The public television series Frontline this past week presented a documentary entitled "Hand of God," about priests and sexual abuse. It was made by a filmmaker whose brother had been abused by a priest as a boy. He documented his brother's futile quest for acknowledgement and contrition from the Catholic hierarchy, futile until the dam burst and hundreds if not thousands of similar cases exposed the extent of perfidy tolerated within the priestly brotherhood.
What was striking, but not surprising, was the depth of animosity held by the filmmaker and his family toward the church. These people had had it with the imperious and condescending attitude of the diocesan administration, and their rage saturates the report. Also striking, and surprising, was the church's obvious disregard of what was happening; the perpetrator/priest central to the film was tolerated and transferred from parish to parish over decades.
I'm not drawing a parallel between "Hand of God" and our cover story this week, "Predators at Work." Though they both deal with child sexual abuse, and they both describe cases where the foxes were left in charge of the chicken coop, I am not charging that authorities, both county and local, knowingly tolerated the abuses that have been documented and admitted. But as author Jason Shepard asks in the article, was everything done that could have been done to avoid the possibility of these cases of abuse?
To know and to do nothing is just about as bad as committing the act. But to not know because you never tried to find out also carries some culpability. It is no secret that sexual predators will try to find the kinds of jobs that will present them with opportunity. To not anticipate this and guard against it is a form of neglect in itself. In the days and weeks to come, more details will be learned about the hiring and vetting of the perpetrators, as elected officials and administrators react to the situation. Then we'll know if blame is warranted and where it should be placed.
We should not let these incidents pass by lightly. Children are placed under the guardianship of the state or county practically every day. They are placed there presumably for their safety. They may be teens nearing the age of emancipation or they could be infants, facing an uncertain future of many years' duration. We owe them the protection and nurture we promise when we put them in the hands of governmental authority. We shouldn't be asking ourselves how it was that bad things happened to them while in our care.