The sweeping Pennsylvania grand jury report involving six Catholic dioceses operating in the state has drawn substantial attention to the problem of sexual abuse of children in these institutions. One Catholic group has responded by asking officials all over the country to investigate cases of sexual abuse involving public schools. The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights wrote a letter asking for sexual abuse investigations to take a wider view. While this may seem like an attempt to distract from the misconduct tied to the Catholic church, it is undeniable that all schools, religious and secular, public and private, owe a duty to their students that includes the prevention of sexual abuse.
A widespread problem
There is no doubt that sexual abuse happens in schools. A recent report from Chicago detailed the widespread problem of abuse and the subsequent efforts to cover for perpetrators. Illinois laws mandating that school officials report abuse to investigators were not enough to protect hundreds of children from predatory teachers, administrators and staff. Chicago is not alone in failing the victims of child sexual abuse.
Regardless of the motivation, the letter from the Catholic organization makes a valid point about the need to pay attention to how other organizations handle sexual abuse of minors. Ending sexual abuse of children among priests and other Catholic leaders would be one small step toward the overall goal of protecting all children everywhere. Public schools, as well as other religious institutions must also have established practices in place to ensure that sexual abuse is not tolerated and that abusers are identified and brought to justice.
Sexual abuse takes a painful toll on the lives of its victims. Children who are abused bear those scars for the rest of their lives. Institutions, including churches and schools, must do their part in putting a stop to sexual abuse.