I once read a comment from a combox in a discussion about clerical abuse that read something very similar to this: “When Catholics are attacked about the sex-abuse scandal, we should only focus on the Church, not other organizations, because it only comes across as ‘making excuses’ or trying to draw the focus off of ourselves. It doesn’t help the cause.”
I could not disagree more. I think we should focus on ALL areas where child sexual abuse is occurring. Anything less would be hypocrisy. We should absolutely hold the Church accountable and keep a watchful eye. But ONLY focusing on the Church will only harm the cause, because we otherwise neglect over 62,000 other victims each year.
There are an average of 8 reported sex abuse cases each year at the hands of Catholic Priests (see item #3 in that link), according to the CARA report. That’s obviously 8 too many, and we need to continue to do something about it. But in ONLY focusing on the Church here, we are doing two things wrong: 1) we are ONLY focusing on the ONLY organization, religious or otherwise, who has taken the degree of proactive action against child abuse that the Church has taken and 2) we are ignoring the other 62,000+ victims that are sexually abused each year in our schools, in our communities, even in our homes. HOMES? Yes, homes. Over 80% of child sexual abuse happens in the home.
How many of you, as children growing up, had that family member, parent's "significant other", friend-of-the-family, or neighbor that just gave you a weird feeling…an unsafe feeling? How many of you were abused by that person, or suspect that someone else was, or know someone who was? How many of you allow such a person to be around your own children just because you think “they’re safe as long as they’re in the house” or “surely not him/her”? Maybe that person really is/was safe, but this isn’t the area of life that you want to say “oops”. Better to err on the side of safety when your gut is speaking to you and the red warning flags are waving; and if they are truly offended by your caution, then chances are they weren’t safe to begin with.
Heck, how many of you reading this actually know the warning signs to watch for? Guess which organization actually teaches volunteers, parents and children, students and teachers, clergy and lay ministers to recognize the warning signs? (If you guessed “the Catholic Church”, you are correct. Fortunately, the Church isn’t the ONLY organization teaching these things.)
We aren’t “making excuses” by focusing our attention on where sexual abuse is actually taking place. No one (with any rational thought) is trying to “draw the focus off the Church”. In fact, the Church has actually drawn the focus onto itself SO THAT sexual abuse can be stamped out within it. On the contrary, failing to shine the light on the other places where sexual abuse is still happening and NOT being addressed serves to excuse people/organizations for their lack of action. It serves to accommodate the behavior because, hey, no one seems to care if a teacher molests a student these days*…as long as they aren’t Catholic teachers in Catholic schools. No one seems to care if a child is sexually abused by a parent or legal guardian in their own home. (Does it ever make you wonder if this country’s infatuation with pornography has something to do with this? I have a strong hunch that it does.)
*(There are exceptions to this of course. I have a friend who is a vehement watchdog against pedophile day-care workers, and the like, who abuse children and make child pornography with those tiny victims.)
For folks who want to ONLY focus on the Church and give a free pass to (or otherwise ignore) other organizations, I like to put things in perspective (while still focusing on the Church):
Given the fact that over 62,000 children are sexually abused in the US each year, and only 8 of those are reported to be from Catholic Priests, and in the face of all that the Church HAS done and continues to do to protect our children and punish abusive Priests; what has YOUR community (religious or otherwise) done to protect children from child abuse? Has your faith community (or secular community if you are a-religious) hired outside law firms to conduct internal studies on sexual abuse in your own group/community? Has your community begun educating children on the signs of abuse and how to report it? Has your community, religious or otherwise, sought to hold sexually abusive teachers and neighbors accountable?
Or have you bought into accommodation, only chiding the Catholic Church while you give everyone else a free pass in the name of "gray areas" like USA Today did? Or is this too uncomfortable a topic to bring up in your schools, churches, and neighborhoods, so you just hope that focusing on the Catholic Church will magically make other religious communities, your schools, and your public communities fix their own problems as well? (Guess what, they haven't been addressing it like they should...so your silence there isn't working.) Or have you outright accepted it as normal like the Man-Boy Love Association has, or do you support the NAMBLA's "rights" to their own opinions?
Aside from chiding the ONLY organization who has so actively sought to stamp out the sexual abuse of children (the Church), what have YOU done to protect our children?
Where should our focus be? Our focus should be anywhere and everywhere...where child abuse is happening.