“Misplaced Empathy: Loving the Perps” is the single most read blog I’ve done in the past five years. It has had nearly 800 views due to being re-posted by several high-profile bloggers. It was about sexual abuse in churches and how easily this abuse is forgiven and then swept under the rug. One of my points was that folks tend to identify more with the perps due to our Christian mandate to be forgiving, and due to the fact that the perpetrators are pastors and ministry leaders of great charm and power. The victims are almost all children and women, and the perpetrators virtually all men. It is a much bigger problem than THE church (Christ’s body) has ever admitted.
Last evening I saw Spotlight, a new movie that stirred my thoughts again about this problem. It was about a team of investigative reporters from The Boston Globe who in 2002 broke the story about the pervasive sexual abuse of vulnerable youths by priests—and the massive cover up in the Boston Diocese of the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) and specifically Cardinal Bernard Law. When it was finally exposed there were 249 priests involved in abusing thousands of kids over decades. Because of the power and reach of the RCC there was complicity and denial about this crime at every level including The Boston Globe.
It is an extremely well done movie that has the feel of a 60 Minutes documentary. It has a great cast: Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schrieber and Stanley Tucci. It nails the problem at every level and is so instructive it’s almost a primer on the sexual abuse of minors. It goes into things like the careful “grooming” of victims, and the fact that many perps are abuse-reactive themselves—facts of which the general public is typically unaware.
The priests portrayed in the movie preyed on poor kids from broken homes. Their devout Catholic moms saw the priests as right next to God, and the families were usually very reluctant to go public when the abuse came to light. The young boys were all too hungry for attention and recognition by a “caring” adult. Perps are usually bright men who are skilled in selecting their victims and covering their trail. As a counselor who has worked with both victims and perpetrators I found the movie very balanced and accurate. It accurately shows the life-long emotional devastation that results from being a victim.
Both the RCC and Cardinal Law were complicit in continuing to propagate the abuse by reassigning offending priests after a brief period of treatment. More often than not the priest would be moved to another parish and continue to prey on new victims. One of the sad facts about pedophiles is that they typically have dozens of victims and continue to re-offend even after treatment.
Cardinal Law resigned in December, 2002, nearly a year after the story broke. He was reassigned to a church in Rome by John Paul where he continues to serve.