Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Need for a National Commission to Address Child Abuse: A Checklist of Ten Notes

With the establishment of a royal commission to investigate child abuse (and its cover-up) in Australia, I've been going through a checklist of mental notes I've made about the issue of child abuse over the years.  I've blogged about most of these items.

Here's the checklist I've compiled thus far:

1. I'm convinced that Alice Miller and Philip Greven are correct when they find that the abuse of children is far more widespread and taken for granted (and covered up) in many societies than most of us have been willing to admit.

2. I also think (and here, Miller has been determinative for my thinking) that societies that are the most sentimental about their love of children (or fetuses) and the most vocal in protesting how they cherish and protect minors are likely to be precisely the societies that are most callous towards minors.  And the most tolerant of child abuse.

3. I think with Miller and Greven that the roots of Western culture's toleration of child abuse lie in longstanding religious attitudes that absolutely have to be re-examined if we're to stem the tide of child abuse.

4. I think that the Catholic church is far from the only institution in which abuse of children has been widespread, tolerated, and hidden by church officials.

5. At the same time, I think the problem of abuse of children (and its cover-up) is deeply endemic to Catholicism, and the argument that child abuse occurs in other institutions, when it's advanced by Catholic officials, is an impermissible diversionary argument that ought to be rejected out of hand by people with good sense.

6. I think what we've learned about the endemic problem of child abuse (and its cover-up) within the Catholic church is a lens through which we can begin to look at and think about a problem that runs through many social institutions, and, in particular, those dominated by male hierarchical clubs impervious to scrutiny by those outside these clubs.

7. I think that what Australia is doing should provide a model for other nations, including the United States, if we really do want to begin to address the egregious and taken-for-granted abuse of children in various cultures.

8. And so I completely agree with Jerry Slevin's proposal on this blog recently that after we Americans have re-elected our president with a solid popular majority, we should insist that he take a cue from Australian Prime Minister Julia Gllard and establish a national commission to look seriously at the problem of child abuse in the U.S.

9. Even as I say that I agree with this proposal, I realize that any movement in this direction in the U.S. will require concerted pressure from many citizens, Catholics included.  I say this because, though the Catholic bishops in the U.S. and most recently the papal nuncio persist in spreading disinformation (read: lies) about the curbing of their religious liberty, the Catholic church enjoys enormous privilege in the United States, and wields enormous power.  And the bishops have demonstrated themselves time and again to be hostile to any and all attempts to pry into the cover-up of child abuse within the Catholic church, and they and their allies would make President Obama pay a very steep price indeed if he moved in the direction of Prime Minister Gillard.

10. But I also think that American lay Catholics, a majority of whom rejected the bishops' intense pressure to vote Republican in the 2012 elections, have power in our hands: power to make our voices heard and to pressure our elected officials to break silence about the problem of child abuse and to do something effective to address it.  As Barney Zwartz reported recently for the western Australia publication WAtoday, at a rate of 83% Australian Catholics overwhelmingly support Prime Minister Gillard's abuse commission.  And as Michael Kelly notes for Eureka Street, if we who are Catholic don't begin to use our power as members of the body of Christ to challenge the incoherence, mismanagement, and incompetence that run all through the leadership structures of our church, we will not find the healing and systemic change of our dysfunctional governing structures that are absolutely necessary to get to the roots of the child abuse crisis.

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