Interview with Certificate Student Melissa Buttner

Interview with Melissa Buttner, M.Div. student in the Certificate program for Child Protection and Safe Environments

Please share what you are studying at The Catholic University of America and what your academic goals are.

I am a third-year student in the Master of Divinity in Pastoral Studies program, and my goal is to share the depth and richness of the Catholic faith through parish ministry. Prior to this, I worked in healthcare, and many conversations that I had in my workplace inspired a desire to be formed more deeply in my faith so I could more effectively share it with others.

How did you hear about the Certificate in Child Protection and Safe Environments? And where are you in the program?

I attended the Catholic Project event, Shepherds to a Wounded Flock, in October of 2019, and the certificate program was mentioned there. I also attended an event by Msgr. Rosetti in which he mentioned the program. I am currently taking the third course in the four-course program.

What kind of work do you hope to do with your degree and the certificate?

My future plans continue to take shape as I pursue my degree. I anticipate working in lay pastoral ministry at a parish, and I am open to seeing where God will lead me. I see the certificate program as being applicable to many different careers. Even though I do not plan to work in a safe environment office, this program will form me to better serve anyone who has suffered some form of trauma or difficult life experience, which is pretty much everyone!

How does faith come into play for you in the certificate program?

In my experience so far, these courses are designed to give information and foster skills more than offer theological reflection. They offer the tools that leaders need to be equipped to effectively minister to people who have experienced trauma and abuse. For me, the faith component of the certificate program is found through applying my theological training to the content of this certificate program, as well as through personal prayer and through discussion with others outside of class. Talking through the concepts and their application has been important to process the information and to see it through the lens of faith.

The material in these courses is difficult; topics related to sexual abuse are not enjoyable, and sometimes the material really challenges my faith to grow. Praying through this material and allowing it to affect my engagement with my faith has allowed this program to really impact and form me. This certificate program brings to light the extensive suffering that people have endured, which raises the question of whether we believe that Christ’s death and resurrection can provide meaning and healing for suffering. If we are truly Christians and want to serve the Church, we have to be willing to join ourselves to those members who are suffering, even from harms inflicted by those who represent the Church. When I am faced with so much suffering, I find myself turning to God who is truly the ultimate source of hope and healing. I trust that God is calling many people to help the Church move forward in hope.

What would you say to someone who is considering this program? 

This program is very valuable, but also not easy. It is hard to confront trauma and the damage that it does to people, and the program really requires you to explore the deep and long-term sufferings of survivors. The professors are very aware of this, and the courses are designed to avoid vicarious traumatization. Overall, the program fosters compassion for people who have experienced trauma, especially for those who have suffered from clergy sexual abuse. It admits the mistakes and harms that were made by Church leadership, and it also notes the many changes that the Church has made. It also shows the need for more people to be equipped to create safe environments! If you are passionate about these issues, or if you are involved in creating safe environments, this program could be immensely beneficial for you and the people you serve.

Do you have any hopes for the program as it grows?

I hope that the program will continue to foster in-person discussion and gatherings for those in the program. Discussion helps to solidify the material covered in readings and assignments, and it also helps students to know they are not alone in wrestling with these difficult topics. Also, I would like to see an annual prayer service for hope and healing hosted by the Catholic Project with participation by members of the certificate program. This could be a beautiful way to bolster and integrate faith in this program.