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Hey Ben Shapiro, you think media exaggerate sex abuse by Catholic priests? Take a stroll to the Bea House on GU campus.

December 19, 2018

Here’s an idea. Gonzaga University could invite professional conservative martyr Ben Shapiro to reprise the topic of one of his recent Daily Wire podcasts: Has Catholic Church Sex Abuse Been Exaggerated?

Shapiro could conduct an interview much like that one – which he had Sunday with Bishop Robert Barron of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles – in which the bishop said, essentially, yes. The abuse and the widespread cover-ups were bad, the bishop said, they were awful and horrible and inexcusable and the church should pay. But, the bishop said, there’s some truth that the media, as Shapiro phrased it, “are basically picking on the Catholic Church” for a problem that is universal to all organizations and societies.

So, Shapiro could come to Gonzaga, put on that show, and afterward someone could walk him across campus and tell him the story of Cardinal Bea House.

Because – as shown in a great piece of reporting by Emily Schwing of the Northwest News Network – the story of the Bea House and its use as a final stop for at least 20 priests accused of sexual assault and abuse is another example of the ways in which the church’s sex abuse scandal was not at all like the sex abuse scandals of other organizations, but which flourished in the particular culture of Catholic clergy and which was forgiven and ignored and covered up by church leaders in such a way that the tendrils of the thing are still woven into the institutions.

Schwing’s reporting shows the Bea House, right in the middle of the campus, was used specifically, though not solely, as a place where abuser priests – even priests believed to be certain to reoffend – could be kept and monitored in secrecy.

Many of the pieces of Schwing’s report have been reported elsewhere, including much of it in The Spokesman-Review years ago. Hearing the report, though, one is again shocked by the sheer moral lackadaisy of past Catholic responses to sexual abuse of children.

The Shapiro story now bedeviling GU, by contrast, is a much less important matter. The kerfuffle over GU’s denial of a request by the campus Republican club to host Shapiro for a speech has – as literally anyone breathing on earth could have predicted – simply fueled another martyrdom narrative. One suspects these invitations – like last year’s invitation to the counterfactual “historian” and felon Dinesh D’Souza – exist primarily to produce exactly this outcome: Conservative victimized by colleges again!

Never mind the reasons a university might not think its guest list needs to include Shapiro, whose primary mission seems to be to provoke and insult the libs, and who once suggested that global warming wouldn’t be a problem because people in low-lying areas could just sell their homes and move. Sell them to sea monkeys, I guess.

One of Shapiro’s specialties is the standard laments about media bias, and that was what brought him to his question for Bishop Barron: Has the media exaggerated the sex abuse problem in the Catholic Church?

“There’s something true to that,” Barron said. “I think that’s certainly fair to say, that this problem is a universal human problem. You can find it in almost every institution, every society.”

Barron also said, to his credit, that the abuse needed to come to light, and the church deserves the “burden” that has come with the revelations.

“I don’t think the media is picking on the church, in this measure,” he said. “Thank God for the media that revealed the thing when the church, to be frank, was not as willing or able to deal with it. Thank God, in a way, for the Boston Globe that brought this thing to light.”

In a way. It’s safe to say, I think, that no other institution or society has had a sex abuse problem like the Catholic Church. Other people in other organizations are sexual criminals, of course, but even among groups where there have been cover-ups and denials, the scope and particular manner in which the church hierarchy participated – hid, covered up, looked the other way, reassigned abusers with no warning, forgave and forgot rapists while failing the victims – allowed the problem to grow and persist in unique ways. And the arguments that the church has been the victim of unfair exaggeration over the problem is but another expression of the problem.

Schwing’s story, which she produced with two other reporters from Reveal, a podcast project of the Center for Investigative Reporting, as well as the Northwest News Network, centered around a priest who abused more than 20 women and girls, including young children. He was accused of impregnating a 16-year-old girl and forcing her to have an abortion.

The priest, James Poole, was one of many abuser priests assigned to Alaskan Native villages – and then who wound up retiring to Cardinal Bea House. The house is not owned by the university, but is on the west side of campus.

At least 20 Jesuits accused of sexual misconduct quietly retired to Bea House. Allegations were handled privately, and though the men were sometimes known to require “monitoring,” in the words of one official, there is no evidence that there was any.

In Poole’s case, his superiors knew of his improper conduct, which was flagrant, offensive and widespread; one wrote that he had a “fixation on sex,” and his abuse of children continued for decades. Yet he continued being assigned as a chaplain. One former head of the Jesuit’s Oregon Province, Father Frank Case, wrote a letter in 1989 supporting Poole’s reassignment as priest “in very good standing.”

Case is a GU vice president and the team chaplain for the men’s basketball team. He told the reporters he hadn’t reviewed Poole’s file before writing it. It’s very hard to believe Case didn’t know about Poole’s long record when he wrote that letter, but if he didn’t, that’s a lousy excuse.

If he did, it’s no exaggeration to say it’s much, much worse.

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