The Institutional Crisis of Silencing and Cover-up
Yesterday, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago released several thousand documents on sexually abusive priests. The documents focus not on the abuse itself, but on the way bishops and cardinals systematically protected sexually abusive priests.
The Catholic Church gets most of the media on this subject, but they hardly have a monopoly. Clergy sexual abuse happens in all faith traditions, and so does institutional cover-up. Just as some congregations are led by serial predators, some dioceses (conferences, synods, districts, etc) are led by serial silencers. The church with which I’m most familiar — the Episcopal Church — seems every bit as committed to silence as the Catholic Church. I’ve spoken with several survivors of Episcopal clergy misconduct in the past several months. All of our offenders are still in active ministry. In none of our cases did the church disclose the truth to the affected congregation(s). And I don’t for a minute think the Episcopal Church is the only bad apple in the non-Catholic barrel.
In November of 2012, the Rev. Dr. Marie Fortune delivered a lecture at the Vanderbilt Divinity School titled “Wolves in Shepherds’ Clothing: The Institutional Crisis of Clergy Sexual Abuse.” In this talk, Fortune focused on the re-victimization that happens when church leaders cover up the truth about cases of clergy sexual abuse. “The default position of many institutions is to enforce silence and secrecy… in an effort to protect abusers and minimize scandal,” she says. “Yet the real scandal is the profound contradiction between the institutional response and the values, teachings, and precepts of the faith community.” Of victims and survivors, she says, “All they are asking is that we be true to our own stated values and precepts.”
And finally: “[Victims and survivors of clergy sexual abuse] don’t expect perfection from their faith leaders. They accept our humanity, our foibles, our mistakes and even our misconduct, even when they suffer from it. What they cannot accept and do not deserve is incompetence, cover-up, corruption, blame, and betrayal by the institution that supposedly holds individual leaders accountable.”
Please take the time to watch this important talk and share it with your church leaders. The lecture itself is about 35 minutes long, and worth every minute.