I have heard some versions of that phrase for a number of years now, whenever the subject of child rape comes up, and not just from Catholics. While the Catholic Church is in the spotlight again this week, and has been on and off for decades, maybe even centuries, it isn’t alone.
A few years ago, my old high school sent a letter to alumni admitting to sexual abuse of students. It wasn’t alone. The Chicago School System had child abuse at its schools, as did LA and other cities. To a lessor or greater extent, so did many other schools, none of them Catholic: St. Paul’s, Choate-Rosemary Hall, Exeter, to name a few. Horace Mann in New York had 62 cases. “Me” and “mini-me”, compared to the Catholic Church, of course, but not in terms of the harm: the non-Catholic kid suffered just as much as the kid in CCD or PSR.
In most cases people who love those institutions – from school alumni to lay board members – share the “if it is painful for you, think what it is to us” sentiment with outsiders. And then continue with their lives as though nothing had happened.
Child sexual abuse is bad; knowing about it and doing nothing to stop it is horrific.
My old high school recently admitted to instances of child sexual assault and rape that first occurred over 30 years ago. They spent the following two years investigating the extent of the claims and sending letters dripping with remorse (written by a national PR firm) to alumni and parents. Not once during those two years did they write about a plan for preventing future abuse.
They used some of the same lawyers hired by the Catholic Church in Boston, the subject of the movie “Spotlight”. And they applied some of the same tactics to those initial victims: delayed responses, threats of brutal cross examination in court, contentious settlement negotiations, invoking statutes of limitations – effectively wearing down the victims until they broke and gave up.
The good news: the school eventually did the right thing. It settled with the 40 victims and is providing them with long-term therapy and support. The better news: they finally have a detailed plan to prevent future abuses, something they should have done 30 years before.
The problem of pedophilia is not limited to the Catholic Church. But, because of its size, because of its centralized authority from Rome to the US, Europe, Africa, South America, Australia, New Zealand, and other countries, and because of its claim of ultimate morality, the Catholic Church is far more hypocritical and sinister.
Every organism, from the tiniest plant to the biggest carnivore, has one over-riding desire: to keep living and to continue the species. Organizations do the same thing.
Which explains some of the thinking behind “If it is painful for you, think what it is to us”. As any Christian will tell you, Christianity doesn’t promote child abuse; it promotes protecting children. “Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven”, said Jesus. Its a sentiment echoed throughout all religions. Accordingly, pedophile priests are aberrations of a superior morality; the Church itself is good, and noble. To preserve the overarching mission, then, instead of purging these priests, Church leaders transferred them to other parishes, sent them for therapy, and/or retired them. What they didn’t do was send them to jail.
At the same time they protected the pedophiles, they fought the victims tooth and nail in the courts. The victims got brutalized again.
Now, imagine a different approach. Imagine all those in power protecting children, instead of the institution. Imagine pedophile priests being culled out, publicly tried and sent jail. Imagine protocols in place for screening and reviewing priests’ behaviors, overseen by lay parishioners.
Imagine parishioners holding their Church accountable and either leaving it or staying and giving donations to other charities until the Church starts protecting children. Imagine parishioners speaking out – loudly – against the pedophile priests and the bishops, archbishops, and cardinals who covered for them. Imagine Pope Francis doing more than talking; imagine him defrocking or excommunicating Church leaders who don’t practice the morality they preach.
Imagine Catholics not having to say – ever again – “If it’s painful for you, think what it does to us”.