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Bravo to the AP

Kudos to Associated Press national writers Martha Irvine and Robert Tanner for a series on a story that has gone largely unreported until now: the plague of sexual abuse of children by educators.

The mainbar story is here along with a sidebar here and here (that I've found thus far). They point to a situation that obviously has terrible parallels to the Catholic Church's own abuse scandal, but with a much wider scope and much less accountability.

Anyone who has covered abuse stores at all knew this was the case. It was the shame of many in the Church to cite other fields--like education--in hopes of excusing or diverting attention from the Church's problems. Yet it was the shame of the media to focus for so long on the Catholic Church to the exclusion of the schools, or other arenas we might cite.

Let's hope this prompts the broader awareness and investigation that is needed--and without which, I fear, some of the suffering of the Catholic crisis will have been for naught.

About the Author

David Gibson is a national reporter for Religion News Service and author of The Coming Catholic Church (HarperOne) and The Rule of Benedict (HarperOne). He blogs at dotCommonweal.



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It seems to me that as long as a significant number of Americans views sex is merely one pleasure among many, a good many will continue to treat inappropriate sexual behavior as a relatively trivial matter, and sexual abuse of children will remain a widespread problem.

Voice of the Faithful is now branching out to all victims of sexual abuse which includes victims outside the church. Aside from the justice viewpoint, it is a practical move since including all will help it be more productive in getting the statutes of limitation extended, a top priority of votf, for those who have been abused. In New York the legislation passed the Assembly while failing in the Senate. The RCC hierarchy is vigorously fighting this legislation in every state. Delaware Votf worked marvels in passing the law there. recently had a well attended annual conference in Providence RI.

I don't understand what you mean by much less accountability. There's no doubt bad stuff happens in schools and everywhere else children come into contact with adults. Did the AP uncover widescale and persistent cover ups whereby teachers were moved from school to school so that the school district could still benefit from their services? Or hardball litigation tactics to prevent anyone from being able to find out what the principal or the superintendent knew and when they first knew it?That abuse is hard to catch and prosecute doesn't negate accountability.When I was in high school two male teachers were fired pretty much instantly for engaging in inappropriate (probably not explicitly sexual) contact with female students, one of whom was over 18. Maybe my district was particularly enlightened.

In a recent parish "matter" ( it was in fact a false accusation), the parish Child Protection Officer, a woman with considerable experience in social care, commented that one does not hear of abuse by the police, even though the police have a great deal more to do with children than many other professions. She opined that police are as guilty as anyone but close ranks to "protect their own."

Barbara, in fac the AP story highlights a couple of examples that reveal a wider reality--that even if fired, teachers can go anywhere else and find work. Or they will be returned to work on appeal. That happened most notably for me when we discovered that a New Jersey schoolteacher had been a priest in Connecticut--where he slept with and impregnated an under-age girl. He left the priesthood and got a job as a teacher in Jersey. When we reported the news, the former-priest-turned teacher was naturally suspended immediately. Two weeks later he was back on the job after an appeal through the union. Statute of limitations had run out, nothing to do. He teaches to this day.

I understand that due process and various bureaucratic complexities (not to mention lack of communication and unwillingness of accusers to become witnesses or give evidence under oath) can make it harder than it should be to boot abusive teachers. It is also sometimes the case that teachers, like priests, can be falsely accused. But that's misfeasance or negligence or administrative incompetence of a whole different magnitude from going out of one's way to make sure that a teacher's career is not impeded by allegations of abuse. That's what was so offensive to me about aspects of the Church's scandal (not all players were culpable).

If only they allowed teachers to marry, or if women were allowed to be teachers, or if teachers didn't have all those repressively antiquated sexual dogmas, none of this would have ever happened.Greg

David,Can you point out a single instance where "many in the Church to cite other fields--like education--in hopes of excusing or diverting attention from the Church's problems"?I have been accused of this on this blog, so maybe it's a sore subject, but when I hear this accusation I really want to know what it's based on.The example I heard many times was Bishop Chaput's comments in opposition to the Colorado bill to extend the statute of limitations where he effectively confronted the legislature with their own hypocrisy in seeking to extend the statute for institutions like the Church while maintaining an already shortened SOL for public institutions like schools. He pointed out, correctly it seems, that the problem was just as bad, if not worse, in schools. His point was not to deflect attention, but to focus it on the actual problem.Many times government officials, the media, and disgruntled Catholics have used this crisis to make hay on their own agendas. brining attention to the disparate treatment given to publc schools simply shows that there are agendas that go far beyond protecting children.

How about Rick Santorum? Jenkins? Bertone? John Paul? Chaput? I even need to say Bill Donahue? of course there's Mr. Popcak's delightfully smarmy comment right above yours--all consistently and inexcusably shifting the blame away from the Church hierarchy's evil conduct. Nobody ever suggested that the church was the sole or even main source of child sexual abuse. Sports coaches, scout leaders, and teachers have been known to do this for years. No other institution chose concealment, perjury and obstruction of justice as an organized response to incidents of child abuse. Apologists for that institution should be called out for the slime they are.We still do not have much good information about the scope of the church's clergy sex abuse crisis--and those that minimized it in the past should be reminded of their sins. If the shoe fits, wear it. If not, don't claim that there were widespread efforts to minimize the extent of the abuse, scapegoat innocent bystanders, or to suggest other "professions" were worse.

Joe,The points that many of the people were making were 1) that the problem of child sex abuse is a societal problem and the Church is part of society, and 2) there was a singling out of the Church that belied motives other than protecting children.Mr Popcak's comment are apropos of the second of these. Many took the opportunity of the abuse crisis to attack Church doctrine and practices that had little if anything to do with the problem. One must ask, if things like celibacy were a "cause" of the abuse, why is it as bad or worse in other environments.I live in Boston, and I can tell you that there was, especially over time, a particular singling out of the Church. One need not be an apologist for misconduct to recognize this.I suggest you read the AP story if you believe the Church is the only institution that concealed, transferrred miscreants, or ignored the problem.

I read the AP article and nothing in that article suggested the existence of an enterprise wide conspiracy. There may be individual instances that rise to that level of wrongdoing, but most of it just points out the loopholes and inefficiencies that have long plagued law enforcement in a number of different arenas, though none as important as this one. So while I tend to agree that some people might have minimized the prevalence of sexual abuse overall when writing about its prevalence among priests and other Church employees, I disagree that the AP article vindicates the Church in any way. Sexual abuse happens. It's what the Church did in response, and certainly, what it often failed to do in response, that has caused the seismic reverberations we refer to as "the scandal." I would also note, however, that at least in some places, the Church was aided by police and other secular authorities who allowed the Church to take care of things without even knowing what that meant. There's lots of blame and responsibility to go along. Every time the Church tries to deflect its own is just another indication that it still isn't following a true moral compass on the matter.

Sean, I see Joe McFaul beat me to the punch. Certainly the latest and most distrubing and high-ranking comments that attempt to divert attention. I don't understand your complaint--I made the very same point in the original post. The Churc is not the only guilty party. The Church got singled out (and still is). The Church also has no one to blame but itself, and trying to say "Well everyone else does the same thing" is not an excuse. The point is that the Church's shame would hopefully be to the benefit of the wider society.

The complicit behavior of Catholic clergy in the scandal has yet to be addressed adequately since the bishops and many Catholics are still in denial in many ways. Our own Cathy Keveney wrote a brilliant article on Moral Complicity with reference to the Holocaust. In it she wrote "Moral memory makes truth of lies and lies of truth."The moral memory past and present in the church still needs to be assessed. The shameful fact is that the courts were needed for the bishops to admit this problem. There was an abundance of evidence for the longest time.

David,First, there has been a concerted attempt to paint the sexual abuse of children as something uniquely likely in the Catholic Church. That simply isn't the case. Second, and more importantly, is the fact that people have used it as a club to beat up the Church for wholely unrelated reasons. You are right that the Church has no one to blame but itself, but that doesn't make it right.Barbaras comment demonstrates exactly what I am talking about. Of course the public school problem cant be blamed on a single hierarchical structure because there isnt one. It is interesting that among the reforms touted by organizations like VOTF is greater localized, lay control. Here we have, in the form of public schools, exactly that model. Elected school boards, PTAs, autonomous administration etc. and they still have this happen. In other words, it is not a uniquely Catholic problem, and its causes, and things like the cover-ups etc. were not the result of anything uniquely Catholic, or because of Church structure or doctrine. It was people acting (wrongly) like people.We expect more, and should, of the Church, so that part I understand. I was absolutely furious when this broke in 2002. My son received his Ad Altare Dei medal from the Boy Scouts the next year, and we chose (as many did) to have it presented by the parish priest rather than by Cardinal Law at the cathedral because we thought he should have resigned. But as time went on the response by many, it seemed to me, had less and less to do with true justice and redemption, and more with grabbing power and influence and satisfying old grudges.

Sexual abuse of children is problematic in all areas where folks have access to children - not only the Church or school.The problem of sexual abuse in the Church is mores pecialized due to the power relationship that ministers, and more especially clergy, enjoy over children. As briefly noted, more is expected of Church personnel as ministers of the Gospels.It's also true that beauracracies will try to avoid negative publicity.Again, though, the Church should be held to a higher standard of truthfulness for its credibility. I think Bill M. is on target re why the situation in the Church continues to be problematic.Minimization of the problem, with the passage of time, does not ameliorate failures in response, coverup and lack of real compassion for victims.

I agree in large part with you Sean, but I don't think I've seen stories of even one school district that functions as a single hierarchical organization that responded like the Church did, over a long period of time. Basically, the problem is that however imperfect the schools' response might be, they generally reflected the understanding that they were ultimately subject to notions of public accountability. Individual deviations were just that -- and not part of a larger pattern of coordinated efforts not to be accountable. The problem with the Church's response is that it never embodied a similar understanding of public accountability, not even to parishioners. I mean, if I were part of the Church hierarchy I would be embarrassed and chagrined that the only thing that has brought about accountability for the Church's treatment of sexual predators is the secular legal structure. And this is for a Church that puts a premium on adhering to a strict ethic of sexual propriety. Judge the Church's failures in this way: how much better the Church could have done than these other institutions because it functions as a single hierarchy that professes ahderence to a much stricter moral code. And in that light, it's failure is much more shocking.

I believe I've read that at least some public school districts have caps or limits on civil liability for things such as sexual abuse by its employees. Do I have that right?

I don't know specifically, but you could be right. The context for that, however, is that public bodies of all kinds are subject to damage limitations (for instance, you can't get punitive damages against the federal government; you can't get any damages at all from a lot of public institutions). However, you must also understand that churches and other tax-exempt organizations are (or were) also exempt from damage suits. In the only case of sexual abuse involving the Catholic Church that I personally worked on, one of the Church's defenses was no liability for damages under a charitable immunity statute (which it lost because it had moved its diocesan headquarters to a different jurisdiction). This is all tied up in notions of special prerogatives for either charitable organizations or sovereign entities, as well as the concept that taxpayers need to be protected at some level from damage claims arising out of the torts of governmental employees.

Thanks for the clarification and context, Barbara. I wasn't aware that churches and charitable organizations have those exemptions in place.As a practical matter, nearly every award from a diocese to a sexual abuse victim is as a result of a settlement rather than an award by a court, right? I'm guessing that exemptions, limits etc. don't come into play, except of course that they would provide a ceiling amount for the two sides who are negotiating the settlement?At any rate, my theory here is, the lower the ceiling, the less incentive to litigate. Which might mean that fewer rocks get turned over.

In fairness, I probably wasn't clear: the charitable immunity laws were strongly in place until about 30 years ago, and they've been phased out by individual jurisdictions. They still exist in some places, though. If the Church could get relief from a charitable immunity law, I have no doubt that it would, just as it pursues statute of limitation defenses and the like. That's what happened to the person I know (both defenses were asserted strongly by the Church). When I read comments that suggest that states are discriminating against churches because of various immunities that don't apply, I think it's important to remember that exemptions and other mitigating statutes have usually been in place for a long time and reflect all kinds of policy decisions. Hence, charitable immunity was granted early on and as charities became more businesslike, it was pulled back.

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