Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Welfare of Children: Where Do our Loyalties Really Lie?

June 22, 2012 was a great day for justice, both around in the world and here in the somewhat prosaic and parochial state of Pennsylvania, USA.  It was a day for making a major dent in the current social paradigm of embarrassed silence and conspiracy to keep quiet over abuse, for in that short, 24 hour period an incredible thing happened: two people in power were convicted for their egregious, nefarious crimes against children.  Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky and Monsignor Lynn were both found guilty as charged in separate Pennsylvania courts of law, the former for direct sexual abuse of children and the latter for disregarding those acts and deliberately employing commonly known or  suspected abusers near children. Two kinds of guilt are found here: to use the words of a common Christian prayer for forgiveness, guilt “for what we have done” (Sandusky) and “for what we have left undone,” (Lynn).  Regardless of denomination or even religion, these are essential truths that should have been glaring in  Monsignor Lynn’s conscience as a Christian clergyman, and indeed in Sandusky's as well.

Yet these unspeakable acts were allowed to happen because so many people did nothing, so many people allowed themselves to be overwhelmed by the shamed silence created by the social taboo of even discussing the sexual abuse they’d seen (or endured). “Evil happens when good men do nothing.” Penn State assistant coach Mike McQueary initially did the right thing in going to his superiors about the loathsome “shower scene” he’d  witnessed of Sandusky performing anal sex on a young boy, reporting it  despite his natural embarrassment and disgust  at witnessing and relating something like that.  But his half-hearted try at justice, no matter how well intentioned, just wasn’t enough. Children’s physical and psychological welfare are worth more than that.  He should have gone straight to the police.  After informing head coach Joe Paterno and seeing that Sandusky was still working there, Mc Queary’s resolve to do something more should have kicked in. Why didn’t it? Because of not wanting to lose his job in retaliation, or to avoid being resented in the tight social circles and old boys' network that exists in Penn State’s athletic department? Again, this is about where we place our loyalties, our priorities.

Of course, Penn State head football coach Joe Paterno and former Penn State president Graham Spanier are even more to blame in this matter. Emails retrieved by state prosecutors have revealed their decision to cover up Sandusky’s actions, and their reasons are undoubtedly monetary. Let’s face it: anyone who lives in the USA, much less the state of PA, knows that Penn State has a lackluster academic rating, is notoriously easy to be accepted into, and that their one claim to fame and fortune is their football team. Sandusky was part of the recipe for their meal ticket, and Penn State powers-that-be decided that the children could keep getting screwed—quite literally—as long as the Penn State football team kept winning and raking in the money. To avoid upsetting the balance of their winning formula, allegedly paternal Joe Paterno helped Spanier and Co. to throw the kids under the bus.

As for Monsignor Lynn, he admittedly is partly a fall guy for the Church, in the sense that, as in the Penn Stated debacle, there were so many others in positions of power that knew about the abuse and did nothing. Here again, saving face for the organization, and the good old boy clique of the clergy, was valued more than the lives of children. Yet the State and Commonwealth of Pennsylvania simply must make an example out of him, which they did, to set the standard of future culpability and punishment, not just for the Catholic Church, but for any church or organization. 

While endemic in the Catholic Church, sexual abuse in churches is definitely not relegated to the Roman Catholic Church: as an Episcopalian, I am personally appalled that Bishop Charles Bennison of the PA Episcopal Church is not in jail right now like Monsignor Lynn.  In 2008, Bishop Bennison admitted unapologetically to a clerical inquiry and trial that despite the fact that he was aware years ago that his brother, also an Episcopal minister, was having sexual relations with a 14 year old girl, he did nothing and carried on, eventually rising the clerical ladder to become bishop as did his father before him.  (As Saturday Night Live’s Church Lady would say, “Well isn’t that special?”) And maybe a little too convenient.

Mr. Bennison was initially deposed from his position as Bishop, with the conviction reading thus, “The court finds that even today [Bennison] has not shown that he comprehends the nature, significance and effect of his conduct and has not accepted responsibility and repented for his conduct …” He appealed the decision, and then suddenly was restored in 2010, to the great dismay and shock of my religious community.  While the diocese states a legal technicality caused the inexplicable, sudden decision to reinstate Mr. Bennison, it is my belief that bribery or blackmail might well have occurred, as he is a man from a prestigious and well established family.

Here’s something else that Lynn, Bennison, and other clergy who profess to be Christians yet who abuse or protect abusers should remember: “And whoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea.” Mark 9:42. King James Bible.

As welcome as the June 22nd convictions are, what disturbs me is that I wonder if the universal clamor of indignation over Sandusky’s victims and the Catholic school victims would be as great if they had been mostly girls instead of mostly boys? I say with great sadness that I honestly don’t believe so.  Little girls are valued less around the world than little boys, and still bear the unpardonable burden of having stereotypes of promiscuity projected onto them—of salaciously “wanting it” or “liking it”-- just as adult women bear these unthinkable, unwarranted projected stereotypes.  In these aforementioned cases, men could identify with the little boys more than they could little girls, and instinctively saw them as innocent victims, immediately sympathizing with them.

Yet when all is said and done, June 22nd, 2012, was still a victory for children everywhere and for adult survivors of this abuse, and helps a new paradigm to arise that values children’s welfare over expediency and a conspiracy of silence. What needs to be done is for people to never forget and to keep passing laws for protection of children, keep prosecuting the guilty, and above all to remain vigilant, for this epidemic of sexual abuse of children is a silent holocaust of its own.


  1. Hi Catharine,
    How appropriate the verse of scripture that you have chosen from the Bible in the book of Mark. It tells us exactly what the crime of punishment is for those who take advantage of children and subject them to sexual or mental abuse.
    The fact that such things happen should enrage us, although it is nothing new, and we all suspect it in some cases, I believe. However, the fact that the outcry is so small is unusual. Everyone with any moral ethics should be outraged to see a child's innocence robbed. What a mental torment that is for the child involved. How long does it take for them to overcome such abuse? Or better more, will they ever be able to put it behind them? As far as the church is concerned, we who are Christians should be crying out the loudest. The church, represented by the acts of this priest, committed the grave sin of omission by not reporting it to the proper authorities. They made themselves just as guilty as the person who committed the crime.

  2. Thanks very much, Pat! Of course, I totally agree: Penn State and the Church made themselves just as guilty as the perpetrators by doing nothing, the sin of omission. Christians should be better than this!

    Doing nothing in the face of child abuse is unacceptable, and hopefully will soon be illegal as well in most places!

  3. Thank you Catharine for highlighting this and making wise comments about this holocaust of abuse. It is such an awful indictment on humankind that our innocent children are so treated. I will get this article out via other media. Sadly, it is a worldwide phenomenon and is very prevalent here in South Africa.
    All best,

  4. Yes, Susan, it is an awful indictment on humanity, unfortunately, which is why it seems like a holocaust of its own to me.

    Abuse and cover up really have to stop, for it breeds like vampires, one perpetrator destroying his victims, who in turn sometimes destroy others!

    Thank you and God Bless,

  5. Love the passion and conviction, Catherine! My question is - once the church said it was a 'clerical error' - was this dickhead removed from having access to children - AGAIN?

  6. Hi Leslie,

    I think the dickhead you mean is Bishop Bennison, then no, unfortunately, he's still our Bishop of the Episcopal Church in Pa, I'm ashamed to say!! They called his restoration a legal technicality--not clerical error--because of a supposed statute of limitations which had passed,
    though I think it's a cover up.

    No congregation in PA likes Bennison, and he knows it; he's in it to get his pension back!!