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Finally, Some Justice Made

Jun 26, 2012 — Categories: , ,

Good news is hard to come by in the work to address sexual and domestic violence. But last week was a pretty good week.

Good news is hard to come by in the work to address sexual and domestic violence.  But last week was a pretty good week.

In Philadelphia, Msgr. William J. Lynn was found guilty of endangering children. He is the first senior official of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States convicted of covering up sexual abuse by priests under his supervision.

Prosecutors argued that Lynn minimized credible accusations of abuse, lied to parents and parishes, and reassigned predatory priests to parishes without informing them. Nicholas P. Cafardi, a professor of law at Duquesne University, a canon lawyer and frequent church adviser commented:

“I think that bishops and chancery officials understand that they will no longer get a pass on these types of crimes. Priests who sexually abuse youngsters and the chancery officials who enabled it can expect criminal prosecution.”

This is what is important about this conviction.  Finally, the law is addressing the systemic ignoring, if not enabling, of disclosures of predatory clergy as an institutional problem and not merely an individual problem of clergy misconduct. 

The conviction of Jerry Sandusky, the Penn State coach, signals the same shift. 

As abhorrent as Sandusky’s long-standing abuse of children is, there is increasing evidence of institutional cover which allowed him to continue unchallenged for years.  These investigations are ongoing.

What we have seen for decades, as courageous survivors have come forward and disclosed the abuse they have suffered at the hands of supposedly trusted adults such as clergy and coaches, is the supposed “institutional protection agenda”.  The strategy here is to stifle survivors’ voices, try to cover-up scandal, and “protect” the clergy or coach and the church or university.

As we have seen over and over, this strategy of “institutional protection agenda” simply does not work.  Law suits abound; billions are paid out in settlements; and now a criminal conviction for one who was tasked with carrying out the strategy.  In fact, this is the strategy that most endangers the institution and its future and ultimately undermines any moral authority it might have left.

What does work is a “justice-making agenda” which begins with a recognition that there are those among us in positions of leadership who have betrayed the trust and caused harm to children and adults and, in so doing, severely compromise the mission of the church or university.  Once we know, then we act to insure that an abusive individual no longer has access to vulnerable people and that this person is held accountable.  This is justice-making.

It is the right thing; it is the smart thing; it is the only thing that will save our institutions.

So yes, it was a pretty good week to see a glimmer of justice made.

Rev. Dr. Marie M. Fortune
FaithTrust Institute


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It was a pretty good week!

Posted by Marvin Eckfeldt at Jun 29, 2012 01:59 PM
Thanks be to God that justice prevailed! The courts spoke to the church and the academy that no passes exist; that accountability is demanded and consequences affirmed. Thanks to the media who helped bring education and information to the public in responsible ways. How powerful when after the Sandusky verdict was handed down immediately reporters began to refer to the victims as survivors. Bless those courageous young men as they continue their journey toward healing. It was a pretty good week!


Posted by Mary E. Hunt at Jul 02, 2012 02:47 PM
Brava, Marie Fortune. It is heartening that we are getting beyond the initial level of this problem, that or perpetrators, to the second level that is the cover-ups. I believe there is yet a third, namely, the institutional cultures that are constructed to make abuse normative. Onward.