A post I wrote in 2011 is seeing heavy traffic. It seems that it's been linked recently in tumblr and facebook. Here it is.
Singers, Saints and Sexual Abuse
While watching news coverage of the Penn State sex abuse scandal, I thought about how often witnesses take no action or insufficient action in the face of evidence that sexual abuse is occurring. After the fact, especially from afar, it's easy to be horrified by these failures, but time and time again we see that reporting abuse isn't so easy when you're the one who has to do it.
There are a number of reasons for this difficulty and, having a great deal of experience with abusers and abuse cover-ups, I've become convinced that the only way people become reliable reporters is for institutions to create cultures that demand reporting, providing rock solid assurances to reporters that even if they are mistaken, they will not be penalized. It takes more than words to provide this assurance. Organizations must establish a reassuring track record of protecting reporters. Even then, challenges remain for the person who is expected to stick their neck out, especially when they have suspicions, but no direct evidence of abuse.
In Sandusky's case, there was an actual witness to a rape, but what happens when suspicions are based entirely on odd statements or unsettling behaviors by a suspected abuser? Those who are suspicious fear that they will cause grave harm to an innocent person or fear that they will be perceived as twisted and paranoid. It's even more challenging when a subordinate suspects a superior. A mistake or an accusation that isn't taken seriously could destroy the accuser's livelihood. These are the kinds of concerns witnesses have shared with me when they are considering reporting vague suspicions without any direct evidence.
Back around 1990, I began to see both sexual abuse perpetrators and victims of abuse in my practice, the latter for therapy and the former for extensive evaluation. It was during this time that it occurred to me that Michael Jackson was very likely a pedophile. It may be surprising in retrospect, but at the time there was no talk about this. Michael Jackson was at the height of his popularity. Even when I mentioned my strong suspicions to other psychologists, the reaction was usually surprise rather than immediate recognition. Hard to believe, but it was a different time.
As consciousness and public outrage over pedophilia grew during the 1990s, as the accusations against Jackson became public, it all seemed so obvious. Still, Jackson has an army of fans who continue, even up to today, to completely deny or rationalize the clear-cut signs that Michael Jackson was a pedophile. Can I say he was a pedophile with certainty? No. But if anyone ever gave a boatload of reasons for suspicion, it was Michael Jackson.
As I was pondering all this, the names St. John Bosco and St. Dominic Bosco came to mind--I wasn't sure if the first name was John or Dominic. Being one who doesn't ignore unexpected and peculiar associations I don't understand, I thought about what these names meant to me.
I vaguely recalled that as a child in Catholic school, the older kids belonged to a religious society of St. John or St. Dominic Bosco. I'm pretty sure that my older brother had a society membership pin or medal. I had a vague recollection that this saint had actually established some kind of religious organization for boys, but I don't think I knew much of anything about it, even as a child.
It was interesting to me that I thought of these names while I was thinking about Sandusky, Michael Jackson and sexual abuse cover ups. What did some probably long dead saint have to do with any of this? So I wondered if there was something troubling that I had sensed, even as a child, something suspect that was passed down, generation after generation, raising unconscious suspicions in connection with these names.
I Googled John Dominic Bosco and learned that St. John Bosco was an Italian cleric who was spiritual mentor to a St. Dominic Savio. The name Savio did ring a bell. According to Wikipedia, Dominic Savio died of pleurisy at age 14. Dominic Bosco campaigned for his sainthood, even though it was unusual for the Catholic Church to formally canonize someone who has died at such a young age. Huh. I was once called to give testimony in a case in which a cleric accused of sexual abuse campaigned for sainthood of a protege who died very young. By the way, the Wikipedia depiction of Dominic Savio gives me the willies. It's just a little too pretty.
But what really brought me up short was something I read in the Wikipedia entry for John Bosco.
Shortly before his death, Bosco commented "I will reveal to you now a fear... I fear that one of ours may come to misinterpret the affection that Don Bosco had for the young, and from the way that I received their confession - really, really close - and may let himself get carried away with too much sensuality towards them, and then pretend to justify himself by saying that Don Bosco did the same, be it when he spoke to them in secret, be it when he received their confession. I know that one can be conquered by way of the heart, and I fear dangers, and spiritual harm."
Although there are three citations attached to this, the statement is prefaced with warnings that the authenticity and neutrality of this passage has been questioned. The "appropriateness" of the material has also been challenged. Interesting. I assume many people are emotionally invested in the story of Bosco and Savio, so that statement would be disturbing, but are the citations themselves suspect, or does the doubt arise because the allusion to misconduct is so upsetting? Is it beyond the pale to raise the possibility that a Catholic saint might have been a pedophile?
But even more interesting to me is that I dredged these names up. I'm quite certain that I hadn't consciously thought about John Bosco or Dominic since I was a child, and I doubt I had been exposed to that strange quote attributed to Bosco. It doesn't add up to Michael Jackson level suspicion, but it is odd that consciously knowing so little about Bosco and Savio, I had uneasy rumblings that were anything but quelled by what I read.