Lessons from Sexual Abuse Convictions

Two prominent cases involving sexual abuse that went to trial were resolved in court this past Friday.  The first case does not involve the church.  Former Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky was found guilty on 45 of 48 counts of crimes which were committed over a fifteen year period.  The crimes include: involuntary deviate sexual intercourse; indecent assault; unlawful contact with minors; corruption of minors; endangering the welfare of children; and aggravated indecent assault.  The 23 June 2012 NEW YORK TIMES reported the story at Sandusky Guilty of Sexual Abuse of 10 Young Boys.

My interest in the story is that it does have implications for the Church as a whole, because predators are attracted to wherever children are present, even in churches.    Whereas we cannot stop every predator, we can take some measures in our parishes to encourage safety for all.  But we must always remain vigilant to what is happening in the lives of our children and fellow parish members.   As the NY TIMES reported regarding Sandusky:

“People expressed shock that a man they knew as a committed and selfless coach, a prominent fund-raiser for charity and a gregarious father figure to scores of aspiring football players and ordinary children alike could be capable of such crimes. Many, at least initially, refused to believe it.”

It is often just that disbelief that enables a predator to get away with his/her crimes.

The other story reported in the NY TIMES, Cardinal’s Aid is Found Guilty in Abuse Case, involves sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church.  This case is important because Msgr. William J. Lynn was not charged directly with sexual abuse but was on trial for his role in supervising other priests, some of whom were accused of sexual misconduct.   The former cardinal’s aide was found guilty of endangering children basically for covering up sexual abuses by priests under his supervision.  The implication for our diocesan chanceries as well as the OCA’s chancery is notable.

“The trial sent a sobering message to church officials and others overseeing children around the country. ‘I think that bishops and chancery officials understand that they will no longer get a pass on these types of crimes,’ said Nicholas P. Cafardi, a professor of law at Duquesne University, a canon lawyer and frequent church adviser. ‘Priests who sexually abuse youngsters and the chancery officials who enabled it can expect criminal prosecution.’”

For example, the Roman Catholic bishop from Kansas City, Robert W. Finn,  awaits “trial on misdemeanor charges of violating the state’s mandatory reporting requirement by allegedly waiting six months to tell the police that a priest had taken lewd photographs of girls.”  It is another case in which the accused is not himself guilty of sexual abuse, but as a bishop is charged with failing to report such criminal behavior by one of his priests to the police in a timely fashion (he eventually did report the incidents but only 6 months after learning of them).

As is obvious in the Philadelphia Roman Catholic Church case, it is not just the abusers who are guilty of crimes, but the supervisors who failed to do due diligence and failed to report the criminal sexual misconduct to the civil authorities.  We all have a responsibility to protect all of the youth of our parishes as well as all the members of church.  It is an aspect of our practice as Church which falls under the rubric, “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.”   In America, “Caesar” has taken a special interest in removing sexual predators from wherever they may be trying to hide, including among the clergy.

The goal is not to make us paranoid of everyone but rather to teach us Christian vigilance.   “Dirty old men” have existed throughout history.  This is not something new.  What maybe is new is that our individualistic culture which values personal freedom and privacy happens also to be an environment in which predators can move about freely.

Prophet Daniel

We have only to think about the Septuagint’s story of Susanna found in the Greek translation of the Book of Daniel, the story of the men of Sodom (Genesis 19), or the story of the righteous Joseph in Egypt being sexually harassed by his master Potiphar’s wife (Genesis 39) to realize sexual abuse was not unknown in the biblical world.

Sin is not new, but is quite ancient.