We’ve all known for a long time that the Catholic church has a pedophile problem. After all, the jokes about priests and altar boys practically write themselves. Until now, it’s been painted by the media and public in general as a problem with a few bad apples covered up by a few more bad apples. Despicable, but not systemic.
The recent release of official investigation reports into the abuse of children within the Catholic church has put to rest whatever notions were left of the “bad apple” theory. The revelations are horrific and you can read them here. Suffice it to say, it is obvious that not only did the Catholic church have a problem with individual priests molesting their flock, they were also actively covering up for an actual pedophile ring – an organized cabal of molesters who passed victims from sicko to sicko and established their own codes for which children were vulnerable, groomed or already violated.
This wasn’t a product of a certain era in our culture or some kind of lapse in protocol…this was the systemic and sustained torture of children over decades and decades, at least. We would be very naive to believe the problem simply went away on its own. There is a good possibility the Catholic church still has pedophiles actively serving among its priestly ranks.
It would be easy to blame this on religion and leave it at that. After all, it’s the fashion these days to blame God or people who believe in God for all of society’s ills. Except the Catholic church isn’t the only place we’ve seen the sexual abuse of children being revealed as a major issue. Sports, academia, and Hollywood all have underground pedophile issues that are only just now beginning to bubble to the surface.
Why? Why does it seem like so many people are so willing to ignore pedophilia, which is easily the most grotesque violation of another human being that can be imagined? Why is it so easy to find information on Hollywood’s “open secret” of child abuse and yet so difficult to expose the evil? Why are we so keen to give voice to the women of #MeToo (to the point where we are qualifying bad dates as sexual harassment) but not completely outraged that none of those “do-gooders” in Tinsel Town have dared to step forward and speak up for the children who have been used and abused?
Even when it comes to our immigration debates we are arguing about kids at the border, sanctuary cities, and ICE but no one is talking about the children who are trafficked over the border into sexual slavery every day. It’s a documented fact, easily discoverable and yet almost never anywhere in our conversations about border and immigration issues. With so many people so outraged about children being separated from parents at the border, one would think the issue of sex trafficking minors would be the one place we could all come together with loud and righteous indignation.
Still…crickets. Oh, a few people bring it up but what is one voice in defense of sex abuse victims against an entire chorus of #OscarsSoWhite or #MeToo or whatever the hashtag activism of the day may be?
I have been thinking about this ever since I researched and wrote an article about alleged abuse issues at Nickelodeon. Why has this “open secret” been allowed to collect more victims for decades and decades? Why aren’t we collectively screaming bloody murder over this? Alyssa Milano will organize a protest against the NRA in a heartbeat but is silent on the abuses happening in her own industry – abuses she, as a former child actor, is most certainly aware of and may have even experienced herself.
All I can think of is that of all the ways we can harm and abuse one another, the harm and abuse of a child is among the most vile. Particularly the sexual abuse of a child. When a child is raped their abuser is not just using their body, they are stealing that child’s innocence…and innocence is a powerful thing. It is so powerful that when we lose it, it changes us forever.
Adam and Eve were “innocent” until they disobeyed God. It was only then that they experienced shame at their appearance and noticed their nakedness. That loss of innocence changed the course of history, even for those who believe the whole thing is just a made up cautionary tale. That loss of innocence brought judgment, suffering, and isolation.
Many of us choose to look away rather than face the raw and bloody reality of a child who has been violated and what we know about how that violation changes a person. We cannot bear to entertain the images of a child being used in that way. We must push away the thoughts, the pictures, how we imagine a child screamed or cried or begged for mercy. It’s enough to drive any decent person to madness.
So we look away.
There is also the issue of guilt. Guilt is a powerful emotion, perhaps the most powerful of all. Guilt can drive us to do irrational things.
Imagine the guilt a parent must feel when they discover they left their child in the hands of an abuser. For many, the thought of being responsible for that in some way is too much. Add that to the images that come to mind that are impossible to bear, and you’ve got a recipe for denial. Perhaps so many parents and leaders have denied the abuse they know exists because to acknowledge it would be to acknowledge their own shortcomings and their failures as protectors and guides.
Finally, there is greed. Greed is also a powerful motivator. I don’t need to say much to convince anyone of that truth. It’s all around us. We make tv shows and movies about it. We write songs about it. We work for greedy people, live by greedy neighbors, scold our greedy relatives. Greed is everywhere.
When an institution becomes a powerful conduit for finances and influence, it also becomes vulnerable to the power of greed. If left alone long enough, the leaders of those institutions will soon come to believe that their influence must be protected at all cost. With no checks and balances, they become isolated in that belief and soon entire systems are built on that belief.
The Catholic church is especially vulnerable in this respect because they believe they are the “one true church”. Rather than simply protecting one pastor or one congregation, they are engaged in protecting the literal church of God. They are protecting salvation. What happens to the One True Church if it becomes known they’ve allowed the abuses of those Jesus said were the most vulnerable and highly valued – children? A cover-up becomes necessary as a matter of principle and with no outside scrutiny or enforcement, the bureaucracy becomes insulated and those in charge can easily convince each other that they are doing the right thing.
Groups like organized sports and Hollywood and even academia have the same issue. There is so much money, so much effort and so much influence tied to these industries that to confront the horrifying evil of pedophilia would be too costly to too many. So everything is just continually covered up, systems are put in place aid in the coverups and soon it just becomes another part of the bureaucracy. The flow of money must be protected at all costs.
To be sure, Catholicism is not what is at issue here. The problem of pedophilia is everywhere – our churches, sports, schools, etc. One would be hard pressed to find an industry that attracts children where pedophilia is not present.
What is at issue here is how or why all of us as a society have been content to keep a lid on all of this for so long? How have we let this happen? We’ll boycott a show or a movie if the star is a member of the NRA or the director is a lothario with a penchant for interns but we don’t demand Hollywood purge their ranks of their pedophiles before we give them our money again.
The horror of pedophilia is understandably uncomfortable, but it is real and it is prevalent and it is pure evil. We must do more to out these monsters, out their enablers, and pay penance for how much abuse we’ve allowed to take place right under our noses for so long.
We can no longer assume that the things we let entertain us as a society are as innocent as the airbrushed perfection they present. We must look with a critical eye towards any industry that depends on minors to thrive, and where we find evil we must purge it without politics and without mercy.