Why Even Non-Catholics Must Care About the Sex Abuse Revelations

J.L. Wall

J.L. Wall is a native Kentuckian in self-imposed exile to the Midwest, where he teaches writing to college students and over-analyzes Leonard Cohen lyrics.

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16 Responses

  1. Damon says:

    What do you stand for? Do you stand for the truth or convenience? Are you willing to go along for the organizational’s endurance or reveal secrets that may bring it down.

    That tells others what kind of person you are. Does anything else need be said?Report

  2. Do you believe what you’ve seen or heard, or do you convince yourself that you imagined the entire thing? (Do you let yourself admit the obvious to yourself, that others in power must have known? It took me over three years to do this.)

    I’ve read you enough over the years to trust you when you say you’ve come to the conclusion, in the case you mention, that someone was guilty and that certain others helped him cover up. And while I haven’t followed the issue with the Catholic Church all that closely, I’ll stipulate to what so many others, who I also trust, have said after careful study of the known facts.

    But sometimes things aren’t so obvious. I’m referring to specific things I’ve been told about one specific person and one specific thing I think I witnessed at a very young age with another person. In both cases, it’s hard for me to come to a conclusion. What I’ve been told was by someone who didn’t claim to be a victim of the person and whom I don’t always trust to tell the truth even though I can’t imagine they’d lie about that. If I heard from the alleged victim, however, I would be much, much more inclined to believe that what is alleged to have happened happened actually happened. It’s an awkward situation because I don’t believe that person has any obligation to tell *me* anything, but I’m not prepared to act without hearing it from that person.

    What I think I may have witnessed at a very young age regarding another person was so improbable and I was so young and by itself was too ambiguous for me to make an informed decision.

    (The example of the person I witnessed is about someone no longer living. The example of what someone told me refers to someone who is still very much alive.)

    Perhaps what I’m saying here is too different from the points under discussion. You’ve arrived at a point of certainty, or at least a point where you believe it more likely than not that something happened. People who have studied the Church abuses, I’ll assume, have similarly examined the evidence and reached similar conclusions. And of course, I, too, believe none of us should be complacent or smug about how well we’d handle things if put to the test.

    But again, sometimes the evidence is inconclusive. Sometimes it *is* indeed possible that “the entire thing” or a good part of it, was imagined or over-interpreted. Perhaps that’s part of the test, but the test isn’t only about adopting the appropriate response, but weighing the known and unknown evidence and coming to the appropriate conclusion in the first place.

    ETA: I realize this comment rambles a bit. It just is, as you might imagine, a very upsetting thing to think about, even though it is much more upsetting for actual victims.Report

    • J.L. Wall in reply to gabriel conroy says:

      I’ve been thinking a lot about a story I only recently heard the whole picture of, about my grandfather, who spent many decades as the principal of a small-town elementary school. I knew that, at one point, he’d fired a young male teacher accused of *something* inappropriate with a girl. I knew that this weighed on him decades later, even into his 80s. What I only learned recently, from my grandmother, is that, after the girl’s parents came to him and he conducted some kind of investigation into the claims — this was the 60s, so it was probably all up to him — he didn’t believe that the claims against the teacher were true. And proceeded to fire him for them anyway.

      There are two sides to this: on the one hand, a person in a position of authority acting as if the charges are true because the possibility that they are, even if he’s unconvinced, is unacceptable. And there’s something laudable there. On the other hand, firing someone for something you don’t think they actually did is problematic enough, legally and morally, that I probably wouldn’t even mention this in this forum if my grandfather were still alive.

      Or, what was I to do when — before I knew anything I’d outlined in the original post — I once was at a meal with the man in question, at the home of mutual friends, and, returning from the bathroom, caught sight of him at the dining room table speaking to the hosts’ (20 year-old) son and had the immediate, visceral thought — the closest thing I can think of is Aristotle’s phroneisis — that I would never trust him alone in a room with a child of my own.

      I couldn’t do anything with that (and had no immediate need to), so I stored it away in the back of my mind. But I think, if I’d been a parent and had that thought, I simply would have never left a child unsupervised anywhere near him — but done everything I could to avoid saying why. But, of course, wouldn’t that be protecting my own, potentially, at the expense of others? But to say something like that, based on “gut” — the destruction you could wield would be awful, and would likely only play out like crying wolf (if you turned out to be wrong).

      So, my own rambling reply, Gabriel, is — yes. Yes, it’s all greyer than it looks like in retrospect, or than I make it sound when I’m writing angry. Or writing at all, probably.Report

  3. Morat20 says:

    I think the primary failure mode is that many people believe “Well he’s been caught, surely he won’t do it again“. You know, because he’s been caught, moved, we’re watching, he wouldn’t dare….

    I mean after all, what sane person would? Except child predators aren’t sane, and yes they will do it again. Which just makes the cover-up worse — because you’re not just hiding a crime, you’re aiding and abetting future crimes.Report

    • Phaedros in reply to Morat20 says:

      I think one of the primary failures here is that people generally improperly conflate reports of abuse with confirmed abuse, as if to act on the one as if it were the other is either proper or advisable.
      This is simply setting up The System for even greater failures later.

      Also, to point out the obvious, there are a lot of assumptions that the reports and confirmations were contemporaneous with the abuse itself.
      This, too, blah blah blah.Report

    • Maribou in reply to Morat20 says:

      @morat20 While I agree that is a failure mode, I think the primary failure mode is the subconscious “surely HE couldn’t REALLY have”.

      That subconscious denial seems to aid and abet predators over and over, and I think it’s part of coverups as well. Even people who agree, when confronted, yes, person X did what they did and that’s horribly wrong, will route around it when not confronted. And cheerfully focus on the wonderful or endearing things person X does, what person X needs, etc.

      I’ve seen it happen over and over.

      Honestly, were I pre-modern, it would be something I’d attribute to person X having cast a spell. As it is, I’m left to wonder what the heck the brain is doing there.Report

  4. Phaedros says:

    I agree with the main proposition of this post: That this is a golden opportunity for significant change to occur on the personal level, and that this change should certainly happen.
    However, I disagree strenuously with what the direction of that proposed change should be; or rather, what it is implied should be from the post.

    We are definitely in a stage where over-reaction is venerated.
    I understand fully that rationality is quite unpopular among a not-insignificant portion of the population.
    Nonetheless, I think this is a good time to bring things back to Earth; to Get Real, in the most obvious meaning of the term.
    Which is to say, this is a good time to bring facts into focus, to dispel contorted and inaccurate common wisdom and junk science, and cultivate a mindfulness of the whole.

    As an example of “contorted and inaccurate common wisdom and junk science,” consider the following:
    Roughly 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused. This comes out to some 25.2% of the population, though more accurate numbers state it to be some 28% of the population in the U.S. Clinical practitioners tell me this number shows significant under-reporting.
    Now, if sexual abuse predisposes persons to abuse others, we can then expect twice as many females as males to molest children. Yet, only 1 in 5 abusers are female, though this number does not include those who consign children to prostitution, which is much higher among females.
    I forget the percentage of people who actually molest children, but it’s less than 10%. Thus, either the predisposition to abuse is overstated, or the influence of intervening factors in understated; both of which lie outside the realm of common wisdom and the currently popular junk science on the matter.

    Here’s news:
    As far as abuse of children goes, sexual abuse is fairly rare, while other forms of abuse are much more common. Nothing beats sex for the garish effect, so sex gets a lot of attention. This produces both a positive and a negative effect, though, granted, the positive effect is most felt by the abusers, while the negative effect disproportionately by their victims.

    This makes me question where people’s hearts are really at.
    That’s genuine.Report

    • Phaedros in reply to Phaedros says:

      . . . and toward that end, I reflected on the matter, believing this whole story* to be a story of sex rather than one of children or abuse, as there is too much of this occurring almost daily without much in the way of concern.
      On greater reflection, I believed it to be mainly a story of institutions, for the scale and the horrors seem dwarfed by human trafficking which could easily be reported.
      Now, I am more inclined to believe the story is primarily one of an overwhelming majority fully comfortable with substitution of ex parte grand jury proceedings in place of determination of guilt by means of the jury trial.

      * As distinct from the call to focus, the topic of the OP.Report

  5. Maribou says:

    Thank you for this post, J. L. It’s one of the most insightful I’ve seen on the topic, and I’ve read many.

    And no, I don’t think your care or caution means you are failing your own test.Report

  6. J.L. Wall says:

    And, even though this came out before I wrote a word of this piece, I didn’t see it until today: https://forward.com/news/national/409376/legendary-orthodox-rabbi-aware-of-sexual-abuse-of-children-report-says/

    I’ll offer a few notes: Ramaz is not really the equivalent in Jewish education to Exeter or Andover (there isn’t an equivalent), but that’s the best analogy I can think of here. Rabbi Lookstein is far more important than “just” the Kushner-Trump rabbi; he’s also been a leading figure in Modern Orthodox Judaism for decades, especially on issues relating to conversions (where there’s a great deal of tension between American rabbis and the Israeli Chief Rabbinate).Report

    • J.L. Wall in reply to J.L. Wall says:

      (I’m worried that this might be ambiguous, so I’ll clarify: none of the incidents in the story I’ve linked to are at all related to the story I relayed in the original article above.)Report

  7. Pinky says:

    “You must watch, and you must let this change your life. Because there may come a time when you, too, will face a test. More likely than not, you won’t even realize it. The choices won’t seem dramatic enough for it to be a test. That’s when you’re likely to fail.”

    Beautiful, insightful writing.Report