To com­bat evil, we need to end the se­crecy

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Insight - BY AN­DREW FIALA Spe­cial to The Bee

We too eas­ily ac­com­mo­date evil and cor­rup­tion. We adapt to it. We laugh it off. We shrug our shoul­ders and tell our­selves that there is noth­ing we can do. It is of­ten eas­ier to be flex­i­ble. And some­times it is wise to ig­nore things over which we have no con­trol.

But when evil is left alone it fes­ters. If it is not con­fronted, it be­comes ha­bit­ual. If it is not ex­tir­pated, it metas­ta­sizes and weaves its way into ev­ery­thing.

This is the les­son of the events un­fold­ing in Wash­ing­ton, Rome, Florida, and else­where. Michael Co­hen has been tes­ti­fy­ing about cor­rup­tion in the Trump or­ga­ni­za­tion, in­clud­ing the Stormy Daniels af­fair. The Vat­i­can has been dis­cussing the plague of priests who rape chil­dren. And bil­lion­aires have been busted in Florida for so­lic­it­ing pros­ti­tu­tion

It is the sys­tem­atic na­ture of these prob­lems that is ou­tra­geous. Re­li­gious folks might say that the sec­ond sin is worse than the first. In non-Bi­b­li­cal lan­guage, we say the cover-up is worse than the

crime. The orig­i­nal sin might be ex­plained as a vi­o­lent, spon­ta­neous, stupid, or ig­no­rant act. But those who cover up know what’s go­ing on. They make con­scious choices that ac­com­mo­date evil.

This is true whether we are talk­ing about pe­dophile priests, cor­po­rate scan­dals, po­lit­i­cal cor­rup­tion, or sex traf­fick­ing rings. Sys­tem­atic abuse is fa­cil­i­tated by a ded­i­cated group of ac­com­plices, who know that what they are do­ing is wrong.

Con­sider the per­va­sive­ness of re­li­gious sex­ual abuse. It is not only the Catholics who have a prob­lem with sex crime. The South­ern Bap­tists are re­spond­ing to a re­port that hun­dreds of chil­dren have been abused in that de­nom­i­na­tion. And in Fresno an Angli­can priest has been ac­cused of sex­ual pre­da­tion.

I could not dis­cover a tally of the vic­tims of re­li­gious sex abuse. But we can es­ti­mate. In Penn­syl­va­nia, a grand jury con­cluded that over 1,000 peo­ple were vic­tim­ized by some 300 Catholic priests dur­ing the past 50 years. Penn­syl­va­nia has about 4 per­cent of the U.S. pop­u­la­tion. Ex­trap­o­late and add in the South­ern Bap­tists and other de­nom­i­na­tions and we end up with tens of thou­sands of vic­tims. And that’s just in the United States.

Some­body had to know what was go­ing on. The same is true of the Florida sex-traf­fick­ing ring. There was a whole net­work of pimps and ac­com­plices, who ex­ploited sex work­ers locked in mas­sage par­lors. This in­cludes the driv­ers and chauf­feurs, the land­lords and de­liv­ery men. Lots of peo­ple had to have known that some­thing sleazy was go­ing on.

A sim­i­lar ac­count could be of­fered of the pow­er­ful men ex­posed in “me too” mo­ments and sala­cious re­ports of sex­ual pre­da­tion from R. Kelly to D. Trump, from Larry Nas­sar to Jerry San­dusky. Peo­ple don’t get away with this kind of stuff with­out a group of ac­com­plices fa­cil­i­tat­ing and cov­er­ing-up.

Some may want to blame the per­mis­sive and hy­per­sex­ual cul­ture of the mod­ern world. Oth­ers will blame big money or moral rel­a­tivism. But sys­tem­atic cor­rup­tion is pri­mar­ily about struc­tures of power. When Amer­i­can slave mas­ters raped their slaves, the prob­lem was not a sex­ual one. It was a prob­lem rooted in the evil sys­tem of slav­ery.

That struc­tural evil was erad­i­cated. But there is still a net­work of power that traf­fics in ex­ploita­tion, that pays off ac­cusers or tries to dis­credit and frighten vic­tims. Beyond that there is a larger group of ac­com­plices that turns a blind eye and fa­cil­i­tates cor­rup­tion with winks and nods and shoul­der shrugs.

The cure for this prob­lem is to over­come this will­ful blind­ness. Lies and se­crecy must be ex­posed. Net­works of power must be crit­i­cized and where nec­es­sary dis­man­tled. Evil loses it power when there is trans­parency and fresh air.

This means it is healthy to be skep­ti­cal of the pow­er­ful. Priests and bil­lion­aires are sim­ply hu­man be­ings. They are as flawed and pa­thetic as we all are. This is also true of coaches, doc­tors, teach­ers, and celebri­ties. No hu­man be­ing has any spe­cial power that lifts them above the law. No one — not even the Pope or the pres­i­dent — de­serves our trust and re­spect be­fore they earn it. They earn it by demon­strat­ing wis­dom and virtue. And in­sti­tu­tions of power gain our trust by end­ing the cor­rup­tion and the cover-ups.



Pope Fran­cis cel­e­brated Mass at the Vat­i­can to con­clude his sum­mit of Catholic lead­ers.

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