Earlier this summer, there was a confluence of several high-profile stories, all of which indicated social concern about the sexual abuse of children and the forces that might cause it to be minimized and covered up. Unfortunately, the end of the summer brings three reminders that for every two steps forward there seem to be at least one step back.
The first story involves the outrageous harassment of SNAP, the advocacy group for people victimized by priests. Two weeks ago, the Missouri Supreme Court declined to prohibit an undisguised effort to intimidate those who dare to advocate for victims of abuse by priests. Here is the story on their web site. Second, the Minnesota Supreme Court sided with the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and the Diocese of Winona in a case that means that a list of 46 priests in the state credibly accused of molesting children will remain secret. Here is the Star Tribune story. Third, Rev. Benedict Groeschel, described by the New York Times as “a beloved figure among many Catholics and a founder of Franciscan Friars of the Renewal,” recently gave an interview in which he said that “youngsters” as young as 14 were often to blame when priests sexually abused them and that priests should not be jailed for such abuse on their first offense. Remember when the Catholic Church pledged to do everything possible to address the sexual abuse of children? That was ten years ago. Look where the Church is today.
Yes, the Penn State story and others demonstrate increased awareness and concern about the sexual abuse of children. But these more recent stories remind us that even in this climate of heightened sensitivity and awareness there remains a powerful willingness to attack victims’ advocates, to advance technical defenses to avoid accountability, and even to minimize and deny the very nature of the problem by blaming the victims.