The Revealer has been running an illuminating series of articles on the John Jay College report on clerical sex abuse in the Roman Catholic Church.
Good and decent people, extraordinary people, are in the leadership of the church; wonderful priests, great parish councils, a few decent bishops, Catholic school teachers, nurses, doctors, theologians – and almost none of them are truly free persons who speak their minds and hearts, who speak truth to power. The inability to speak truth to power – indeed, to simply speak the truth — is corrupting and is part of what leads to the sexual abuse of children.
No study, however solid, however honest and sincere, could capture that truth; could pinpoint the massive failures of justice and decency that permeate the institution of the Catholic church – and I believe the John Jay researchers did everything they thought they could do and not get fired; everything they thought they could do and still be heard by those who hold near absolute power in the American church. I am sure they had the goal of ending sexual abuse in the church.
In fact, the inability to tell it like it is probably led to the silliest hypothesis in the study, the notion that one of the reasons for the large number of sexually abused minors in the 1960’s and ‘70’s might be the sexual revolution. Suddenly, the criminologists start to sound like the Vatican – or Archie Bunker.
But for feminists, the pattern of silencing victims and letting rapists roam free didn’t surprise at all. In patriarchal societies, letting the rapists off and re-victimizing the victims is standard operating procedure. The Catholic Church is even more patriarchal than society at large, and unsurprisingly, that made the problem of rapist-coddling and victim-silencing even worse.
Victims of priestly abuse and their families and advocates will wince at the suggestion that the abuse scandal should now be viewed dispassionately as “a historical problem” while the church hierarchy’s malfeasance—reduced in the report to a problem of imperfect “diffusion of innovation”—continues to escape examination or condemnation. Students of the history of Catholic thought and practice will wonder how such a monotonal and superficial account of Catholic teaching and discipline came to be enshrined in this purportedly definitive report. And fiercely loyal and disaffected Catholics alike will look upon the unimpeded moral sclerosis of the church hierarchy and mourn all the losses that deformation has produced: lost innocence, lost faith, lost moral authority, even lost life.
I worry that I’m beating a dead horse here, but the new John Jay report on the abuse of children in the Catholic Church makes a mistake in looking narrowly at the cultural effects of the ’60s and ’70s. And indeed, if what the report says about the abusers is true – that they “showed evidence of difficulty with intimacy” and often began abusing “at times of increased job stress, social isolation, and decreased contact with peers” – how in the world could they be so affected by a revolution taking place in a society they were, by all accounts, avoiding?