Los Angeles Review of Books
APRIL 10, 2017
By Arthur McCaffrey
This is a story about institutional crime and social justice. At times, it may seem there is too much of the former and not enough of the latter. That’s the bad news. The good news is, when the institutional crime involves the abuse and exploitation of children, a number of different governments, in different countries, in different parts of the world, are finally beginning to do something. Unfortunately, the US government is not one of them.
Fifteen years ago, the Boston Globe won a Pulitzer Prize for its exposé of the criminal abuse of children inside the Catholic Church; the movie about those Globe reporters, Spotlight, won an Oscar. As the Boston conflagration spread to other cities and dioceses around the country, more hidden abuse was exposed, more predators identified, and their institutional cover blown. But the task of exposure fell primarily to local media, local judiciaries, and local attorneys who brought victims’ lawsuits against their offending archdioceses. The nation’s fourth estate, a free press, did the bulk of the heavy lifting — collecting and broadcasting the evidence in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Chicago, Portland, Milwaukie, and everywhere else religious institutions had colluded. But to date, in contrast to public initiatives in some other countries, there has been no national-level, governmental investigation of child abuse in America.
The wheels of justice, even if they grind exceeding fine, still grind exceeding slow. While grassroots victim-advocacy groups sprung up quickly enough after the Boston stories, it usually takes much longer to jumpstart official public inquiries — especially those with enough clout to do some far-reaching, consequential investigation into the historical record of public and private institutions charged with the welfare of children assigned to their care.
But now those wheels have momentum, and we are experiencing a spate of public inquiries around the globe, which are producing voluminous reports on their investigations into the institutional abuse of children. Serious students of social justice should make room on their bookshelves for this burgeoning library of official publications.
Ireland, which was probably wounded earliest and longest by Catholic criminality, has produced the Murphy (2009), Ryan (2009) and Cloyne (2011) reports dealing with, among other things, sexual abuse in Catholic industrial schools, and the role of both church and state in (mis)handling cases of sexual abuse of children by local diocesan priests. These reports helped expose orphanages, homes, workhouses, asylums, and other religious institutions where former residents made claims of emotional, physical and sexual abuse against nuns and priests.