Kerry Alys Robinson

Protecting children at the border and in the church

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

When our son and daughter were little I told them that if we ever got separated — in a park, at a museum, in any public space — they should look for a mother with young children and go to her, because she would keep them safe and know how to reunite us as quickly as possible. 

As an American and as a Catholic who has spent her life working on behalf of the church to better equip it to alleviate human suffering, protect the vulnerable, champion justice and exercise a prophetic moral voice in the public square, these days I am bereft on behalf of children.

Our youngest child, now 20, spent this summer working for our local congresswoman on Capitol Hill. To her credit, Sophie has not let our national political acrimony or ignominy dissuade her from the conviction that public service is a noble calling, especially in advancing the common good. She was struck by the passion and commitment of both colleagues and constituents. 

At no time was that more evident than when citizens called, without pause, distraught and outraged by our government’s policy of separating children from their parents at the border. One woman’s call was particularly plaintive. 

Crying, she phoned to register her full opposition to the inhumane practice. Through her tears, she explained that she had just left her son off at summer camp. This admittedly privileged rite of passage and loving goodbye had left her heart aching for her child. She could not imagine the brutality of having him forcibly taken from her with no guarantee of being reunited. In total, more than 1,000 people called. The majority were mothers. 

Today approximately 700 children, including 40 children who are 4 years old or younger, have still not been reunified with their parents.

The staff and volunteers of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley in Brownsville, Texas, and its indefatigable executive director, Missionary of Jesus Sister Norma Pimentel, have tenaciously responded to this abominable practice and the plight of refugees. I am grateful for Sister Norma, for Catholic Charities, for Hope Border Institute and for many other Catholic agencies and people of goodwill responding with mercy to human suffering at our borders. 

I am grateful, too, for the church, which has formed and inspired so many deeply moral heroes and heroines, many of whom work tirelessly for a more accountable and transparent institutional church, while ministering to those in need.

These are not easy days to be Catholic, or to keep one’s faith in what the church can be at its most accountable, most transparent and best governed. For 16 years, and especially over the past two months, Catholics in the United States have learned with excruciating detail how sexually abusive priests criminally, irreparably hurt children, and culpable church leaders systemically failed to protect them. 

Just as my daughter won’t give up on the nobility of public service, despite the dishonorable behavior of some of our country’s leaders, I won’t give up on the church, despite the egregious behavior of some of its leaders. I will continue to work with people of profound integrity and dedication — ordained, religious and lay leaders — to effect necessary, managerial reform of the church and to inculcate transparency, accountability, contemporary best managerial practices, and standards of ethics and excellence in every aspect of the church. 

Most of all, I won’t give up on protecting children. 

A good first step, long overdue, is to ensure that women are included in leadership and decision-making, together with men, at every level of the Catholic Church. So much the better if they happen to be mothers.


  • immigration
  • clergy sexual abuse