Sexual Abuse by Clergy
Four teenage girls were molested by their youth pastor. When one teen finally disclosed, the senior pastor fired the youth pastor and reported him to the police. He was charged and prosecuted for sex with a minor. So far, so good.
“Punching, flogging, assault and bodily attacks, hitting with the hand, kicking, ear pulling, hair pulling, head shaving, beating on the soles of the feet, burning, scalding, stabbing, severe beatings with or without clothes, being made to kneel and stand in fixed positions for lengthy periods, made to sleep outside overnight . . .”
The movie “Doubt” depicts the enormous complexity of the possibility of sexual abuse of a child by a Catholic priest. Fr. Flynn is portrayed by Phillip Seymour Hoffman as a likable, middle aged priest deeply engaged in the life of the parish and school. He is open and progressive and wants to lead the parish forward.
There are times when the contradictions of life overtake me. I was flying home from the east coast last week and one of those times intruded. On the plane, I sat next to a mother and father and their two-year-old daughter; in front of them sat their five-year-old son and eight-year-old daughter. I was struck immediately by how thoughtful and respectful the parents were with the children and the siblings were with each other.
I’m puzzled. In a recent talk in Ireland about the sexual abuse of children by priests, you described the situation as a “mystery” when you addressed the Eucharistic Congress.
Kansas City Bishop Robert Finn has been convicted of failure to report suspected child abuse; he is the first Bishop to be held accountable for shielding a pedophile priest. He received no jail time or fine; rather he was sentenced to two years of court-supervised probation.
Actress Ashley Judd recently disclosed that she was sexually abused as a child; American Idol judge Kara DioGuardi recently disclosed that she was sexually abused as a child; Senator Scott Brown from Massachusetts recently disclosed that he was sexually abused as a child. When each made a public disclosure, the media described these disclosures as “confessions.”
We have become almost numb to the steady stream of disclosures of child sexual abuse: the Roman Catholic experiences continue even with serious efforts to stem the tide, the Penn State tragedy and subsequent campus situations. So in some ways this most recent release of a new documentary, “Standing Silent,” could easily be overlooked.
As the crisis erupts again in Europe and the U.S. with serious questions being raised about the Pope himself, one has to wonder if the men in charge have learned anything in the past 20 years. It would appear not. If the Vatican were to ask me for advice on how to handle this situation (which they will not), here are my ten steps to justice and healing.
The Penn State report and the conviction of Jerry Sandusky provide the irrefutable evidence that he was a sexual predator on the loose for over twenty years and there were numerous people with full knowledge of his crimes who could have stopped him. How does this happen?
In baseball, there is an old saying about the game: "It ain't over 'til it's over." It's the reminder that you can't leave after the seventh inning and assume you know the outcome. As we have seen cases of sexual abuse by clergy emerge in recent years, it might be easy to assume that we have seen the worst of it. Yet the news continues to inform us of cases still waiting to be heard and justice still waiting to be experienced. It's definitely not over yet.
While I was on vacation, the Vatican came out with a significant doctrinal statement condemning the sexual abuse of children and the ordination of women. One could not help but conclude that these were somehow related. So I was worried that you intended to send the message that the crime of sexual abuse of a child was equivalent to the doctrinal violation of ordaining women.
Spotlight is the name of the team of Boston Globe reporters who investigated the Archdiocese of Boston in 2001 when the puzzle pieces began to fall into place surrounding the sexual abuse of children by priests. Their reporting yielded a Pulitzer Prize and finally blew the lid off the long-standing conspiracy of silence surrounding the protection of priest pedophiles in the Catholic Church. Spotlight, the film, is indeed a cautionary tale for us all. While non-Catholics might be tempted to walk away from the theater with just a tinge of self-righteousness, assuming that this is a Catholic problem, don't give into that temptation. And let us not spend time arguing (as some commentators have) over whether "the problem" is greater or lesser in our faith community. Neither will serve us well.
The recent film Spotlight highlights the investigation by The Boston Globe into the coverup of child sexual abuse by priests in the Boston Archdiocese. Using the lens of investigative journalism, it takes us as viewers/bystanders through the years of complicity by the legal system, The Globe, and the Catholic Church— as well as the active efforts by the Church to hide the abuse and protect the pedophile priests at the expense of the laity. The sexual abuse of children by faith leaders is no longer “news”. Sadly enough, it is too common to be “news”. But what is informative and important about Spotlight for those of us who are bystanders to these atrocities is the laying out of the institutional practices that have allowed this suffering to go on for decades. In November, 2015, the National Center for Victims of Crime called for a national commission on child sexual abuse to investigate institutional settings where children are particularly vulnerable and where we know there has been a history of child sexual abuse.
Dear New Pope: I thought I would give you a few months to settle in before I wrote to you. I have carried on a (one way) correspondence with your predecessors so I thought I should continue the tradition and be in touch with you. I want to commend you for what appears to be your actual concern for the people of God whom you lead. I also want to commend you for reaching out to your people and inquiring of their experiences and opinions about urgent issues in their lives, particularly about their experiences in families. The information which you gather will be critical to your discernment of the path ahead for your church.
I’m so glad you seem to be finding my advice helpful as you move to respond to the growing crisis over sexual abuse in the church. Your comments this week suggest that your understanding has deepened and your analysis is more on target.
The recent death of Joshu Sasaki Roshi and the publication of an extensive article on John Howard Yoder raise once again the contradiction of beneficial teachings and abusive teachers. What legacies do these prominent faith leaders leave?
I don’t know how to work on anything but violence against women and children. I have no other skills. So it’s a good thing that I have a job where I get paid to do the one thing I know how to do.
You may have noticed that the Blog has been quiet for the past few weeks. That is because I just returned from a trip to Australia where I was the guest of Safe Church Ministries. I did training for them in Sydney, Brisbane, and Melbourne. I also keynoted their conference in Sydney, “Safe As Churches?” My first visit to Australia was around 15 years ago when I worked with Uniting Church leaders and others to begin to address clergy misconduct and abuse issues. Then 5 years later, I spoke at a national ecumenical conference during which I began to see the early efforts across denominations to put policy and procedures in place to address complaints of clergy misconduct.
Dear Pope Francis: I want to commend you for owning the painful fact of sexual abuse of children by priests as part of your Good Friday comments. Lent is surely the season for such a public acknowledgement. You named the reality of the abuse; you asserted the necessity of stringent sanctions; you acknowledged the profound vulnerability of children. All of this suggests that you are serious about acting to rectify the harm that has been done, to bring justice where there has been injustice, and to bring healing where brokenness remains.