Think Before You Minimize the Horror of Abuse

by | Feb 16, 2024 | Catholic Church

Horror of Sexual Abuse Horowitz Law


Sometimes, a quote doesn’t just catch your eye; it seizes your entire consciousness. It’s not often that words on a page stop you in your tracks, leaving you grappling for your bearings in the maze of your own thoughts. And then, occasionally, a quote screams so loud in its silence, “THAT’S IT! THAT REALLY NAILS IT.” For us at Horowitz Law, these sentences did exactly that:

 “Certainly, our prayers are with the alleged victim, as it is a terrible tragedy when someone is sexually abused. Nevertheless, it is equally tragic when someone is falsely identified and accused of an unspeakable act.”

Equally tragic? This sentiment expressed by the now-retired Bishop Matthew Clark, former head of the Rochester, New York Diocese, raises compelling questions about empathy, understanding, and the true weight of words versus actions.

False Equivalency: Reputation vs. Lifelong Damage

In an alarming equivalence, Bishop Clark juxtaposes:
– The tarnishing of an adult’s reputation through false accusations, and
– The enduring, profound trauma experienced by children subjected to sexual abuse.

Talk about ‘false equivalency!’ This comparison strikes a discordant note, especially when considering the gross disparity between the implications of each scenario. One deals with societal perception and personal reputation, potentially recoverable through time and vindication. The other? A permanent, often irrevocable theft of innocence—leaving in its wake a trail of deep-seated emotional, physical, and psychological scars.

The Deep-Rooted Impact of Abuse

Let us be clear: we feel sympathy for anyone wrongly accused of anything. And few allegations are more serious than child sexual abuse. It must be very hard to deal with and recover from being wrongly accused of something so horrific, and no one would wish the agony of being wrongfully accused upon anyone—especially not of something as vile as child sexual abuse. The distress, the social ostracization, and the shadow of suspicion that follows can undeniably overturn lives. Yet, it’s critical to understand the multifaceted and enduring damage wrought by real abuse. It’s not just about the immediate harm but the lingering, pervasive aftermath that bleeds into every facet of a survivor’s life:

+ Addictions
+ Depression
+ Agoraphobia
+ Uncontrollable anger
+ Eating disorders
+ Sexual and intimacy issues
+ Self-destruction
+ Antisocial behaviors

These are not mere inconveniences. They are devastating, often lifelong, struggles that render everyday life a battlefield, where trust is obliterated, and the very concept of safety becomes alien.

A Question of Empathy or Its Absence

What exactly does this quote “nail?” and why does it leave us speechless? The disturbing element in Bishop Clark’s remarks lies not just in the false equivalence but in the glaring vacuum of empathy—reflecting a broader issue that seems prevalent among certain echelons within the Catholic Church.

Critique on the basis of a singular statement would seem unjust. However, the pattern of minimizing abuse, misattributing blame, or broadly misjudging the gravity of sexual abuse claims against the Church casts a long shadow over his tenure. The tendency to use the term ‘equally tragic’ even in contexts absurdly inappropriate further diminishes the perceived gravity of child sex crimes—making it not just a matter of miscommunication, but of profound misunderstanding.

Bishop Clark apparently likes that phrase ‘equally tragic.’ He used it another time, in a way we’d call ‘equally inappropriate’ or even ‘equally silly.’ He advised that it would be an “equally tragic mistake for the community to think that, because of extensive media attention nationally, the issue is solely a ‘Catholic Church problem.'”

This is the same Bishop Clark who, according to the Dallas Morning News, once wrote that pedophile clergy were “afflicted but not sinful” and “allowed six accused priests to remain active, including two who had been criminally investigated,” including Fr. William Lum and Fr. Thomas Corbett.

This is the same Bishop Clark who hired a priest, Fr. Robert Ring, to be the point person answering abuse reports from victims. Most bishops, of course, hire social workers for sensitive positions like this.

Victims’ Voices Echo the Real Tragedy

So, does anyone get to say anything is ‘equal’ to child sex crimes?

Yes, victims do. In a poignant contrast, one victim’s comparison of his abuser, Fr. Rapp, to a “reptilian predator” underscores the essence of the tragedy. It’s not merely the commission of heinous acts but the institution’s response—or lack thereof—to these transgressions that amplifies the trauma. Here lies an insight into what ‘equally tragic’ could genuinely mean, serving not as an apology but as an indictment of a flawed, often indifferent, system.

The acknowledgment by victims themselves offers a genuinely authoritative perspective on what constitutes tragedy, showcasing an authenticity and understanding that seems conspicuously absent from Bishop Clark’s evaluation.

Not All Tragedies Are Created Equal

In recognizing the profound disparity between the impact of false accusations and the enduring trauma of abuse, it becomes clear that equating the two belittles the plight of survivors. Understanding, empathy, and a concerted effort to comprehend the gravity of abuse are crucial in truly addressing this scourge. Let this serve as a reminder: When we talk about tragedy, perspective matters. Let us vow to listen more attentively, empathize more deeply, and, above all, think before we minimize the horror of abuse.

Horowitz Law is a law firm representing victims and survivors of sexual abuse by religious authority figures and other clergy. If you need a lawyer because a member of a religious organization sexually abused you, contact us today at 888-283-9922 or [email protected] to discuss your options today. Our lawyers have decades of experience representing survivors of clergy sexual abuse nationwide. We can help.