I am taking a risk. Whenever I write about this country’s problem of widespread child abuse — and in particular child sexual abuse — someone always accuses me of trying to divert attention away from the problem of sex abuse by priests of children in the Church.
Abusing youth and the vulnerable anywhere and at any time is an outrage, and it especially is terrible when anyone claiming to represent the Lord Jesus is at fault.
This precisely is why abuse of the young, and sexual abuse a part of it, must be confronted more aggressively in the United States than seemingly it is.
Recently, USA Today published a lengthy story about background checks of teachers and employees in this country’s public schools. Procedures vary from state to state and are of uneven quality. State and districts do not always share reports of misconduct with other jurisdictions. Problematic employees slip through the cracks. Students pay the price.
Reading about inadequate processes is a reminder of complaints, justifiable true, about how the Catholic Church handled child sex abuse once upon a time. Circumstances and effects were downplayed and often concealed. Perpetrators were scolded but sent somewhere else, and the same things happened again.
I recall being seated at a meeting beside an official in a major mainline Protestant denomination. Sex abuse of children was mentioned. This official then told me of cases within his church, and, by the way, those at fault all were married.
As an aside, it is very common for perpetrators of child sex abuse to be spouses. It is time for Catholics to abandon the unsupported hunch that priestly celibacy causes pedophilia. Pedophilia is an emotional problem that affects men and women, married or single, homosexual or heterosexual.
I have a personal opinion.
What should we expect! Illness is illness, but our culture has drifted so far from any genuine respect for traditional morality. Anything goes. Nothing is sinful. Who cares about God? Who cares about any moral order based upon theology?
We are reaping the whirlwind. Children today are being exploited by sexual predators at a fearful rate in our country. It is a reality in the public schools, in homes, in organizations of youth, and our authorities are not acting as assertively as they should, and we all are too nonchalant.
Where is our outrage?
We Catholics had to swallow a bitter pill a decade ago when the stories of child sex abuse by priests along with reports of how many bishops mishandled cases first came to light, but the Church learned. Care is given victims. No priest who is discovered as having abused youth is allowed to remain active. Bishops have been removed from office. Law enforcement is notified of infringements.
Dioceses and Catholic institutions carefully scrutinize priests and employees. Reviews are conducted every year. Experts monitor procedures.
Seminaries now are determined that candidates for the priesthood willingly choose celibacy fully knowing what celibacy entails for them and for their personalities and needs. All this occurs with professional psychiatric advice. Everything is done to watch for pedophilia tendencies, but psychology has not yet discovered how to predict pedophilia in every case. As with so much else in life, scientists and doctors do not know everything. They never have, and they never will.
Child sex abuse in its own ranks has crippled the Catholic Church, precisely when our society needs the Church’s strong, loud voice to demand attention to this very serious cultural problem. Few others are stepping up to the plate.
Meanwhile, children suffer.
Msgr. Owen F. Campion is OSV’s associate publisher.