Looking after our own | Bleader

Looking after our own

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There's an intriguing little article that raises a big question in the new December issue of the Atlantic. "Nearly 80 veterans courts have sprung up across the country over the past four years," writes reporter Kristina Shevory in "Prisoners of War." The defendants are accused of breaking local laws, and local prosecutors and judges are trying them. But these are veterans who have come home from fighting the nation's wars with psychological issues, and the judges and prosecutors are likely to be veterans too. They are prepared to show compassion and to tailor punishment to rehabilitation. An official of the National Association of Drug Court Professionals commented, "Many courts are saying 'Wait a second. These offenders have no criminal history, their family says they didn't have any problems before going to war — we need to give them a second chance.'"

Who could disagree? The ACLU, for one. An ACLU official tells Shevory, "The idea of an entirely different court system based on status doesn't make sense. Does that mean a police officer who is accused of a crime should have a separate court because of his stress?"

Most, but not all, of the veterans who land in veterans courts have been accused of nonviolent crimes. Yet I doubt if most civilians who applaud veterans courts would want even the cop accused of a nonviolent crime — say, taking a bribe, or setting aside a tenth of the dope from a drug raid — to be tried only by other cops, let alone the cop accused of joining Jon Burge in torture.

So, the ACLU guy has a point. Even so, he sounds churlish. We want the peers who understand us to define justice for us. We want our institutions to look after their own. I think most of us want to be the sort of person who speaks up in the home or workplace and says "This is our problem and we need to deal with it. It's up to us to make this right."

Call the police? What a clumsy instrument the police are! And in what way does calling the police guarantee that justice will now be done? I can't shake my memories of the child care scandals of the 80s, in which day care providers were arrested by police and convicted of absurd crimes — crimes that went far beyond abuse and perversion into the realm of satanic practices — by prosecutors who told themselves they were just doing the duty the taxpayers paid them to do, taking on the tough ones, protecting the children. We do not abandon our friends and colleagues to these cynics and hysterics. We only ask the police to lock up strangers.

It was totally unsurprising that the hierarchy of Catholic priests — raised and educated to believe in their own superior wisdom and compassion, and in the capacity of the most wicked sinner to be redeemed — would fail to abandon their pedophilic brethren to the clumsy justice of secular courts. It's just as unsurprising that the powers that be at Penn State would keep the allegations of sodomy against a former football coach in house.

It's a perfectly natural first impulse. Unfortunately, what feels like compassion in the evening often feels much more like a conspiracy of silence the next morning. Once we've entered into that, we're trapped; the victims become almost as big a threat to us as the nosy cop or reporter.

How to get past this? The Tribune Friday reprinted a blog post by Kevin Clarke, an editor of the Jesuit magazine America. I like what Clarke had to say. "Molesting a child is the kind of offense that envelops all parties in a cloud of shame," he wrote — a paralyzing cloud of shame. "This sorry episode is just another example of why statements of policy and procedure must be established and beaten into the minds of staff at all institutions that touch on the lives of children. That way when someone perceives an act of child molestation, even if he succumbs to brain freeze because of what he has seen, he can proceed like an automaton through a regimented series of steps that will protect defenseless children from these cruel attacks as well as the irresolution of others."

And in a reference to assistant Penn State coach Mike McQueary, who reportedly did neither: "Perhaps those first steps should bluntly state: Stop the attack; call the police."

The other day I received email from the Chicago Children’s Advocacy Center letting me know that it had responded to every report of child sexual abuse in Chicago this year, and there'd been more than 2,000 of them. Parents looking for programs for their children must learn the "key questions" to ask, said the advocacy center, such as whether the program has a sexual abuse prevention policy.

As I would discover when I read his piece, I was thinking along the same lines as Clarke. I wrote the advocacy center back and proposed that an even more important set of instruction might be necessary for people in high places like cardinals and head football coaches. "The idea of calling in the police seems precipitous and reckless — a way of dodging responsibility by turning the matter over to disruptive outsiders. Perhaps signs need to be printed and posted in rectories and locker rooms that say something like this":

ANY CHARGE OF CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE
IS A WARNING THAT CHILDREN ARE AT RISK

Those children come first.

Not the institution.

Not the church

Not the team

Not your job

Not somebody's reputation

Not somebody's dignity

PROTECT THE CHILDREN — then worry about the rest of it.

Would a poster like that help? I don't know. I imagine there are thoughtful clerics who would say, no, actually the Church comes first. Some might say, no, the team does. The program.

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