Today, the state of Pennsylvania announced in a lengthy report by its grand jury about the systemic sexual abuse of children in six of the state's eight Catholic dioceses. More than 1000 reported cases dating back to the late 1940s. And perhaps the most damning: the cover up of the crimes by the Catholic leadership nationally, which chose to ignore the claims of victims' families, or to reassign the offender priests instead of turning them in to civil authorities.
Like the famous, Oscar-winning movie of 2015, Spotlight, the report raises questions about how the church can change the structure of the church so as to prevent such crimes in the future.
In a radio feature today on National Public Radio's The Takeaway, the only church official willing to talk about the issue is the Bishop of Erie's diocese. His take on the issue: shameful, and disgraceful. Among his suggested remedies: reporting all allegations to civil authorities, and a third-party ongoing oversight of all church compliance with stricter rules about children's education and care.
The interviewer asked him about other strategies, like allowing women into the priesthood, the marriage of priests, the male dominance of the church and, finally, the value of continued obligations by priests to a vow of chastity. The bishop sidestepped those issues by saying, correctly in my opinion, that child sexual abuse is prevalent in homes where parents and other caregivers are present. In other words, he said "it's a society issue, not just a church issue."
The book we wrote: SO, The New Scarlet Letters, acknowledges that the issues involving sex offending is immense, and far from being owned or isolated to one church institution.
The review on The Takeaway, like so much of media coverage, tends to narrowly focus only on the crime of the day, or the decades in this case, and then move on to the consequence. It's a typical black and white approach to something with a lot of gray area, a lot of complexity.
Extending far beyond the boundaries of accusation and the punishment is a world where prevention strategies can be developed, where the proclivities and appetites of sexual beings can be examined and discussed, where the would-be offenders can be counseled or corrected before the crime is committed. In this same context, those who offend can be better supported and treated so as to change a violent behavioral characteristic, instead of prison, or in addition to prison (if the convicted person shows no interest or capacity for change.)