Before I begin this column, I want to start off with a few preliminary remarks. Sexual abuse of any kind, but especially sexual abuse of minors, is a tragedy. It is a reality of this fallen world but a tragic reality and my heart hurts for the victims and their families. In my heart of hearts, I hope that Jesus wasn't speaking figuratively when he warned that drowning violently would be a better death than what is in store for those who hurt a child.
Now on to what I've been tossing around in my head. And these truly are just my thoughts. I'm not speaking in any way on behalf of the church (or the Church, for the matter). For the past week, I've watched with sadness what has taken place at Penn State University. I mourn for the kids and families who went through this crap. As I said before, it is a tragedy. But, to be honest, I'm nervous at how quickly things moved from the stage of finding out what happened to finding out who is at fault. I'm not meaning to cast aspersions on the findings. I'm just asking if there is a step missing that, I fear, will be crucial to stopping this in the future.
Let me give an example of what I'm talking about. You might remember Congresswoman Gabriel Giffords campaign rally a few weeks ago in which a deeply disturbed gentlemen named Jared Laughner brought guns to the event and ended up shooting people. In my opinion, the same step was missed in this. We quickly moved from what happened to who was at fault. Liberals blamed Sarah Palin for putting a gun sight over Giffford's district. Conservatives responded that there was no proof that Laughner even knew about the sight and that he was just crazy. In the end, it seemed as though the rush to blame someone made us miss a crucial point. There is a lot of gun violence perpetuated in this country by people like laughner, people who are diagnosed bipolar or schizophrenic. I feel like we missed a chance to look at the amount of violence done by people who suffer from this mysterious illness and see if we should restrict gun sales to them. I can think of two instances in my own life in which which someone with bipolar disorder has killed someone else because voices in their head were telling them to do so. But, if we just focus on who is at fault in this particular situation, we miss the opportunity to stop it the next time.
So how is that related to this? If I understand things correctly, part of the way Jerry Sandusky was able to abuse kids was by befriending at-risk kids. These are the kids that the rest of us would prefer not to have to deal with. They misbehave in school and cause headaches for their teachers. You always wonder where their parents are and why they are skateboarding on your front steps instead of at their own. These are the kids that break your windows with rocks because they are bored and then lie to you about it when you confront them. These are the "bad kids." This scumbag, Sandusky, took these kids and made them disappear into what appeared to be something good: a mentoring program. They were out of sight and someone else's problem. He then used what I've come to understand as typical abusive psychological manipulation techniques to get these kids to trust him enough so that he could do almost anything to them. It's eerily similar to what a priest I knew seems to have done to kids who were at risk. In the rush to blame, we can't miss the lesson we need to learn: We need to have greater monitoring and accountability in these mentoring types of relationships, especially for at-risk kids. I imagine that, for the most part, these programs are totally on the up and up and do immeasurably great things for the kids that participate in them. But there needs to be a way so that someone who is in the program to abuse children cannot have the opportunity to do so. We can't just trust that the guy who is getting rid of the problem children is doing it for the right reasons. There's just too much room for abuse to take place.
The rush to blame someone is really a way of putting the problem behind us. It centers the problem in someone and removes us from finding the thing that is behind the problem. In some ways, it stops us from getting overwhelmed at all the solutions to problems we need to implement. But it really doesn't help the poor troubled kid who was just befriended by a coach, boy scout leader, or priest from being sexually abused. Only by seeking the root of the problem and dealing with that will we ever be able to fix it.