A story that I rarely share from my childhood involves a priest that reminded me that God loved me no matter what bullies might tell me. I firmly believe that it was this message of love from a religious leader that helped me overcome the scars of being bullied as a young child. It is for this reason that I was pleased to learn about the increased role that Catholic Charities in the Archdiocese of New York is taking in responding to the bullying crisis plaguing America's youth and schools.
In a moving discussion on Sirius XM's Catholic Channel, Catholic Charities of New York's Executive Director, Msgr. Kevin Sullivan, spoke with Dr. Susan Lipkins about the harm being perpetrated by bullies in our society. Dr. Lipkins explained that "We've become a far less civil society" and have even begun to "reward the lack of civility" exhibited by many. Msgr. Sullivan and Dr. Lipkins are not on the fringes of the Catholic Church with regards to their perspectives on bullying, but rather are completely in line with Catholic social teaching. Their voices are needed in today's world, especially in light of their moral and religious force; however, this can only be the beginning of a discerning dialogue for all Catholics on the issue of bullying.
The roots of Catholic Charities' response to bullying can be discovered in the writings and documents put forth by the Catholic Church's leadership on human dignity. In his 1963 encyclical, Pacem in terris, Pope John XXIII wrote, "Any human society, if it is to be well-ordered and productive, must lay down as a foundation this principle, namely, that every human being is a person." It is in the words of John XXIII that we find a reassurance of the absolute dignity of all human beings.
When one child bullies another, we cannot merely turn a blind eye as the bully denies dignity to another human being. As Roman Catholics, and as people seeking to live a moral life, we must condemn bullying as being antithetical to the Christian way of life and to the very understanding of what it means to be a human being. By protecting children from bullying, we are further recognizing that "Human persons are willed by God" and that "they are imprinted with God's image" (Centesimus annus). When a child is bullied, the bully is not merely calling another human being names, but rather they are desecrating a person who has been created in the very image of God. To accept bullying, or to avoid stopping it, is to turn a blind eye to Christ himself: "Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me" (Matthew 25:45).
As Catholics, Christians, people of faith, and human beings, we must say no to bullying and stand up to such with clear expressions of love and peace. We must live as examples for today's young people, so that future generations will grow-up in a world that ensures that schools and playgrounds are safe for all children without exception. In their 1983 document, The Challenge of Peace, the American bishops wrote:
At the center of all Catholic social teaching are the transcendence of God and the dignity of the human person. The human person is the clearest reflection of God's presence in the world; all of the Church's work in pursuit of both justice and peace is designed to protect and promote the dignity of every person. For each person not only reflects God, but is the expression of God's creative work and the meaning of Christ's redemptive ministry.
Catholics are called to protect the dignity of the human person without exception. We must recognize that bullying is an attack on human dignity and, therefore, we must stand in solidarity with the victims of bullying so as to call for an end to such. Catholics need to follow the example of Msgr. Sullivan and Catholic Charities, so as to work towards a society which ensures that our young people are embraced and affirmed.
In the words of Blessed John Paul II, "Life, especially human life, belongs to God; whoever attacks human life attacks God's very self" (Evangelium vitae). Let us all hope that Catholic Churches across the country and around the world embrace the example set by Catholic Charities by talking openly in their communities about bullying and the pain it causes for countless children. Catholic social teaching reminds us that we are to be active in our protection of human life and there can be no doubt that bullying is an attack on human life itself. Let us talk honestly about bullying and respond to it with love, so as to work toward a world that values all human beings without exception, especially society's most vulnerable - our children.