Too often, institutions are protected from sexual abuse, but kids aren’t

Where, I ask, is the pecking order designed to protect innocent children from monsters like Jerry Sandusky?

Jerry Sandusky and Joe Paterno, formerly coaches of Penn State University football.

In my younger years, I wasn’t just a journalist. I was a teacher, too. In Roman Catholic High Schools in the Archdiocese of Newark. I loved teaching – and I loved being a mentor to teens who often had very few role models in their lives.

To say it was a labor of love would be an understatement.

The pay was nothing more than a pittance. But the net results of being a good teacher were invaluable – and those memories remain among my fondest.

While I was employed by the Archdiocese of Newark, something beyond comprehension happened – it was the scandal that rocked the church in ways little else could. Priests, by the hundreds, were being named in lawsuits. Some of the incidents dated back to well before Vatican II – to a time where the church was tantamount in the lives of many Catholics.

Some of the incidents dated back to a time where priests were routinely invited into their parishioners’ homes – all while some of those very same priests were sexually abusing children of those families.

When it all hit, in the early 2000s, the church was reactionary. All teachers – and for that matter, anyone who worked with kids – were required (as they are today) to take a course as useless as the priests who were guilty of abusing children.

They call it “Protecting God’s Children.”

It’s still the norm today in every Roman Catholic diocese in America.

Useless, you wonder? Here’s why. And it’s simple.

Part of “Protecting God’s Children” deals with how employees, coaches, volunteers, etc., who work directly with children, are supposed to deal with instances where one might witness sexual abuse of a minor.

Let’s say I was still teaching, and I observed one of my colleagues sexually assaulting a minor. I was instructed, as an employee, to do nothing but go directly to my supervisor to report what I had seen.

We weren’t permitted to intervene under any circumstances. If we did, we could very easily make matters worse, we were told.

We were to report what we saw to our superior(s)– that’s it.

I consider myself blessed that in all my years as a teacher – and as a youth minister in two parishes in North Jersey – that I never witnessed any adult or knew of any adult who had any sort of sexual encounter with a minor.

But with God as my witness, had I ever seen or heard of such an instance, there is no way I wouldn’t have reported it immediately to the authorities.

Part of the reason the sex-abuse scandal got to be as bad as it did was because for far too often, people would ONLY tell their superiors – and those very superiors, be they priests, nuns, bishops, cardinals, whatever – would always sweep the truth under the proverbial rug.

And it was the kids who were always the ones who suffered the most.

This absurd policy of not being able to go directly to the police was part of the reason I left teaching. What good man or woman would be able to turn away from witnessing sexual abuse, just to tell a superior? What decent human being wouldn’t immediately want to intervene – and protect that child?

It’s pretty clear there were a ton of people who didn’t want to help the children who were allegedly abused at the hands of Jerry Sandusky.

Start with Joseph Paterno.

Wind you way down the pecking order of Penn State University football employees. There have got to be countless men and women who knew what was going on – and who did absolutely nothing.

Knowing what I know about the Catholic Church, I can’t help but wonder, though – were they only doing what they were told, by policy, by Penn State?

Still, how a graduate-assistant turned coach could see what he alleged to have seen in grand-jury testimony, only to run away like a coward and call his daddy, blows my mind beyond comprehension.

The saddest part of most cases of sex abuse, it seems to me, is that they were likely preventable. Our society is one that adheres too closely to a chain-of-command pecking order, if you will.

And that chain of command, far too often, is designed to protect institutions.

Where, I ask, is the pecking order designed to protect innocent children from monsters like Jerry Sandusky?

About Kevin Canessa

Kevin Canessa Jr. has been in the newspaper business for nearly 20 years, having had his first assignment and byline in The Jersey Journal as a high-school senior (St. Peter’s Prep, Jersey City). After college, Kevin went on to teach at St. Anthony High School, Jersey City and Oratory Prep, Summit, before returning to the media full time in 2006. He was the editor of The Kearny Observer for several years and also spent time as an Associate Managing Editor at national publication and website DiversityInc. While he knows he’s in Philly Country now, Kevin readily admits to being an avid fan of the New Jersey Devils, the New York Mets and the New York Giants.View all posts by Kevin Canessa