In some ironic ways, the priest pedophilia scandal in the Roman Catholic Church, which the Boston Globe revealed (and for which it won a Pulitzer Prize) did something positive for all our institutions by disclosing the sexual abuse in them.
All society's institutions wield two-edged swords. That's a belligerent and bloody metaphor. A better one would be that our institutions have their shadow side. They do lots of good, but they also can give rise to darkness and evil.
It's not only our churches. The United States Military, the British Broadcasting Corp., the Boy Scouts of America, and, of course, our schools and universities come to mind.
The abuse of children is not just a Catholic problem. Many mainline Protestant churches have recognized and addressed the issue. And in Brooklyn's ultra-orthodox Satmar Hasidic community, Nechemya Weberman, an unlicensed counselor has been convicted of abusing many young girls. This extremely strict community ostracizes and severely disciplines its adolescent girls for normal teenaged behavior. It reminds me of the agonizing and heartrending story of the Madelines in repressive Catholic Ireland in which rebellious girls were kept isolated in virtual slavery. This was as recent as 1960. That tragedy is documented in the film, "The Madeline Sisters."
Then there were the sexual assaults against female students in the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado. Twelve percent of the women who graduated from the Academy in 2003 reported rape or attempted rape. Moreover, 70 percent of women enrolled at the Academy alleged they had been victims of sexual harassment.
The alleged perpetrators have since graduated and there was insufficient evidence to court-martial them. The leadership in the Air Force had most likely known of this toxic environment all along, but did little. A program was eventually put in place to address such abuse, but its effectiveness is still questionable.
More recently, the Air Force at its Lackland base in Texas imposed what it calls a "wingman policy," which requires its trainees to be with at least one classmate at all times. This policy is in response to an Air Training and Command investigation that identified 23 base instructors who had raped or sexually harassed 48 female trainees.
These instances of unpunished rape in the United States military and the routine silencing and retaliation against the victims who dared report it aren't new. It is documented in the Academy Award nominated film "The Invisible War," which exposes this alarming story.
Former California Democratic Representative Jan Harman said in testimony before Congress that "a woman who signs up to protect her country is more likely to be raped by a fellow solder than killed by enemy fire." Columbia professor and journalist Helen Benedict documents these same heartbreaking tragedies in her book "The Lonely Soldier: The Private War of Women Serving in Iraq."
Then there is the British Broadcasting Corp. and its cover-up of the Jimmy Savile case. It turns out that the now deceased Savile, an immensely popular television personality, was a notorious pedophile. A BBC Newsnight program exposing Savile's pedophilia was mysteriously canceled last year. Now the case is widening to include others besides Savile, and Scotland Yard is investigating.
In August 2007, the Washington state Supreme Court ordered Boy Scouts of America to hand over documents concerning sexual abuse by Scout leaders. In 1991 the Washington Times had published a major five-part investigation entitled "Scouts Honor" on sex abuse in the Scouts. In summation they wrote, "The Boy Scouts are a magnet for men who want to have sexual relations with children. ... Pedophiles join the Scouts for a simple reason: it's where the boys are."
Finally, there is the Penn State case of Jerry Sandusky and how the university administration and Coach Joe Paterno, even when presented with hard evidence, failed to report Sandusky's crimes to the police. Sandusky is convicted, sentenced and will probably die in prison, but the scandal continues in multiple court cases. But it's not only Penn State; it is also the University of Notre Dame. Read Melinda Henneberger's Dec. 4 article in the Washington Post on this heart-wrenching scandal at Notre Dame in which a 19-year-old female student took her own life.
Let me end where I began. Besides the evils to which they give rise, our institutions do much good. This is true of our churches, which feed the hungry, clothe the naked, console the grieving and bury their dead. It is true of the United States military, which protects our nation and its freedoms. And certainly the Boy Scouts do much good for the positive formation of young men. And our schools, colleges and universities teach and educate our youth preparing them for life.
But we should not canonize these institutions. They should all be taking affirmation action to protect the young people they serve. Of course, they have their shadow side as the widespread sex scandals in their ranks sadly demonstrate.
Daniel O'Rourke lives in Cassadaga. His column appears on the second and fourth Thursday each month. A grandfather, Dan is a married Catholic priest. His new book, "The Living Spirit" is a collection of previous columns. To read about that book or send comments on this column visit his website www.danielcorourke.com/