I have read, watched and listened to the commentary concerning the allegations that have been swirling around Roy Moore, candidate for the U.S. Senate seat that was vacated when Sen. Jeff Sessions joined the Trump Cabinet as attorney general. I can no longer remain silent. I had been hopeful that we had evolved beyond the “destroy the victim” culture, but it is clear that we have not.
In 2002, a lengthy series of investigative articles was published in the Boston Globe, exposing the U.S. Catholic Church’s long history of sexual abuse of minors by priests. Ultimately, after months of stories validating this evil, the church was forced to confront its demons.
As a lifelong Roman Catholic who had spent the most recent 12 years of my life as the executive director of the Catholic Conference, handling public policy for the Catholic bishops in Kentucky, and raising three sons in the church, I am unable to fully describe how crushingly painful, shocking, disappointing and anger-generating this was for me.
But I was one of the lucky ones. I was able to arrive at a horrific train wreck and roll up my sleeves and do something about this. I was appointed to the first National Review Board in July of 2002, a board created by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
This board, comprised of lay persons, was tasked to hold the church accountable. Through criminal and behavioral health research assisting us to better document and understand pedophilia and the scope of this ugly problem, we published a study on what we found. Based on our findings, we created processes and audits that remain in place today and require training on working with children and advocating for their safety. Much work remains to be done but for now the underbelly of this has been exposed and cannot be denied.
We interviewed dozens of people over the course of our work, experts from many disciplines. Most importantly, we began our work in earnest by genuinely sensitizing ourselves to pedophilia through meetings with victims and family members. We listened to the stories. Over and over again we listened. And we almost always heard of how long it took victims to tell anyone about their violation. Victims were afraid to tell their parents, let alone anyone in church hierarchy.
If you were around when the avalanche of victims coming forward occurred, you may remember the many people describing their abuse at the hands of clergy, a forceful influence in their lives that they were afraid to expose. Many victims waited decades until the publicity around this evil was so widespread that they were able to muster strength to add their names to the list of those reporting that they too had been a victim.
As we talked with the behavioral health experts, we learned to understand fear of reporting, shame for their non-consensual role, simple embarrassment and desire to cover it up and make it go away.
We also learned that this never goes away. We met victims who never could have a healthy relationship, one elderly man sobbing that he has always lived alone and knows for certain that he will die alone.
I have hoped over the years that we as a society would, at the very least, believe our victims. However, the Roy Moore story tells me that we have a lot of work to do. Politicians are all over the place. Some believing the victim, some flat out rejecting the victim’s story, and others supporting this man because the party needs to hold onto this seat in the almost-evenly-divided U.S. Senate.
Alabamians maintain their support for Moore. People demand proof of what happened, but I doubt that there is a level of proof that would be convincing. For some, her detailed recall is not enough. They know Roy Moore, but who the hell is she? But, worst of all, she waited too long, so she cannot possibly be telling the truth.
Our U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell believes she is telling the truth. Trust me, she is telling the truth. She fits the classic victim pattern of behavior. The victim buries the experience until something bursts forth and the sexual abuse victim can no longer remain silent.
When someone wonders why it takes a victim so long to publicly tell their story, look no further than the firestorm that is around this mess today. This is worse than killing the victim. It is killing the soul.
Jane Chiles of Lexington is the former executive director of the Catholic Conference of Kentucky.