This past week, Pope Francis called a worldwide synod of Cardinals and Bishops to the Vatican to discuss in frank terms the abuses of children by the agents of the church. This meeting seemed to have the intent of establishing action in light of the almost forty- year scourge of abuse of children within the church with very little public accountability and legal remedy. Critics of the church may cry “to little, too late,” while those who see this meeting as a turn in the right direction for the Pontiff and his parishioners, may think it lacked the vision of full movement to protection of the youngest of the church. The work is clearly happening, as is seen in the defrocking of Cardinal McCarrick, but the pace could be quickened and the extent broadened.
The Catholic Church does not stand alone in the need for extensive movement to protection of children. As we discussed in Part 1, this is not a Catholic Church problem, nor is it an issue that can be pinpointed as beginning in the 1980’s. This is a blight on the face of our humanity since the ancient times. Institutions of all sorts from schools, both private and public, to governmental welfare entities, athletic teams, scouts, and religious institutions of all denominations and faiths have hidden histories of horror, stealing the innocence and due process of children. The family home claims the title of the least safe place for children far too often. Where there are children, ashamedly, there is abuse.
The question that seems to rise to the top of this discussion is how and, more importantly, why does this happen? While there are volumes of textbooks which render scientific and sociological causation of abuse, the focus of this writing is not on the abuser, but on those who empower the abuser through non-action. How do children fall victim of abuse under the nose of so many witnesses? In 2017, Australia’s Royal Commission ordered a study to determine how this abuse can occur and be enabled by the institutions of occurrence. The study, written by Donald Palmer, found this abuse is perpetuated due to the societal body wanting to avoid the issue. “Motivated Blindness” may befall a person who may see the abuse, but is unwilling to acknowledge it, or attempts to downplay the situation due to the negative effects that will come personally through stating it as true. In other words, children continue to be abused because it would be an inconvenience to report it. Cognitive Dissonance was reported as another way abuse continued. A witness to abuse may struggle to accept the knowledge of such an atrocity, so mentally will downplay or justify abuse markers to avoid dealing with the harsh reality of the abuse.
Institutions, themselves, both secular and religious, according to Palmer, establish alternate moral universes. In layman’s terms, what happens in the institution stays in the institution. The self-governing, self-preserving nature of these institutions allow for any individual’s abuse to be put to the side in order to protect the larger entity. And so, abuse occurred, was covered up, and was perpetuated in the secrecy of the moral universe.
It is a testament to the dismantling of these secret identities that progress is being made. Within the Catholic church, not only are priests being thoroughly vetted before being placed into leadership positions, but the church at large is adopting a position of first report to the legal authorities, then report to the church leadership. We as a culture have regained our moral vision and, unfortunately are far too aware of the atrocities done to children to be blinded by cognitive dissonance. Or we would hope.
In a discussion about the stewardship of children and the loss of innocence through sexual abuse, there is seldom dissension in the ideas to protect children from those who would seek to destroy them. However, the stewardship of children does not start and stop at the topic of abuse. It could be argued that our progressive culture has developed its own alternate moral universe. And within the constructs of the progressive institution, the members have clothed themselves in the robes of Cognitive Dissonance. In the name of protecting children, progressive thought would tear down the Catholic church brick by brick, but then cheer with victory at New York passage of the Reproductive Health Act, broadening the scope of abortion to death, using vague language to kill children in the name of women’s rights. On the heels of New York’s RHA, Virginia’s Senator, Kathy Tran, presented a bill extending Virginia’s abortion laws. As she presented, she stated the bill would extend the right to abortion up to and including labor. Virginia Governor Northam defended the bill by stating:
“When we talk about third-trimester abortions, these are done with the consent of obviously the mother, with the consent of the physicians, more than one physician, by the way,” Northam said. “And it’s done in cases where there may be severe deformities, there may be a fetus that’s non-viable. So in this particular example, if a mother is in labor, I can tell you exactly what would happen. The infant would be delivered. The infant would be kept comfortable. The infant would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family desired, and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother. So I think this was really blown out of proportion.”
In the 45 years since Roe v. Wade, killing children has evolved from a call for safe, legal, and rare abortions, to extending the ability to kill the unborn up to and including the point of labor, and now the suggestion that aborted children born alive could be deprived of medical intervention and protection. The atrocity of a newborn suffering unassisted while parent and doctor discuss whether she will live or die must be minimally equal to the abuse being addressed at the Vatican. Have our political institutions become so strong they now have developed their very own moral universe? Have we reached a level of cognitive dissonance within our politics, we look at murder of born children and justify the practice through some contrived delusion of moral rightness? In the goal of protecting the innocent, moral relativism much aligns the safety and well-being of all children. The cry of protection for the children harmed by the agents of the Catholic Church is a valid, righteous demand. It is the same cry of protection universally sounded for all children, in every circumstance. It is the same cry demanded at her birth; whether or not she is wanted or unwanted, inconvenient or planned, or healthy or unhealthy. To disqualify this protection as much needed is a very real demonstration of motivated blindness and must lead to the inquiry of why we are so willing to stand in the dark.