This past week there were two high-profile jury decisions regarding child abuse in Pennsylvania. In both instances persons held in high regard and trust were found guilty. In both instances it appears that the high regard gave them what amounted to a “free pass” to do as they pleased – one was pleased to be the originator of abuse, the other was pleased to hide behind a chain of authority. Granted the cleric did not actually engage in physical and emotional abuse, but did that make him less culpable? Considering that the cleric was supposed to be representing God it is, in some ways, all the more sad; and to hear a defense that amounts to, “I wasn’t authorized to do anything about it” puts one in mind of Nuremberg.
As I said to a coworker in response to another matter, “This ol’ world is full of pain.”
Is the person who looks the other way also guilty? Is the person who enables the perpetrator through silence also guilty? Is the protestor who, silenced the first time, refuses to speak out yet again also guilty?
Thirty or fifty years from now will these be criminal actions?
Fifty years ago much of what we expose children to today may have been criminal, and if not explicitly criminal it would have certainly been deplored by society. Fifty years ago much of what we expose children to may have been considered child abuse, today what was once irresponsible and perhaps criminal is the norm; so who knows if fifty years from now the crimes of which these men were convicted will be crimes.
The Federal Department of Health and Human Services defines the abuse of children in part as: Emotional abuse (or psychological abuse) is a pattern of behavior that impairs a child's emotional development or sense of self-worth. This may include constant criticism, threats, or rejection, as well as withholding love, support, or guidance.
Some of the many definitions on the HHS website are straightforward; some can be a slippery slope. If we take the above definition of emotional abuse (this is only a part of the HHS definition) can we ask ourselves whether what many children are exposed to on an ongoing basis via the media and entertainment industry constitutes abuse, for it certainly affects their emotional development. Of course if our view of humanity is that we are the products of time plus matter plus chance then we have the conundrum of what is right and what is wrong and how there can be any right or wrong outside of our immediate personal needs. To expose children to sex and violence, to introduce those images and words into their hearts and minds to live in them for the rest of their lives and therefore to influence their character and relationships – is this not abuse? But of course it is abuse sanctioned by economics and social engineering and by the adult world’s desire to justify its own moral and ethical and spiritual and economic promiscuity. And let not the individual family decide that they will not expose their children to societal toxicity – otherwise the peer pressure of both adults and children will come into play…and we certainly don’t want little Susie or Johnny to feel different from other children. So we become like the recently convicted cleric in that we have an excuse, “What was I to do? Everyone else was doing it and I couldn’t have my child growing up “different” from those around her.”
An adult society without shame without shame exposes its children to the shameful.