Sex Abuse Survivor Speaks out on Double Standard

By Chris McCafferty
Florida Catholic
September 12, 2008

A couple of months ago, a reporter from a local paper called to get my opinion on a legal settlement concerning a victim of clergy abuse. As a survivor of clergy sexual abuse the priest who abused me is serving a prison sentence I am often called upon for comments when news occurs in the area.

What I said to the reporter that day was probably not what she expected. Many people are surprised to learn that my greatest concern right now is for children in public schools.

It took a long time for the Catholic Church to admit it was wrong in the handling of the abuse of children by the church clergy or employees, but it has taken steps to address these problems and assist victims. The Diocese of St. Petersburg has done even more than many dioceses, and I have found Bishop Robert N. Lynch to be a man dedicated to protecting children in Catholic schools, catechism classes and other programs where church volunteers or employees are in contact with children, youths and teens. The diocese could always do more and that's something I will continue to work with Bishop Lynch to try and address. But again, I feel it has done a great deal.

I wish I could say the same about the public schools. It seems that every other week we hear about another allegation of sexual misconduct by a public school teacher. It seems to me that there is a double standard at work. The Catholic Church is accepting responsibility for what occurs in its programs, but the public schools are not. If the church harbors a pedophile it is held accountable; if the school system protects a pedophile in public schools, the system can't be sued easily because of the government's sovereign immunity, even if people in the system were suspicious or knew of the abuse. The leaders making those decisions don't have to worry about going to jail.

What are we saying? That the Catholic Church is the only one who has to pay for pain? That the public schools should not be held responsible by the same standards we apply to the Catholic Church? That does not make sense or solve the problem. Most importantly, it does not protect our children.

Predators and pedophiles seek employment and volunteer in places where authorities, by law or ignorance, protect them. We need a law for all organizations to protect our children from these people and the system, not something that can be contradictory.

In the Catholic Church all potential employees or volunteers must go through a background screening process. The first step is the Level 2 criminal history check. This is a national search through the FBI fingerprint database. Next, they have to go through Safe Environment Program training. The church has also implemented a Minimum Standards of Moral Conduct policy, in which if an individual has been convicted of one or more of the 34 crimes listed in this policy, he or she would not be considered for any volunteer role or employment. There is an appeal process if someone wishes to fight this position.

Schools do background checks, but what the situations above tell us clearly is that background checks are not enough. Laws that help pedophiles operate must be changed. People who knowingly help pedophiles operate should be jailed. School systems that take a "not my fault/not my responsibility" approach and pass the buck through legal loopholes need to be held liable legally. Teachers must act like adults with serious responsibilities and not behave like they themselves are teens.

Legal or financial ramifications, sadly, are sometimes the only means of making people in charge pay attention. It's time for our representatives to enact changes. It's time to vote for a representative dedicated to protecting our children. Parents need to insist on responsibility and accountability from teachers, school leaders and the school systems so that the words of victims do not fall of deaf ears. The representatives of Florida need to look at what the Catholic Church has done. Those in a position of leadership need to be responsible for their actions as well as that of the staffs they oversee. We tell our children they are responsible for their actions and must pay for what they do. Shouldn't the adults who teach them bear the same responsibility?

We need to protect our children. We need to keep those convicted of sexual crimes away from them. We need to get those who have a questionable past or behavior away from our children. We need to set up rules such as the Catholic schools and parishes are required to follow that provide a safer environment for our children. We are not doing enough and that has to change, because if we do nothing, the situation will only get worse.

My heart goes out to the victims and their families. I know too well what they are going through. It gives me hope knowing that the Diocese of St. Petersburg wants to help those hurt by the church and is doing much even if not everything I would like to have an environment where abusers find it difficult to prey on children. The diocese's work in this shows how people, when they follow what is right by God, can bring about change and help with the healing. It is not possible to create a totally safe environment, but we can and should make it difficult for predators and pedophiles to operate.

The Catholic Church has learned a painful but powerful lesson. It's time the rest of society learned this lesson as well. It does not matter if the financial costs are high or the task is difficult. Our children are our greatest treasure and our wisest investment.


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