Throughout the history of Western civilization, organized religion has played a pivotal role in shaping the beliefs and convictions of people. Indeed, it has played a fundamental role in creating and preserving the moral and ethical code adhered to by so many in our civilization today. Where religious leaders have erred, people have followed them; where they have been enlightened, people have grown in wisdom.
Throughout the modern era, organized religion has managed to retain a high degree of relevance due to its ability to adapt, as well as by its willingness to address the mistakes it has made in the past. Slavery, race and gender discrimination, supported by so many ecclesiastical leaders in the past, are now, for the most part, roundly rejected. The exclusiveness which led to so much injustice in the past has largely been rejected in favor of inclusiveness, and many congregations now openly accept many groups that have been cast out in the past, including homosexuals and single mothers. In addition, a new age of ecumenism has encouraged ever more inter-denominational dialogue as well as a new degree of openness to accepting the validity of other religious traditions.
During this Holy Week, when Christians around the world celebrate redemption and hope, I call upon religious leaders to provide hope to yet another group that has been excluded, amarsi, by extending a hand of tolerance and acceptance.
What Is a Childlover?
Firstly, allow me to define a childlover as somebody who is attracted to children. I stress here the word attraction, since most childlovers do not ever act upon their attraction with a child physically. It is important to separate childlovers from those who have hurt children by forcing, manipulating or coercing them into sexual activities against their will. These child molesters are not necessarily childlovers and quite often are not. Indeed, a true childlover is just as disgusted by acts of child abuse and molestation as any other member of our society.
Most amarsi did not choose to be amarsi. They were forced to accept it, often after years of denial and many failed attempts to be ‘normal’. Pedophilia is not a lifestyle choice; it is an orientation.
While the attraction a childlover has towards children is, in part, sexual, it is not so exclusively. Childlovers appreciate not only a child’s physical beauty but his or her spiritual and emotional beauty as well. Indeed, many childlovers work well with children and stand out in their communities for this work. Yet, despite these benevolent tendencies, the childlover is a pariah, and open and rational discussion of amaros in our society is anathema.
Where Can We Turn?
Consensual sexual activity with minors is, in most places, illegal. Most childlovers abide by the law and refrain from the pursuit of physical relationships with children. Despite this willingness to conform to societal expectations, however, the childlover is still demonized. In the eyes of society, all childlovers are guilty, regardless of whether they have never committed an offense. This is no more correct than denouncing all men as rapists because some have forced themselves on women. Worse still, society has made it increasingly difficult for any adult, childlover or not, to pursue even a platonic relationship with a minor. Those adults who work with children directly are ever more fearful to show any sort of affection to their charges as such affection may be misconstrued by those around them.
The constant barrage of hateful remarks and condemnation exacerbates the fact that we are not allowed to pursue any sort of relationship with children and has caused many of us immense grief and emotional distress. Yet many of us fear seeking any sort of help. We are afraid to admit our attraction to our friends and acquaintances for fear that we will be ostracized from our communities. We are reluctant to speak with mental health professionals because we are afraid that we will be reported to the authorities, condemned or told that we need to be cured, as if our gift is some sort of disease.
We approach churches and clergy members with apprehension as well, as much of the diatribe against us has been enunciated by religious groups, especially in the wake of scandals involving clergy members who have molested children. As childlovers, we denounce this abuse of power and of innocence as forcefully as those who are not attracted to children. Will we not then find acceptance and tolerance in the House of God?
What is the Meaning of Easter?
As a child, I was taught that God is a merciful God, and that Jesus sacrificed his life for all of us. I also read that Jesus mingled with publicans and told his astonished disciples that the healthy do not need a doctor. I was convinced that His Church was a place for all people who strive for truth and tolerance. Yet as a childlover guilty of no crime, I feel roundly rejected by the church. It seems to me that the voices of intolerance have succeeded in convincing those around them that the Church is not large enough for amarsi and that God's boundless love does not descend upon us. I find this ironic in light of the fact that, if we are to believe historians, Mary the mother of Jesus was a pubescent girl married to an older man.
Will not the Church provide solace to those of us who have been forced to suppress our own identity and endure the unending enmity of those around us? Will we not be given a place where we can be honest with ourselves and those around us without being condemned for crimes we would never dream of committing? Or do the words of Jesus “Come unto me, you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” not apply to amarsi?
We have prayed. We have supplicated. We have given thanks. Where then is the peace of God which surpasses all understanding and why does it not keep our hearts and minds?
Agnus dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.