“If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse them.”
This modification of the often-used African proverb is the driving force of the recently awarded film, Spotlight, a movie that tells the story of the The Boston Globe investigative reporters that broke the story about the priest abuse crisis of the Catholic Church in 2002. While the movie obviously centers around the major legal and ethical violations of the Catholic Church—the repeated abuse of children by some priests and the subsequent coverup by some bishops—the movie indicts more than just the priests and bishops of the Catholic Church: it indicts everyone. “How could this have happened without anyone knowing?” the movie asks. It couldn’t. And it didn’t. While priests were abusing children and bishops were covering up their misdeeds, there were police officers overlooking misconduct, judges refusing to hear cases, defense lawyers profiting from settlements, reporters failing to do investigations, and a whole city of neighbors, parishioners and family members discouraging victims from coming forward because they couldn’t bear the embarrassment. Beyond the terrible deeds of the actual abusers, there was a system in place that prevented victims from receiving the justice they deserved.
“If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse them.”
What I think the movie very powerfully points out, and what I mean to say in writing this post, is that this “crisis” is not something that involves only those who abuse and those who have been abused. We live in and support a culture that allows for this to happen, even still.
One night, I met some people at of one of our ministry sites. Besides the adult parishioners, there were also about six minors in the building with us that night, all either children of the adults present or friends that had come with the adults. There was no problem with the situation, neither from a legal or diocesan standpoint. As we were finishing up, though, all of the adults gathered their children and began to leave. “Hey Br. Casey, (child’s name) said his mom is on the way. Would you mind waiting with him until she arrives?” On the surface, and from the parent’s perspective, it was a natural, harmless question; he didn’t want the child to be left alone and he trusted me enough to leave the child in my care. In reality, though, this was a major misstep, a violation of diocesan rules, and the sort of question that puts children (and people like me) at tremendous risk. Given all that has happened, and all that continues to happen to children in schools, churches, and activity centers, what he was asking was basically: “Would you mind remaining with this unaccompanied minor, inside a building with no windows, on a property with no one else around, at night?” Um, yes, I most certainly do mind.
In telling this story, I don’t mean to vilify this parent; he was a nice guy and his actions were not malicious in the slightest bit. But that’s the problem: one doesn’t have to be malicious to be complicit in something terrible. Yes, it was the priests (and many others) that did the abusing, but there were also countless parents, teachers, friends, and neighbors that trusted without question, put children in unsafe situations, and failed to see the signs after an abuse had taken place.
This may seem like a defense of or deflection from the priests and bishops who committed terrible crimes against defenseless children. I assure you it is not. What they did, especially considering their office, expectation of a higher standard, and power they held over their victims, both emotionally and spiritually, is not something that can ever be overlooked or excused. Spotlight does not hold back about what it thinks of these institutional actions of the Church and neither do I. The fact that even today, after years in the public eye, bishops and priests are still eluding criminal trials because they were moved to another position in another country, a “promotion” as it were, is absolutely detestable.
What I write is not a defense of or deflection from the priests and bishops who committed terrible crimes against defenseless children, but rather a call to action for all of those who didn’t. While some may have lamented the idea of such a movie like Spotlight, fearfully asking, “When will this just go away?”, I applaud it. Using a powerful and popular medium, at the quality worthy of attention and awards, this film reminded us that the reason this won’t “just go away” is because we still have work to do. That’s right: we. We need to continue to push the issue in our Church communities so that bishops and priests are held accountable for what they’ve done. We need to be humble enough, like the journalists in the movie, to recognize when we have failed to protect children and were complicit in what happened. We need to make sure that we set up, and follow, protocols that will prevent things like this from ever happening again.
I think Spotlight got it exactly right: “If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse them.” What happened was the result of many problems coming together. But now we can act differently. Now we can change the story for the children of today and tomorrow. I say, “If it takes a village to raise I child, it’s takes a village to keep that child safe.”
Well said. The film was spot on and your written comment on this film Spotlight, well written. I have been a Primary School teacher for nearly 30 X years and have at all times discharged my services professionally respectfully and kindly. I have almost FINISHED THE RACE. . My prayer is that a new and healthy Priesthood emerges. Let us allow a Priest to enter into a x loving relationship if this is his desire. Let us Ordain women. Let us move upward and forward and truly live this gospel life we are called to live. Blessings x on all good men everywhere. Br Francis Mary.
Excellent blog … and challenging too. I’m not sure at which exact point `abuse` begins and one technically becomes a `victim`, but here’s my personal story that I have never shared before. 30 years ago I accepted the invitation of an older priest, whom I had know and admired much of my childhood, to visit an old farming property some miles from the monastery where both of us, quite independently, were meant to be on individual retreats. I want to stress, too, that he was a diocesan priest, not a monk of the monastery. Soon after we headed north, travelling at over 100km/h on a country road, my right thigh is being squeezed with the comment “You know, you’re a terrific kid.” Whilst I was 19 at the time, I looked 14, if that. Immediately I knew the gravity of the situation in which I was in – and the virtual impossibility of getting out of it. What should I have done? Opened the door & jumped from the car?
For 30 years I have been silent. Why? Because who would believe a 19yo theology student against a well respected priest of the Diocese? I instinctively KNEW that no one would believe me – and the unfolding of so many similar stories would seem to confirm that belief.
BUT, for 30 years I have carried around the question: who else has suffered at the hands of this priest because of my silence? It adds a layer of shame and guilt to an episode that still affects my ability to be alone with a priest, or any man for that matter – such as a random passenger choosing to sit next to me on a public bus.
Yes, `we` share in this murky business. Silent victims in a terribly tormented way.
Thank you for reading and commenting. For every public case that we hear about in the news, I think there are hundreds more like yours: quiet, subtle, uncomfortable experiences of abuse that go unaddressed. I find it so tragic that these things happen to people, and that, as in your case, people can go many years without telling anyone. I appreciate your honesty and willingness to share. I would also recommend that your sharing not end here on this blog. Is there a spiritual director, counselor, or close friend that you would be willing to speak with about this? It might be helpful in ways you don’t even know yet.
Peace and good,
Excellent blog, Casey. Well written. I’ll pass it on.
What about religious who wanted to blow the whistle, or those who did but were rebuffed?
Imagine belonging to an order, as you do, and trying to blow the whistle on a priest you know is molesting children. You meet staunch resistance. You are disheartened that godly people are defending and protecting rapists. You could go to the police. You could publish a blog post about the priest. What would the church do to you? Maybe excommunicate you? If so, you would have spent years doing the bidding of the church, entirely dependent upon it for sustenance…no income, no savings account, nothing…then be ejected for doing the right thing.
Don’t religious sign legal documents stating that the church gets at least a portion of any inheritance they may receive from parents, or something like that? If so, I imagine that is still in effect if you are excommunicated?
Again, just brainstorming.
I’m not entirely sure how to respond, but I’ll start with a few clarifications.
1. One cannot be excommunicated for turning someone in or printing something bad about the Church or someone in the Church. We are all called to seek justice. While one might get themselves into trouble, lose teaching faculties, or be silenced, they will not be excommunicated.
2. The same goes for religious profession. Once one is a solemnly professed religious, the “Church” cannot simply kick one out for any reason. It is actually very difficult to remove someone from a religious order by canon law. Even for those who have COMMITTED the abuse it would be difficult to “ejected” as you say because it is a solemn vow to God.
3. Religious do not have to sign their property over to the Church or religious order (that I am aware of). In the case of the Franciscans, we are not even ALLOWED to do so. We have to give it to the poor or to our family.
4. Kind of a nit-picky thing, but if someone was in religious life to do “the bidding of the Church,” there might have been problems for the start. It is not as if we are indentured servants or oppressed employees. We ARE the Church as religious because all Christians are the Church. There is ownership in what we do because it is us who make up the Body of Christ. To view it in some sort of dichotomous way (“the Church” and the rest of us) as if the hierarchical structure is the real Church and we serve it is problematic.
So, in all of that, I would say that there is no change to one’s obligation if one is a religious. We are required by law to report wrong-doing or abuse, and being a part of the same religious order as someone does not give someone exemption (nor would the Church, especially today, punish a whistle-blower for doing so).