The biased spotlight on sex abuse in Catholic Church

Cases involving its priests are widely covered by the media, but silence on similar crimes involving others is worrying

Cristian Martini Grimaldi

Updated: December 05, 2023 09:46 AM GMT

Victims of sexual abuse and members of Ending Clergy Abuse, a global organization of prominent survivors and activists stage a protest in Rome during a papal summit on the sex abuse crisis within the Catholic Church, in this Feb. 23, 2019 file photo. The placard reads "We don't want promises anymore, we want action." (Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP)

In the realm of sexual crimes, a stark contrast exists in the level of media attention and public awareness when the perpetrators wear different hats, specifically, the robes of the Catholic Church versus the more secular attire of public school teachers or individuals from diverse spiritual beliefs.

When allegations of sexual misconduct arise within the Catholic Church, the media responds with a resounding uproar that reverberates globally. Cases involving Catholic priests make headlines, sparking international outrage, and prompting discussions about accountability and reform.

Furthermore, authors exploring themes of scandal and controversy within the Catholic Church frequently experience an unexpected surge in international fame. Books that point fingers at the Church, delving into alleged misconduct or institutional shortcomings, often become sensationalized and receive extensive media coverage.

The allure of such narratives, coupled with the controversial nature of the subject matter, seems to propel these authors into the spotlight, contributing to their sudden rise to prominence.

However, this fervor seems conspicuously absent when similar crimes are committed by public school teachers or individuals from non-Catholic spiritual communities.

A recent survey conducted by the JW Child Abuse Damage Archive, exposing 159 reported cases of sexual abuse within the Jehovah's Witnesses community in Japan, serves as a typical example.

It's disheartening to note that, on a near-weekly basis, new instances of such abuse emerge

Out of the 159 valid responses received, 35 respondents disclosed that they experienced sexual abuse during their formative years, from middle school to high school, detailing various forms of misconduct. Additionally, 19 respondents pinpointed the perpetrators as individuals holding positions of authority within the Jehovah's Witnesses structure.

Despite the gravity of the allegations and the significant number of victims, media coverage remains quite passive compared to instances involving Catholic priests. The silence surrounding these cases is concerning, raising questions about the factors that contribute to this conspicuous disparity.

During my decade-long stay in Japan, I've encountered numerous individuals who have confided in me about their distressing experiences of either abuse or harassment by their middle or high school teachers. It's disheartening to note that, on a near-weekly basis, new instances of such abuse emerge, yet they rarely make it to the forefront of prime-time media or receive international coverage.

Sure, the Church's global reach and historical significance amplify the impact of scandals involving its clergy, making them inherently more newsworthy. However, this skewed emphasis downplays cases in other religious communities and institutions, promoting an incomplete narrative around the pervasive issue of sexual abuse.

Frequently, when crimes within the Church are spotlighted in the media, the primary emphasis tends to be on holding the authorities accountable for covering up these offenses, often without facing any consequences even when exposed.

Paradoxically, a similar pattern unfolds in cases involving public school teachers. Instances where educators are found guilty of misconduct are frequently shielded by school boards eager to safeguard their institutions' reputations. In the rare event that a teacher is held accountable, the consequence often involves a mere relocation to a different city or institution, allowing them to continue their crimes unchecked.

How curious it is that allegations against the Unification Church for supposedly engaging in mind control to extract financial contributions can receive an unmatched level of attention when compared to crimes as awful as the sexual abuse of minors.

The contrast in public awareness between accusations of financial manipulation and the severe harm inflicted through the sexual abuse of minors is indeed striking. While the former might involve questionable practices or ethical concerns, the latter represents a violation of the most fundamental human rights and the well-being of vulnerable individuals.

This divergence in attention prompts reflection on the factors that dictate the public's perception of crimes and the media's role in shaping narratives.

Understanding the dynamics behind this contradictory prioritization is essential for developing a more balanced public awareness. It would help concerned families in distinguishing what constitutes genuine threats from cherry-picked narratives driven by biased, often political motives.

*The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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