By Barb Arland-Fye
Maybe if the man had snarled at the TV cameras trained on him, I would have felt less compassion.
But something bothered me about the media’s rapt attention on the convicted child sex offender who had just been released from prison after completing his sentence and was living in my community. Watching the local news segment, I was reminded of stories aired about a new animal on display at the zoo.
The man was pacing the small yard outside his nephew’s home, smoking a cigarette, which the television cameras recorded. LeClaire’s police chief reportedly invited the media to join law enforcement officials as they informed neighbors of the sex offender’s presence. The Scott County Sex Offender Task Force deemed that the man’s risk factors warranted door-to-door notification of neighbors, schools and parks, according to news reports. The 58-year-old man had been convicted of indecent contact with a child in 1985 and then convicted on two counts of second-degree sexual abuse in 1988. The victims were reported to be 13 years old or younger. For his crimes the man spent a total of 23 years in prison.
Monica Applewhite writes in an article for Virtus Online: “… the need to protect children from abuse is clearly of greater importance to the American public than the protection of privacy for anyone accused or convicted of sexual abuse. In the criminal justice system, this standard is most clearly demonstrated in the current practice of disseminating information about arrests, charges, and convictions of sexual offenders to private organizations, communities, and in some cases, to the public as a whole — a practice that was not legal in most states until the mid-1990s.”
Local TV and newspaper reporters enthusiastically provided their audiences with detailed descriptions of the LeClaire man’s neighborhood and its proximity to parks and a school, in addition to reporting his address. Some neighbors don’t think he should be able to live in their community; others are sympathetic asking, rhetorically, where should he be able to live?
This man does not live next door to me; the closest I get to his house is running through his neighborhood. As a mother, though, I can appreciate the apprehension other mothers living in that neighborhood must be feeling. The man told reporters that he did his time and doesn’t want to cause problems for anyone. But what mother of young children is willing to take him at his word?
His victims may still be suffering from the abuse inflicted on them 20-some years ago; his heinous actions and the lifelong consequences resulting from them do not warrant sympathy. But should his life sentence be loathing, hatred and humiliation meted out by people who share the earth with him today?
Jesus’ most challenging requirement to his followers is to love our enemies. That’s a hard concept to put our arms around, especially if we’ve been victims. A couple of years ago, a care provider engaged in a sexually inappropriate action with my older son, who has autism. My husband and I were upset mostly because a trusted adult took advantage of a vulnerable one, and told him not to tell anyone. Even so, we didn’t feel hatred toward this once-trusted adult. I have, on occasion, kept him in my prayers.
A homilist observed recently that he hasn’t heard anyone praying for terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden during prayers of intercession. I gave pause to what the homilist said. Could I pray for Osama bin Laden? Perhaps not by name. But I do pray for people who are evil, that God may change their hearts. Could I love a sex abuser? That’s an equally difficult question. But as I grow in my understanding of what it means to be a Catholic Christian, I know that compassion is a first step.