By Francesco C. Cesareo, Ph.D., chairman of the National Review Board, 2018
Sexual abuse by those in positionsof influence and power continues in this country.
While the first light into such
terrible acts was shed upon the Catholic Church more than a decade ago, since
then incidents at institutions of higher learning, the USA Gymnastics team,
among Hollywood executives, in the halls of government and even public schools,
sexual abuse of minors – and adults – persists as a menace to our society and a
threat to the innocent.
Sadly, the Church and the
aforementioned organizations failed victims of abuse. Too often, the entities
sought to protect the accused or the institution and the victim was forgotten.
This same response was apparently employed by Penn State University, Michigan
State University, Hollywood executives, and the United States Congress when
those organizations were recently faced with accusations of sexual abuse or
sexual assault. Instead of learning from the mistakes of the Church, they protected
the institution, exasperating the victims' pain and trauma.
While these organizations failed
to learn from the mistakes of the Church, they would be well-informed to look
to the Church with regard to its comprehensive and unprecedented response to
its sexual abuse crisis.
Following a 2002 meeting of the
U.S. Bishops in Dallas, TX, the Charter
for the Protection of Children and Young People was approved. This Charter, which was adopted to address
"allegations of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy" provides
comprehensive "guidelines for reconciliation, healing, accountability and
prevention of future acts of abuse." Since the Charter was implemented, incidents of new allegations that have occurred
since 2002 has decreased significantly. Why, then, have other embattled
institutions – higher education, USA Gymnastics, Hollywood, and the U.S.
Government – not looked to the success of the Church's response and implemented
their own programs to prevent such acts and aid victims of abuse?
These organizations could collectively
benefit – and more importantly victims of sexual abuse and assault -- from
looking to and learning from the Church on how to effectively respond to the
sin and crime of abuse. The cost of sexual abuse should not be measured in
financial settlements, rather by the number of lives shattered from ignoring
the allegations. We must begin a process now of learning from the past and
looking to the Church as a model for how to serve and protect the needs of the
There are a number of programs
the Catholic Church has implemented as a result of its mishandling of
allegations of sexual abuse, which other organizations would benefit from
emulating. First and foremost was the creation of an infrastructure aimed at
creating safe environments and a culture of safety within the Church. Secondly, acknowledging and apologizing for
the grave sin and crime of sexual abuse– over and over again. The Church also
established a comprehensive program that provides to victims a support system
including Victim Assistance Coordinators and an annual audit of all Dioceses
with regard to their compliance with the Charter.
Another example that should be adopted by any organization that provides
services for youth: background checks and safe environment training for children
on how to protect themselves from abuse and how to report such actions. To
date, the Church has conducted 2.4 million background checks as required by
Article 13 of the Charter and has trained
more than 4.26 million children on how to detect and report abuse and trained nearly
2.38 million adults on proper interaction with children. There now even exists
a screening process prior to an individuals' admission to the seminary to
prevent future incidents.
As Chair of the National Review
Board, a lay-based group of individuals established by the Charter to advise the bishops on how to prevent and respond to
sexual abuse of minors and assesses their compliance in the implementation of
the Charter through an annual audit,
I have seen first-hand the effective reforms that emerged from the pain of the
past. These reforms could undoubtedly discourage abuse in other areas of
Sexual abuse does not
discriminate and, as learned from the despicable acts of Harvey Weinstein and
Larry Nassar, can impact anyone, male or female, young or old.
Many have, and will continue, to
focus upon the Catholic Church's shortcomings with regard to its initial
response to the sexual abuse crisis. However, those with an earnest desire to
address the problem of sexual abuse and assault at its core should instead
focus upon and learn from the reforms that were implemented. Regardless of
one's opinion with regard to the Catholic Church relative to the sexual abuse
crisis, the Church has taken a leadership role in addressing this issue and
today serves as a model for other organizations to emulate.