Why we fail to confront sexual abuse
by Fr. Raymund J. De Souza, Catholic Education Resource Center
Why is it so difficult to speak up, and why do so many prefer to keep quiet?
“Evil is destructive. Philosophically speaking, it is the absence of a good that ought to exist. We experience it somewhat differently though, not so much as an absence of good but as a seemingly substantive reality that destroys the good that does exist. Natural evils, like disease, destroy the balance and harmony of a healthy body. Moral evils destroy that which they oppose, as lies destroy truthfulness and integrity. Lust destroys the love, reducing the other from a subject of care to an object of use. Sexual abuse is a grave evil that has great destructive power — it destroys innocence, the ability to trust, the capacity to love, and the simple peace and tranquillity that we otherwise take for granted.
Confronting a great destructive power is dangerous, like fighting a fire or attempting to contain a flood. There is a real danger that the evil, once acknowledged and engaged, may wreak more destruction. And so many choose not to confront it, but somehow to seek an uneasy accommodation with it, even to ignore it altogether.”
In the riveting 2008 film Doubt, Meryl Streep plays Sister Aloysius, who is convinced — but without proof — that a local priest is molesting a young boy. She seeks the aid of her fellow sisters in her attempt to build a case against the priest. One of the younger sisters confesses that she doesn’t like to harbour suspicions about people as it makes her feel distant from God.
“When you take a step to address wrongdoing, you are taking a step away from God, but in His service,” Sister Aloysius replies.
That’s not right. To confront evil, to address wrongdoing, is not to step away from God at all. It requires the virtues of wisdom and courage, strengthened by grace. To confront evil is a holy thing. Yet Sister Aloysius was on to something, for even though confronting evil is a holy thing, it frequently does not feel the same as doing other holy things, such as worshipping God, visiting the imprisoned or delivering hampers to the hungry.