Focus on Abuse in Nebraska

A near exclusive focus on the abuse of children by clergy of the Catholic Church, while ignoring other institutions, continues. The latest example comes from Nebraska, where Attorney General Doug Peterson just released a “Report on Clergy Sexual Abuse.” Catholic League president Bill Donahue raises some legitimate concerns.

First, of course, is the focus on clergy in the first place. It is well known by now that the sexual abuse of children is widespread in society and carried out and/or covered up by the members of various institutions, the public schools, the Boy Scouts, U. S. Swimming, USA Gymnastics, the U. S. Olympics Committee, the entertainment industry and, as we recently learned, even the FBI. Yet, the great majority of news articles, movies and references in movies or in popular culture, and now a new documentary, continue to focus almost exclusively on abuse committed by Catholic clergy. I am aware of at least three other Attorney’s General who, like Peterson in Nebraska, launched an investigation of Catholic clergy sexual abuse. I am aware of none that have launched such an investigation of his or her state’s public schools.

Second is the focus on Catholic clergy. When Lynn Abraham, former Attorney General of Pennsylvania, was given charge to investigate sexual abuse complaints against clergy in her state, she focused entirely on Catholic clergy. Peterson in Nebraska has done the same, even while it is well-known that children are abused by Protestant ministers, Jewish rabbis, Muslim imams, and others. Philip Jenkins, professor of history, wrote as far back as 2002 in an article “The Myth of Pedophile Priests” that, “My research of cases over the past twenty years indicates no evidence whatever that Catholic or other celibate clergy are any more likely to be involved in misconduct or abuse than clergy of any other denomination or, indeed, than non-clergy.” Though the title of Peterson’s report is “Report on Clergy Sexual Abuse,” the only clergy reported on are Catholic clergy. Peterson’s bias was shown when, within two weeks of announcing his investigation, he wrote every bishop in Nebraska informing them of the investigation, but no other religious leaders. The file of nearly every Catholic priest in Nebraska was subpoenaed, but not the files of non-Catholic clergy.

Peterson reports that, over the course of 70 years, there were credible accusations of abuse made against 57 Catholic officials, 51 of whom were priests, involving 258 alleged victims. That comes out to 3.68 victims per year, but since the vast majority of victims were from the decades prior to the 1990s, with the 1970s (as usual) representing the most, there must be plenty of years when there were even fewer or no credible accusations made. As well, over 90% of the victims were postpubescent boys, not children, but teenagers. That means the vast majority of cases involve adult male priests sexually abusing or being sexually intimate with teenage boys. That’s not pedophilia. That’s homosexual abuse, homosexual assault, or homosexual statutory rape. Yet, this is not mentioned in the report at all. It’s as if homosexuality had nothing to do with the crisis, which continues a pattern of misinformation, or cover-up by the media, the entertainment industry, and politicians.

In his article, Donahue mentions Nebraska’s record on abuse by public school employees. “In 2016,” he writes, “USA Today published a major study of this problem in all 50 states. What it had to say about Nebraska was troubling. Overall, Nebraska received a ‘C.’ Its most notorious shortcomings were the poor background checks and the failure to disseminate teachers’ misconduct with other states. The study named Nebraska as one of three states that said their teacher-licensing agencies did not check all applicants against the national clearinghouse that keeps data on such matters.”

“There are other problems as well,” Donahue writes. “Nebraska has no program in place to teach children about how to recognize sexual abuse, making it one of only 13 states not to do so. A bill on this issue has been stalled in the state legislature for months.” Donahue calls on Peterson to launch an investigation of the abuse of minors by employees of the public schools in his state. If anyone thinks Peterson has any plans to do so, I have ocean-front property in Kansas to sell you.

Peterson’s investigation of abuse by Catholic clergy is pure politics and virtue signaling. He wants to give the people of Nebraska the impression that he cares about children who have been abused. But, Peterson knew from the start that his probe would result in no prosecutions, because the cases are far outside the statute of limitations. So, if he knew before he even began the investigation that no prosecutions would come of it, what’s the purpose of it? The purpose is to exploit the sensationalism of Catholic abuse for publicity and to demonstrate pseudo-empathy for victims of abuse. If Peterson were truly concerned about children who have suffered abuse, he wouldn’t have limited his investigation to clergy, and limit it further to Catholic clergy. There is no evidence that supports doing so, and there is plenty of evidence that supports a widespread investigation of child sexual and other abuse by all institutions, in Nebraska and across the country. Indeed, the focus on abuse by Catholic clergy and only Catholic clergy gives cover to those in other institutions to continue their abuse, knowing that the spotlight will likely remain focused on the Catholics for some time to come.

Catholics have been devastated by revelations of abuse by their clergy. We are angry that the abuse occurred, that so many in the Church labored to cover it up, and that justice was denied so many victims. But, we are also angry at the selective outrage demonstrated by the media, politicians, and civil authorities who choose to exploit the abuse of children to discredit the faith and moral truth of God’s revelation, the authority of the Church as the instrument of God’s revelation, or to champion their own virtue or political and social stock. It is impossible to not believe that at least some of them are motivated by a desire to divert attention away from their own sins by focusing exclusively on the sins of Catholic clergy.

Peterson’s report continues the pattern of creating a double-standard of justice for victims of sexual abuse. Along with windows suspending the statute of limitations on child sexual abuse, but limiting those windows to only private institutions, it sends the clear message that, if you were abused by a Catholic priest, we care about you and are willing to express great sympathy for your suffering, even if we can’t really do anything about it now. If you were abused by someone other than a Catholic priest, so sad for you, but we really don’t care. This represents both a cruel attitude toward abuse victims and a threat to the nation’s commitment to equal justice under law.

Donahue encourages members of the Catholic League and others to write Attorney General Doug Peterson at:  doug.peterson@ago.nebraska.gov

Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.

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