Only a couple of days after I got through reporting on the , I opened the weekend newspaper to read about a high school football coach in my native Brooklyn who is accused of having violated his young players.
As I write this, a famous semi-pro hockey coach in Canada is serving his second stint in prison for having molested some of the very best teenage players in the world, some of whom would go on to play in the NHL—one right here for the New York Rangers.
Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn, including at least one rabbi, are walking free or serving “slap on the wrist” jail sentences for child molestation because a cowardly district attorney, Charles Hynes, fears being accused of religious bias, or worse, that he will lose the votes of a valued constituency. His claims that he will not release the names of those accused seem more shallow than those of Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, when he says that when in charge of the diocese of Milwaukee he gave pedophile priests $20,000 each as an act of charity.
For lots of reasons I am inclined to want to believe his excellency including that even a child abuser needs assets to start a new life. But the church’s record of cover up and denial leaves plenty of room for doubt.
As we descend further into the abyss of child abuse, we have perhaps our most newsworthy, yet teachable, case—that of Penn State Football. Here we have the matter of protecting the reputations of a host of institutions presumably grown too sacred to smear. God forbid we impugn the legacy of Coach Paterno and his legendary record. How dare we stain the name of the university? I am appalled at the reaction of students and alumni whose behavior reminds me of protestors in the middle east when a drone strikes a terrorist in their midst.
The dominant feature of the above examples is that they occurred in institutions. More to the point, they were institutions in which children or adolescents are, by culture and convention, bred to trust and look up to those institutions’ adults.
One of the most ignorant questions I have ever asked on the air was that to Connecticut Supreme Court Justice Charles Gill:
“Where do we find pedophiles, your honor?” I asked. “Anywhere that you find children,” he replied.
The duh inside my head was deafening. But it awakened in me an insight long held but rarely acknowledged: If an unspeakable act occurs in an otherwise respected institution, we look away tacitly as if just to see a glimpse of the truth would somehow destroy our whole world.
Which brings us to the most sacred institution—family—and if you will, the lowest level of Marrone’s inferno: incest. The number of children who have been sexually abused by a member of their family is both large and unknowable. Almost everyone knows someone who was. It is a scourge that effects many more girls than boys, and often ruins their lives for decades. Ask a doctor about the personality disorder known as borderline. It mostly occurs in women and almost always involves their having been abused as children. Yet it is always the act that dare not be acknowledged even by the victim.
Look away, if you will. Maybe you yourself have abused a child or been victimized. In any case, hopefully, you will hold your gaze long enough to get the point, a point that the Catholic Church, Penn Staters and Charles Hynes refuse to face.
The soul-damaging act of child abuse can best be cured, or at least palliated, by the light of day.
The more we are forthcoming about it, the easier it will be to minimize. More importantly, the less hush-hush we are about it, the easier it will be for victims to overcome their shame, a shame which rightly belongs to others.