Why the Silence?

A mother's reaction to child abuse
in the Archdiocese of Boston

[Earlier this week, as I was reading about Boston's child-abuse scandal in Newsweek, a regular reader of this site wrote to share her struggle with the news. I asked if I could print her letter here, and she graciously agreed. As parents of children with special needs, children who are more vulnerable than most, this must be an issue that concerns and scares us all. Here, one mom vents.]

I have had a very bad couple of weeks, here in the Archdiocese of Boston. Two weeks of headlines relating to one very bad man, a former priest, were followed by the revelation that hundreds of similar cases were concealed by the archdiocese, which followed a policy of paying off the victims, sealing the records, and moving the priests, apparently from parish to parish.

I've read the occasional column or letter to the editor regarding the situation; most mention the "unnatural" expectation of celibacy, the exclusion of married men from the priesthood, and the exclusion of women from the priesthood. The columnists and letter-writers often demand that the cardinal resign, that the Church rethink its policies on ordination.

I consider these points a digression.

The issue here isn't the Church's ordination policy. The issue here is the total and utter contempt for pastoral duty displayed by Bernard Cardinal Law. What loving father consults his lawyers and his insurance company before comforting his injured child? What loving father would allow anyone to harm his children? Yet father is the role in which he casts himself. Did he go public because he confronted his conscience? No, he was forced to apologize after his erroneous ways were revealed in the newspapers. The archdiocesan spokesmen had a policy of discrediting accusers who went to the civil authorities. I'll bet Cardinal Law is sorry--sorry it became public. Now the witch hunt is on, and some good priests will go down, because of all the deception that's gone before.

Now, here's why you should care. Your children have developmental issues. Language issues, behavioral issues, self-control issues. Whatever these issues are, how well do you think your children would fare as witnesses in court, should one of them be abused? In case your imagination fails, I can supply the details. The priest will deny that anything happened. Your child, after all, probably has difficulty separating fantasy from reality. He will pass a polygraph. The DA will not know what to do, and neither will you because you realize that if the child testifies, he'll be cross-examined. Quite probably he likes his abuser, sympathizes with him, feels terrible that the abuser is in jail. This is common. You will call every psychologist in the book to find someone who can fit your child into his schedule before the subpoena date.

You've already gone through the videotaped police interview of your child, which you get to monitor. You've had your child's education records subpoenaed. Investigators for the defense are calling you to just clear up a few points. At almost every step of the process you will be lied to -- by the police, by the DA's office -- or lied about. If you are like me, and have a vivid imagination, you will understand this even before you decide to report it to the police. And if you are like me, you will report it anyway. One thing you will be sure of is that you have not handled it right.

And the last thing, THE LAST THING you should have to deal with is your pastor turning his back, looking to protect himself and his status quo.

Yes, my son was abused by a priest, just not a Catholic priest. And I have spent the last weeks, in which fell the first anniversary of this event, reliving every rotten moment. Wondering, why the silence? Why the lack of support? I'm a good Catholic, a loyal Catholic. I understood that pedophilia happens all over. I just never imagined what I might face if it happened within the Church.

I have thanked God repeatedly over the past weeks that my son's abuser was an Anglican priest and not a Catholic one. Can you imagine thanking God for something like that?

I want to know, where is my assurance that my children will be protected? Bad things happen, bad people are out there, but will my Church, my refuge, support and protect my children if the bad thing should happen to them? Where is my assurance?

And why the silence?

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