Freeh: Institutional Failure to Deal with Sexual Abuse

Former FBI Director Louis Freeh led an independent committee investigation into the sexual abuse scandal at Penn State University involving convicted sex felon Jerry Sandusky.  They published a Report today with their findings which were very critical of the climate and culture at the University which enabled the sexual abuse to continue for several years.

My interest is not so much in Penn State or the university culture in general.  Rather I take an interest in those elements of these investigations that have, at least in my mind, some relevance to the church and church administration in dealing with issues of sexual abuse.  The Penn St. case taught us that sexual abuse exists not only in the Roman Catholic Church, but rather is a societal and human problem.  Every institution, including the institutional organizations of the Orthodox church need to take a look at themselves regarding their own culture and climate regarding sexual abuse allegations.   How we deal with problems that exist within the organization has bearing on whether sexual abuse is exposed and stopped when it is first detected, or whether the attitudes of the institution enable abuse clandestinely to continue.

What follows is a section from the official report, which does have application to and implication for church organizations.  We can substitute church equivalents for the university structures and personnel mentioned in the Report to get an idea how the church would look to independent investigators dealing with an abuse scandal.  The  Report says:

The avoidance of the consequences of bad publicity Is the most significant, but not the only, cause for the failure to protect child victims and report to authorities.  The investigation also revealed:

A striking lack of empathy for child abuse victims by the most senior leaders of the University.

A failure by the Board to exercise its oversight functions in 1998 and 2001 by not having regular reporting procedures or committee structures in place to ensure disclosure to the Board of major risks to the University.

A failure by the Board to make reasonable inquiry in 2011 by not demanding details from Spanier and the General Counsel about the nature and direction of the grand jury investigation and the University’s response to the investigation.

A President who discouraged discussion and dissent.

A lack of awareness of child abuse issues, the Clery Act, and whistleblower policies and protections.

A decision by Spanier, Schultz, Paterno, and Curley to allow Sandusky to retire in 1999, not as a suspected child predator, but as a valued member of the Penn State legacy….

A football program that did not full participate in, or opted out of some University programs, including Clery Act compliance. … the football program had not been trained in their Clery Act responsibilities….

A culture of reverence for their football program that is ingrained in all levels of the campus community.

Mr. Freeh in his verbal report also said the University’s Board, “despite its duties of care and oversight of the University and its Officers – failed to create an environment which held the University’s most senior leaders accountable to it.”  The University’s president “resisted the Board’s attempt to have more transparency.”    Additionally the PSU Board “failed in its duty to make reasonable inquiry into these serious matters and to demand action by the President.”  The senior PSU officers failed to “make timely, thorough and forthright reports of these 1998 and 2001 allegations to the Board. This was a failure of governance for which the Board must also bear responsibility.”

Again, we in the church can learn from this report.  All we need to do is substitute the word “church” for “university” and put the appropriate church words/organizations/personnel in the place of the university structures and we see how it applies to church administration.

The University’s fear of bad publicity was one factor that caused it to avoid exposing the scandal.  This is a destructive temptation that every organization faces:  people will think badly of us if they find out about the scandal, so lets minimize what people find out.  This strategy backfires when the scandal becomes known and people are enraged to discover that not only did the organization fail to deal with the scandal, but it also tried to cover it up.

The church faces its own particular complication in dealing with these issues in that historically, traditionally and canonically, the church invested power in individual clergy or hierarchs, rather than in church boards.   But church organizations which are incorporated in North America, also have to answer to laws which govern corporations.   These laws as pointed out in the PSU report place much responsibility not just on the senior officers of the institution (bishops or clergy  for example) but also on the boards (or councils) which have corporate legal duties to fulfill.  Any individuals or boards which have supervisory responsibilities within the institution are going to be called to account for whether they did the appropriate supervision.   This may in the church produce clashes at times about who is accountable for the failure to deal properly with abuse problems.   This is where the church must continue to work on having clear Policies, Standards and Procedures.  For though the church is not of the world, it is in the world and does answer to civil authorities in North America.

On all levels of the church, from parish, to the diocese, to the jurisdictional authority, officers and boards have legal and fiscal responsibilities to perform their duties in dealing with issues of sexual abuse and criminal activity.  The courts themselves and juries have become increasingly impatient with the failure of religious institutions in doing due diligence in investigating allegations, in meting out appropriate discipline, and in protecting children from abuse.  These are lessons for which all of us in the church need to take notice, and to exercise our appropriate spiritual and legal duties.  Ignorance is no excuse.

Praying (III)

This is the 15th blog in a series exploring various aspects of “prayer.”  The first blog is “Why Pray?” and the previous blog is Praying (II).

Both the Old and New Testament (see for example Deuteronomy 6:5 and Luke 10:27), teach that we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul and strength.  This basically means we are to love our God with all of our being (spirit, soul and body).

I will sing to the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being.”  (Psalm 104:33)

This is the same kind of thinking that says we are meant to pray not just on occasion but with our entire lives, with all we think, say and do.

“… the heart is the man himself.  Thus he who does not pray or does not serve God with his heart, does not pray at all, because in that case his body only prays, and the body without the mind is nothing more than earth.  Remember, that when standing in prayer, you stand before God Himself, who has the wisdom of all.  Therefore, your prayer ought to be, so to say, all spirit, all understanding.”  (St. John of Kronstadt, MY LIFE IN CHRIST, p 4)

Prayer is not the mere recitation of texts, not even if we are reciting the Psalms from memory.  We as humans are quite capable of multi-tasking, and can recite texts from memory even if our heart or mind is far removed from what we are reciting.  Prayer is that coming together of all of the aspects of what it means to be human, including having a relationship with our Creator.  Thus we are to pray as long as we live, and we are to pray every moment of our lives.  Prayer is communion with God.  But, this doesn’t mean that if we become prayer we eschew the necessities of life or renounce the world completely.  Rather prayer has to do with the transfiguration of our lives so that we begin here and now to participate in the new creation of God:  we participate in salvation when we pray.

Prayer, as we’ve said before, informs, forms, reforms and transforms our lives.  Prayer always involves the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

“They asked Abba Macarius, ‘How should one pray?’  The old man replied, ‘There is no need to lose oneself in words.  It is enough to spread out the hand and to say, ‘Lord, as thou wilt and as thou knowest best, have mercy.’  If the battle is fierce, say, ‘Help!’   He knows what is suitable for you and he will take pity on you.(Sayings of the Desert Fathers….)”     (Olivier Clement, THE ROOTS OF CHRISTIAN MYSTICISM, p 203)

I love the above quote, specifically the line, “if the battle is fierce, say, ‘Help!’”   That one word, “Help!” is enough verbiage.   If we find ourselves not knowing how to pray or what to say, cry out “Help!”   God does hear that prayer.  We don’t need long and eloquent prayers written by saints.  God accepts the plea of our hearts, however simple.

“The brethren said, ‘What is pure prayer?’  The old man said, ‘that which is of few words and is abundant in deeds.  For if their actions be not more than their petition, their prayers are mere words wherein the seed of their hands is not…”   (E. Wallis Budge, THE PARADISE OF THE HOLY FATHERS  vol 2, p 331) 

Prayer is not mere words, no matter how holy those words may be, for prayer consists also of how we live and what we do daily.  Prayer is that holistic bringing together of our heart, mind and body – our thoughts, words and actions.  We work to establish those things for which we also are praying.

“At the times when you remember God, increase your prayers, so that when you forget Him, the Lord may remind you.”     (St. Mark the Ascetic, THE PHILOKALIA   Vol 1, p 112)

When we pray, we stand in God’s presence and we are aware of His presence.  This is remembering God, for the biblical sense of remembering is that we participate in what we remember.  (In the Liturgy for example we remember what Jesus did on the night in which he was betrayed, taking the bread in His hands and blessing and breaking it, and now we participate in that same event as we receive Holy Communion.)   As we remember God, as we become more aware of the presence of Christ and the Holy Spirit, we participate in salvation, we participate in the divine life and become as St. Peter says partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4).

Next:  Praying (IV)