Complacency Hurts Kids; Here is How to Prevent It

Adam Horowitz Law [Fort Lauderdale, FL]

August 8, 2023

The word complacency may not sound like a bad thing, but when you are complacent, you are content and do not strive to better yourself or take action. You may as well just bury your head in the sand. Regarding child sexual abuse in the church, Catholic bishops talk a great game about the evils of being complacent. In case any of them are sincere about this, we at Horowitz Law have two simple suggestions: 1- stop using the word ‘historic’ when discussing child sex crimes, and 2- make your employees read the Abuse Tracker every day. Here is why:

1: “Historic: Often, the Catholic hierarchy uses the phrase’ historic abuse’ for all incidents that happened in the past. That could even mean last year. For example, if you search the phrase on, you will get numerous articles, especially by European church officials. In a technical sense, that’s accurate. Why? Because every significant thing that happens immediately becomes historic merely by definition, as it already happened and is in the past. So the word ‘historic’ is superfluous. But it’s worse than that: it’s designed to imply or stress that it happened long ago, which minimizes the horror. Church officials should simply stop using it altogether. If you doubt what we’re saying, ask 100 people, “What kinds of things are ‘historic?’” We guess that about 90 of them would say something like “Things that happened long ago.” Most things that took place ‘long ago’ we no longer have to worry about, right? So if clergy sex crimes and cover-ups are ‘historic,’ why NOT be complacent?

2: Abuse Tracker: If you’re unfamiliar with it, the Tracker is a daily digest of new developments in the clergy sex abuse and cover-up crisis. It mainly contains mainstream news accounts but also includes a few blogs, official church pronouncements, and legal rulings or filings. It’s often chilling reading. Occasionally, there are a few stories that show that progress is being made in keeping kids safer and holding wrongdoers accountable. But that’s not the majority of the entries. Most are very discouraging. Still, it’s important to stay informed about the scandal. Knowledge, as they say, is power.

Bishops are right to warn against complacency. As one survivor advocate says, “Complacency protects no one. Only vigilance protects the vulnerability.” Several Catholic groups, including a Catholic think tank affiliated with Georgetown University, the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), warned against “complacency” in the US church. “We continue to see the failure to publish reporting procedures in the various languages in which the liturgy is celebrated; poor recordkeeping of background checks; dysfunctional diocesan review boards [and a] lack of a formal monitoring plan for priests who have been removed from ministry,” it said.

It’s not just bishops, though. In 2015, A Catholic layman who heads a nationwide church abuse panel “warned against complacency, claiming that “although the church had made much progress, six allegations of sexual abuse in 2014 was substantiated.”

In 2011, at a news conference, his predecessor argued that the church must guard against complacency at a Washington news conference. Diane Knight, a retired Milwaukee social worker who chairs the bishops’ National Review Board, said, “In no way” should Catholics let anything “lull us as a church into complacency.” “There will always be adults attracted to children in society and the church,” Knight said. “Thus, we must always be on guard and do all that is possible to prevent sexual abuse.”

And more recently, in 2018, an outside firm hired by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops warned of “worrisome signs” of growing complacency in preventing child sexual abuse. Complacency itself is problematic because, by definition, complacency leads to inaction. Inaction cannot help. It can only hurt. Inaction is what predators need and want from all of us, so they can continue victimizing children.

So how best to fight complacency?

It’s tough for anyone to be complacent about the continuing presence of predator priests and complicit colleagues and supervisors IF they regularly read the Abuse Tracker. Hence, our suggestion: Catholic officials should make regular reading of the Abuse Tracker mandatory for their employees. Let’s take just one day’s worth of offerings from last Saturday.

    • The Catholic archbishop of San Francisco announced that he’d ‘very likely’ seek Chapter 11 protection in court because roughly 500 child sex abuse and cover-up lawsuits have been filed against his archdiocese in the last three years.
    • teacher at a Jesuit school in New York was just fired after allegedly trying to film an 11-year-old boy in a bathroom stall in April.
    • convicted sex offender who later became the associate pastor of a North Carolina church run by his brother was just charged with new child sex crimes.
    • church youth leader in North Carolina was arrested Thursday and charged with two felony counts of statutory sex offense with a child. It was reported to police on July 28th, 2023.
    • A new Catholic school president has just been hired in the Kansas City Kansas Archdiocese despite having been sued as an abuser in Arizona.

In summary, the abuse of children and the concealment of these crimes still happen. And it happens more than most would care to or be able to realize. These news stories are all about what is happening now, not years ago. They are not “historic.” They are clear proof that the crisis continues. As doctors pledge, the first step towards prevention is ‘to do no harm.’ That means stopping minimizing the horror. The second step is vigilance, not complacency. This is the easiest, quickest, and cheapest way to achieve this and ensure that those who get paychecks from the church stay up-to-date on the scandal and keep it top-of-mind by insisting they read the Abuse Tracker.

Horowitz Law is a law firm representing victims and survivors of sexual abuse by religious authority figures and other clergy. If you need a lawyer because you were sexually abused by a member of a religious organization, contact us today at 888-283-9922 or to discuss your options today. Our lawyers have decades of experience representing survivors of clergy sexual abuse nationwide. We can help.