Fear Makes Men Cover for Child Predators

How can we stop child sex abuse if we can't stomach listening to the details of the crimes?

Waiting for Monsignor William Lynn’s hearing to start yesterday morning, I felt like I was back in Monday morning chapel at prep school: It was too early and too hot, and I couldn’t follow a damn thing.

There was also a nun. She comforted Lynn’s friends and family, rubbing backs, offering prayers. They showed up to see if Lynn would be let out of jail and put on house arrest while he awaits sentencing. Lynn is the highest-ranking church official to be found guilty of endangering children for his role in covering up Catholic priests’ sexual abuse of children.

The prosecution said last week that if he were let out of jail, he might flee to the Vatican. Defense attorney William Bergstrom said in court that Lynn wouldn’t screw his family out of the $100,000 they had posted for his bail money. “The family didn’t put up $100,000,” said prosecutor Patrick Blessington. “It was $10,000.” Judge M. Teresa Sarmina bought it, sending Lynn, 61, back behind bars while he awaits his July 24th sentencing hearing.

The nun burst into tears, dabbing her eyes with a tissue, her fingers intertwined with a silver rosary. “I just called the Vatican and told them to give up his room,” Bergstrom sarcastically quipped as he left the courtroom. Lynn was taken back to jail.

Perhaps the most hellish detail to emerge from Lynn’s trial was that his own records stated that he suggested to a pedophile priest that the priest was “seduced into it” by an 11-year-old altar boy. (You can read Lynn’s report here.) The sentiment blames the boy. And it’s a blame one of the young men whom Jerry Sandusky abused told jurors last month that he felt when he came forward. No one believed him.

As a Catholic prep school grad and Penn State alum, all of these stories of abuse had me angry. I was pissed at my prep school. And I was pissed at my church. And I was pissed at Penn State. And it wasn’t until yesterday, in a Philadelphia courtroom, that I realized my anger was misguided. Child sex abuse happens everywhere. And me blaming an entire Penn State community or religion or school for creating an environment—an institution even—that morally failed children tells part of the story, but not all of it.

That story can never be told unless we as a culture break this bizarre, homophobic, horrific silence—not by abused boys, but by us. If I can’t listen to the abuse, if I can’t hear the horrific details of bloody underwear that came from Sandusky anally raping a boy, because it makes me uncomfortable, then how can I expect someone else to speak up? I can’t. And that’s not a Penn State institutional problem. That’s my problem.

Much has been made about what Penn State coaches and administrators knew and when they knew it. And more will certainly emerge. But to argue that ousted President Graham Spanier, Joe Paterno, former athletic director Tim Curley, and vice president Gary Schultz acted to protect an institution is only part of the story. Why did they think it was humane, their right even, to remain silent in the first place?

I remember one morning at chapel in prep school. We filed into the wooden pews, prep-school princes dressed in coats and ties. The priest started with a prayer and the head of school addressed us. He was changing the name of one of the buildings, which had been named after a pedophile priest. We were instructed to direct all questions from the media to him. (Somehow, the story never made the press.)

“Do not talk about it,” he said from the priest’s lectern. So we didn’t. We just filed out of chapel, and I headed for math class. Yesterday, in a Philly courtroom, Blessington hinted that at Lynn’s July 24th sentencing hearing, Judge Sarmina would hear from the young men who were abused by priests whom Lynn helped. “That’s a pretty large universe,” Blessington said.

Indeed, with priests, Penn State and prep school—and how young men communicate within that universe is taught, even if it isn’t.