Imagine a 15-year-old girl attending her high school homecoming dance. For one girl in October 2009 in Richmond, California, the night turned into a horrible excursion into hell. The girl was raped and beaten by 7 to 10 men and “boys.” Those arrested by police included boys aged 15, 16 and 17 and men aged 19 and 21.
Worse, if there can even be such a thing as “worse,” the event was witnessed by up to an estimated 20 bystanders. As word of the rape spread, it was reported that more came to watch. None did anything to stop the attack or report it to authorities. It was reported that some allegedly laughed and some even allegedly took pictures with their cell phones.
The event was significant for getting the phrase “bystander effect” into the media for a while.
Last week the Catholic sex abuse scandal also became news. According to Wikipedia, “much of the scandal focused around the actions of some members of the Catholic hierarchy who did not report the crimes to legal authorities and reassigned the offenders to other locations where they continued to have contact with minors, giving them the opportunity to continue their sexual abuse.”
An extremely troubling response from the Vatican in Sept. 2009 estimated that “only” 1.5%-5% of Catholic clergy were involved in child sex abuse. (Remember – this is the incidence rate they gave themselves. No doubt the actual rate could be even higher.) The response also indicated that the church was “busy cleaning its own house” and in a logically spurious argument that completely avoids personal responsibility claimed that sex abuse in other churches occurred at a higher rate.
In the Richmond incident, bystanders did nothing to prevent a crime in progress. In the Catholic sex abuse scandal, persons in positions of authority did not report the possibility of crimes when they were discovered.
I submit that both of these examples are cut from the very same cloth.
Aside from resolving these ongoing cases by helping the victims and punishing the guilty, the primary question becomes: What do we do now?
My proposal is something I’d like to call the “do the right thing” law. Or perhaps it could be known as The Bystander Law.
The tragedy in the Richmond case is that our justice system will only prosecute actual participants in the attack. The witnesses who stood by and did nothing, spread the word to others, and/or enjoyed the show will never be held accountable for what they have done. Similarly, in the sex abuse case, persons who facilitated protection of the guilty who then went on to commit additional offenses will also never be held accountable.
That lack of accountability is unacceptable. We need a solution with more teeth.
In short, a “do the right thing” law would hold witnesses and abettors fully accountable as if they committed the act themselves.
Come across a rape in progress? Immediately report the act or you will face the same penalty of law as if you were the one who committed the act. If the rapist gets eight years, the witness who did nothing should also get eight years.
If you are an official in the Catholic church and receive allegations of sex abuse, immediately turn them over to the police. Fail to do so and you will be held accountable for that person’s actions from then on. Fail to turn over allegations of abuse to the proper authorities and you should go to jail. These reported incidents are not “internal matters” to be handled as the church sees fit. They are crimes. The church has clearly demonstrated it is unfit to investigate them.
This is important. The people who did nothing, laughed, took photographs, or facilitated additional cases of abuse are still out there among us.
I don’t give a shit if psychologists and social scientists say there is a so-called “bystander effect” or not. We need a law that says “do the right thing or you will pay.” Or else next time it might be you or your own little girl that gets attacked for hours while society stands by and does nothing.
Mind if I pontifficate for minute?
On March 20, 2010, the Vatican released a letter from Joseph Alois Ratzinger that apologized for abuse on the part of “priests, brothers and nuns.”
You might know Ratzinger better by his more popular name: Pope Benedict XVI.
The letter was prompted by a report released by the Irish Child Abuse Commission 2009 that documented testimony of nearly 2,000 witnesses in over 200 Catholic-run schools from the 1930s until the 1990s.
Benedict, who became the Pope in 2005, probably never imagined that he’d be writing a letter apologizing for sexual abuse committed by members of the Catholic Church. Now some are calling on him to resign.
It turns out this wasn’t just another unpleasant duty that falls on the shoulders of the Pope. It turns out that he may have been personally involved in some of the events surrounding the sex abuse scandal.
As reported by the BBC, the Pope has been accused of “failing to act on complaints from two archbishops in the US about a priest who allegedly abused 200 deaf boys.”
Back when Benedict was still known as Cardinal Ratzinger he “allegedly failed to respond to letters about the case.” Something known as a “church trial” was halted after the priest wrote to Ratzinger complaining of “poor health.”
For more than 20 years before he was made pontiff, Joseph Ratzinger led the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith – the Vatican office with responsibility, among other issues, for response to child abuse cases.
The Pope is also against condoms in Africa, furthering a ridiculous church doctrine that could help reduce the spread of AIDS. The church preaches abstinence and fidelity yet somehow that isn’t enough:
This is the reality: a married woman living in Southern Africa is at higher risk of becoming infected with HIV than an unmarried woman. Extolling abstinence and fidelity, as the Catholic Church does, will not protect her; in all likelihood she is already monogamous. It is her husband who is likely to have HIV. Yet refusing a husband’s sexual overtures risks ostracism, violence, and destitution for herself and her children.
I don’t know enough to know if the Pope should resign, but I do know this: Some people in positions of trust have gotten away with sexual abuse for far too long. I would guess that only a fraction of them have ever been exposed and even less of them have ever been held accountable. This is one of the greatest travesties of justice of all-time, in my humble opinion. Not only on the part of those who committed heinous acts but also on those who knew and did nothing to stop it or even worse helped cover it up so it could continue somewhere else.
How many abuses could have easily been prevented? Only God can answer that question. The guilt is shared by far too many.
Anyone suspected of sexual abuse of a minor should be treated the same regardless of their role in any church. Period. The fact that church membership helped protect this sort of behavior is unconscionable.
Steps need to be taken to make sure this never happens again. And this time, we can’t leave it up to the Catholic Church to take care of it on their own. They have more than demonstrated than any such efforts are utterly pointless. The entire organization needs to be put on some sort of probation with forced compliance.