The last few decades have been an awakening for our nation: An awakening to the devastatingly pervasive reality of childhood sexual abuse and its lifelong impact on survivors.

The Catholic Church has been among the worst institutional offenders. For decades – if not centuries – the church ignored, denied or outright covered up allegations of sexual abuse against priests, cardinals and bishops. Until recently, children who endured abuse had no safe place to report what was happening to them. Those who did report it were frequently silenced and disbelieved. The “problem priests” were shuffled around to other parishes to keep their behavior under wraps. When the Church did take action, it often imposed a veil of secrecy, requiring all proceedings and settlements to be kept strictly confidential.

Why didn’t they get caught?

With that kind of institutional culture – one in which accountability and transparency were entirely absent – it’s no wonder the abusers got away with it. They often continued their pattern of grooming victims, building trust with the child’s parents and community, and manipulating their victims to stay silent. When they did get caught, they were simply sent somewhere else. And the pattern would start all over again.

Over the last few decades, the light of the legal system has finally started to illuminate those deep, dark corners of the Catholic Church where abuse festered. The Church has spent upwards of $4 billion addressing abuse allegations. Those claims will likely keep coming.

Another major example of institutional cover-ups

While most people associate institutional child sex abuse with the Catholic Church, it’s far from the only trusted pillar of American society to harbor abusers. Another big offender? The Boy Scouts of America.

More than 95,000 claims have been lodged against the Boy Scouts in its federal bankruptcy case. The so-called “perversion files” – internal documentation secured by a prior lawsuit against the organization – name thousands of alleged perpetrators going back 50 years, almost none of whom were ever reported to authorities. The files indicate there were more than 12,000 victims.

The danger of secrecy

What’s the common denominator between the Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts? Secrecy.

Systemic cover-ups – or even just a lack of systemic accountability – foster an incredibly dangerous environment for vulnerable children. Not only are their abusers held in positions of trust and authority, but they are also never held accountable.

And the results are horrifying.

 

 

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