We as a community have been hit with the same shattering blow to our unity that the Church as a whole has experienced in the last few months. Yet was it really a blow? Or should we talk in terms of a slow rot that begins from the inside and isn’t visible until it reaches the surface?
The social media attacks of the last week highlight needs of the student body which go beyond better handling of sexual abuse and Title IX. I don’t say this to downplay the horror of sexual assault and the reality that it happens on campus. But what does our response to this reality say about who we are? What weaknesses are eating up our unity from the inside?
There is a weakness seen in the discrepancy between what we profess to believe and what we live out. The physical and spiritual are inherently connected, and the moment they are separated, hypocrisy enters the room.
Using the facts of abuse cases to foster campus-wide argument distracts from providing the healing and compassion that victims of abuse actually need. While half the students are arguing online, the others are suffering from what Pope St. John Paul II called the “epidemic of loneliness” in our world today. Perhaps they are suffering from the effects of abuse, and maybe they’re in a state that will drive them to seek love in the wrong places.
What is our community doing to support each other so that sexual assault isn’t even on the radar? Some will say, “Well, it’s not like they planned on it happening.” Of course they didn’t. Then why can’t we have civil discussions about how to prevent it?
We have lost the art of civility in communication, especially online. There are always going to be people, even of the same faith, who have differing opinions. When I was in Washington, D.C. this summer at an internship, I encountered dozens of people whom I fundamentally disagreed with. Yet the program with which my internship was associated emphasized listening to everyone and giving them the opportunity to teach us, despite coming at the world from a different angle.
Though I personally find the phrase “They’ll know we are Christians by our love” overused and a bit cheesy, this is nevertheless true when it comes to the way we talk and behave toward others. There is absolutely nothing about many of the conversation threads over the past week on Facebook that gave me any indication the people involved were Catholic Christians. There was nothing that spoke of basic civility and listening to others’ opinions.
Civility begins with the choice of each person to listen. Only then can there be communication, trust and respect.
This is a mutual discrepancy shared here between administration, staff and students, in the lack of communication on what’s really happening. We all assume we know what’s going on for the others, while in fact there are layers upon layers. Perhaps if we knew all the details we would understand. But what happened to the benefit of the doubt?
Perhaps we should call out others for a lack of integrity. There are certainly occasions where it is warranted and even necessary. I fully advocate for freedom of speech and scoping out the truth. But let’s begins with being people of integrity.