Church Scandal #2
Looking At the Real Crisis of Sexual Child Abuse
By Alicia Colon
May 13, 2002
Originally published in the New York Sun
When is a scandal not technically a scandal? Why, my friends, when it’s a red herring.
That revelation came to me while attending a media briefing on Child and Adolescent Mental Health given by the American Medical Association. According to a statement by Dr. David Corwin, a Utah Professor of Pediatrics and expert in violence and child abuse, only a small percentage of child sexual abuse is at the hands of the clergy, at most two percent. Recent allegations within the Catholic Church, he said, have focused attention on this widespread and seriously harmful social problem. Sorry, Doctor, but the focus has been on the priests, not the children.
The cover of last week’s Village Voice shows a slightly sinister looking priest engulfed in flames folding his hands in prayer over a headline that reads-Hell To Pay. The New York Time’s editorial page carried a piece by ex Catholic Bill Keller entitled “Is the Pope Catholic?” This essay had to be one of the most insulting anti-Catholic diatribe since, oh, I don’t know, the week before?
The mainstream press has seized this opportunity to attack the church as vigorously as it can by misdirecting the public about the causes of the abuse. Calling for an end to the church’s positions on celibacy, ordination of women priests, masturbation, and other sexually related doctrines, the church’s liberal opponents are relishing the negative impact on the church’s influence resulting from the scandal.
That children have been molested by some priests is a given. That the offending priests have been shuttled around from parish to parish may also be true and the church must admit its culpability in that regard but it must do it in the right way.
The Church has endured a history of false allegations made against its clergy (Cardinal Bernadin comes to mind) and this has contributed to a paranoiac tendency to treat all accusers as potential frauds. This has resulted in a scorched earth tactic by attorneys to destroy the reputations of the accusers. This is unforgivable. Attacking those genuinely wounded by predatory priests is to re-injure already delicate psyches. The Church should establish a panel of credible professionals to determine the merit of each individual case and to screen out the opportunists.
This is a moral issue not a legal one and for too long a time, the Church has naively delegated oversight of sensitive scandals to attorneys and medical professionals and it has been badly burned for doing so. What we Catholics hear from the pulpit and what is being released through press releases are poles apart. In church, we hear concern for the children who have suffered at the hands of wayward priests.
“The abuse of children and young people is a terrible crime. It must always be a top priority to care for them and to protect them. I will do everything in my power to ensure, as much as humanly possible, that such abuse by clergy will never happen again.”
This was part of a letter by Edward Cardinal Egan read at all Masses on April 21. The homily that followed reemphasized the sorrow and regret at the suffering of such innocent children and yet what comes across at press conference is an aura of clinical detachment by church leaders but I sometimes wonder if perhaps much of what we may find enlightening is simply left on the cutting room floor. The New York Times, which has been virulently anti-Catholic, determines what is newsworthy so why should I assume that it is not predetermining the relevance of certain remarks by the church officials?
The irony of this entire mess is that the church has made significant strides in weeding out the perpetrators of abuse and if one actually looks at the current allegations, we find that the majority of offenses occurred decades ago before psychologists understood the pathology of pedophilia. It was then believed that this aberration was curable and consequently poor decisions were made on the removal of the offending priests. We must also understand that these offenses occurred before the age of instant communications, which now makes monitoring individuals more feasible.
One of the complaints I heard most often at the AMA briefing is that the media is not according enough attention to a problem that has a devastating effect on the health of our society. Children damaged today will suffer more health problems in adulthood, commit more crimes, are more depressed and suicidal, and are more likely to abuse drugs. Scratch a criminal behind bars today and you will probably find a damaged child underneath.
Dr. Corwin also says that educating children, adolescents and adults about appropriate sexual behavior may deter potential sexual offenders. We have the ability to effectively stop criminal sex abuse of our children immediately by implementing awareness programs in schools and daycare centers. Yet funding research for child abuse, which is equivalent in scope to cancer, heart disease or AIDS, is only 5 cents to the dollar compared to research for these other major illnesses.
That the media has focused all of its attention on the smallest percentage of perpetrators instead of lobbying for the protection of millions of children is what I call the real scandal.
Copyright 2002 by Alicia Colon. Not to be reproduced in any fashion, in whole or in part, without written consent from the author. All rights reserved.