John Patrick Grace: Sexual and other abuse widespread in U.S.

March 12, 2019

All institutions, religious and secular, tend to downplay or even bury incidents of abuse committed by those in their hierarchies, whether these be churches, schools, universities, police forces, military units or corporations.

Behavior is similar: Discipline offenders internally and if the offenders are especially valuable to the institution, attempt to rehabilitate them or “move them around.” Dismissal of offenders is a secondary resort and turning offenders over to civil authorities for prosecution is a last resort.

What has gone on for generations now in Catholic circles has been unearthed also in Protestant churches. Franklin Graham has even remarked that the level of abuse is “about the same” in Protestant circles or possibly “even worse.”

A recent report rocked the Southern Baptist church: More than 300 pastors or other leaders have committed abusive sexual acts against young people in their charge.

Insurance companies that provide liability coverage for churches have reportedly found that instances of sexual abuse span the gamut of Christian denominations in roughly equal rates.

In public school systems the problem is considerably worse. In Chicago public schools alone in one recent year there were SIX HUNDRED reported cases of sexual abuse.

And in U.S. families the problem is the worst of all. Denial and cover-up of pedophilia, pederasty and rape in families is rampant, unreported and rarely brought to court.

Pope Francis, in his remarks closing the recent Vatican Summit on Clerical Sexual Abuse, alluded to the widespread sexual abuse across many institutions of society. He was “graded down” for this remark by critics, but it is indeed helpful to see abuse in the churches within the larger societal framework.

There is tremendous need for institutional reform. With a few recent cases of police officers being tried for violent behavior, including homicide, and with the process under way at the Vatican, we have a modest beginning to how society — again, both religious and civil — can and should put in place guard rails to reform institutional behavior and protect the vulnerable.

Catholics in West Virginia are now awaiting the naming of a new bishop while the former bishop of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, the Most Rev. Michael Bransfield, sits in a monastery in Kansas awaiting a decision from the Vatican as to his fate. He stands accused himself of having committed sexual acts with one or more seminarians -not minors but young adults.

Two high-ranking former cardinals, Theodore McCarrick, former Archbishop of Washington, D.C., and George Pell, former Archbishop of Sydney, Australia, have suffered ignominious endings. McCarrick has been laicized by the Vatican — reduced to the status of a simple layman — for numerous instances of abusing young males by predatory sexual acts. Pell has been sentenced to 50 years in prison for similar deeds.

In the realm of entertainment, we have witnessed the stunning fall from popular acclaim as “America’s Dad” of Bill Cosby, who is now serving a long stretch for predatory sexual behavior against dozens of women over his career.

On the political front, more than 19 women still await an airing of their complaints against our sitting president, Donald J. Trump, for unwanted touching or kissing.

Plainly, abuse cases are now “out in the open.” Sanctions are being levied against offenders up to and including long prison terms. Things are changing — for the better.

John Patrick Grace is a book editor and publisher in Huntington.