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Are People Who Send Their Kids to Catholic Schools Irresponsible Parents?

The Catholic Church has paid $4 Billion in hush money to victims of sex abuse, and people still make donations and send their kids to Catholic Schools. Why?

Graffiti on a wall in Lisbon, Portugal, depicting a priest chasing two children, denouncing the child abuse scandal that rocked the catholic church (Photo Wikimedia Commons by Milliped)

In the wake of the Vatican Summit, that proved to be ineffectual and disappointing, and the cynical refusal of Pope Francis to acknowledge the extent of sex abuse in the Catholic Church, we need to ask ourselves some hard questions about parents' responsibilities towards their kids.

By now anyone who knows anything about the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church should have reached total exasperation. There were great expectations for the Vatican Summit on Sex Abuse that was held on February 21 to 24. It was much anticipated by victims and watch-dog organizations alike. Especially by those victims who have for years told their stories and been fobbed off with some fake sympathy by a spokesperson for the Catholic Church. Up to now, “reparations” have pretty much ended there, with crocodile tears, an occasional mea culpa and few reparatory actions. The recent defrocking of Cardinal McCarrick was one of the few.  It has been made amply clear over years that the Roman Catholic Church had long been playing a shell game: shuffle the pedophile priests around from one parish to another, hoping that no one would notice the pattern.

It was believed, however, that this Summit would change that shameful decades-long deception. At the start these expectations seemed to be coming to fruition, perhaps the Bishops were finally seeing the light? As Commonweal Magazine reports, “….190 church leaders were becoming crusaders against child abuse, a shift that was especially notable among the presidents of bishops’ conferences from Asia and Africa, some of whom began the February 21–24 meeting saying this wasn’t their problem.” 

Yet in the end the initial optimism that hoped for changes in practices, policies and even laws,  proved to be unjustified. “Survivors’ spokespeople said the summit was just a wordy exercise for show, one that avoided the real task.”  Even worse came when Pope Francis made his final statements after the four days of meetings and debate. While he called “for an all-out battle against the abuse of minors,” at the same time he did not promise a zero-tolerance policy towards abuse or cover-ups by the clergy going forward, and nothing of substance was achieved, thereby disappointing all concerned. In my view, it was pretty much a cynical waste of time, effort and resources.

Knowing about this pervasive pattern of abuse and cover-up in the Catholic Church, for some years now I have asked myself, “Why would parents allow their children to go to a Catholic school, be an altar boy/girl, or come into any other kind of regular contact with a priest?  Who would risk such trauma for their children?” In attempting to find some rational explanation for what seems to be folly, I didn’t find any answers, I just came across some puzzling justifications. Apparently there are many parents who don’t even want their children to know about the pervasiveness of predators within the Catholic Church. This may be somewhat understandable if we consider that a child may simply be too young for some subjects. And it may be somewhat understandable that some parents are unprepared or unwilling to bring up such a delicate subject.

Nevertheless when a Mass includes praying for the victims of sexual abuse the irony of the situation becomes stunning. We learn for instance, that “During the first Mass of the school year, two students at St. Bernard Elementary School in suburban Pittsburgh stand in front of the congregation and lead their classmates in prayer. They pray for the leaders of the world, for the sick and suffering, and for the victims of abuse in the Catholic Church.” And yet, “For some kids …parents don’t want them to be aware of this …After the St. Bernard Mass, about a half-dozen parents decline to speak on the record because, they say, they either haven’t talked to their kids about the clergy abuse or they don’t know what to say. Some say they were unsure whether their young children even recognized they had prayed for victims of abuse.”

No matter how sympathetic we wish to be towards these befuddled parents caught in a dilemma—adhering to their religious beliefs or acknowledging a brutal reality in their Church–the fact is that they are leaving their children defenseless in the face of the very real danger of being abused sexually by someone that they trust. Parents who still believe in the innocence of the abusive clergy may object that the pedophiles or abusers are a small percentage of the total numbers, yet as Achtner wrote in a recent article, “We all knew that you never wanted to be caught alone with Father So-and-so, who had a habit of touching pubescent boys, and one also knew who were the priests who were “OK,” meaning they wouldn’t try any strange stuff.”

The grapevine doesn’t run only among the students and parents, it also runs along the clergy themselves. One inquiry at Ampleforth, and 11 at Downside,in Yorkshire in the UK,  found that children as young as 7 were being abused, and that this was widely known to be a “culture of acceptance of abusive behaviour”.

Back in the Pittsburg Diocese, where the aforementioned St. Bernard Elementary School is located, there are 64 elementary and high schools. An investigating “grand jury report named 17 schools in the diocese where abuse took place….Sometimes children were molested and raped in their school. Other times students were groomed for abuse during the school day.”  The report did not name the 17 schools where the rapes, molestations or abuse took place, and suspects that the number of victims could be much higher. To ignore such knowledge, when it is frequently an open secret, implies irresponsibility or deliberate blindness.

In the meantime, the Roman Catholic Church continues to ask for donations to their churches and to Catholic Charities, a cluster of organizations that aim to bring aid to those in need. If the question of why parents would expose their children to the risk of being molested or raped by pedophilic priests is as puzzling to you as it is to me, it is equally puzzling to consider why anyone would make a donation knowing that “The Vatican Has Paid Nearly $4 Billion To Settle For Children Harmed By Sexual Abuse”.   In my opinion, it is not an exaggeration to say that those who knowingly contribute to this hush money fund are complicit in the abuse.


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