Archive for November, 2009

”A priest’s collar will protect no criminal,” – Dublin Report Reveals Decades of Abuse

November 30, 2009

Last Thursday a 750-page report was released on the secrecy and coverup of  sexual  abuse by clergy in the Dublin archdiosese. This report comes just six months after the groundbreaking  Ryan Report (spearheaded by Irish high court judge Sean Ryan) released last May. The Ryan report revealed endemic, long-term abuses by nuns and clergy against children in Ireland’s catholic institutions including schools, orphanages, and reformatories. Children were frequently sent to these reforming institutions for such crimes as petty theft, truancy, unwed pregnancy, and dysfunctional family life. Chronic beatings, molestation, rape, and humiliation were the norm for more than six decades. The last of these facilities closed in the 1990’s.

The Ryan report found that when confronted with evidence of such abuse, the sole response of Catholic authorities was to  promptly and discreetly relocate offenders.

“There was evidence that such men took up teaching positions sometimes within days of receiving dispensations because of serious allegations or admissions of sexual abuse. The safety of children in general was not a consideration.”

By providing an evidence-based portrait of the sexual, emotional, and physical damage wrought on thousands of children the Ryan report forced the church to acknowledge the reality of sexual abuse. Survivors formerly silenced for fear of being branded as liars by their catholic community, could tell their stories,  in many cases for the first time,  to investigators.

However, although the Ryan Report shed much needed light upon these crimes, many, including the organization Irish Survivors of Child Abuse (SOCA), were angry that no persecutions would result from the findings. In 2004, when news of the investigation surfaced, the Order of Christian Brothers, which was involved in the running of most of the institutions, filed and won a lawsuit that guaranteed all of its members, dead or alive, would remain anonymous in the report.

The latest report, issued this week, focuses specifically on the parish of Dublin – home to four million of Ireland’s Catholics – and the fact that not a single instance of abuse was reported to police until 1995, despite the shocking and long-term pervasiveness of the crimes.  From the NY Times article:

Thursday’s report detailed ”sample” cases of 46 priests who faced 320 documented complaints, although the investigators said they were confident that the priests had abused many more children than that. They cited testimony from one priest who admitted abusing more than 100 children, and another priest who said he abused a child approximately every two weeks for 25 years.

It examines the cover-up and consequential perpetration of these abuses by Catholic authorities, singling out four archbishops in particular: McQuaid, Ryan, McNamara, and Connell, and concludes that each of them sought:

”the maintenance of secrecy, the avoidance of scandal, the protection of the reputation of the church, and the preservation of its assets. All other considerations, including the welfare of children and justice for victims, were subordinated to these priorities.”

No apology yet from the Pontiff in Rome, although he was reportedly “visibly upset” upon hearing the findings of the latest report. The lone comment came from Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi who stated, appallingly, that this was “a matter for the local church.”

The Irish government, on the other hand, issued an immediate apology to the public. Justice Minister Dermot Ahern promised that never again would the government treat the Catholic church with deference. “A priest’s collar will protect no criminal,” he said.

My question is this – why haven’t we made a similar pledge in the United States? If this were happening in any other type of institution – school, day care, boy/girl scouts, little league… – there would be no secrets, no privilege of keeping files from the court, no opportunity to dole out punishment “from within.” Is it the political entanglements of those in power that keep them from pulling rank on the Catholic Church?  Why did Speaker Pelosi let a call from the Vatican inform her decisions regarding the new health care bill? Why do most states still have a statue of limitations that uniformly prevents most victims from ever seeking justice (as they would do as an adult who has had years to come to terms with, or even so much as admit, what has been done to them)?

A papal apology is nice, but justice, accountability, and the prevention of further abuse matters so much more.


International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women

November 26, 2009

Today marks the 10th anniversary of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Womendecreed by the UN General Assembly in 1999. In the words of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon:

Women around the world are the very linchpin keeping families, communities, and nations together. On this International Day, let us reaffirm our commitment to women’s human rights; let us invest more resources in countering [violence against women]; and let us do all it takes to end these horrific assaults once and for all.

Today also marks the first of this year’s 16 Days of Activism to End Violence Against Women, which itself will conclude on December 10th, Human Right’s Day.  Interstingly, Australia has independently themed the day White Ribbon Day, and urges Aussie men to take the following oath:

I swear:
never to commit violence against women,
never to excuse violence against women, and
never to remain silent about violence against women.
This is my oath.

Pretty basic, huh? If you want clarification about what constitutes violence against women, the White Ribbon Foundation says,

“In simple terms, violence against women is violence directed against a woman because she is a woman or that affects a woman disproportionately.” [Em. mine]

This last is important because many of these abuses happen to men and boys as well, but the rate of occurrence and global levels of tolerance for these kinds of behaviors overwhelmingly validate this as a women’s issue.  Consider 

  • domestic violence, family violence, wife-beating, intimate violence, intimate homicide, femicide
  • sexual violence, sexual assault, rape, marital rape, gang rape, date rape, acquaintance rape, indecent assault, sexual harassment, sex-based harassment
  • genital mutilation
  • enforced prostitution
  • enforced sterilisation, enforced abortion, killing of unwanted female babies, enforced motherhood

Earlier this month the UN began Say NO – UNiTE to End Violence Against Women, an initiative that “records what individuals, organizations and governments worldwide are doing to end violence against women.” Say NO strives to reach 100,000 actions by March 2009 and 1 million actions by November 2010. They count volunteering, donations, outreach, advocacy, and even individual instances of helping someone in need.  If you’re doing something, stand up and be counted.

I’ve spoken to too many people (men and women, incidently) who roll their eyes upon what they think are “women’s issues” or “feminist” complaints in a world they like to view as more or less equal by now. The finer points of sexism, discrimination, and gender politics aside,  according to UNIFEM:

Violence against women and girls is a problem of pandemic proportions. Based on country data available , up to 70 per cent of women experience physical or sexual violence from men in their lifetime – the majority by husbands, intimate partners or someone they know. Among women aged between 15 and 44, acts of violence cause more death and disability than cancer, malaria, traffic accidents and war combined. Perhaps the most pervasive human rights violation that we know today […] It takes many forms and occurs in many places – domestic violence in the home, sexual abuse of girls in schools, sexual harassment at work, rape by husbands or strangers, in refugee camps or as a tactic of war.

I highly recommend reading the factsheet in its entirety (all stats documented), but here are a few nuggets:

  • In the United States, one-third of women murdered each year are killed by intimate partners. Perhaps the most pervasive human rights violation that we know today, violence against women devastates lives, fractures communities, and stalls development. It takes many forms and occurs in many places — domestic violence in the home, sexual abuse of girls in schools, sexual harassment at work, rape by husbands or strangers, in refugee camps or as a tactic of war.
  • In South Africa, a woman is killed every 6 hours by an intimate partner.
  • In India, 22 women were killed each day in dowry-related murders in 2007.
  • Women and girls constitute 80 percent of the estimated 800,000 people trafficked annually,7 with the majority (79 percent) trafficked for sexual exploitation.
  • Approximately 100 to 140 million girls and women in the world have experienced female genital mutilation/cutting, with more than 3 million girls in Africa annually at risk of the practice.
  • In São Paulo, Brazil, a woman is assaulted every 15 seconds.
  • Approximately 250,000 to 500,000 women and girls were raped in the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

Further Info:

WHO Multi-country Study on Women’s Health and Domestic Violence against Women

Violence Against Women – We Can’t Look Away: Blogging and Updates from the International Rescue Committee

Ending Violence Against Women: What Works – 2006 Report from the UN’s WomenWatch (pdf)

It’s Veterans Day; Do Something.

November 12, 2009

Veterans: Men and women who have voluntarily curtailed their own freedoms and agreed to give their lives, if  neccessary, in order to protect you and I as citizens of the United States and defend the freedoms and privileges we largely take for granted.

On this Veterans Day, checkout a great post on Huffington –  “5 Things You Didn’t Know About Veterans (And How You Can Support Them)“. It covers  homelessness, PTSD and other types of disability, and issues involving active duty. Lots of links on how you can help.

The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America do a great job in addressing needs of vets, particularly in an oft-overlooked area: the difficult re-integration into daily civilian life. Checkout their latest outreach PSA: