The strong condemnations of clerical sexual abuse, as well as those times when the Church has mishandled these terrible cases, is of course understandable and fair. As many have rightly pointed out, one case of clerical abuse is one too many.
But many have also noted that much criticism directed at the Church as a whole over this issue has been unjust and disproportionate, not least the spurious accusations directed against Pope Benedict XVI which have been very ably unpacked by my colleague Jimmy Akin.
Child sexual abuse is a scourge for society at large, not just for the Church. Currently making headlines in Germany, for example – where condemnations of the Church’s record have been particularly vehement – are revelations of child abuse in a non-Catholic school with a ‘progressive’ ethos involving at least eight teachers and 33 victims.
Indeed many other professional and reputable institutions which seek to do good suffer, have a far worse time of it and find their hands tied implementing child protection policies (see this 2004 report by the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights).
To further put this issue in perspective, let’s look at another institution and its record in dealing with this issue.
Child abuse by United Nations peacekeepers has been a concern for sometime, and the institution began taking steps to address it in 2002.
But the crimes continue, not only in the U.N. but also in civilian aid agencies. Back in May 2008, London’s Daily Telegraph carried this disturbing article which reported on sexual abuse of children as young as six by U.N. peacekeepers and civilian aid workers, and that the abuse had continued “unchecked despite repeated promises to stamp it out, according to a 12-month investigation.”
This crime is particularly heinous as these vulnerable children were already suffering from the trauma of conflict and humanitarian emergencies.
A more recent article in the Wall Street Journal, dated March 21st, had this to say about sexual abuse of minors by U.N. personnel:
More than six years after the United Nations implemented a zero-tolerance policy for sexual misconduct by its peacekeepers, the organization is still struggling to persuade member states to investigate and discipline accused soldiers.
“It’s my biggest headache and heartache, this whole issue,” says Alain Le Roy, who has served as the U.N.‘s under-secretary-general for peacekeeping operations since 2008.
The article continues:
Over the past three years, the U.N. says troop-contributing countries have reported disciplining 75 peacekeepers for sexual misconduct or other offenses.
But records show that nations most of the time didn’t even respond when the U.N. requested information about their investigations or disciplinary actions. Last year, the U.N. says countries only replied 14 times to 82 requests for information about sexually related investigations or their outcomes.
“There is a natural instinct to basically cover up the whole thing,” says Jordan’s Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al-Hussein, who authored a harsh report in 2005 on how the world body handled sexual-abuse allegations against peacekeepers. “You don’t want your name sullied or your reputation affected and so you try and bury it.” Indeed, the investigative and disciplinary process for accused peacekeepers remains shrouded in secrecy, despite vows by U.N. officials to make it more open.
Even when perpetrators are caught and convicted, reports say that they are given only a ‘slap on the wrist’ and the victims appear to be left to cope with their trauma with little help.
It should be stressed that the U.N.’s ability to tackle this issue is thwarted by obstructive and uncooperative member states and that, according to the WSJ article, part of the problem is that “the U.N. can’t take the lead role in investigating alleged wrongdoing.” Initially it could, but a 2007 vote by the U.N. General Assembly put a stop to that.
Again, none of this excuses or lessens the appalling crimes committed in the Church, nor the cover-ups that followed, and that two wrongs certainly don’t make a right.
But where was the outcry following that U.N. vote? Where were the condemnations of the light sanctions taken against the perpetrators? Or, as Ben-Peter Terpstra writes in the Australian newspaper, “where are all the full-throated investigative reporters covering Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon?”