earning Religious Awards (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

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My son with Atlanta Archbishop Wilton Gregory at Atlanta Archdiocese Catholic Committee on Scouting Annual Religious Awards, St. Monica’s Church, Duluth, Georgia, February 27, 2016

What a beautiful day it was, today, for dozens of scouts around the Atlanta-area to be recognized and receive the religious awards that they earned in 2015.  The Archdiocese of Atlanta Catholic Committee on Scouting, Archbishop Wilton Gregory, and many others were in attendance today, celebrating the accomplishments of area Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Venturers, and American Heritage Girls for their accomplishments in broadening their understanding of their faith by having completed different types of scouting-related Catholic religious emblems programs.

A mass and celebratory reception were held at St. Monica’s Church in Duluth today to recognize the scouts, with Archbishop Gregory giving an inspiring homily about the Prodigal Son. ¬†Gregory stated that all fathers should be like the one who forgave the Prodigal Son, welcoming back into the family after being lost and then found again.

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My son receiving his Ad Altare Dei medal from Atlanta Archbishop Wilton Gregory and Deacon Tom Gotschall at Atlanta Archdiocese Catholic Committee on Scouting Annual Religious Awards, St. Monica’s Church, Duluth, Georgia, February 27, 2016

As co-coordinator of my son’s religious program for his troop, I am very proud to celebrate with him in earning the Ad Altare Dei religious award in scouting. ¬†This is the third religious award he has earned, thus far, as a scout. ¬†He has previously earned the Light of Christ medal and Parvuli Dei award.

My son invested 30 hours into the Ad Altare Dei scouting religious program.  Included in the program was religious instruction and study, religious community service, attendance at sacramental events such as weddings, participating in a retreat or religious day of reflection, attending masses and confessions, interviewing a priest or other religious, and receiving communion.

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My son with his Ad Altare Dei medal at Atlanta Archdiocese Catholic Committee on Scouting Annual Religious Awards, St. Monica’s Church, Duluth, Georgia, February 27, 2016

All of the scouts receiving Catholic religious awards, today, worked very hard and invested much time and effort into their accomplishments.  It was wonderful to be there in support of these wonderful endeavors that serve to strengthen faith and spirituality in our youth.

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Protecting Girls from Sexual Predators by Being Aware and Making Informed, Intelligent Decisions (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Stop Sex Offenders (Retrieved from converseprisonnews.com, February 27, 2015)

Stop Sex Offenders (Retrieved from converseprisonnews.com, February 27, 2015)

Sexual predators come in all shapes and sizes, all ages, backgrounds, and ethnicities. Unfortunately, the all seem to have the same thing in common – committing sexual offenses against others in efforts to show power, control, and domination, and to make themselves feel good while hurting their victims. Another very sad thing about those who commit sexual offenses against others is that they typically see no wrong in their actions. In efforts to normalize their thoughts and actions, they often appear to be in denial, externally blaming others – including their targets – rather than admitting their actions and taking responsibility for them. They often go to whatever lengths necessary to blame their victims, cover up their offenses, and manipulate others into believing their falsehoods.

In this article, I will discuss the manner in which girls can and do become sexual targets. Boys, men, and women may also be targets of sexual predators, and this article does not minimize their experience, but is to solely focus on how society often fails to protect many of its most vulnerable and innocent members.  Perhaps if parents, educators, and/or others in our society are more aware and informed about the manner in which girls are targeted, more girls will be protected from sexually traumatizing situations that they should never experience.

Research has shown that most individuals who are sexually abused or assaulted are those who are known by their targets. Often, those who target them are family members or “trusted”¬†pillars of the community, including those in positions of great wealth, power, influence, and/or authority. Men (and women) who sexually abuse and/or assault girls are those who believe that their thoughts and actions are correct. Their perspectives and behaviors, however, are pathological, including their actions of grooming their targets throughout time, potentially gaining the trust and friendship of the target’s parents or family, and taking whatever measures possible to see that their inappropriate interactions with their targets are secret, silenced, overlooked, and/or otherwise minimized.

Sadly, many sexual offenders are never caught. Many of these highly esteemed pillars of the community are so powerful and influential – or have such strong ties with a connective network of powerful and influential people who believe and protect them – that they continue their inappropriate actions and sexual offenses throughout their lives, always getting away with them. What is to be done for girls to protect themselves from such people? Nothing? If the girls or their families went to police, they would be laughed at and humiliated out of the police station due to the infiltration into police networks by these powerful and influential people. If the girls and their families publicly identified such people, they risk being financially, socially, and professionally ruined by such people and their large network of supporters with whom they are connected.

Must victims of their sexual offenses continue to suffer in silence? No. It is up to survivors to speak out because, in so doing, the offenders are not protected. The offenders count on tactics of fear, intimidation, and ruination to silence and destroy their victims and their victims’ reputations. Being silent only protects the offenders. By speaking out about offenders, society is informed and becomes more aware of those in their communities – and perhaps, even in their own families – who are so powerful that they get away with their sexual misconduct and offenses. In these ways, at least people are informed, whether or not they believe the truth and heed the warnings about the offenders’¬†harmful and pathological behaviors.

One way that sexual predators groom and prey upon girls is by sizing up their parents and/or families. If those targeting girls judge that the girls’ parents are unaware, uncaring,¬†weak, or oblivious in any way, then their daughters are prime targets for grooming by sex offenders. Parents and/or other¬†caregivers must¬†be loving and¬†caring toward their daughters, having created an atmosphere in which open and honest trust is¬†shared, in order that these girls feel safe enough to be open with them about any inappropriate actions or offenses performed against them.

Next, parents must not be too free – and should be more guarded – about with whom their daughters spend time and what activities they do. A safe environment in which everyone has passed background checks and drug tests are among the most ideal places for parents to believe their girls are safe, however people must recognize that those with enough money and power who are involved in these environments may have had their offenses undocumented. People must not always trust that the authority, stature, and appearances of those in power are necessarily honest, honorable, and respectable.

Particularly in regard to young girls, people should be aware and informed about those with whom they have interaction and contact. Outside of a girl’s family, there are those in church, at school, and at other community events and even regular family outings, such as to the local grocery store,¬†gas station, or other business, who may target her. People, particularly men,¬†who have regular contact and/or interaction with a girl, long enough to speak with her in a way that gains her trust in some way are those who could be suspected of grooming a girl in order to sexually harm her. Should such interactions be overlooked and/or not perceived, then such grooming will continue and likely escalate. The grooming can escalate to sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, sexual abuse, and sexual assault. Then, a host of excuses, cover-ups, and denials begin, as well as a discrediting of the victim.

Men who hold powerful positions, and who are looked to as trusted community members, are sometimes those who commit sexual¬†harassment and/or misconduct¬†against girls.¬† Some of these men may include priests of parishes that have churches, schools, and children’s activities, as well as millionaire or billionaire members of those parishes who lead and/or participate in church and/or community activities involving children. Those men who are so wealthy, powerful, influential, “trusted,” and “esteemed”¬†in their communities and greater regional areas¬†who perform sexual misconduct against girls have already¬†duped everyone¬†before a girl realizes what has happened, before her family can support and/or defend her (if at all), and before the girl’s healing process begins (if at all). Because these men are unwilling and/or unable to be responsible and accountable for their actions, they deny them and do whatever possible to cover them up, discredit their victims, and continue to victimize others.

The small Catholic parish in my small hometown of Gowanda in Western New York State is one such place of which I am aware that several people have had these experiences throughout a period of decades. To my knowledge, no one has ever officially reported the instances of sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, and sexual assault that have occurred there and/or as a result of powerful people who are parishioners there. Many of those who have committed such offenses remain leaders and active members of this parish. A current priest there from Salamanca, New York threatened one former parishioner with Mafia action due to her knowledge of his sexual harassment and pedophilia toward girls. The survivors who have left the parish are aware that the shear wealth and power of those people would extremely outweigh anything they could ever say or do in any futile attempts to obtain justice. In effect, obtaining justice is impossible, and the lies, cover-ups, and misconduct will likely continue far into the future since those particular people are tied to the area.

Therefore, people must always be aware of and informed about others. Sometimes, those who dress well, have money and power, and/or be in positions that are spiritually-supportive of others are the very people who should not be trusted. This is further correct, especially if such men have free and open access to children, and even if they can pass every background check. Just because a¬†“trusted” and “esteemed” man can pass a background check does not mean he does not have a sexualized pathology.¬†People must be active in guarding and protecting children, even in places typically considered safe, such as churches. People must be aware that appearances are not always what they may seem, in order to be activists in adequately protecting children.

This is also not to say that all men who are involved in children’s activities are sexual predators. Certainly not. I recognize that there are many more men of honor and respectable character in our society than those who are not. Thank goodness for that! It is simply that, in a world where children have no rights and are often manipulated, controlled, objectified, abused, and/or sexualized, those vested with their care must be more vigilant and effective in our protection of them. Even those who do all they can and who have the best intentions toward protecting children may be unable to protect them. However, we must always do whatever possible to achieve that end.

Happy Easter: Stations of the Cross at St. Andrew’s Catholic Church in Roswell, Georgia (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Station of the Cross, St. Andrew's Church, Roswell, Georgia, May 2010

Station of the Cross, St. Andrew’s Church, Roswell, Georgia, May 2010

At this time four years ago, I was dating a man who lives in Roswell, Georgia, within one mile of St. Andrew’s Catholic Church in Roswell, Georgia near Atlanta.¬† One day, I attended Mass there, and walked through the beautiful area behind the church and next to the Chattahoochee River in which there are life-sized statues of the Stations of the Cross.¬† These statues are really beautiful, and are presented in a lovely and serene location, perfect for religious and spiritual prayer, meditation, and awakening.¬† I will include several of those photos in this post for your enjoyment and reflection on Easter and this beautiful time of spiritual renewal.¬† The pictures are not necessarily in the correct sequence of the Stations, nor do they necessarily represent all o the Stations.¬† Happy Easter!

Station of the Cross, St. Andrew's Church, Roswell, Georgia, May 2010

Station of the Cross, St. Andrew’s Church, Roswell, Georgia, May 2010

Station of the Cross, St. Andrew's Church, Roswell, Georgia, May 2010

Station of the Cross, St. Andrew’s Church, Roswell, Georgia, May 2010

Station of the Cross, St. Andrew's Church, Roswell, Georgia, May 2010

Station of the Cross, St. Andrew’s Church, Roswell, Georgia, May 2010

Station of the Cross, St. Andrew's Church, Roswell, Georgia, May 2010

Station of the Cross, St. Andrew’s Church, Roswell, Georgia, May 2010

Station of the Cross, St. Andrew's Church, Roswell, Georgia, May 2010

Station of the Cross, St. Andrew’s Church, Roswell, Georgia, May 2010

Station of the Cross, St. Andrew's Church, Roswell, Georgia, May 2010

Station of the Cross, St. Andrew’s Church, Roswell, Georgia, May 2010

Station of the Cross, St. Andrew's Church, Roswell, Georgia, May 2010

Station of the Cross, St. Andrew’s Church, Roswell, Georgia, May 2010

Station of the Cross, St. Andrew's Church, Roswell, Georgia, May 2010

Station of the Cross, St. Andrew’s Church, Roswell, Georgia, May 2010

Station of the Cross, St. Andrew's Church, Roswell, Georgia, May 2010

Station of the Cross, St. Andrew’s Church, Roswell, Georgia, May 2010

Statue of Mary Holding Baby Jesus, St. Andrew's Catholic Church, Roswell, Georgia, May 2010

Statue of Mary Holding Baby Jesus, St. Andrew’s Catholic Church, Roswell, Georgia, May 2010

These pictures represent most of the Stations of the Cross that are presented in beautiful, statue-form at St. Andrew’s Catholic Church in Roswell, Georgia.¬† There are few churches that present such beautiful representations of Jesus, Mary, and the Stations; these are among the best that I have ever seen.

“On Being a Reluctant Catholic” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Female Praying Hands with Rosary (Retrieved from http://rachelhelie.com/?p=404 , December 23, 2013)

Female Praying Hands with Rosary (Retrieved from http://rachelhelie.com/?p=404 , December 23, 2013)

For the past few years, especially, I have been and would consider myself a reluctant Roman Catholic.  There are many reasons for this, as I will reflect upon herein; and these are thoughts and feelings that I have personally encountered and coped with in the past, as well.  While I do have my own internal, personal struggles with being Roman Catholic, I have always returned to the same realization after much introspection and contemplation Рto remain Roman Catholic.  I am sure that the internal struggles that I feel about being Roman Catholic will not just go away, and in fact, they seem to increase with time.  However, for now, I continue to remain Roman Catholic, whether more or less involved as I have been in the past.  My religion and spirituality are a strong part of who I am as a person, and are not things about myself that I take lightly.  And so, serious understanding, thought, awareness, introspection, and consideration are concerns that I bring to my own table in contemplating what being Roman Catholic means for me.

I was born, baptized, and raised Roman Catholic in the Greater Buffalo Area of New York State.  My mother is of purely Polish descent, and was born and raised Roman Catholic.  When my parents married, my dad converted from being a nonpracticing Quaker to Roman Catholicism.  My mother, especially, and my dad, often, attended weekly mass on a regular basis even before I was born.  Therefore, it was a sure thing that I would become Roman Catholic, being indoctrinated in the ways of Roman Catholicism.  It was an expectation that, as the offspring of my parents, I would be Roman Catholic.  My mother made sure that my brother and I received religious education.  We attended public school, and so, took religious education classes every Sunday before going to mass since religion is not taught in public schools.  We both attended religion classes at my hometown church and school from our ages of 5-16.

Even at a young age, the thing that struck me the most about Roman Catholicism was that there were few female role models in my church, and even fewer who were visible, appreciated, or recognized in any way.¬† Certainly, in the parochial school in my hometown, there were nuns who were principals and teachers, however I did not attend Catholic school and did not regularly experience women’s leadership involvement in my religion.¬† I attended religious education classes for one hour each Sunday, and went to mass for one hour each Sunday.¬† Therefore, it was the men in the leadership positions of the church whom I always saw, and who were always prominent in speaking, performing mass, and being at the forefront of the faith.

As a young girl, these experiences caused me to feel that the male leaders of the church were out-of-touch with children.  Of course, they spoke about God, Jesus, His family, and His followers, and how we should love Jesus, however their words always seemed so far away.  They seemed to preach about what they did not practice.  Jesus showed the example of being caring and compassionate for children, but I did not observe any of them being that way.  They did not know how to interact with children, how to appreciate children, how to respect children, how to relate with or reach children.  They were Рand, often, still are Рout-of-touch.  There was alot more spiritual need that I had as a child that went unrecognized, unnurtured, ignored.  As a result, I felt invisible and unappreciated by the male leadership of the church when I was a child.  They did not know, understand, or care about me.  They preached what they did not practice.  How is a young girl supposed to gain respect for those who are so distinctly separate from her?

When I was five or six, I had my weekly religion class with Sister Mary.  Sister Mary was a very young nun who always dressed in her habit, and who was a role model for me.  She was kind and caring to children, especially to me.  I was one who wanted to stay after class and help Sister Mary clean the chalk boards.  I had alot of questions for Sister Mary who probably thought I was more of a chatterbox.  She seemed to look for reasons for me not to remain after class to talk with her, however I ignored and overlooked her hints, and asked more questions.  Always, she was very kind, compassionate, and understanding.  To me, she always had the right answers, could relate with me, and placed me at ease and at peace.  The next fall, it broke my heart to learn that Sister Mary had been relocated.  I never saw her again.  Sister Mary was like an angel to me Рand worse, an angel who had been ripped away from me.  I cried over the loss of my relationship with Sister Mary.  I needed a female role model to look up to, and to whom to ask all of my curious questions, and she was gone.

I never got that feeling back about anyone in a leadership position in the church even coming close to understanding me, as a person, until I took my Confirmation classes with the deacon of my hometown church.¬† Deacon Louis was extremely knowledgeable, and also very upbeat and enthusiastic about Roman Catholicism and people’s individual spirituality.¬† I told Deacon Louis that I was interested to learn more about the Rosary, and that I wanted to pray the Rosary but did not know how.¬† Deacon Louis provided me with a beautifully-pictured and colored pamphlet about how to pray the Rosary.¬† Wow!¬† For once, someone who actually listened to me – amazing!¬† As time progressed, I learned that Deacon Louis was very understanding and respectful about individuals’ faith and spiritual development.¬† Again, I privately spoke with Deacon Louis and let him know that I was contemplating a few saints to be my patron saint at Confirmation.¬† He made photocopies of a few pages of a book for me that he had about the saints that I had identified to him.¬† Based on that information that he provided to me, I chose my patron saint, St. Joan of Arc.¬† I had a great respect for Deacon Louis.¬† He was a man who was married and who had three daughters; he understood me and my need for faith and spiritual fulfillment in my religion.

Throughout my life, I have always tried to reach out to priests in the churches that I have attended and/or those in which I have been a member.¬† In most cases, I have not had good experiences in that the men seem unable to relate with or understand my experiences as a woman.¬† Most priests are extremely uncomfortable in speaking with me, as a woman, about women’s issues and¬†traumatic life experiences, for examples.¬† Even less so,¬†most are unable to understand and relate with me about relationship, marital, divorce,¬†children’s, and even career and financial¬†issues.¬† They often seem to feel threatened by or unable to cope with such topics.¬† One expects to go to a priest for support and guidance, and when it is not received, it may lead to one questioning his or her faith.¬† It makes me wonder if they are simply like most men who, when faced with a problem, want to “fix” it; or if they are truly unable to relate with or understand the issues that women, children, and families face.¬† Certainly, fixing problems is good, however there are often times when women simply want to talk out and vent their concerns, seeking emotional support; most priests seem to be unable to understand and provide¬†that.¬† For these reasons, I have learned that it is often better not to approach priests with such issues because they are typically unable to understand about and relate to them with me, at least on a personal level.

In my mid to late 20’s, I seriously contemplated becoming a nun in the Roman Catholic Church.¬† As a person with a strong religious faith and who was single with no committed intimate partner in sight, I thought that religious life might be suitable for me.¬† I sought to understand whether or not I had “received a call” from God to become a religious.¬† I was a member of two Roman Catholic Singles groups in Western New York State, and had opportunities for interactions with many religious, both women and men.¬† In this capacity, I also learned more about religious life and took several opportunities to go on religious retreats with my peers.¬† I participated in one weekend retreat at a convent in Cheektowaga, New York.¬† I also personally interviewed with a nun at the convent in Athol Springs, New York.

While both of these experiences increased my faith and spirituality, they did not convince me to pursue religious life.  In fact, they did the opposite.  At the first convent that I went to, I saw women who appeared to do much praying and sitting.  Most of the women were older or elderly, and many did not have the medical assistance they needed.  It seemed that the convent was more like one big dormitory building for women of the same faith who prayed alot.  I did not see their good works, but only saw them living amongst each other in lives that caused them to be excluded from society at large.  I similarly observed and felt this at the second convent where I interviewed.  The elderly woman who interviewed me did so in her small bedroom.  She appeared to have no family, no nothing.  To me, she appeared to have lived an empty and solitary life, and was very much unappreciated.

After more thought, I realized that I did not want any of what I observed at the convents.  I felt sorry for these women, and angry at the Roman Catholic Church for requiring them to make such huge sacrifices in their lives.  I was also upset that the Church required priests to be single.  I did not believe that was fair, or took basic human nature into serious consideration.  It seemed to me that the Church wanted fewer people for which to pay simply by requiring that religious did not have families.  Conversely, I desired the opportunity to be married and have a family.  I also realized, after more thought, that I was pursuing religious life for some of the wrong reasons.  I had experienced a traumatic experience at college as an undergraduate, and pursuing religious life was a way of escaping from it.  I realized that, and decided to deal with it Рand did.

As a woman in the Roman Catholic Church, I also realized all of the limitations on and misjudgments about women that it practices.  The Roman Catholic Church is often extremely rigid and insensitive toward people and understanding the basic needs of people.  Certainly, there are many wonderful things that the Catholic Church does in helping and supporting people throughout the world.  I have also received assistance and support from the Roman Catholic Church, but this has only begun being received after having been a member of the faithful for 41 years.  Most people cannot wait 41 or more years before some of their basic needs are met; they would be dead, otherwise.

The Roman Catholic Church is also extremely patriarchal.¬† Women are excluded from high-ranking positions in the church.¬† Women are not allowed to be priests or deacons, bishops or cardinals, or popes.¬† Even if a¬†Roman Catholic woman becomes a priest, she is often not recognized or supported by her followers.¬† Women – often but for the Virgin Mary – are viewed in a negative light in Roman Catholicism.¬† After all, followers are typically taught that it was Eve who led to Adam’s downfall, and the resulting exit from Paradise.¬† There are different versions of this story that place equal responsibility on both Adam and Eve for being removed from Paradise, though those are the stories that one does not hear and that are not taught in the faith.¬† Whether consciously or unconsciously women are, therefore,¬†blamed and condemned by the Roman Catholic Church.

Additionally, the Roman Catholic Church is also sexist.¬† In viewing Jesus’ mother, Mary, as a virgin and placing her virginity on a pedestal, the Roman Catholic Church has elevated a woman to¬†a position in the natural world that is unrealistic for all other women.¬† Certainly, virginity and chastity are important for women, however they are also ideals that are not realistic.¬† Often, for example, the Roman Catholic Church does not hold the same ideals for men, and this leads to a sexist double standard.¬† Such standards are biased and unfair.¬† Further, the many prayers and recitations in the Roman Catholic Church¬†are sexist because they are not gender neutral, therefore excluding and purposely ignoring the need for increased rights, equality, and freedoms of women within the Church.

The Roman Catholic Church is also sexist in regard to its views regarding abortion.  I am a Roman Catholic for whom the choice for life is extremely important, however I also understand that it is important to provide choice, as well.  As a person who has only had one pregnancy, and who has never had any abortions or miscarriages, I believe in the value or life, though I also support the importance of choice.  It must be understood that there are situations and experiences that girls and women have that may be traumatic, out of their control, and/or life-threatening.  The are other situations in which females simply decide against continuing their pregnancy.  Women and girls must have opportunities for choice in whether or not to give birth to children.  It is wrong when the Roman Catholic Church preaches about life, but then, does not provide support or assistance to girls or women who are in need of it.  And, what about the male who has caused a pregnancy to occur?  Typically, the Roman Catholic Church does not hold males accountable to a role of responsibility when women and/or girls whom they impregnate obtain abortions.  Again, the responsibility is usually all upon the female, and the male is absolved of responsibility.  The female, again, is often blamed, stigmatized, and lacks support she needs in the very place that should provide it.

In marriages in which there is difficulty, abuse, or domestic violence, Roman Catholic priests are not consistent in their views regarding what steps should be taken to either maintain or dissolve the marriage.  Such views contribute to confusion and increased sexism in the Roman Catholic Church.  Some priests maintain the view that the wife and children must be subservient to the male, whom they view as the head of the household and the absolute, all-powerful leader of the family.  Such a view is harmfully patriarchal, and in fact, can contribute to a worsening of the situation in which the victims continue to be victimized, blamed, and unsupported.  Men should not necessarily be believed or obeyed at all costs, or it could cost one her life.  (Then, of course, people will ask why she did not just leave the marriage.)   On the other hand, there are priests who encourage marital counseling for a couple who is in trouble, however none of those with whom I have ever interacted are qualified to provide it.  First, they are not licensed counselors, nor do they have experience in marriage, or in having a wife and family of their own.  Then, there are those priests who say that if counseling does not help and if the situation is so bad, then divorce is the best option.  Wait, I thought marriage was supposed to be forever.  Sometimes, however, no matter how much a woman may try to improve and maintain her marriage, divorce is the only viable alternative that remains, whether it is initiated by her spouse or herself.

There is also the issue of homosexuals in the Roman Catholic Church.¬† I am an individual who is and who always has been heterosexual, though I recognize that there is a need in the Roman Catholic Church to provide support and equality to all peoples, including those who are homosexual.¬† I am also one who believes that marriage should be – notice that I said “should be” – between¬†a man and woman, though I recognize this as one of my values because this is what I was taught.¬† I also take care not to impose my values about this issue onto others.¬†¬†Therefore, I maintain the view that marriage should be between two partners who love and are fully committed to each other, for the benefit of themselves and their families, if they have them.¬† Therefore, I believe that the Roman Catholic Church should not exclude or condemn individuals who are homosexual, nor create guilt in them or cause them to feel sinful simply because of their sexual orientation.

Further, there are many experiences that I have had in the Roman Catholic Church Рa church that promotes Jesus and Christianity Рthat have been extremely unchristian.  Within individual Roman Catholic churches, schools, groups, and/or organizations affiliated with it, there have been a great number of situations I have had in which people who contend to be Catholic and Christian behave in decidedly unchristian ways, in ways of which Jesus would not approve.  There are many Roman Catholics who are basically hypocrites because they preach about and say they believe what they actually do not practice.

As an example of such hypocrisy,¬†a number of Roman Catholic men throughout my life (both as a child and as a woman) have been sexually harassing (or worse) of me, and have outright wanted to have an affair with me, even though they are married and/or we were both married to other spouses at those times.¬† I am a person who has never – I repeat, never – had an affair with any man.¬† Even in a difficult (to say the least) marriage in which there were temptations to be unfaithful, I remained faithful to my then-spouse.¬† I have also turned down every man who has wanted to have an affair with me.¬† I understand that he is seeking something temporary and for his own gratification, and does not understand the seriousness or implications that having an affair would create on himself, his wife, and his children.¬† The Roman Catholic Church and society must teach men to be faithful to their wives and families, even when times are tough.¬† When times are tough, it is taking the easy way out to throw in the towel regarding one’s marriage and commitment.¬† More instruction and better role models are needed for Roman Catholic men (and all men) in regard to maintaining and developing healthy marriages, at least from my perspective.

Another major issue in the Roman Catholic Church is abuse and sexual abuse, sexual harassment, and/or harassment by priests toward female and male congregants, particularly those who are younger and/or who are in positions of vulnerability.  In churches and dioceses throughout the United States, in Ireland, and elsewhere, there have been numerous instances of sexual abuse by priests.  While I have not personally experienced sexual abuse by any priests in the Roman Catholic Church, I do know of those who have and those who have perpetrated abuse that was unrecognized by the greater congregation and not at all addressed, corrected, or resolved by higher level diocesan church leaders.  Such abuses have ripe ground to occur in such a closed, structured, hierarchical organization of men who all too often have ignored, overlooked, and not considered the seriousness of the situations.  Instead, and all too often again, abusive priests are ushered along to different parishes where they continue and/or escalate their abuses, and/or continue them unrecognized.  Certainly, there are many good priests, and those who perpetrate abuses give a bad name to those who do not.  And, the Roman Catholic Church has implemented serious steps at preventing future abuses, as one good thing that has come from these situations, however they do continue to occur.  Such abuses by priests have caused many followers to leave the faith, and to lose hope in the very people who are supposed to be Christ-like.  I personally know of several people who have left Roman Catholicism because of these issues Рsuch issues that should never occur.

Because of all of these experiences that I have had as a Roman Catholic, and more, I¬†have become¬†a reluctant Roman Catholic.¬† In the past couple of years, I have actively sought out and have considered other faiths.¬† All of the faiths that I have considered are still within Christianity, though they have been either less Catholic or more Protestant than Roman Catholicism.¬† In these faiths, however, I have found many issues that are similar to those I have encountered in the Roman Catholic Church.¬† Certainly, in some faiths, women have higher positions of power and might actually be the highest leader of their faith, however I observe that being practiced to the most minimal extent in the area where I live around Atlanta, an area that is mostly Baptist and thus, also highly patriarchal based on related religious and cultural views.¬† Also, in other faiths, the Virgin Mary is not held in nearly the same regard as she is in Roman Catholicism.¬† While Roman Catholics may place her on a pedestal and view her unrealistically in regard to virginal expectations of women in society, she is completely absent in some other faiths, leaving me with a feeling that I could become a member of such a faith, but that is the only thing holding me back – that faith’s exclusion of Mary as the Mother of Jesus.

So, I always return to the same crossroads – do I remain Roman Catholic or do I convert to another faith?¬† While there are many things in Roman Catholicism with which I disagree and do not support, I always reach the same answer – to remain Roman Catholic.¬† The most important part of my decision always includes that I am a faithful follower and believer in Jesus.¬† I might not agree with many of the practices of Roman Catholicism, however I do believe in the teachings of Jesus.¬† I have always come to the conclusion that I can pray for myself, and my friends and enemies.¬† I can pray that the eyes of those who have sight but who are blind can be opened.¬† I can work to do more to bring awareness about the importance and value of women and children in the Church, rather than support the male leadership’s exclusion of them.

I recognize that I am one who is not content to simply accept the rigid, patriarchal, and sexist nature of the Roman Catholic Church, but who is one who strives to bring increased equality and support to marginalized groups, including women and children.  While Blessed Teresa and Pope Francis, for examples, are excellent role models within the Roman Catholic Church, and have brought much compassion and support to people around the world, I, personally, continue to experience much rigidity, patriarchy, sexism, and inequality in my faith.  I doubt that the Roman Catholic Church will ever provide full equality, understanding, or acceptance in the Church for women, and while I am intolerant of that, I do accept Jesus as my Lord and Savior.  Thus, I continue to remain a reluctant Roman Catholic, and will likely revisit this issue at many points throughout the remainder of my life.  I place my faith in God that He will continue to guide me on the path that is right for me.

“When Sexually Offending ‘Pillars of the Community’ go Undetected” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Pillar Ruins, Retrieved from wallygrom/Flickr, August 16, 2013

Pillar Ruins, Retrieved from wallygrom/Flickr, August 16, 2013

When men who sexually harass, assault, traumatize, or otherwise violate others, especially when they are wealthy, powerful, and/or influential ‘Pillars of the Community’ – and they go undetected and are not held accountable or responsible for their actions – everyone, including themselves, is diminished and victimized.¬† Recently, we have heard and read about the sexually offensive actions of San Diego’s mayor; nearly 20 women have now come forward with accusations of sexual harassment and misconduct by this man.¬† Neither is he the first whose actions have violated and offended so many women, nor will he be the last.

Many other men from all walks of life may go undetected for years or even decades with their sexually offensive and/or harmful actions, especially if they are wealthy, powerful, and/or influential.  Often, these men Рwhen faced with the harsh truth of their words and/or actions Рblame, punish, revictimize, and do whatever possible to destroy the survivors of their misconduct.  For them, it is a vicious cycle from which they cannot escape because they may often be unwilling and/or unable to honestly admit to themselves that they are wrong, that their words and actions are harmful to their victims, and that they require assistance to overcome their misconduct.  In fact, they may not even see any wrongdoing in their actions, nor perceive their victims as victims; thus, the cycle continues, especially when these men are undetected and are not accountable, nor responsible for their actions.

In 2007, a female parochial school student at St. Joseph’s School in Gowanda, New York described to her teacher and her fellow classmates about how the parish priest, at the time, had sexually harassed her when he was alone with her in the parish rectory.¬† At the time of the incident, the student was 12-years-old.¬† This occurred during a time when a party was being held in recognition of the altar servers who gave of their time and service to the church and school at parish masses.¬† The student reported that she had not told her family about the incident, and therefore, the teacher took responsibility and informed her parents about it.¬† Sadly, the parents did nothing about it.¬†

The teacher, being concerned about the girl’s safety, suggested that she no longer be an altar server.¬† The girl, however, wanted to continue being an altar server – and did so for her remaining year at the school – while¬†the girl’s teacher and certain of the girl’s fellow students made great efforts to be sure that there were no other instances of the priest being alone with her.¬† That the priest (who is now retired) was in his 60’s at the time, and the student was only 12, suggests that this church leader may be a pedophile.¬†

When confronted through communications by the teacher that he was a wolf in sheep’s clothing rather than a pious church leader, the parish priest retaliated against her.¬† He privately stated to her, threatening that she “should be afraid” of “the Mafia.”¬† Far from fearing the Mafia for having done no wrong, this woman continues to believe that it is the priest who should be afraid – not of the Mafia – but of the judgment of God.

During the years 1976-2006, a former female member of St. Joseph’s Church – the¬†church that is associated with the aforementioned school – experienced¬†repeated sexual harassment, as well as two instances of pedophilia by one of the wealthy, powerful, and influential benefactors of these institutions.¬† The¬†early instances occurred when the girl was 5 and 7-years-old, with one being at one of the man’s businesses and the other occurring while the man was dressed as Santa Claus.¬† The man sexually harassed this female, treating her like his sexual plaything, from his ages of approximately 35-65 years old.¬† In later years, the man typically sexually harassed the woman in church and/or on church property, including making sexually explicit actions and gestures toward her in church during masses.¬† The man has also been known to have sexually harassed other women and girls in his immediate community.

In 2007, the father of the man immediately aforementioned behaved in a manner of sexual misconduct toward the woman by committing a sexual battery against her, privately, while in church after a mass.  The woman remained in the presence of this offender and confronted him, though he simply walked away.  As a man whom this woman considered a friend Рsomeone whom she had known only as a friend throughout her life, and who had provided emotional and spiritual support to her in the past, as well as having dated one of his grandsons Рthe woman expected an apology at the very least, but got nothing of the sort. 

To have lowered¬†themselves to committing¬†pedophilia, offensive sexual actions, and/or harmful sexual misconduct – and¬†taking no responsibility to correct it, nor to be accountable for it – reflects¬†how men who are wealthy, powerful, and/or influential ‘Pillars of the Community’ may go undetected in their sexual misconduct.¬† These men may be priests, business owners, award winners in their communities, and highly-regarded by most people.¬† That these men have not taken any steps to correct or seek forgiveness for their misconduct from their victims causes them to avoid identifying and realizing that they have a problem, and therefore, they continue the vicious cycle with other unsuspecting people.¬† They do not know or care in the least that they have lost the respect and trust of those whom they have victimized; they appear oblivious to the harm they have caused.¬† Rather than honestly admit and recognize that they have a problem, they do everything possible to cover it up, as well as blame, punish, retaliate, and destroy their victims.¬†

I feel sorry for men who have such a need for power, control, and dominance over girls and women that they behave in ways that sexually harass, assault, violate, traumatize, harm, and/or intimidate their victims.¬† That there are many men out there who are viewed by others with admiration and respect, though they secretly and/or discretely perform actions of sexual misconduct, reflects how easy it is for them to go undetected.¬† In situations where the men performing the sexual misconduct are wealthy, powerful, and/or influential ‘Pillars of the Community’ is worse because they have access to so many venues and opportunities to commit their sexual offenses.

Women and girls, in particular, are at great risk for sexual exploitation by the wealthy and powerful.¬† I have often heard the phrase, “From whom much is given, much is expected,” however in¬†some cases regarding the wealthy and powerful, their sexual misconduct goes undetected and may continue for years and/or decades.¬† That many men violate the God-given rights of women and girls (and boys) by committing sexually offensive acts against them shows their lack of respect, appreciation, understanding, insight, and compassion toward them.¬† Many men, especially those who are among the wealthy and/or powerful, can do better to keep their sexual impulses controlled and in check so that they do not rise to the level of harassment, misconduct, assault, or trauma toward others.¬† By not doing so, they truly have no concept regarding the level of emotional pain, distress, trauma, and/or mistrust¬†they have caused, and continue to cause years into the future.

I would like to recognize and send my appreciation to all those who stand up for women, girls, children, and the rights of women and children, especially toward survivors of sexual traumas and abuse.  In my own personal circle of friends, two of these women are Merrie and Frances.  Both women risked their own well-being and reputations, as I also have, to stand up against sexual harassment, sexual offenses, gender discrimination, and hostility toward women in our communities; we also experienced retaliation for our efforts, and still do. 

The ultimate in love and friendship occurs when people risk and sacrifice themselves for the good of others, much as Jesus did.¬† While strong women who stand up to protect those who experience sexual trama and offenses toward them are not often rewarded for their efforts, we have been rewarded by knowing that we have done the right thing in God’s eyes.¬† Our true rewards await in Heaven; the truth has already set us free.

“Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to All!” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Nativity Scene at Maranatha Baptist Church, Lilburn, Georgia, December 2012

Nativity Scene at Maranatha Baptist Church, Lilburn, Georgia, December 2012

Christmas and our celebration of Jesus’ birth is upon us once more as we close out yet another great year!¬† There is always so much for which to be thankful, particularly the coming of Jesus, and his love for us that is so great and boundless that he suffered and died for us to save us from our own sinfulness.¬† Though we will always be human – and have all of the mistakes, unworthiness, and errors that come with it – we must always do our best to be more like Jesus.¬† We must act in ways that are forgiving, understanding, sensitive, compassionate, and giving to others and each other.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from us.  St. John Neumann Church Nativity Scene, Christmas 2012, Lilburn, Georgia

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from us. St. John Neumann Church Nativity Scene, Christmas 2012, Lilburn, Georgia

While most people throughout the world are Christians, celebrating Christmas and recognizing Jesus as our wonderful savior, there are many who celebrate other religious events and holidays.  For them, I also wish a wonderful religious celebration and/or holiday. 

My Son Standing Next to the Nativity Scene at St. Oliver Plunkett Church, Feast of the Epiphany, Snellville, Georgia, January 2013

My Son Standing Next to the Nativity Scene at St. Oliver Plunkett Church, Feast of the Epiphany, Snellville, Georgia, January 2013

So, as I have been blogging on WordPress, now, for the past one year, I would like to take this opportunity to say, “Happy Birthday, Jesus!”, and reflect with this posting that I am a thankful lover of Jesus.¬† Though my words and actions as a Roman Catholic and Christian will always pale miserably and indescribably in comparison to our Savior, I always try to do my best to have my words and actions reflect His love.

Nativity Scene at St. John Neumann School, Lilburn, Georgia, December 2012

Nativity Scene at St. John Neumann School, Lilburn, Georgia, December 2012

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Happy New Year!  May love, blessings, peace, prosperity, good health, and happiness be enjoyed by everyone!

“A Visit with Santa Claus” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

My Son Talking with Santa Claus, December 8, 2012

My Son Talking with Santa Claus, December 8, 2012

Each year for the past four years, my son and my family have enjoyed our annual visit with Santa Claus at my son’s school, St. John Neumann, in the Gwinnett County City of Lilburn, Georgia near Atlanta.¬† St. John Neumann is a regional Roman Catholic school, educating children in kingergarten through eighth grade.¬† And, every year, the Santa Claus Breakfast is a big, “no-miss” event!

For the holiday season, the school is decorated for Christmas with festive trees, pictures, ribbons, bows, and ornaments; and Santa Claus and his eighth grade student “elves” speak with the children about Christmas and what they would like to receive for Christmas.¬†

A local diner, “Dicky Doo’s,”¬†caters a lovely breakfast of eggs, pancakes, bacon, grits, and rolls, along with toppings of strawberries, chocolate morsels, and whipped cream for the pancakes, all served with orange juice and/or milk.¬†

The students have an opportunity to purchase items from the Secret Santa “Shop” for family members and friends.¬† These gifts are inexpensive and thoughtful presents that make the children feel good about being able to give to their loved ones and friends.¬†

This year is the first year in which professional photographs were made available to everyone who visited with Santa Claus.¬† A student’s grandparent who is a professional photographer offered some nice photos for sale.¬† Students’ families could also take their own pictures.

Each year, children can also participate in “cake walks.”¬† Children walk along a numbered-circle to the sounds of Christmas music, and must stand still¬†on a number when the music stops.¬† Hopefully, the number pulled out of the hat is the number on which the child is standing so that he or she can select a prize of a cake, cookies, or brownies.¬†¬†This year, there were many, many¬†baked goods left since there was less generosity with issuing confectionary prizes, however it was still a¬†memorable experience.¬†

In past years, students also enjoyed singing Christmas songs with Mrs. Claus as she stummed her guitar, however she must have been at home today baking cookies or otherwise getting more prepared for the holidays. 

Breakfast with Santa is always a wonderful experience, and one to which we look forward every year.  It is an affordable and inexpensive way to spend a joyful and festive Saturday morning at school during the Christmas and holiday season.  The best part is remembering and being thankful that it is because of Jesus and His sacrifices for us that we celebrate Christmas.