Scandal: The Next Phase
Several news items have appeared in the past few weeks with this story-line: lawyers for priests accused of sexual abuse are playing hardball by impugning the alleged victims (here's an example from Boston, here's another from New Hampshire).
Will most readers realize that the client defended by these lawyers is not the local diocese or religious order but the priest himself? Will most readers realize that it is not the diocese or religious order that is paying the lawyers and coaching them to go for the victims' jugular? Don't bet on it.
Almost inevitably the institutions that have received so much well-deserved criticism will now take the rap for what is beyond their control. It's a sad situation. The attorneys are not to blame: mounting an aggressive defense is part of their job. The journalists are not to blame: a priest represents the Church for good or ill; a priest never makes a truly private decision.
Morally rotten institutions can be reformed, if the right men get into the right positions. How? By being harsher on themselves than their critics are; by naming their own failures more objectively than do their adversaries; and by insisting that, the higher the officer, the higher the standard of integrity to which he is held. It is easy? No. It is possible? Only for men who value the purpose of the institution more than their own advancement within it.
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