I’m saddened every time I hear of some new case of child abuse that occurred because someone in a large organization was unwilling to face the truth about the person they called a friend and a co-worker. As a Catholic, I’ve been particularly hurt by the revelations of persistent abuse of children by priests, abuse that was allowed to continue by a Church hierarchy that refused to deal with the abuse in an open and transparent way, allowing the predators loose on God’s unknowing flock. I don’t think there’s a Catholic in the world who hasn’t had to reflect on their faith and what the constantly emerging revelations mean for our faith in the Church as an institution and our leaders as shepherds of God’s people. I’d like to say they’ve been proactive more recently and are making meaningful changes to address this issue, but I know it’s not enough and there are predators loose right now in parishes all over the world. Change comes slowly, particularly in an institution that is over 2000 years old.
What’s made the situation worse is how these revelations have stoked the latent anti-Catholicism in the US that reaches back almost to it’s founding. The historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. called anti-Catholicism “the deepest bias in the history of the American people.” I don’t hate those people who call the Church evil or equate the Pope with the anti-Christ, but in a moment of tragedy and pain, to have those voices raising in anger only makes the situation worse.
And now with the recent scandals in the Boy Scouts and at the BBC, two venerable institutions in each of our respective societies, not to mention what happened at Penn State, I believe the issue of child abuse in our society is exposed as not the plague of one particular institution or group of people, but a much more widespread issue in our society. Whether the organization is as comparatively small, like a college or a university, or as large as 2.7 million members and 1 million adult volunteers, people at all levels in the organization must accept there are predators who walk among us, stalking the innocence of our children. At every level, there must be people willing to speak out and people at higher levels willing to listen. The greatest tragedy to come out of all these scandals was how the predators could’ve been stopped early on, saving many children the suffering they endured because people in positions of power and authority, whether they were scoutmasters, bishops, news executives or college presidents, looked the other way and let the predator continue his hunt.
It’s easy to second guess after the fact, but there must be limits in our society for what we’re willing to excuse. The victimization of children must be one of those things.