I just watched Spotlight on Netflix, the 2015 movie about the Boston Globe investigation of the Boston Archdiocese and the sex scandal and child molestation that rocked the Catholic church. The results of the Globe investigation were published in early 2002. The day I chose to watch this movie happened to be the same day Larry Nassar, the former USA gymnastics team’s doctor, received his sentence. The similarities in these two stories are striking.
A lawyer for one of Nassar’s accusers said, “Unfortunately, they have proven time and again that they are more interested in protecting the reputation of their multi-million-dollar enterprise than the child athletes who are entrusted to their care." She was speaking of the USA gymnastics organization. Many of the athletes held Michigan State University responsible as well. This same quote could apply to the Catholic church as it struggled to keep the child molestation of parishioners secret. Resources were dedicated to relocating priests and settling suits rather than assisting victims.
Nassar listened to his victims address him in court prior to his sentencing. He made it clear he didn't want to. The judge insisted. His written protest garnered no sympathy. Many of the girls had told other adults of the abuse: their parents, other officials, and coaches. More than 160 women have accused this former doctor. I was thinking it would have been great if the mostly male victims could have done the same to the priests who had molested them.
Nassar was fired by MSU in September, 2016. Lawsuits indicate MSU had been receiving complaints of abuse by the former doctor since 1995. Complaints against priests in the Boston Archdiocese had been made for decades. What started as allegations against a few priests, quickly rose to over a hundred when Globe investigators began their queries. Lawyers were settling cases that had no public record and when there were records, the church made sure they disappeared. Many priests were moved to other dioceses or sent to a resort setting in Arizona. Cardinal Law was eventually reassigned to a post in the Vatican, what many viewed as a promotion.
The similarities in these two true stories are staggering, especially when watching the first-hand accounts of the victims:
They told, and their stories were either not believed or explained away. As adults they are frequently reduced to tears when recounting their experiences.
Some didn’t tell because they were embarrassed and the adult perpetrator was a person of authority and power, a person their families respected.
The institutions the victims questioned responded to control the damage done to themselves, not the victims.
In both cases, others were complicit in the continuation of the abuse by omission and failure to respond in a timely manner.
Victims and family members have suffered suicides, drug and alcohol addiction and post-traumatic stress. The personal toll extends beyond the victims to their family members and probably will impact future generations of their families.
The abuse inflicted on all these child victims was extreme. There was no gray area. It was abuse and no one should have to tolerate it, especially a child. This is the reason we have to believe children first and question the institutions they accuse no matter what flag, statue, crucifix or emblem they are able to hide behind. It is also the reason the person who is chosen, promoted, or elected to the position of leading an institution should be above reproach. Their behavior must reflect the stated values of the institution and that includes government at all levels. No one should get a pass. The stakes are too high. There can be no blind eye turned. It cannot be okay for anyone to objectify another for any reason.