No Leaders Are Above Justice in Abuse Cases
Two recent high-profile sex abuse trials have ended with landmark rulings. Society has spoken clearly: neither public figures or church leaders are above justice when crimes against children are involved.
First, serial pedophile Jerry Sandusky was convicted on 45 of the 48 charges brought against him. The famous former assistant football coach at Penn State was charged with molesting and raping at least 10 boys over a period of years. While many of Sandusky's friends defended this sports leader when the scandal first hit, victims of many abusers nationwide can now find some catharsis from the justice served in such a public case.
Second, a jury ruled that Monsignor William Lynn was guilty of child endangerment, making him the first U.S. church official convicted for covering up abuse claims. This Roman Catholic church leader now faces 3 1/2 to 7 years in prison for his part in endangering a boy who was sexually assaulted by a Roman Catholic priest in 1999.
What makes both these cases so notable is that they collectively demonstrate a shift both in society's awareness and in the court's actions. Increasingly our society is willing to see justice served despite the immunities often enjoyed by celebrity figures and church leaders - two groups which often have gained unfair exemptions in the court of public opinion.
Historically, religious leaders have been fond of citing 1st Amendment rights to claim immunity from prosecution in abuse cases. In the Monsignor Lynn case, the court did not buy this tired argument. Religious officials in all faith communities are expected to take reasonable action to protect children, including the often ignored mandate to report sexual abuse claims to law enforcement.
Sadly, church leaders often choose to protect predator priests while scorning abuse victims and marginalizing those who speak out about sex crimes inside the church.
Church leaders need to take three simple, proven steps to prevent abuse and help heal those already abused:
- First, report all abuse claims to law enforcement.
- Second, stop supporting predators and remove all credibly accused clergy from positions of trust.
- Third, aggressively reach out to anyone who may have been victimized and offer them help.
A new day is dawning for abuse victims. Anyone who has seen, suspected, or suffered clergy abuse crimes should come forward, get help and call the police. Public figures and church leaders have no immunity; justice and healing are now a real possibility for abuse survivors.
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