Kathy Schiffer is a Catholic blogger. In addition to her blog Seasons of Grace, her articles have appeared in the National Catholic Register, Aleteia, Zenit, the Michigan Catholic, Legatus Magazine, and other Catholic publications. She’s worked for Catholic and other Christian ministries since 1988, as radio producer, director of special events and media relations coordinator. Kathy and her husband, Deacon Jerry Schiffer, have three adult children.
Bethany Thompson was just a toddler when she was diagnosed with a brain tumor. She underwent successful surgery and radiation therapy, and emerged cancer-free. The surgery, though, resulted in nerve damage which caused Bethany to have a “crooked” smile.
Eight years later, Bethany was doing well and could look forward to a promising future—but the constant teasing about her disfigured smile by boys at her school left her feeling defeated and alone. She and some friends tried to address the problem by created anti-bullying posters which read “Buddies, Not Bullies” to hang at her school; but administrators at Triad Middle School in North Lewisburg, Ohio refused to permit the display. School officials believed that they had successfully addressed the problem; Triad Local Schools superintendent Chris Piper told the Columbus Dispatch that they had worked
to change the school climate ... and re-evaluate our anti-bullying educational side so that we are able to determine when things go from normal misbehavior to a pattern of bullying and to deter and stop misbehavior.
But on October 19, 2016, according to Bethany's friend, some boys in their sixth grade classroom had been incessant in their bullying of the self-conscious pre-teen. Finally that afternoon, riding home on the school bus, Bethany told a friend that she was going to end her life. Bethany's mother, 34-year-old Wendy Feucht, told the Dispatch:
She told her she loved her and that she was her best friend forever, but that she was going to kill herself when she got home.
Bethany's friend tried to intervene, reporting the conversation to her father; but the father could not reach Bethany's mother in time to prevent the suicide. Arriving at home, Bethany had climbed and found a loaded handgun on a high shelf, walked out to the porch and pulled the trigger, ending the teasing once and for all.
The year before—on December 11, 2014—another Ohio bullying victim shot herself in her Fairfield home. Thirteen-year-old Emilie Olsen, an Asian-American teen who had been adopted at nine months of age, was a straight-A student who excelled at volleyball and was, according to a family friend, “an extremely sweet spirit.” Emilie, too, was subjected to ridicule at school because of her race and perceived sexual orientation. Her classmates began to criticize her in fifth grade, laughing about her choice of camouflage clothing and cowboy boots; by the seventh grade, the bullying had escalated to signs in the restroom urging “Kill Yourself, Emilie” and threats on social media, including a false Instagram account called “Emilie Olsen Is Gay.”
After her death, Emilie's parents filed a lawsuit against the school district, alleging that they failed to come to the aid of their daughter. The Washington Post reported on the case:
At a school where Asian Americans were allegedly labeled 'too smart' and mocked for their 'slanted eyes,' Emilie seemed to feel alienated, the complaint says.
She sought permission to dye her hair to “look more like a white person.” Her parents allege that she asked her father, “Why can’t I be white like you and mom?” Marc Olsen later told police that Emilie had been suffering from depression and had a history of cutting herself...
I[‘m] causing all this trouble on earth,” Emilie wrote to a friend on Facebook on Dec. 1, 2014, the complaint says. “It hurts when you have to explain yourself to people you don’t know or like. You feel them judging you, staring at you, talking about you, and I’ve made up my mind, I wanna die.
The lawsuit filed by Emilie Olsen's parents against the Fairfield City School District is slowly moving forward. Her parents will meet with district officials on September 20, 2017 for a potential "settlement conference." If no agreement is reached, the case will be heard in court in February 2018.
How Widespread Is Bullying?
According to a 2015 report on bullying and cyber-bullying from the U.S. Department of Education, about one in five schoolchildren (nearly 25 million children) reported being bullied in 2012-2013.
Melania Trump, the wife of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, announced in a November 3 speech in suburban Philadelphia that if her husband wins the election, the problem of bullying would be the focus of her service as First Lady. "It is never OK,” she said:
...when a 12-year-old girl or boy is mocked, bullied or attacked. It is terrible when it happens on the playground, and it is absolutely unacceptable when it is done by someone with no name hiding on the internet. We have to find a better way to talk to each other.
Social media, Melania insists, has gotten “too mean and too tough.”
The Catholic Church Warns Against Bringing About Someone's Death
Catholics understand that bullying is an offense against the second part of Christ's great admonition, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church addresses murder, but talks also about unintentional killing—which would include bullying to the point that the victim is driven to take his or her own life. According to the Catechism, paragraph 2269:
Unintentional killing is not morally imputable. But one is not exonerated from grave offense if, without proportionate reasons, he has acted in a way that brings about someone's death, even without the intention to do so.