As several states are considering in-depth investigations into Catholic priests and sexual abuse against children, at least one person is asking authorities to look into “all other religions” as well as public schools.
That man is Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League.
He’s very upset that, following the widely publicized report in Pennsylvania, other public officials are trying to launch similar investigations. That’s why he just wrote a letter to all 50 state attorneys general telling them to spread their investigations thinner. He wants them to “also investigate the clergy of all other religions, private non-sectarian institutions, and public sector entities.”
Not to do so would be manifestly unjust and indefensible.
No attorney general or lawmaker would convene a grand jury on criminal behavior and then decide to focus exclusively on African American neighborhoods. They would have to include white-collar crimes, the kinds of acts that are mostly committed by affluent whites.
That is why it smacks of bigotry to single out the Catholic Church when investigating the sexual abuse of minors: We don’t own this problem. Indeed, there is less of a problem today with this issue in the Catholic Church than in any societal institution, religious or secular.
For the last two years for which we have data, .005% of the Catholic clergy have had a credible accusation mad against them.
It’s convenient that Donohue, who once literally blamed victims of the Charlie Hebdo massacre for provoking terrorists with their cartoons, wants the pressure to be pushed away from Catholics and toward other groups. It’s pretty much Deflection 101.
But Donohue’s letter is wrong from the beginning. For starters, he makes a terrible analogy with racist undertones, demonstrating a complete lack of knowledge about the justice system. Of course investigators use geographical cues to narrow certain investigations. If three banks are robbed in one neighborhood, authorities don’t start investigating everyone in the world. They look at clues around the banks and at people who had access to all of them.
In this case, the Catholic Church — and those in positions of authority within it — has demonstrated a pattern of ignoring child sexual abuse and protecting offenders. This simply isn’t the case for any other “societal institution.” We don’t need to begin similar investigations at, say, the U.S. Postal Service.
There’s no doubt that child sexual abuse happens all over the world and among a diverse group of offenders, but the Catholic Church is uniquely awful in its failure to respond. You can’t shuffle around offenders for years and then expect to be treated the same as other groups. Even if, as Donohue says, the percentage of priests who have had a “credible accusation” against them is 0.005%, that’s only because of investigations like these and because people became aware of the problem.
Donohue goes on to suggest that, since many of the Catholic clergymen who were exposed in the Pennsylvania grand jury report are now dead, there isn’t really an issue there. Instead of looking at Catholic churches, he specifically suggests an inquiry into public schools.
“If you want to pursue molesters, you should begin by launching a grand jury probe of the public schools. This means they must be explicitly mentioned in any bill that would suspend the statute of limitations; otherwise they will be exempted under the antiquated doctrine of sovereign immunity. There are many good reasons why the public schools command scrutiny.”
If we knew principals and superintendents were sheltering abusive teachers and then moving them into other elementary schools, I wouldn’t oppose such an investigation. But that’s not the case. Teachers who sexually abuse students are in the news precisely because law enforcement gets involved and those criminals are punished. There’s a system to handle them, in other words. The Catholic Church is notorious for not having those systems in place for decades.
That’s why they deserve special scrutiny, even if Donohue’s sympathies lie with the Church instead of the victims.
(Screenshot via YouTube)