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The Difference Between Boy Scout Executives and Catholic Bishops

With the release of the “perversion files” compiled by the Boy Scouts of America, one of the talking points of the Catholic hierarchy and their defenders has gained more support. “See, child sexual abuse isn’t just a Catholic problem.” As Archbishop Timothy Dolan correctly noted last year, abusers are found in the ranks of not only priests but also teachers, coaches, family members, and yes, boy scout troop leaders. But the release of the Boy Scout files also undercuts those same talking points, too. As Archbishop Dolan incorrectly noted, the attention — and the lawsuits — aren’t restricted to the Catholic church.

Both organizations were clearly worried about institutional reputation, and the records in both the church and the scouts show how they worked to cover up, hide, and otherwise keep things out of the media and the courtroom. Both groups need to be, and increasingly are being, held accountable for this failure. But one difference between the two groups leaped out at me.

The executives who run the Boy Scouts created a centralized system, so that a leader who left one troop under a cloud or in disgrace could not go somewhere else and repeat his actions there. They may have tried to handle things outside the legal system and outside of the view of the media, but the system was designed to get the problem person out of the leadership of the Boy Scouts. The Roman Catholic church, on the other hand, deliberately kept information decentralized, so as to be able to move priests who created problems in one parish out of that place and into another. It allowed them to move priests out of their diocese and into another — saying in essence “now he’s someone else’s problem.”

Daniel Fisher, writing in Forbes, points to the positive role that these civil suits have had:

Nobody likes seeing an institution like the Boy Scouts dragged into litigation. Especially over something as disturbing as child sexual abuse. But the very public data dump of “perversion files” that an Oregon judge authorized yesterday does represent one positive attribute of the U.S. legal system: It forces large institutions to rethink how they deal with problems that can affect thousands of individual victims.

“The value of these lawsuits is really not directed to any particular jury verdict or outcome,” said Timothy Lytton, a professor at Albany Law School who has written extensively about how litigation forced the Catholic Church to assume responsibility for its errant priests. “These lawsuits tend to frame the issue as an institutional problem, and not a personal problem involving a couple of bad apples.”

These lawsuits also, however, point to another institutional problem: the lack of criminal charges. If lawsuits force institutions to think about their financial health, criminal cases force individuals to think about their personal responsibility.

See Finn, Robert, Bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph.

(Since Bishop Finn’s conviction on charges of failing to report abuse, the news section of the diocesan website has been strangely silent on the matter. Granted, they only post a few news items each month, but you’d think that the criminal conviction of the chief shepherd of the diocese for failing to report suspicions of child abuse would be considered newsworthy. You’d think that, but you’d be wrong. But I digress . . .)

Right now, media outlets all over the nation are combing through the Boy Scout files looking for the local angles. The story that takes the prize thus far comes from Sparta NJ:

The only Sussex County individual on the list [of Boy Scout “ineligible volunteers”] is the Rev. William N. Cramer, who, according to the entry, was “Catholic priest who admits to fondling two boys in the bedroom of their home (ages 11 and 14).”

At the time, Cramer was an associate pastor with Our Lady of the Lake Church in Sparta, where he was first assigned in 1977.

The entry notes there is a Boy Scout case file and refers to Troop 343, but it does not say where the troop is or its sponsors.

And thus the two stories meet: a Catholic priest/Boy Scout volunteer who abused children. According to the story, Cramer was moved to two other parishes after his admission, then was placed on leave for several years, and from 1991 to 2002 served as a hospital chaplain until he was finally removed from that position under the new child abuse policies adopted by the USCCB.

Like the Catholic church, the Boy Scouts may have failed spectacularly in terms of reporting to law enforcement people they believed to have either committed crimes or were dangerously close to doing so. Unlike the Catholic church, they didn’t pass their “ineligible volunteers” off to other troops.

See Cramer, William.


photo h/t to dmott9. Too bad the scouting executives put loyalty to the institution’s good name and the abusive leaders ahead of loyalty to the young scouts those leaders abused. Maybe they’ll be braver in the future and do the right thing.

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I'm an ordained Lutheran pastor with a passion for language, progressive politics, and the intersection of people's inner sets of ideals and beliefs (aka "faith" to many) and their political actions. I mostly comment around here, but offer a weekly post or two as well. With the role that conservative Christianity plays in the current Republican politics, I believe that progressives ignore the dynamics of religion, religious language, and religiously-inspired actions at our own peril. I am also incensed at what the TheoCons have done to the public impression of Christianity, and don't want their twisted version of it to go unchallenged in the wider world. I'm a midwesterner, now living in the Kansas City area, but also spent ten years living in the SF Bay area. I'm married to a wonderful microbiologist (she's wonderful all the way around, not just at science) and have a great little Kid, for whom I am the primary caretaker these days. I love the discussions around here, especially the combination of humor and seriousness that lets us take on incredibly tough stuff while keeping it all in perspective and treating one another with respect.

And Preview is my friend.