Coach or clergy, silence protects the rapist
Before break, I drew a cartoon suggesting that the Penn State football program had been reading out of the Catholic Church's playbook. Two letters expressed outrage at the comparison, and said that the cartoon was harmful to the victims. A student wrote, " It is time to honor and respect the victims of these terrible actions by putting the actions behind us so that they can move on with their lives without fear of being linked to current crimes."
The EIU Knights of Columbus wrote: "This cartoon opens wounds that may never heal for those who have had unspeakable acts committed against them."
It must take more effort to ignore the parallels between the crimes of the church and those of the Penn State football program. The recent accusations laid against Bernie Fine, the assistant head basketball coach at Syracuse, portray a culture of complicity in NCAA sports that makes the comparison even more apt.
If we heard the report without any identifying details, what would we assume from these facts:
Young boys, many of them under-privileged or from broken families, entered a youth program and established connections with a caring, father-like figure who, it turned out, was a pedophile. For many years, this man exploited the trust of those around him to get the boys alone and rape them. When the organization became aware of it, either through a victim or a concerned member of the organization, the accusation was silenced to protect the organization as a whole, allowing the child rapist to continue violating boys.
Before Penn State, any thinking person would assume the child rapist was a Catholic priest. I think the comparison is unfair to the NCAA incidents. At both Penn State and Syracuse, the rapists were protected by the denialism, the systematic rejection of evidence, of those in charge. This does not exonerate any of them; their silence should be considered both moral and legal complicity.
But the Catholic Church knew the truth, knew its ranks were plagued with serial child rapists, and did everything in its power to protect them. Pedophiles were transferred or promoted to new positions within the church, sometimes into positions that allowed them to continue their unspeakable deeds. Church authorities at every level participated in a cover-up that put the reputation of the church ahead of the lives of children, including Pope Benedict XVI.
Back then he was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the "Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith" (formerly known as the Inquisition). Ratzinger wrote and disseminated a letter, under his authority as a Cardinal, informing members of the church that it was a crime against the Pope and God to talk about pedophile priests with anyone outside the church. When confronted with the confession of Stephen Kiesle, a California priest, that he had tied up and raped children, Ratzinger did not defrock him, despite Kiesle's personal request to be defrocked. The secular American justice system convicted Kiesle, and after his release he was allowed to return to the church as a youth minister.
I would not ask Catholics to be accountable for the history of the church. They place their faith in the Catholicism and Christ, not in papal decree. It would be ridiculous to ask them to defend the Crusades, the Inquisition, the persecution of Jews, the subjugation of women and the promotion of homophobia that composes so much of the Vatican's legacy. But if the Knights of Columbus wish to speak on behalf of the church in the context of these crimes, they might begin with a thoughtful apology.
One can be a Penn State fan or a faithful Catholic, still call a rapist a rapist, and demand justice be done.
What cannot be allowed to pass, however, is the notion that "moving on" is in the best interest of the victims. Silence always protects the guilty.
It was silence that protected Jerry Sandusky. It was silence that protected Bernie Fine. It was silence that protected clergymen across the nation as they raped at least 5,000 children, according to the John Jay Report.
When the silence of the victims of the pederast priests was first broken, thousands more found the courage to speak out.
If there is one single victim of rape who has been hushed into silence, we must all, as human beings, tell him we will listen and pay attention. We must be the ones who refuse to say, "Get over it."