As we hear the horror stories of how 300 Roman Catholic priests in Pennsylvania sexually abused over 1,000 identified child victims and potentially thousands more, we need to keep a few things in mind for perspective. But let me warn you, the first part of the article gets real. Then, it gets real real.
Let’s get real on clergy sexual abuse
First, this is a horrendous crime which, if under criminal law, should result in the execution of the rapists. Details have been reported on both the sexual abuses and the coverups. It is not pretty. But lawsuits and charges are limited by statutes of limitations. More on that in a second.
Second, there are powerful lessons for us all here regarding both religion and power structures in general. Regarding religion, we must be forthright about the awful effects of the traditional Roman Catholic taboos on sexuality in general, and clerical celibacy specifically. Pharisaical traditions always result in hypocrisy and controlling spirits.
It also does not take a rocket scientist to realize that men who are forced to repress their sexual drive will erupt eventually in all manner of sin. This will not just be sexual sin, but other forms also—cover ups, lies, etc. For all whitewashed tombs (Matt 23:27), the maintenance of the façade is costly, and the dead bodies inside are often part of the price.
We also need to be clear that something like clerical celibacy is not merely a tangential religious dispute between Protestants and Catholics. When John Calvin blasted this tradition over 450 years ago, he also called out its dire consequences. His comments include warnings about everything we are seeing today. . . .
[I]t is needless to speak of the extent to which fornication prevails among them unpunished; and how, relying upon their foul celibacy, they have become callous to all crimes. . . . [I]t has not only deprived the church of good and fit pastors, but has also brought with it a sink of iniquities and has cast many souls into the abyss of despair. . . .
Therefore, whenever the defenders of this new tyranny seek the pretext of antiquity in defense of their celibacy, we shall have to require of them that they restore the ancient chastity in their priests; that they remove adulterers and fornicators; that they do not allow those to whom they forbid an honorable and modest use of the marriage bed to run unpunished into every sort of lusts; that they restore that now abandoned discipline by which all wantonness may be restrained; and they free the church from this most shameful wickedness with which it has so long been defaced. . . .
I do not say this because I believe that under any condition room ought to be given for these canons which cast the fetters of celibacy over the ecclesiastical order; but I do so in order that the wiser ones may understand with what effrontery our foes, in the name of antiquity, defame holy wedlock in priests.1
What more can we say? Calvin predicted all of this, and of course, he was hardly the only one. Roman Catholic clergy have historically been rumored for sexual predation on each other and children. Everyone knows the rumor, and virtually every person I know who has had any association with the Catholic church has some kind of such story.
But the courts have always had a difficult time getting to the predators for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that people don’t have enough evidence, witnesses, or fail to report for a variety of reasons. Now, that facts start getting out and allegations mount, more and more victims come forward. Now there is, as the have been in the past, demands to remove all statutes of limitations on allegations of clergy sexual abuse.
Just yesterday we heard Mitchell Garabedian, a lawyer for clergy sex abuse victims, make such a call on Fox News.
Garabedian claims, “The Catholic church has a blueprint of pedophile priests sexually abusing innocent children, supervisors allowing it to happen, the Vatican knowing about it, all with the common thread of secrecy.”
He went on to argue that we need to amend the statutes of limitations so people can bring charges against alleged offenders even though the offenses happened years or decades ago.
But the counterpoint, Father Jonathan Morris—who could do little but agree and submit on every other point—pushed back on this. Why? Because—and this is where it starts to get real—the Catholic Church is not the only agency opposed to amending the statutes of limitations. He asks, “why not limit the statutes of limitations also to the public school system? It should be for everyone! And they’re afraid to do that.”
Now let’s get real for real
The get-real fact here is that he is absolutely right, and then some. Removing statutes of limitation for these crimes is a very dangerous precedent, and doing so selectively is criminal in itself.
If we have to amend them, why do so only for the church? Let’s do it for the public school system (which would be enough of a flood-gates to cause a massive social upheaval), and why not include all government agencies which involve administrative law systems, power structures, power relationships, and various privileges and immunities?
What the Roman Catholic Church, following its canon law procedures, has done is very little if any different than how public schools, police departments, or other governmental agencies, get away with the same offenses following secularized versions of those same procedures.
This also includes child protective services, foster care systems, and much more.
In virtually every case, such institutions are by their own “law” appointed to investigate themselves by themselves. In virtually every case, they give themselves the widest latitude and greatest benefit of the doubt, making concessions only where the evidence absolutely would incriminate them (if it must get out to the public, that is). For any such incident, police are trained not to give any statement whatsoever until the department’s or fraternity’s lawyers can coach and guide them. They will maintain as tight a control over the narrative, evidence, and publicity as possible.
Police successfully escape charges of rape, sexual assault, assault, battery, and a host of other crimes routinely through this procedure. Files are kept secret, evidence is suppressed, lies are told, and the accused (often with long track records of such incidents) are left on the job, rehired in other districts, or otherwise kept in good standing with full pay and benefits.
While the multiple media reports of public school teachers nailed on sexual abuse charges would lead us to believe the public school system is different in catching and punishing offenders, it is not. The studies indicate that the vast majority of sexual abuses go unreported.
One study from Hofstra University laments that while there are a number of federally funded national studies on child sexual abuse, there are none that document educator sexual abuse. Gleaning what it can from related studies and databases, this report notes that 9.6 percent of students grades 8 to 11 have reported sexual abuse, and 21 percent of these alleged abuses are by educators.
This represents roughly (by my quick math) about 300,000 cases of sexual abuse.
While the report notes that regional studies indicate much higher percentages of abuse, even among this smaller figure, only 6 percent actually get reported when they occur. Obviously, opening up statutes of limitations here would cause a tidal wave of lawsuits against public school teachers, coaches, bus drivers, security guards, substitutes, etc.
The same power structures and intimidations seem to be at play in the lack of reporting from victims. The following note seems very reasonable:
Even when alleged abuse is reported, the majority of complaints are ignored or disbelieved. Other students note this lack of response and reason that it is futile to try to stop a teacher from harassing since the school has not done anything about it in the past.
On top of that, guess who acts just the like the sex-abuse covering Bishops? That’s right, the teachers’ bishops, otherwise known as the teachers’ unions:
Until recently, teacher unions have been active in keeping fingerprinting legislation or statutes that prohibit educator sexual abuse from being passed. And, as in the case of fingerprinting, current teachers are exempt from the regulations.
Even when cases do get reported, the power-industrial complex has lots of loopholes:
Even when students allege abuse and the district responds, few students, families or school districts report this sexual abuse to the police or other law enforcement officials. As a result, most cases are not logged into the criminal justice system. Instead, abusers are dealt with using internal channels. In one of my early studies of 225 cases of educator sexual abuse in New York, none of the abusers were reported to authorities, and only 1 percent lost the license to teach.
Even worse yet, only slightly more than a third of the accused who even admitted to the abuse suffered negative consequences.
20 percent received a formal reprimand or suspension. Another 25 percent received no consequence or were spoken with informally. Nearly 39 percent chose to leave the district, most with retirement packages or positive recommendations intact.
The public school system thus treats offenders very similarly as police departments do:
A recent report on sexual abuse in New York City indicates that 60 percent of employees who were accused of sexual abuse were transferred to desk jobs at offices inside schools, and 40 percent of these teachers were repeat offenders.
The report concludes that the sexual abuse of children by educators “is not high on the priority list in most schools. The actions — not the promises — of policy makers and administrators indicate that they care more about the rights of adults than the safety of children. As a result, educator sexual abuse continues to be a component of life in schools.”
So why not call to open up the statutes of limitations and all related penalties, regulations, caps, etc., on such cases in public schools and other government agencies, too? Heck, these agencies have not even been required to open up their private “secret” archives like the Roman Catholic diocese have.
The truth is that while the Catholic Church has its thousands, the government schools and agencies have their tens of thousands, and they are more protected than the church, still. Even in places where the statutes of limitations have already been amended to get at the church, the government agencies remain better protected.
So why the overweighted media attention on the Roman Catholic Church? Yes, their religious superstition and pharisaical hypocrisy on this issue are much to blame for their problems, but the same problems manifest throughout government schools and agencies. On what will we blame that? And where’s the outrage? More importantly, where’s the social action mobilized to do something about it?
And forgive me if any of this seems insensitive to the current victims. It’s not as if I am saying that if we can’t help all the victims, let’s help none. Let’s help these now and as many as we can. But anyone smart enough to sniff out hypocrisy in the church is also smart enough to sniff it out in the rest of society. The issue is not ability but will. Will we follow through? If we don’t, why not? Do people prefer the blinders when it really hits home?
It’s easy enough after all, to believe that those guys who still dress in robes and soft purple have stranger habits yet. We don’t mind thinking they may be weirdos. But the normal-looking people where we send our kids? The ones that look just like us? The ones we routinely protect with the phrase “our schools are different”? And man! The Thin Blue Line itself? And more?
There are whitewashed tombs to be kicked, sure, but there are also graveyards to be whistled past.
- John Calvin, Institutes, 4.12.23, 28 (Battles trans). [↩]