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The end of trust?

The end of trust?

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Minabere Ibelema

Two of the most commonly cited passages of the Bible are Jesus’ exculpatory declaration that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory” and the dare, “He that is without sin …let him cast the first stone.” He was inveighing against self-righteousness and condescension — and for good reason. There was — and still is — a lot of both.

Yet, the good Lord could have gone further to suggest a scale of sin, the standard for weighing one sin against another. Had He done this, I’d bet that sexual molestation of children by priests would have topped the list — ahead of murder. I will elaborate later.

First, the astounding revelations that compelled this essay. Exposes on the abuse of children by priests in the United States and Europe have been recurrent in the past several years to the point of almost numbing our sensibility. Still, a report issued by a grand jury in Pennsylvania about two weeks ago on the subject can’t but jolt one back to the gravity.

The investigation at six of the state’s eight parishes found that over the past 70 years, more than 300 priests sexually molested more 1,000 people, most of them children. Priests raped boys and girls, men and women, and young priests in training. And those are the cases investigators could uncover.

“Despite some institutional reform, individual leaders of the church have largely escaped public accountability,” the New York Times excepts from the grand jury report. “Priests were raping little boys and girls, and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing; they hid it all. For decades.”

The fact of the abuses says much about the capacity for human depravity. That they were covered up points to a different kind of offence. To begin with, the supervising bishops exploited the constitutional protection of religious institutions from government interference. In part, it was to retain priests, a workforce that is in short supply. In part, it was to maintain the façade of holiness. In effect, complicity with evil was pragmatic in the holy places.

Now it is ripping the very soul of the Catholic Church. Its millions of members are in distress and at the crossroads. To be Catholic or not to be Catholic, that is the nagging question. If they choose to stay, what would they have to change about their thinking and practices to cope with the new realities? If they choose to leave, what church would they turn to and how can they be sure that it is on a strong enough ground to cast the first stone?

In fact, one does not have to be Catholic to be affected by the revelations. There is something unsettling about them that goes beyond church denominations. Were the revelations made of prisons, they would be damning enough. Made of religious institutions, they are beyond damning; they are severely injurious to the human psyche.

They undercut a most important element of life: trust. Although we routinely distrust others, we trust a whole lot more than we realize. In fact, we would be psychologically disabled if we didn’t.

We trust that the waiter in the restaurant will not poison out food. We trust that the taxi driver can drive. We trust that the plane’s pilot is not suicidal. We trust that the motorist at the crossroads will stop when he should. We trust that the snacks we purchase for lunch at the street corner is made of edibles and not synthetic material. We leave our treasured children at school all day, trusting that the teachers will not only treat them well but also protect them from harm. That’s a lot of trusting. And, yes, we have to, unless we want to go crazy.

By sexually molesting children, priests undermine this basis of societal and human viability. And that should place the offence on top of the hierarchy of sins. If one cannot trust a priest, who else can one trust?

The other day, I had a conversation with a mother who was caught up in the dilemma. Though not a Catholic, she had preferred to enrol her children in Catholic schools and daycares. She trusted Catholic institutions to provide excellent education in a wholesome environment. Now, like so many other parents, she is not so sure. She is in a quandary.

My advice to her was that she shouldn’t give up on the trust of institutions in general if she wanted to maintain her sanity. It would be easy to regard priests as a coterie of perverts. But that would be unfair to a vast majority of them. Sure, 300 priests sounds like a lot — and it is. And 1,000 victims sounds like too many — and it is.

Yet, for the sake of our sanity — if for no other reason — some further reflection is necessary. Over the 70-year period covered in the Pennsylvania report, thousands of priests must have served at the schools and churches in the six parishes. And millions of children and parents must have attended the schools and churches.

So, the odds of any given child being molested is still very low, especially now that stricter measures are being implemented to prevent and punish abuses.

I am not sure I succeeded in persuading the mother. In fact, it is not that important what she eventually decided to do. What is important is that she somehow recovers from the psychological blow — for her own good and society’s.

She too?

Italian actress Asia Argento was in the forefront of the #MeToo movement, being one of those who first accused Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein and others of sexual harassment. Now, she is at the receiving end of an allegation that she sexually assaulted a co-actor who is about 30 years her junior.

According to the New York Times expose, Argento paid $380,000 hush money to Jimmy Bennett, a young actor and rock musician, who appeared in a movie with her. Argento denies any sexual involvement with Bennett, but acknowledges that he was paid off, not by her but by her now late boyfriend Anthony Bourdain.

It’s a “stunning level of hypocrisy,” Weinstein’s attorney has said in a statement. So, who should we trust? Mhm.

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