Never was so much damage done by so few: clergy abuse situation
[size=10pt]Last year in the Catholic Church of 68.2 million members, there were seven credible accusations of abuse of a minor by a priest.[/size]
Never Has So Much Damage Been Done By So Few

Much media reaction to the release of the John Jay Report on "The Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Priests 1950-2010" centered on what the New York Times deemed the "Woodstock defense," that is, blaming the libertine spirit of the bohemian music and peace meeting in 1969.

Let it be known that any insult to the hallowed Woodstock days put all of us gray-haired hippies up in arms.

We admit that we wore the peace sign, sang "Kumbaya My Lord" to simplistic guitar music and that some of our confreres (to our delight) disrupted the 1968 Chicago Democratic convention ("the whole world is watching," they chanted as Chicago's Mayor Daley ordered their arrests), but hardly any of us abused kids or anything else other than artistic sensibilities. Shag carpeting anyone? In orange?

Unfortunately, by getting caught up in arguing about Woodstock, many missed the main point of the report.

What seemed lost on people was the fact that the number of cases declined dramatically starting in the mid-80s. Cases dropped as education in seminaries increased and as dioceses began to implement safe environment plans and protocols for interaction between adults and children. It also helped that some high profile priests wound up doing time for abusing children. The John Jay report noted that statistics show that the numbers of abusers dropped more quickly in the church than anywhere else in society. Educating priests-in-training and volunteers and teachers on the job, and publicizing crimes by priests who went to jail were dramatic wake-up calls for the few who didn't recognize criminal behavior instinctively.

Last year in the Catholic Church of 68.2 million members, there were seven credible accusations of abuse of a minor by a priest. There should not be any, of course. And the punishment for abusers should be swift and harsh. Even in the worst days of abuse it was an estimated four percent of priests who abused. Again, it should not have happened, but it also must be recognized that abusers constituted a small percentage of priests. Clearly, when it comes to abusers smearing the reputations of a lot of clergy, never has so much damage been done by so few.

The report cited lack of transparency as a factor that gave the church a bad name and pointed out that when the church acted to deal with an abuser, it kept everything a secret. It is not hard to understand. If one parent discovered the other sexually abusing a child in the home (where most abuse happens), I can't imagine him or her bringing the matter up in a PTA discussion or a neighborhood coffee klatch or even, sadly, going to the police. They might try to get spiritual or emotional help for the victim even though the crime is so shameful as to be paralyzing. A few years ago a bishop told me that one of the scandals he saw coming out of this was the awareness that bishops weren't even speaking to one another. No one at a bishop's meeting asked "Hey Joe, any of your priests abuse children?"

The silence is broken now. This is good. People, including well-trained children, speak up and speak out. Bishops notify the police when there is a credible accusation. Children tell parents and teachers when someone's familiarity make them uncomfortable. Everyone knows that the rule "Keep your hands to yourself" has meaning even after kindergarten.

The gray-haired hippies, many of whom are now retiring from proper jobs in such areas as education, law, medicine and public service, agree. They reflect nostalgically on their Woodstock years. They look wistful when they hear the strains of "Where have all the flowers gone" and smile for "Puff the magic dragon." The Catholic hippies might even hum the sing-songy "Sons of God, hear his holy word..." Woodstock evokes memories of wise or unwise passion. It doesn't, however, evoke any understanding of the perversion of abuse.

Sexual abuse of a child is an intolerable aberration for which there is no excuse. For those who somehow thought it was acceptable, education and prison time proved the answer

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