Don’t wait for someone else to report suspected abuse.

Once again, the Church’s response to sexual abuse is in the news, and once again, it’s hard to tell how accurate the reports are.

Once again, they don’t sound great. The level-headed and thorough John Allen at Crux says that newly-appointed bishops took a training course from the Vatican, but that

the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, the body created by Pope Francis to identify “best practices” in the fight against child abuse, was not involved in the training.

Allen says that the new bishops instead got a presentation from Tony Anatrella, a French monsignor and psychotherapist, and that Anatrella

argued that bishops have no duty to report allegations to the police, which he says is up to victims and their families.

Allen says:

It’s a legalistic take on a critical issue, one which has brought only trouble for the Church and its leaders. Why, one wonders, was it part of a training session?

Most basically, canonical procedures kick in only after abuse has been alleged. Presumably the goal ought to be to stop those crimes from happening, and in that regard it’s striking that Anatrella devoted just a few paragraphs to abuse prevention, using abstract language without concrete examples.

Allen says he consulted Monsignor Stephen Rossetti, “who’s on the board of the Rome-based Gregorian University’s Centre for Child Protection,” about what new Bishops need to know, and Rossetti told him they should know:

  1.  “How to deal with victims, because it’s not intuitively obvious.”
  2.  “They have to know the canonical material.”
  3. “What the red flags [for abuse] are … It’s important to be concrete, giving scenarios and talking out what an effective response looks like.”
  4. “How to deal with accused priests … including the risk of recidivism, as well as how to show charity without enabling abusive behavior.”
  5.  Abuse prevention resources: “We don’t have to start from scratch. There are effective programs available right now.”

Judging by the published papers, only the second point figured prominently in the “baby bishops” program last year.

My first impulse, on reading things like this, is to start screaming and throwing things. But Jen Fitz, also a thorough and level-headed person, has a more useful response, which can’t be shared often enough. Fitz says:

Reporting on religion is notoriously unreliable, and I’m in no position to confirm or clarify these reports.  But whenever such nonsense gets promulgated, I’m here to remind you: Tell the police.

That’s right. Don’t wait for things to go through the proper channels, don’t wait for the system to catch up, don’t wait and see.

I’m trying really hard to remember that these are just initial reports, and that it’s possible there’s a whole other batch of information about what the bishops are learning, and these early stories are not accurate. But I also feel like the Church has thoroughly earned my pessimism about the whole issue.

Anyway. All I can do is remember and pass along Fitz’s excellent advice:

It is not your job to be investigator, judge, and jury.  If someone’s in immediate danger, of course you’ll dial 911.  When that’s not the case? Pick up the phone, call the city or county police office during business hours, and make arrangements to file the appropriate report.  It’s okay to call and say, “I’m not even sure a crime took place, but –.”  The police are used to getting these calls.  It is their job to sort through the information and figure out how to proceed.

If it makes you more comfortable, first describe what you know about the possible crime, and wait to name the perpetrator until you’ve determined the action was in fact criminal.  But call the police.  Not your friend who’s a cop, not your neighbor, not the lady at church whose kid is going to the police academy.  Call your police station, and make an official report.  Even if the particular incident is not one that will result in a conviction, it can become part of a collection of evidence that paints the complete picture.

If it’s going to be up to laymen, it’s going to be up to laymen. Please read the rest of Fitz’s short essay from Amazing Catechists.

Naturally, her commonsense advice applies any time you suspect abuse by anyone, priest or otherwise. (Catholic priests abuse children at a lower rate than males in the general population.) Get the ball rolling. Make things different from the horrible way they have been. If you have reason to be concerned, then you have a serious obligation to talk to the police. Don’t wait for someone else to do the right thing.

2/12/16 Thanks to comments from a few readers, I realized that I used the wrong link in the paragraph above. Mea culpa! I had a lot of tabs open and grabbed the wrong one. I originally linked to a Newsweek story which claimed that Catholic priests abuse at the same rate as the rest of the male population. The new link, above, is to the John Jay report, which reports abuse by priests at a lower rate than the rest of the male population.)

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