One of the puzzling things about the sexual abuse problems that have been exposed in closed, secretive, and hierarchical organizations like the Catholic Church, Ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities, and football programs is the fact that these abuses were so widespread and long-standing that they could not possibly have been kept secret from others in the organizations. So why did they not speak up? It is suggested that the reason is that the higher ups wanted to avoid damage to the image of the institution by a public scandal and thus tried to address the problem internally.
That is bad enough. But an even more disturbing possibility is that the silence may be because the abuse was not seen as that serious or worth reporting in the first place.
Take this recent interview with a prominent Catholic priest, the Rev. Benedict Groeschel, a Franciscan friar from New York who appears often on EWTN, a conservative Catholic TV channel. His is an influential voice in the Catholic Church. He makes the extraordinary case that abusive priests should not go to jail for their first offense, that once caught they should get a Mulligan, a chance to do over. He even expresses sympathy for Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky whom he refers to as “this poor guy”.
Groeschel says that the common view that the perpetrators of sexual abuse are psychopaths preying on vulnerable victims is wrong and that in many cases the reverse is true, that the abuser is the real victim, because they may have been in a fragile emotional state and seduced by these cunning young predators.
Suppose you have a man having a nervous breakdown, and a youngster comes after him. A lot of the cases, the youngster — 14, 16, 18 — is the seducer.
Well, it’s not so hard to see — a kid looking for a father and didn’t have his own — and they won’t be planning to get into heavy-duty sex, but almost romantic, embracing, kissing, perhaps sleeping but not having intercourse or anything like that. It’s an understandable thing, and you know where you find it, among other clergy or important people; you look at teachers, attorneys, judges, social workers.
And I’m inclined to think, on their first offense, they should not go to jail because their intention was not committing a crime.
As horrifying as these comments are, they do go a long way towards explaining why these organizations did nothing for so long. They may have not seen it as that big a deal.