Allegations of Childhood Sex Abuse: Updated
This is not a post about sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. I have written here before about child sexual abuse perpretrated by clergy in the Catholic Church and covered up by others within the Church. Some have claimed it's not that bad and blown out of proportion; others claim such things do not happen anymore; others claim the issue is malice towards the Church. The issue for me has always been the protection of vulnerable children, whom Jesus told us to welcome and protect. This current story, breaking now, about alleged sexual abuse of children by a former Penn State assistant football coach, shows us how vigilant we must always be and how easy it is for people in power to turn from the helpless to protect their own interests.
Dan Wetzel quotes attorney general Linda Kelly in the Yahoo! Sports story,
This is a case about a sexual predator who used his position within the university and community to repeatedly prey on young boys,” attorney general Linda Kelly said. “It is also a case about high-ranking university officials who allegedly failed to report the sexual assault of a young boy after the information was brought to their attention, and later made false statements to a grand jury that was investigating a series of assaults on young boys.”
Childhood sexual abuse is not about the Catholic Church, it is about sin and the willingness of people in power to turn from it and deny it by those who would rather not get involved. As long as children remain vulnerable, we all need to remain vigilant. If these allegations are true and university officials did nothing for almost a decade, shame on them. And pray for the children.
UPDATED: Here is another link to the story from Fox Sports' Greg Couch, Why Didn't Anyone Help? and the New York Times story from yesterday. This is Jason Whitlock's take, November 7, 2011, on the protection of institutions instead of children titled Penn State Cleanup Must Involve Paterno.
John W. Martens
Follow me on Twitter @johnwmartens
No, I doubt this will suffice to end the complaint by some that the Church is being singled out in the child sex abuse scandals in the US. Too many of the commentators here, in my experience, have not shared Father Martin's viewpoint that "the issue for me has always been the protection of vulnerable children," but appeared to view the abuse problem primarily as a wedge issue to undermine the bishops' and the Church's authority. When I brought up the findings of the US Department of Education study that concluded that child sexual abuse by employees in the public school system was many, many times, perhaps 100 times greater than that in the parochial schools, I was actually told by two commentators that the issue of children abused in public schools had no place in this catholic publication and to take any concerns I had to my local school board.
I mean in no way to excuse the stunning failure of some bishops to handle the abuse problem in an equitable fashion, nor am I defending them here in a general way. But until we understand that selectively defending innocent children from sexual predation is simply an inadequate response to the situation. that we must also consider the far greater problem in our public school systems, neither the sad disclosure involving this coach and the ensuing coverup by a few officials nor the Church's abuse issues will be placed into proper context. Only when the massive problems in the public school system are addressed along with those of the Church will such suspicion lose all validity.
One hears already the same excuses coming from the individuals implicated at Penn State that one has been hearing from those in charge in the Catholic Church, the first point being that they had no idea that something this serious was being reported to them.
While I was out today, I noticed a prison work crew picking up trash, and it occurred to me that these individuals broke the law, but that they possibly aren't too different from the rest of us in that they are not necessarily criminals to the core. Similarly, until someone engages in inappropriate sexual behavior, it is not possible to identify him or her as a predator.
Just like priests, by virtue of their role, coaches are not generally assumed to have taken their path in life for the purpose of gaining access to young people they can exploit sexually. Therefore, it seems that the way to protect young people is by establishing and following certain procedures. The Catholic Church may be way ahead of other institutions on this point, so long as the procedures are followed.
1. When school systems receive credible abuse reports they take proper action - they call the police to investigate (the church did not and still does not in too many cases - Kansas City and Philadelphia being two current cases of failure to act morally and legally). If there is enough information to satisfy the police that a crime may have been committed, the school systems generally suspend the staff member who has been charged (with full pay) pending investigation, and, if warranted, a trial. Now priests are suspended by the RCC in some dioceses (obviously not in all even now) - bishops are NEVER held accountable however - unlike the President and head football coach of Penn State.
2. Penn State Trustees immediately fired the men at the top who allegedly knew of the abuse that had taken place and yet never contacted the police. The pope has never done this with bishops. Instead he demands the resignation of a bishop dealing with a diocese the size of Germany and fewer than 3 dozen priests who suggested that IF the church decided to drop mandatory celibacy and ordain women, he would support it.
3. The equivalent authorites in the Roman Catholic church acted as did the now- fired Athletic and Finance staff members of Penn State who seem to have decided to stay silent in order to protect an institution and the money - just like the bishops who did not contact police, they instead moved the priest sexual abusers to new assignments and did not notify their new immediate superior (pastors) of why they had been moved. This freed the priest sex abusers to continue to abuse and tens of thousands of young people were victimized who might have been spared the horror. If Penn State staff who were aware of the likely abuse had reported the likely crimes immediately, a lot of young boys would have been spared a deeply horrible experience.
4. Finally, to this day, almost ten years after the Globe broke the Boston story, a decade when numerous examples of moral failure on the part of the hierarchy of the church have been discovered not just in the US, but in Ireland, Belgium, Germany, Italy, etc, etc, etc, the highest authorities in the Roman Catholic church - the men in Rome - have not only not demanded resignations from bishops who hid crimes and protected sexual molesters, they actually have rewarded many of them. Cardinal Law is the most horrific example of this but there are others.
It seems the trustees of a secular university understand moral decision-making and simple right and wrong better than do the so-called leaders of the church.
Until Rome and the chanceries begin to consistently hold bishops accountable and responsible for protecting sexual perverts and hiding the worst kinds of crimes against children, it seems that Catholics, indeed the general culture, must look to secular school systems and state universities for moral guides instead of to the largest church in the country and in the world.
On point #1, the report of our own US Department of Education and other sources such as the AP have concluded that false. Once again, simply refer to the Department of Education report (Shakeshaft, 2005), and you will find there, and elsewhere, that very commonly accused/suspected public school employees are not dealt with or passed on, an event so common that it even developed its own jargon and terminology among teachers and principals, "passing the trash." A major problem was the 6 figure legal fees it would take a principal and school district to contest the monied power of the NEA defending its accused abusive members. As Fr Martin said elsewhere concerning the Church in America that the bishops have taken effective action to address the abuse issue, albeit only recently, so too perhaps with the public school system. We can hope so.
Ditto on point #3 generally, although Penn State's board, floodlighted by the media, acted correctly. If this had been going on for almost 2 decades, however, I personally doubt that these same board members had no idea of the issue. Either they had an inkling of the problem or they were cluelessly negligent and out of touch.
On point #4, Law has "resigned" and is removed from his position.
Speaking of having escaped attention, have you read his replacement Cardinal O'Malley's recent apology, publication of priest offenders, and actions steps taken and planned to correct the abuse problem in the Boston area?
As far as adopting what the public school system has done on the issue of sexual abuse, no thank you. I don't want 25, 50, 100 times the abuse problem the public school system has had in our parochial school system. We have enough problems without multiplying them manyfold. As John Martens says above, if the protection of vulnerable children is the primary concern (it is for Martens and me, though likely not several other commentators here), the approach should be to reduce, not mulitply, the occurrences of sexual abuse.
I've been looking for you all over these Penn State abuse articles, and here you are!
It is my opinion that the Catholic Church cannot merely defrock priests and reassign bishops who are tainted. It must DEORDAIN them, which means developing a ritual to do so. These people need to be prayed over just like the dead are. They need to be unempowered and ritually handed on to God's judgment, and we should all be able to attend these ceremonies. Then, they should go before the law and get their secular punishment.
As to the public school situation, I do think there is room for more to be done, but one hopes that already the guilty individuals end up on the sex offender registry and that schools will not hire them. Smart superintendents check that applicants are not known sex offenders, not that all superintendents are smart or that the registry is up to date.
In child sex abuse, where there's smoke there's fire, so we all need to wise up and do the right thing when we suspect someone, and we need to teach our children that these people exist and are to be disobeyed.