Merely Growing Pains?

Daniel Larsen is a fourth-grader at St. Mary Magdelene Parish School. For the last few weeks, he has been staying after school to get special training in how to acolyte for the big feast days. Fr. Henry, the assistant pastor, selected Daniel from among all the other new acolytes to learn these important roles. Daniel's mother, Sharon, has noticed that he has been pretty moody lately. Normally very well-behaved, Daniel also has begun acting out at home. This afternoon Daniel came home and slammed down his books on the table before stomping into the kitchen to find a snack. Up until now, Sharon had simply attributed his moodiness to "growing pains," but this was too much. However, when she confronted Daniel about why he was acting that way, all he would say was that he didn't want to be an acolyte any more. When Sharon tried to ask him why, Daniel just shouted "leave me alone" and went storming up the stairs to his room.

While Sharon is deciding that she had better leave him by himself for a while, she receives a phone call from her friend, Karen, who is the mother of Gregory, one of Daniel's school pals. Karen also happens to be the DRE for the parish. While they are talking, Sharon mentions her frustration with how Daniel has been behaving. Karen offers to babysit sometime when Sharon needs a break, and invites Daniel over to her house to play with Gregory for a couple of hours so Sharon can re-group.

After she hangs up the phone, Karen starts thinking more about what Sharon has told her and starts to wonder. Fr. Henry does all the individual interviews with the children who are going to make their First Communion, and Karen remembers thinking it was odd that he always closed the door to his office, but Fr. Henry told her it is was "so the child can talk about these spiritual matters in private." Karen decides to call another friend, Helen, who is the DRE at Fr. Henry's previous parish. Helen tells her that Fr. Henry was not at their parish very long, and remembers that he left quite suddenly because of a "family emergency" and didn't even have time to say good-bye. Helen says that she wondered about that a bit because she knew that their parish was the second place Fr. Henry had been appointed as assistant pastor, and he had not been more than 18 months at the first one. She had heard some rumors that the "family emergency" really had to do with "irregular behavior," but when Karen pressed for more details all Helen would say was that she had "heard things." Karen hangs up the phone feeling even more frustrated and confused than when she first made the call.

What should Karen do?

Analyze this case:


  1. What if the acolyte training included a group of fourth-graders rather than Daniel alone?
  2. What if Daniel also has been complaining that he wants to quit Cub Scouts and the soccer team?
  3. What if Helen tells her that Fr. Henry had been accused of molesting a child, but nothing ever came of it?

For resources on protecting children from abuse, see