Monday, March 29, 2010

Suffer the children (II)

In the 1970s, St. George's Anglican Cathedral in Kingston hired John Gallienne, as organist and master of choristers. Over the next fifteen years, he compiled one of the worst records of sexual abuse against children in the Canadian Anglican Church outside First Nations Residential Schools.

My family belonged to that cathedral. I left the cathedral in 1978 as a university student mainly because, without knowing the cause, I had grown aware that Gallienne's manipulations of choir parents had a corrosive effect, making the cathedral a place I no longer wanted to worship. I came back in 1990, shortly after the record of abuse came to light. For the next four years, my family and I lived our church lives inside a storm of recrimination.

As a result of this experience, I perceive sexual abuse as primarily an abuse of authority. The abuse almost always comes from a trusted figure in the child's life, often from a trusted figure in the community at large. If we hope to reduce the incidence of child rape in our institutions, we have to address the difficult question of authority, and how it functions in our church institutions. 

This means arguments about the recent scandals in the Church of Rome that ascribe the crimes of some clergy to a failure to assert authority strike me as absurd. Once strict church oversight faltered with Vatican II, some clergy engaged in unauthorized experiments with liturgy and even doctrine. But does anyone believe that having missed an unorthodox prayer or homily, the church could do nothing about child abuse? Consider what Jesus said: the gospels leave no room for doubt about the importance of caring for children and cherishing their faith.

If the gospels call for us to cut off offending limbs and take out evil eyes, what should we expect the Creator to ask of us when the forms authority takes in our churches shows itself so ripe for abuse? At the very least, I suggest we need to look hard at the way the structures of our churches work, at the people we trust and expect our children to trust.

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