No simple fix
As a child I witnessed the damage wrought by adults delving into two topics on the traditional no-fly list for public discourse: politics and religion. I saw men reduced to tears. So, it is with trepidation I go forth on the topic of the child sex abuse scandal facing the Roman Catholic church. Time has passed since the explosive grand jury report was released. Other issues have taken precedence in the news but this one stays with me.
Just to be clear, I am aware that child sex abuse does not take place solely within Roman Catholic parishes. Pedophiles are opportunistic hunters; they prey indiscriminately, not pray discriminately. Victim vulnerability is the central tenant; the tie that binds.
The Roman Catholic church is an enormous global organization that has effectively operated outside legal confines on these particular issues. Underwritten in its mission statement is the premise that the weak and vulnerable need its protection and it is a duty to offer that protection. This summer, the grand jury in Pennsylvania uncovered, in even more detail than the Boston Globe revelations of 2008 (highlighted in the Oscar nominated movie Spotlight), evidence of abuse and the use of Roman Catholic priest privilege to cover-up criminal acts within the fold. The Grand Jury Report offers a window into the actions of predator priests. And as horrible as those images are, it is the cover-up of these actions and the reassignment strategies employed by bishops, documented in the secret archives of each diocese, that begs a different action. And while the abuse is generally universally condemned, the response from the Vatican has been somewhat lacking. In August, Pope Francis acknowledged with “shame and repentance” the failure of the church to act in the interests of abused minors, and that “looking back to the past, no effort to beg pardon and to seek to repair the harm done will ever be sufficient.”
In light of that statement, it seems incongruous that the Roman Catholic church in the United States is currently working to block bills seeking to extend the statute of limitations for reporting sex abuse.
For children there is no absolute safe haven and unfortunately, there likely never will be one. What there does need to be is constant vigilance where adults hold positions of authority over children. We have made progress with respect to the checks and balances that have been put in place to protect our young people from predators. Many that resulted from the exposure of pedophiles operating in different organizations. The Scouting movement, organized sports, public and private schools, have all been forced to make significant changes in the way they do things as a response to the heinous acts of a relative few.
In response to the spate of mass shootings of recent years, students across America have been speaking out on the failure of the politicians’ and the electorate’s ‘thoughts and prayers’ to effectively combat gun violence. They want action, they want protection. These young people see what their NRA counterparts fail to see – American mass shootings statistics are outrageous. The NRA and its supporters fail to make the link. Fail to see the death toll as the anomaly it is when comparing with those of the rest of the civilized world. The choice to look away, to avoid connecting the dots will result in further atrocities
So, even if the thoughts and prayers come from within the Vatican, or from the millions of believers, without real change being put in place there will be more opportunity and more victims. The child sex abuse cycle will continue.
There is no simple fix to a complex problem. But much of what has been able to transpire over the years from parish to parish is the result of predators who, once rooted out, have been reassigned to a new location with the tools of respectability, accessibility and a clean record. Free to reoffend with little or no recourse. For a start, the secret archives housed in each diocese should be released to law enforcement officials.
Sexual predators will continue to exist and act on their impulses. And not just within the Roman Catholic church. But where there is child sex abuse within the church, there needs to be accountability, from the top down if necessary; the Vatican needs to come clean on what was known, when and what it is doing to protect and support the victims.