KREBS: On (un)dead abusers

Yale News

January 30, 2019

By Eric Krebs

What to do with a dead abuser? My high school, an all-boys Jesuit school, seems to be trying to figure that one out. The Jesuit Northeast Province recently released a report of over 50 priests from dozens of schools and parishes who have been identified as abusers. The numbers are truly frightening. The reports go back to the 1940s. Some are as recent as 2008. There are often decades between dates of incidents and dates of reports. All the while, generations of boys learned, graduated and forgot. My school makes the list upward of seven times and while no recorded incidents for said priests occurred during their time at my high school, they walked the halls, taught classes and shaped the lives of boys like myself all the same.

This isn’t new. We’ve all heard about the massive cases, while thousands of the individual cases, cover-ups and scandals have dotted the map and flown under our radars. And while the school community knew that these cases were out there, we never expected them to hit so close to home. It was foolish to think that we would escape it, but that’s always the hope when engaging with a flawed institution: that your iteration of it can exist without the baggage of its larger structure. Wishful thinking.

There are many outcomes that can occur when a Jesuit is credibly accused of misconduct: incarceration, impediment, laicization and departure from the order are a common few.

Of the 50 Jesuits on the list, 35 are deceased, with the vast majority having died before their abuses went recorded. Now that these men are six feet under, most of them long-deteriorated, are we to exhume their corpses? They’re dead. It sickens me to know that these predators will never face the music. Or will they? “To those who abuse minors, I would say this: Convert and hand yourself over to human justice and prepare for divine justice,” Pope Francis declared in a speech this past December. In the eyes of the church, the afterlife is a real place, capable of punishments greater than anything an orange jumpsuit can deliver.

But for those who don’t subscribe to that cosmic view of justice — and even for most who do — that is not enough. It can feel pointless to hate the dead, to want to shout at those who will never listen. But even if these priests are not alive somewhere in the afterlife, they’re not really dead. Their crimes, their lack of punishment, live on in the trauma of their victims and the structures that permit new victims to be made and new abusers to get away with it.’

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