"Everyone" may have known about the child abuse and sexual assault that was occuring in the Catholic Church, but it took years for anyone to bring the issue to light. And in this, says Tim Knight, journalism has played a complicit role. 

"Everyone" may have known about the child abuse and sexual assault that was occuring in the Catholic Church, but it took years for anyone to bring the issue to light. And in this, says Tim Knight, journalism has played a complicit role. 

 

By Tim Knight

CBC News Network recently aired another in the sad, sordid saga of 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 church’s Rosminian Order.

In it, the five, now grown men, make horrifyingly routine accusations of sexual, physical and mental abuse 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 rape also happened in Ireland, home base of the Christian Brothers?

The journalists' response was that "everyone knew" about it, 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.

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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.

Now to the point of this journey into the past — journalists, traditional watchdogs of the powerful, went to school and grew up in those countries.

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

 

Mea Culpa: I never went to a Roman Catholic school. Nor did I know any boys who did and were abused.

Still, I remember — even these many years later — schoolmates whispering about boys they knew at Catholic schools to whom "something awful" had happened. But that was it. No details. Certainly nothing ever became public.

So the abuse continued.

For years.

I grew up and become a journalist 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.

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.

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

As will my own beloved profession, journalism.

 

Tim Knight writes a regular column, Watching the Watchdog, for Huffington Post Canada. A version of this column first appeared on HuffPost’s front page on May 14. Knight is an Emmy and Sigma Delta Chi award winner who’s worked for three newspapers, Zambia TV, ABC, NBC, PBS and CBC, where he produced its flagship news program, The National, and for 10 years headed its TV Journalism Training program. Earlier this month he won an Innoversity Angel award for “strong commitment to diversity and inclusion in the media.”