A recent grand jury report in Pennsylvania singling out dozens of priests embroiled in the Catholic Church’s ongoing child abuse scandal has once again brought this painful topic to the forefront of our conversations.
And it should. It’s so easy to overlook abuse victims, primarily because we see them more as anonymous silhouettes than actual people. That’s terrible, because they are people, and they simply want to live their lives without having what happened to them as kids hanging over them more than it already does.
In the renewed discussions, however, many have taken the position that the forced celibacy by the church is the root cause. But that’s silly. To say the root of child abuse is the absence of much-desired intimate contact ignores all other cases of child abuse outside of the church. Many accused and convicted of such atrocities have had rather active sex lives, and to suggest that abstinence is a needed component that leads to child abuse ignores other evidence that’s out there.
Whether or not priests should remain celibate is a different conversation for a different time. But the reason why we see so many priests caught up in this mess is based on two simple reasons: Priests are in positions of trust and power, and they were part of a larger systemic issue that was willing to sweep all this under the rug rather than take care of it first hand.
So in essence, someone who might want to prey on children would be attracted to the priesthood, because people tend to automatically trust priests as representatives of God, and because they knew if they got caught, someone higher up at the Vatican would have their back.
This is why recent legislation in Albany to force private schools to report such abuse, and not follow this practice of sweeping these bad things under the rug, is so important. We can’t change the trust and power that priests, teachers, and other leaders we never think twice about have. But we can change the environment in which they operate, where it’s a safe risk to prey on children, because if they’re caught, they will simply be transferred somewhere else where they would be out of sight, out of mind — except for at the new community where they end up.
Make the consequences clear. Don’t have their back. And maybe, just maybe, we can put a real dent into child abuse.