U.S. bishops like to tell us they have a zero-tolerance policy on human trafficking, but the issue of child sex abuse is just a small taste of their hypocrisy on the issue of safe schools for everyone and reproductive rights.
Catholic school districts across the United States still face lawsuits claiming that some administrators had known or should have known that their students were sexually abused in their classrooms, and a startling new report from Fairchild Tropical Research offers no simple answers to these troubling questions, but it does provide fresh data that may help explain how these accusations stack up.
Perversely, many of the Catholic school districts in states with lax reporting laws are routinely sued for criminal negligence—not only by their parents, but also by employees who were sexually abused by children. This is a pattern that Archbishop Joseph Kurtz has attributed to legal “misrepresentations” and weaknesses in state laws that allow victims to collect compensation even if the alleged offender’s school is negligent. But the current litigation pattern reflects just how rigidly Catholic schools cater to all these typically disenfranchised communities of women and men, whether they’re in Puerto Rico, Wisconsin, or Illinois.
The FCRR survey points out that these school districts are likely required to accept and care for sex offenders as part of their mission and mission management. But it’s not just a “moral” issue. Adding children to the numbers of “diverse and disorganized populations” can cause them to take risks that they would not take if they knew that their schools were not directly dealing with sex offenders.
This is certainly a tension that Pope Francis should be grappling with. He once mused about how he found it strange that U.S. bishops don’t support policies that would facilitate the U.S. reintegration of war veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. But while the Pope’s remarks captured his admiration for the special needs of those who serve the United States, he failed to recognize the widespread sexual assault and maltreatment of children that arise due to the Catholic church’s own mission.
Many studies have demonstrated the devastating results of neglect and silence in low-income communities, particularly surrounding reproductive health. Severe poverty can create a climate of sexual and physical violence within families. These environments can be toxic to boys and girls of all ages, but in particular, they threaten to fuel the undercurrent of violence that originates in the home. Children who are hungry, unable to control their emotions, suffering from neglect, and exposed to drugs, alcohol, and bad relationships are at a far greater risk of becoming involved in sexual violence than those who have a roof over their heads, food on the table, and stability.
Yet during the recently concluded bishops’ meeting in Austin, Texas, the Catholic church considered zero-tolerance abortion practices during an encounter with Jeff Sessions. The very same bishops who condemn Planned Parenthood’s abortion services for poor women repeatedly use the tax dollar to create such programs themselves.
While Catholics must continue to push for a full understanding of these issues and where their church fits into the debates that are taking place on the political fringes of American society, it’s time for the American bishops to also engage in some internal introspection.
A multi-generational mismanagement of Catholic education has created a deeply traumatized population of educators—including some of their own members—who now may be too terrified to tell their own bishops about sex offenders they know have hurt their children.
Catholic schools have changed since its inception—their policies have definitely changed—but U.S. bishops may be buckling to the institutions they’ve built, particularly as it relates to safe schools.
More and more, American Catholics are waking up to the fact that their beloved church has become an institution that’s more in line with the now defunct Madison Avenue than Benedictine reformers. We all agree that schools and colleges should treat all students fairly. But when that means tolerating people who rape and abuse children, what could possibly be fair to them?