It was no small miracle in my life that the Bishop was out of town that week. My mother picked up the phone, distraught in the summer of 1978. The first counselor on the other end simply said, “You’ve called the right person. Go down to the police station.” It was no small miracle in my life that the first counselor was also a detective, specializing in crimes against children. These were not the man next door’s first offenses. I’m sure they were not his last after his short stay in prison.
If there’s anything we’ve learned through the ages, it is that sex offenders don’t give up their crimes easily. Their crimes plague them, and spread their scourge upon the young children who will continue to bear these burdens. And yet as Christians we are bound to succor both victim and perpetrator. It is for this for this reason, and to protect the innocent, that confession to ecclesiastical authorities of crimes against children, even if the abused child is on the brink of adulthood, must be held sacred but not secret. If we truly desire to help both the offender and the offended, we will stop enabling abuse under a guilty conscience made free in the confines of a bishop’s office. We will shield those who cannot defend themselves with the oaths of the justice system, rather than shield a person who climbs faulty stairs of repentance. We will without question, turn them in.
When ecclesiastical leaders wait, hoping the whisperings of the spirit will turn the tide, it sends a message to both the perpetrator and the victim that what they have done, or what they are doing is really not that serious. I promise, it is.