Responsibility for Child Abuse

I’m fascinated by the twist that the case of former Rep. Mark Foley has taken toward trying to locate the source of his predatory behavior at the precise moment in his childhood when a Catholic priest apparently fondled him. The Nancy Grace types scorn this as “the abuse excuse,” an attempt by wrongdoers like Foley to shift the blame and avoid responsibility. That’s how Foley’s statements initially hit my ears, too.

But then it turned out Foley wasn’t lying. The priest in question, Father Mercieca, publicly said, “Once maybe I touched him” during their naked times together in a jacuzzi.

Fr Mercieca said he had befriended the boy after he arrived in Florida from Brazil.

The priest said he didn’t understand why Mr Foley had decided to come forward after almost 40 years.

“`Why does he want to destroy me in my old age?” Fr Mercieca told the newspaper.

“I would say that if I offended him, I am sorry. But remember the good times we had together and how we enjoyed each other’s company, and let bygones be bygones,” he told WPTV.


And now, less than 24 hours later, the Catholic Archdiocese of Miami has issued a public apology to Foley.

THE Catholic Church today apologised for the “inexcusable” behaviour of a priest who allegedly fondled Mark Foley when the now disgraced ex-Republican politician was an altar boy.

“An apology is due to Mr. Foley for the hurt he has experienced,” the Archdiocese of Miami said after the State Attorney’s office in Palm Beach, Florida identified the priest who allegedly abused the former politician four decades ago.

“Such behaviour is morally reprehensible, canonically criminal and inexcusable,” the Church said.

Meanwhile, Foley is being encouraged by activists to file a police report, even though the statute of limitations has probably run out.

This story illustrates what we all know about child abuse — that it is passed on, that the abused frequently become the abusers. We might be able to learn from Fr. Mercieca about the episode in his childhood that led him to mistreat a child this way. Beyond that, the path will surely get murky, but going forward, there will be a record, if any of Foley’s victims become abusers.

Another angle to examine: Fr. Mercieca claimed his abuse occured because he was “down…taking tranquilizers.” And Foley has blamed alcohol for his actions. Again, the popular response is, “there they go again, shifting responsibility.” But maybe we need to think a little deeper about this. How many child molesters are sober when they commit their crimes? A primary role for alcohol in society is to lower inhibitions — that’s why it is served at parties, to help overcome social awkwardness. But in the hands of the abused/abuser, it is often the fuel that takes their awful fantasies into the realm of reality.

Truly, I am not suggesting that an abuser should be viewed sympathetically if they claim they were drunk or on drugs when they committed their heinous acts. If anything, I am suggesting the reverse. Perhaps there needs to be an affirmative responsibility on the part of those who are suppressing these evil impulses to stay away from alcohol and drugs, and to seek help in doing so. “Know thyself” needs to become more than just good advice, but a legal and moral responsibility.

There also needs to be an affirmative responsibility on the part of the alcohol industry to warn their customers that their product lowers inhibitions and might lead to extremely regrettable behavior. They already warn about drinking and driving and drinking while pregnant or nursing; but drinking and abuse are at least as big a threat. What would be so terrible if the alcohol industry were forced to post signs and create ads warning that, for certain individuals, drinking leads to abusive, criminal behavior? If it makes one potential abuser think twice, it might be worth it.

It is particularly reprehensible that a doctor prescribed tranquilizers, as Fr. Mercieca has said, and the result was his woozy indulgence in child sexual abuse. Who was the doctor? What were the pills? Do they bear any responsibility for these acts on the part of Fr. Mercieca, and thus for Foley? If doctors are aware that drugs they are prescribing have the effect of lowering inhibitions or overcoming good judgement, then they need to develop a risk profile of their patients before letting them have a prescription. Doesn’t that make sense? Shouldn’t the doctors at least be required to ask questions like, “Were you sexually abused as a child? Do you harbor fantasies of having sex with a child?”

Believe me, in some ways I recoil from the implications of my own thoughts here. I am talking about a massive increase in exposure to legal liability for doctors, pharmaceutical manufacturers and those who make and sell alcohol. I am also adding a layer of prosecutable offenses to what is already illegal — child abuse — by suggesting that individuals must be held accountable for knowing their own risk factors, and structuring their lives to minimize those risks. The trial lawyers hardly need more slop to feed on.

But if we have the power to break this chain of abuse by aggressive social intervention of this nature, shouldn’t we at least explore the potential to end this tragedy? Because it is a tragedy that ultimately victimizes the most innocent. If we can protect them, shouldn’t we?


2 thoughts on “Responsibility for Child Abuse

  1. Pingback: Puerto Rico Local Blog » Responsibility for Child Abuse

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