“Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.”
5th Step of the 12 step program.
To quote about the 5th step:
“If we have swept the search light of Step Four back and forth over our careers, and it has revealed in stark relief those experiences we’d rather not remember, if we have come to know how wrong thinking and action have hurt us and others, then the need to quit living by ourselves with those tormenting ghosts of yesterday gets more urgent than ever. We have to talk to somebody about them.” (12×12, pg.55).
This is precisely what the 5th Step of the 12 step process requires of those who genuinely desire sobriety – a candid discussion in light of a 4th step inventory. Although the word “required” repels many an alcoholics or drug addicts, Bill Wilson further warns that “without a fearless admission of our defects to another human being we could not stay sober.” (12×12, pgs. 56&57). Obviously, staying sober is a prerequisite for meaningful, fulfilling recovery.
I have served on a board for a Child Advocacy Center. I’ve been on the board of Rape Crisis Center. I’ve served as an ad litem in abuse cases. Early in my legal career I had a professional counselor who was often court appointed to cases in that area and I asked her if there was any hope of salvaging some of the offenders. Could they repent and change?
She said that long experience had taught her that only those who were fully open and who were willing to be honest about their crimes had any hope of escaping what they had done or avoiding it in the future. The rest would not change and she would see them again and again until they eventually were killed or remanded to life in prison.
The implications for situations involving sex offenders in the church are stark. Every time someone tries to “help” one of them by trying to get others to let them avoid the consequences of their actions, that person is helping the offender damn themselves.
They are not going to change, to repent, unless they face the consequences. In addition, every time they fail to change, they harm others. They harm children, little ones.
“But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea. Matthew 18:6
It is popular to decry confession. To treat it as a barbarous remnant of the past. A part of history from Catholicism that is better left in the past. I’ve seen a lot of on-line discussion about how confession should not be a part of religion.
Part of confession and change is also socialization and changed environment. Confession is not enough by itself. But confession + other change is surprisingly effective.
There is actually good science on this resulting from the tracking and the efforts made to help military members who became addicted to heroin in Vietnam and who were either caught or who admitted to a problem (and who in either case were then admitted into treatment):
Those who were addicted were kept in Vietnam until they dried out. When these soldiers finally did return to their lives back in the U.S., Robins tracked them, collecting data at regular intervals. And this is where the story takes a curious turn: According to her research, the number of soldiers who continued their heroin addiction once they returned to the U.S. was shockingly low.
“I believe the number of people who actually relapsed to heroin use in the first year was about 5 percent,” Jaffe said recently from his suburban Maryland home. In other words, 95 percent of the people who were addicted in Vietnam did not become re-addicted when they returned to the United States.
This flew in the face of everything everyone knew both about heroin and drug addiction generally. When addicts were treated in the U.S. and returned to their homes, relapse rates hovered around 90 percent. It didn’t make sense.
It turned out that she wasn’t lying about the statistics. By following their confession (the most common way of the addiction surfacing) with changing their environment and by changing their social group, the addicted veterans were able to break their addiction 95% of the time instead of the 5-10% that others achieved. By interrupting the sequences of addiction, by disrupting or changing the environment in which the addiction occurred and then returning the veterans to a society where the addiction was not accepted and they were socialized differently, they overcame an addiction that most never overcome.
Surprisingly, similar things occur in weight loss surgery. Those who have the surgery and who change their eating patterns and regularly attend support groups keep the weight off. Those who do not generally have less than seven years from surgery to a return to their pre-surgery weight.
So, what is the lesson for dealing with sexual offenders?
- Unless they confess, fully, they do not change.
- Confession includes a full acceptance of the consequences. Shielding them from the consequences keeps them from changing. Confession also includes restitution and full acknowledgement of the harm done.
- Confession also needs to go with disrupting the environment — usually by removing all access to the victim population and removing them from the environment in which they offended. If you have a rapist and a victim in the same ward or stake, the offender should probably be moved to a different stake if you want them to really change. Telling the victim to forgive does not nothing to support the offender’s repentance in this situation.
- The offender needs an environment that does not normalize or accept offenders — combined with the offender focusing on their status being ex-offender who now avoids the situations, callings and people where they offended in the past.
- Most of the things that seem naturally part of “helping” the offender do nothing but damn them and harm their victims.
We hear stories of victims who are victimized more than once and of offenders who think they have gotten away with offending and who abuse others again, and again, and again. Over and over again the stories involve people who thought they were helping and that they were able to change people without full confession, restitution and change of environment.
The Catholic Priest problem consisted of two huge factors — but one of them was the thought that they were successfully rehabilitating the offenders when all they were doing was facilitating evil.
What do you think?
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