By now, you’ve heard stories like this too many times. Father McFarlin had a reputation for sexual deviancy. He crossed the line in conversations with children with sexually suggestive language.
By 2005, his Bishops had investigated complaints by six different children in his diocese. But they didn’t report him to police or remove him from the priesthood.
Instead, they let him become someone else’s problem. They hid his behavior and let him go minister somewhere else.
In one memo, a bishop said, “This incident does not have to end McFarlin’s career,” and recommended the diocese conduct “a graceful exit.” He landed in another place where no one knew his record.
By 2011, he struck again, this time having sex with a 16-year old girl.
Like I said, it’s an all-too-familiar story.
Except, this was not really “Father” McFarlin, it was “Mr.” McFarlin, and he was not a priest, he was public school teacher.
And the people who covered for him were not bishops and cardinals, they were public school administrators and school district attorneys.
I took all the details for the scenario above, much of it verbatim, from a (rare) USA Today story about Kip McFarlin, a public school teacher at Orangefield Independent School District (Texas).
The greater problem
Perhaps the most shocking point in my recent article on the sexual abuse problem was the problem in the public schools. We wrote,
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.
Other sources confirm this problem is big—“far more common” than you want to believe. Further, just like the Catholic problem, public schools “continue to conceal the actions of dangerous educators in ways that allow them to stay in the classroom.”
Further, one study says that between 1 and 5 percent of teachers sexually harass or abuse students. Given that there are 3.2 million school teachers, those numbers represent between 32,000 and 160,000 predators in the schools.
Despite this startling problem being laid before the U.S. Department of Education in a 2004 study entitled, “Educator Sexual Misconduct: A Synthesis of the Literature,” it was related to me that there are no updated stats or studies. Despite the overwhelming indications, there have been no national or even statewide studies of student experiences of educator sexual misconduct. Fifteen years have gone by since this study!
So, while they are raking the Roman Catholics over the coals, they are totaling ignoring—averting the eyes, covering the ears, running to avoid—the same issue in the public schools where all indications are the problem is far greater.
The double standard in law and the media
Meanwhile, the media are not only drubbing the Catholic Church for the same sins they ignore in the public schools, but now they have taken to a theme of how evil that Church is for lobbying against efforts to reform statute of limitations laws.
These laws, the reader will recall, limit how much time after an alleged offense the victim has to speak out and bring a case. After so long, you lose that right. Many forces in society are attempting to lengthen that period of time in order to punish sexually offenses that may have happened decades ago.
Big news has been made of the fact that the Roman Church has spent millions lobbying against such legislation. The New York Daily News put made the dollar figure into a headline, as if it were exceptional: “Catholic Church spent $2M on major N.Y. lobbying firms to block child-sex law reform.”
Meanwhile, nothing at all is said about who else is opposing that same legislation with even more money.
That $2.1 million was spent by the Catholics over a nine-year period (2007–2015). Meanwhile, when we go sweep the corners of the internet, we find out that New York teachers’ unions spent $1.1 million in a single year alone fighting the same legislation (which would have imposed lighter burdens on them than on the Catholic Church).
In other words, the teachers’ unions have spent five times as much per year as the Church. But hardly anyone blinks over this.
A search for news stories specifically on how the Catholic Church lobbies to block statute of limitations reform for sexual abuse allegations finds targeted pieces from the Associated Press, NBC, NPR, the New York Daily News, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Economist, and Business Insider, among others.
Not one of these articles mentions the even greater lobbying efforts from the public school teachers’ unions.
Nor did any of them mention the other opposition. According to one report on the legal website Justia, it includes “lobbyists for the Catholic Church, Baptists, Orthodox Jews, Boy Scouts, chambers of commerce, teachers’ unions, insurance lobbyists, and even the ACLU.”
Again, where is the media outrage and focus on the groups represented by these lobbyists? Where is the targeted focus on opposition to SoL reform from the teachers’ unions?
Aside from either obscure reports or buried references, hardly anyone takes issue with the teachers’ unions role in the same issues. Of the ones who have, probably half of them are Roman Catholics objecting to the double standard in proposed reforms.
For example, a public relations spokesperson for the Catholic Church in New York objected to a recent proposal because it “protects the teachers unions and public school system from the same retroactive civil lawsuits it wants for the Church.”
“We’ve made our share of mistakes, but there is no question that there are many more children abused in public schools than in the Church,” he wrote. “It is fair to argue that the Church should be held to a higher moral standard, but it must not be held to a higher legal standard than the public schools.”
And he’s right. Why the blatant, sickening hypocrisy? Is it only because the public schools are a much more difficult political target? Is it because it would be a much tougher—nearly impossible—legislative task to target the schools, whereas the Catholics are easier?
If so, then it’s not really about the abused children and justice, is it? You really don’t want to shine the light on the real problem. The media, legislators, politicians, pundits, and professors (most of them) don’t really want to have to bear the bad news to a public that would not believe them at best, stone them to death at worst, because “our schools are different.”
Mr. McFarin was right there in the thickest of red state, Bible belt, Texas football, Friday-night-lights, heartland America, “our schools are different-dom.” This is not isolated. Twenty-five percent of school districts in the U.S. have dealt with staff sexual abuse in the past 10 years. That only considers the cases actually dealt with and reported.
There is a tremendous disparity between how the Roman Catholic Church is being treated and how the same offenses on a greater scale are being treated in both the law and the media. This is not only a sad fact, it is a huge immorality and abuse of trust itself.
The media virtually ignore both the offenses and the lobbying on the part of the public schools and teachers’ unions. In the few cases they do mention them, they do not mention the double standards already in the law. If they support a particular piece of legislation, they do not mention how that legislation may appear to target child sex abuse in general, but carves out special exceptions for public agencies—schools, police, etc. When the Roman Catholics object, it is implied they are opposing because they wish to protect the abusing priests, money, etc.
It is implied that they don’t care about the victims. I am not defending them on that charge, but I do wish to point out that it is really the law itself, the teachers’ unions, the bureaucrats, and the media all behind this double standard who really don’t care about the victims.
If they did, they would be pressing every bit as hard—or five times harder—where the problem is even greater. Until they do, they have no greater moral integrity than the pedophile priests or teachers themselves.
I don’t support removing all statutes of limitations. That’s dangerous. When groups as disparate as the Chambers of Commerce and the ACLU oppose that, it ought to make you at least think. I support public executions for convicted rapists, and the privatization of all public schools. But the double standards are not only sickening, they share in the guilt of the abuses they protect.
If we don’t rectify that, statutes of limitations won’t protect us from the forces within us that will devour us.