A Pennsylvania grand jury, tasked with exploring child abuse within some of the state’s eight Catholic dioceses, has indicated finding rampant abuse and accompanying conspiracy to shield that abuse from public view. The grand jury’s numbers are somehow both staggering and unsurprising:
- More than 300 priests have been found to have engaged in predation over six decades, each of them aided and abetted by an institution that sought only to protect itself from any accompanying consequences, rather than to protect children from abuse.
- At least 1,000 individual victims have been identified, with presumably more either unwilling or unable to come forward.
If this seems at all familiar, that is because it should, both within the horror timeline of the Catholic Church itself – abuse allegations have repeatedly been substantiated throughout both the United States and around the world – and throughout broader society generally, including bedrock sporting organizations and established cultural institutions. And in each case, the response from the offenders has always been exactly the same: to sacrifice the wellbeing of children at the altar from protecting themselves from the consequences of their actions.
It is tempting to imagine the day that every single institution guilty of this sort of wanton criminal conspiracy is disassembled, brick by brick by brick, until the only thing left is the weeds that emerge from the earth left behind. Those institutions certainly deserve nothing better, kinder, or gentler. How many lives were inexorably changed, both by the abuse itself, and the subsequent refusal to believe reports of it? How many abusers inexplicably enjoyed a benefit of the doubt that their victims were never even offered? How many lives were sacrificed to protect the institutions that enabled such involuntary sacrifice?
But of course, the problems are bigger, and so to fantasize about an Ozymandiasian end to those institutions ignores the larger, more fundamental issue: that we are culturally hard-wired to disbelieve reports of abuse. There can be no other explanation for the ongoing inability of so many different people from so many different walks of life to understand not only the fundamental injustice of abuse but the fixes necessary to properly address it. Those fixes – as simple as not knee-jerkingly siding with adults who dispute claims made by children, to as complicated as not allowing organizations to investigate themselves – are frankly impossible to imagine coming to fruition, even in a modern world, where more than ever we understand that abuse occurs most often because it is knowingly enabled by people who simply prefer not to recognize what is occurring before their eyes.
That last paragraph reads as the abandonment of hope for a better tomorrow. Perhaps it should not. But as tempting as it is to believe that things today are better than they were then, whenever that might have been, there is no denying that the end result of this grand jury’s report is almost certainly not going to be widespread criminal charges filed against every single person who knowingly and willingly colluded with an ongoing attempt to shield abusers from the consequences of their actions, from the highest priest to the lowest apparatchik. Hands will be thrown up, frustrated declarations will be made, and those that caused so much suffering, or aided and abetted in its occurrence, will be left to dwell on it, as if living an unfettered life is any sort of punishment at all.
“That is surely punishment enough!” will be the claim made by some, because, as it is with the abuse itself, it is thought to be better and easier to put such cultural failings out of mind as quickly as possible.
(Featured image from https://www.facebook.com/mmcdonnellcps/posts/10211657679579802, shared by blanket permission of image creator, who was a victim of this abuse.)