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Watching the Watchdog: Journalism's Complicit Role in Sexual Abuse

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Program: Breaking the Silence (CBC News Network)

Date: Sunday, May 13, 2012

Last Sunday, came yet another T.V. documentary detailing alleged abuse of young boys by Roman Catholic priests.

Breaking the Silence tells the stories of five Canadians who went to boarding schools in England and Tanzania run by the Rosminian Order.

In it, the five, now grown men, make horrifyingly routine accusations of sexual, physical and mental abuse suffered at the hands of priests. Along with the even more routine charge that the Church, in its infinite blindness, covered up the abuse.

The men stayed silent for decades, each thinking he was the only one abused. When they finally got together and swapped stories they were joined by seventeen other men in legal proceedings against the Rosminians.

To this day the order denies any liability.

Breaking the Silence is a powerful, often heart-breaking, indictment of those who abuse their Godly power and, as a consequence, do appalling damage to innocent children.

Flashback -- Some 22 years ago, Christian Brothers of Ireland in Canada were forced to close their Mount Cashel Orphanage in Newfoundland and Labrador after charges that the Roman Catholic brothers sexually, physically and emotionally abused some 300 boys in their care.

Shortly thereafter, I was in Dublin training senior journalists at Ireland's national broadcaster (equivalent of the CBC) Radio Telefís Éireann (RTÉ).

During a story workshop, I mentioned the Mount Cashel crimes and asked the assembled journalists if they were following up on the Canadian connection -- was it not likely that similarly horrific child abuse also happened in Ireland, home base of the Christian Brothers?

The journalists' response was that "everyone knew" of such happenings but pious Irish culture and draconian libel laws made it impossible to report on Roman Catholic Church abuses, sexual or otherwise.

In sum, the church covered up its sins, protected its sinners and was simply too powerful for Irish journalists to dare challenge.

It took another ten years before RTÉ finally screwed up the courage to broadcast a T.V. documentary, States of Fear, exposing Mount Cashel-like decades of pedophilia and sadism in Irish church-run and government-supported institutions for orphaned and abandoned children.

Since then, thousands of pedophilic and hebephilic (sexual preference for children in early puberty) priests have been accused of child abuse in Canada, the U.S., and dozens of other countries.

Let us never forget that journalists, traditional watchdogs of the powerful, went to school and grew up in those countries.

It's impossible to believe these journalists knew nothing of the church's crimes, going back so many decades. It's much easier to believe that they knew and did nothing -- out of fear of the awesome temporal and spiritual power of the church.

Mea Culpa -- I never went to a Roman Catholic school. Nor did I know a boy who did and was abused.

Even so, I remember schoolmates whispering about boys they knew at Catholic schools to whom "something awful" had happened. But that was it. No details. Certainly nothing became public.
So the abuse continued.

For years.

I grew up and become a journalists myself. I investigated all sorts of stories about abuse of power in South Africa, the U.S., Canada and a few other countries. But, to my shame, it never occurred to me to investigate those rumours I'd heard so many years before.

In that sense I -- along with a great many of my journalistic colleagues -- am complicit in the terrible silence that so harmed the innocent and protected the guilty.

Verdict -- The multinational corporation which is the Roman Catholic Church has many sins to answer for when its leaders knock on St. Peter's gates.

As will my own profession, journalism.