Note: Precovid, I was waiting on someone to get back to me on a particularly grim allegation. They lost their nerve. This isn’t a fun post. It’s just commentary I had to significantly pare down to avoid being sued by the organization involved in the allegation. Whatever we hear on the news, people talk and tell their stories.
For whatever reason, I’ve been reading a lot lately about abuse and abuse of authority or position. I know a couple of incredible stories involving people locally. Both are quite simply shocking and fascinating. Those stories aren’t mine to tell. Even though it might surprise some of my acquaintances, I sometimes get to hear accounts of things that you’ll never see on social media. I’m inclined to write about such things. For every incident of abuse or rape, many more go unreported.
A friend sent me a link to one of the databases identifying the “credibly accused” clergy of the Catholic church. We’ve since learned that a huge number of clergy simply had their names omitted from the list. A few thousand of those credibly accused also continue to live normal lives, in all manner of occupations, without being required to get help, register as a sex offender, or comply with any of the other restrictions placed on people in the general public who’ve committed the crime of abuse.
The topic swirls around me periodically due to books, movies, or stories that intermittently surface about the church. There’s always another bombshell, another revelation, in part because a group of old men thinks that secrecy will quell the truth. It is astonishing to me that those in charge of a church would ever seek to silence the truth, especially a truth which reveals that the institution has a serious problem. I keep waiting for people to stand up and say “Enough!” It’s not disloyal to your church to demand accountability. It’s disloyal to fellow humans to fail to do so.
From there, I opened the box of curiosity that led me to other cases locally. I have an inside view of a couple of them. What we’re told publicly is seldom most of the story. So many victims fail to come forward. Those who do are pitted against a variety of obstacles that impede and shame them, especially if the abusers are backed by organizations or have wealth to subvert the legal system to avoid accountability. A local case here wherein a professional abused his clients drove home to me that no amount of evidence and testimony will get someone convicted if they have lawyers to stymy the process.
Another friend reminded me of Priest Joseph Correnti, who called Tontitown’s St. Joseph home from 1995 to 2002.
He admitted to abusing children and then committed suicide the next day.
His actions weren’t revealed publicly until years later, after statues and places of meditation were created in his honor. A couple of victims came forward, one of them to sue. As well he should; the church participated in a scheme to protect and conceal the worst among us.
“It just doesn’t seem like he would have hurt somebody” are the words from one parishioner, upon hearing the revelations about Correnti. Those words echo in my ears. Like so many other Northwest Arkansas professionals, whether they be clergy, dentists, doctors, lawyers, police, or teachers, it’s important to remember that these predators do not have in fact wear a headband with the word “Danger” on their foreheads. I mean no harm toward the parishioner, who was surprised by the priest’s abuse of minors. A good head always strives to see the best in people.
I am surprised, though, that people still say they are surprised by abuse with a straight face.
When the evidence is presented, it’s part of our duty as adults to attempt to examine it.
If you understand that 1 in 25 priests was accused of abuse, it would stand to reason that you would, in fact, NOT be shocked that one of those is hiding in plain sight in your congregation. Those who abuse are precisely the people you trust; anyone and any occupation can be guilty.
If you have any experience with human nature, you know that monsters hide behind smiles, charity, and opportunity. Just because someone was an angel to you does not mean that they are doing some serious perverse things in secret. As I’ve written about before, a lot of friends have shared their stories of abuse with me, whether it was sexual, emotional, or physical. Many of them were put in the position of hating or accusing people who seemed to have lived lives of morality and respectability. Even though I have examples other than my dad, I want to scream when people find it hard to believe that he committed armed robbery, killed someone, beat his family, and so on. I’ve since learned other things about him that don’t rehabilitate his reputation.
People you knew growing up were abused. People you may know are guilty of abusing others. Given that I know several people who were abused when they were younger, I can say with certainty that a lot of predators live(d) in Northwest Arkansas. Most of them, even if accused, are walking around freely among us.
There are a lot more clergy guilty of abuse – and a lot more victims that we’ll never hear about. The victims of this abuse are listening to us as we bicker and argue about the issue, much in the same way that women who’ve been abused or assaulted sit in silence as their friends and relatives say some spectacularly ill-advised things about the subject.
It’s not anti-Catholic to discuss priest abuse. It is, however, unreasonable to fail to address this sort of thing aggressively. If clergy are abusing people, it’s on all of us to report them. What particular religion, position, or church is involved is irrelevant.
One of our greatest tools to combat predators is to stop the ongoing nonsense of secrecy. If a pastor, therapist, or priest is involved, feed him to the criminal justice system, independently of whether he gets help. Stop focusing on controlling publicity. Such secrecy damages the entire organization’s credibility.
The reason I know that there’s still a huge problem, aside from the statistics, is that when I bring this issue up, I get a lot of anger from those who are members of the organizations. This signals that the shield of secrecy is still very much at play. Until people demand accountability from their church, the church won’t address the issue completely. The cycle continues.
One of our most adult realizations is that anyone can misbehave no matter what organization they belong to. We should embrace the possibility that their misbehavior does not necessarily reflect on the entire organization. Sometimes, it does, especially when the organization or its members align to conceal the problem or defend those who have no grounds for defense.
The church cannot reach a minimum level of trust until it trusts everyone with the full accounting of what’s happened in the past.
Every human system is going to have humans who abuse it. It is no shame to oust those abusers publicly. Don’t defend them or the organization that continues to fail the people who are abused. There is no defense.
It isn’t a Catholic problem. It’s a human problem, one we should discuss.
We hear so much about the Catholic church precisely because of its size, reach, and influence.
We have to stop allowing people to resist open discussion when cases arise.