Is there room for God in the Olympics?

Rebecca Dussault to talk faith, sports at Theology on Tap

Avatar

If there was any doubt a world-class athlete could find fulfillment in the increasingly secular world of competitive sports and pursue a virtuous life, Olympian skier Rebecca Dussault could make a good case for it.

Colorado-native Dussault has traversed the world claiming championships and competing in the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy. She finished sixth in the Triathlon World Championships in Germany and won the 2010 Winter Triathlon World Championships, the best-ever finish for an American woman in its history. She is an eight-time U.S. National Cross Country Ski champion and top-ranked U.S. Women’s Nordic skier.

Through it all, she’s found sports nourish her faith and vocation.

“We need sports and fitness because it helps our souls be victorious over the weakness of our bodies,” said Dussault, 33, from her Gunnison home.

It’s also strengthened her vocation as wife to her husband, Sharbel, and mother to her four children.

“As much as it’s something I do, it’s amazing how it gives purpose and strength to my whole family,” she said.

Dussault will speak to young adults about her life as a champion world skier and living her Catholic faith at the next Theology on Tap lecture, set for 7 p.m. Feb. 10 at Katie Mullen’s Irish Restaurant and Pub, 1550 Court Place, in downtown Denver.

Dussault’s love for sports began when watching the Olympics as a young girl, which “moved me to my core,” she said.

When she began cross-country ski racing at 15, she was confronted with the increasingly secularized environment surrounding competitive sports. While traveling with her team, she was teased for wearing a chastity ring and ridiculed for getting married at 19. Teammates often partied and wouldn’t let her play Christian music. A coach once held a meeting in an office where pornography was visible, she said.

“Having lived in it much of the last decade and a half, I can say there’s very little Christianity in it,” Dussault said.

The temptations for vanity and pride are ripe in a world filled with freebies, she said.

“You’ve got a lot of material gifts and you look amazing,” she said. “You just live in this world of self and it leaves little room for seeking something else when you’re so self-filled.”

She credits her homeschooling days in Gunnison with fortifying her Catholic faith and giving her the strength to live her beliefs and attend Mass despite the demands of competitive skiing.

Instead of going to college, she married her childhood sweetheart and continued to pursue skiing in between “baby breaks” to have her children and focus on her family.

“It’s been such a blessing to be both,” she said. “It hasn’t made me the best ski-racer in the world, but I want to be the best mother in whole world, and that’s my first goal.”

She’s found that preparing for competitions and traveling with her family she calls her “domestic church” has helped draw them closer.

Dussault has competed in other sports and enjoys biking, running, tennis, hiking, ice climbing and kayaking, to name a few.

Sports, she said, “pull out the best in me. It makes me a determined, motivated person and it makes me see the potential in other people. When I’m competitive, I have a drive that flows over into my spiritual life.”

Competing has given her the platform to share her faith and give her the skills to pursue a holy life.

“When I’m using (my gifts) properly and fully,” she said, “I feel fulfilled and like I have a way to channel that glory back to God.”

COMING UP: Opinion: There is cause for hope amid dire reports of clergy sexual abuse of minors

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!

By Vincent Carroll

This Dec. 13, 2019 opinion column was originally published by the Denver Post.

When will it end, many Catholics must wearily wonder. And not only Catholics. Anyone who reads or listens to the news must wonder when the Catholic church sex scandals will ever be over.

But in one major sense, the crisis already has passed and what we’re witnessing — and will continue to witness for years — is the aftermath.

To see what I mean, go to Appendix 4 in the report on sexual abuse of minors by clergy in Colorado issued in October by investigators led by former U.S. Attorney Bob Troyer. There’s a bar graph highlighting the “number of victims by decade the abuse or misconduct began.” Towering above all other decades for the archdiocese of Denver is the bar for the 1960s, representing 74 victims. In second place is the 1970s with 25 victims, and the 1950s is third with 14. The 1990s had 11 victims and the 1980s three.

As the report observes, “Roman Catholic clergy child sex abuse in Colorado peaked in the 1960s and appears to have declined since. In fact, the last of the Colorado child sex abuse incidents we saw in the files were 1 in July 1990 and 4 in May 1998.”

In other words, nearly 70 percent of all the abuse documented in the attorney general’s report within the Denver archdiocese occurred a half-century or more ago.

Denver’s history differs somewhat from the national experience, but not wildly so. Researchers at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice concluded in 2004 after examining the national data on accusations of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy between 1950 and 2002 that “more abuse occurred in the 1970s than any other decade.” The 1960s were also atrocious years for Catholic youth and so was the first half or so of the 1980s.

It appears that accusations in the years since have held to the same chronological profile. Mark Gray, a survey researcher at the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University, reported recently that CARA has analyzed 8,694 accusations of abuse made between 2004 and 2017 (compared to 10,667 earlier allegations studied by John Jay researchers). The result: The distribution of cases is “nearly identical to the distribution of cases, over time, in John Jay’s results.”

In other words, a large majority of the accusations of abuse that have surfaced in this century are also dated to the horrible era of 1960 to 1985.

This pattern even holds for incidents in last year’s Pennsylvania grand jury report, although news coverage often left the impression that it recounted a fresh flood of new incidents. The report’s scope and details were certainly new and devastating, but most (not all) of the incidents and perpetrators were old (or dead). Those accused of abuse in the Pennsylvania report, for example, were on average “ordained as priests in 1961,” according to Gray.

Given this context, it’s hardly surprising that “the most prolific clergy child sex abuser in Colorado history,” according to the special investigator’s report, namely Father Harold Robert White, was also ordained in 1961.  His depredations “continued for at least 21 years,” the heyday of sexual abuse and church complacency, during which time he “sexually abused at least 63 children.”

Chilling.

I am perfectly aware that the Colorado investigation hardly exhausts the number of victims of clergy sexual abuse. It covers diocesan priests but not those who served in religious orders. Records are likely incomplete and some perhaps destroyed. And the actual number of victims certainly exceeds the number who have come forward.

There is also the question of a reporting time lag — the fact that victims often don’t muster the courage to come forward for years. But if this had been a major factor in the reduced number of incidents after 1985 at the time of John Jay College’s 2004 report, that number would surely have seen a disproportionate surge by now. And yet it has not.

The authors of the state investigation emphasize that they are unable to reliably say that “no clergy child sex abuse has occurred in Colorado since 1998,” and warn against concluding that clergy child sexual abuse is “solved” given ongoing weaknesses they outline regarding how the church handles allegations.

Their caution is understandable given the church’s history in the past century (in the report’s words) of “silence, self-protection and secrecy empowered by euphemism,” and their recommendations to strengthen the diocese’s procedures are for the most part on point. But it is also true that child sexual abuse will never be “solved” in the sense of it being eradicated — not in religious denominations, and not in schools, daycare centers, scout troops, youth sports, and juvenile social service and detention facilities, to cite just some of the venues that predators unfortunately exploit and where an accounting for the lax standards of the past has not been undertaken.

John Jay College researchers also released a followup study in 2011 in which they noted, “the available evidence suggests that sexual abuse in institutional settings . . .  is a serious and underestimated problem, although it is substantially understudied.” Meanwhile, “no other institution has undertaken a public study of sexual abuse and, as a result, there are no comparable data to those collected and reported by the Catholic Church.”

Early this month, Bishop Richard J. Malone resigned from the Buffalo Diocese over gross mishandling of sexual abuse claims. He likely won’t be the last. Meanwhile, Catholics still await the Vatican’s promised explanation for how defrocked former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who allegedly preyed on seminarians for decades, could have been promoted time and again. Is there any credible defense?

So the bad news hasn’t stopped. But behavior in the priestly trenches actually is much improved, and that is surely cause for hope.

Email Vincent Carroll at [email protected]