Accusations of sexual misconduct are rampant lately. To the extent that those who have done ill are held accountable for their actions the accusations have significant value. However, the focus regarding these complaints seems misplaced. Society has a basic question to grapple in the wake of the Kavanaugh debacle. Is the focus on sexual misconduct an attempt for accountability, or is it an attempt to prevent future ills?
Why there’s cause for concern
Justice Kavanaugh was treated fundamentally unfairly, and the blatant agenda driven character assassination leaves question as to whether the #metoo movement has been weaponized. Once the movement is openly weaponized the base veracity of future claims erodes. The weaponization and erosion of baseline veracity means an already underreported crime becomes even less likely to be reported. What’s the purpose of the movement accountability or prevention? Accountability calls for dredging up the past. Prevention calls for enhancing baseline veracity to encourage reporting. In the current atmosphere the two concepts are approaching antithesis.
The Catholic Church
While the Kavanaugh debacle crystalized the accountability/prevention dichotomy, the tenor, coverage, and attitudes surrounding the Pennsylvania grand jury report had already set up the dichotomy. Even before the report the Priest sexual misconduct scandal was already well known and covered. In the aftermath of the scandal becoming public preventative measures were implemented and appear to be working. The grand jury report set the tone of accountability over prevention. Here are the two pertinent passages establishing their mindset in the report:
At the same time, we recognize that much has changed over the last fifteen years. We
agreed to hear from each of the six dioceses we investigated, so that they could inform us about
recent developments in their jurisdictions. In response, five of the bishops submitted statements
to us, and the sixth, the bishop of Erie, appeared before us in person. His testimony impressed us
as forthright and heartfelt. It appears that the church is now advising law enforcement of abuse
reports more promptly. Inte arnal review processes have been established. Victims are no longer
quite so invisible.
What we can say, though, is that despite some institutional reform, individual leaders of
the church have largely escaped public accountability. Priests were raping little boys and girls,
and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing; they hid it all. For
decades. Monsignors, auxiliary bishops, bishops, archbishops, cardinals have mostly been
protected; many, including some named in this report, have been promoted. Until that changes,
we think it is too early to close the book on the Catholic Church sex scandal.
This isn’t a criticism of the grand jury report. It’s simply offered to show the mindset of the report. And that mindset captures the general mindset of the populace. “Who knew what and when” has been the general tone of the events that have followed. Ex-cardinal McCarrick has become the lightning rod upon which the furor grounds, and the Vigano/Ouellet exchange drives the furor to the question of accountability rather than letting it drift towards prevention.
Virtue versus Dignity
The accountability/prevention dichotomy isn’t what was envisioned by the #metoo movement. The dichotomy arises because the current atmosphere favors punishing fallen virtue over protecting human dignity. Until we return to believing that basic human dignity is the foundational value from which virtue springs accountability will continue to triumph over prevention.
The focus on virtue over dignity is especially curious since it’s taking place in the context of the Catholic church. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (hereinafter CCC) 1700 states, “The dignity of the human person is rooted in his creation in the image and likeness of God.” The who knew what and when refrain comes into conflict with the commandment against bearing false witness. This commandment covers lies, but false witness extends beyond lies to offenses against the truth.
Unjust injury to a person’s reputation is an offense against the truth (CCC 2477.) Calumny falls within this prohibition, but so too does detraction by “without objectively valid reason, [disclosing] another’s faults and failings to persons who did not know them.” (CCC 2477) Not only is this an offense against the commandment, but also is an offense against “the social witness given to human dignity.” (CCC 2479)
This is precisely the question at hand with McCarrick and the Vigano/Ouelette exchange. Pope Benedict appears to have informally imposed a sanction of a life time of prayer and penance. This appears to have not been obeyed and it is unclear if Pope Francis knew of the sanction leading to the questions of what and when did he know.
Human dignity stems from being made in the image and likeness of God. That is inviolable. Therefore, despite his heinous acts, McCarrick still retains his human dignity, and the commandment prohibits detraction. Just as McCarrick retains his dignity, so, too, all those named in the grand jury report. So, too, all those soon to be named in Texas by decree of the Texas Conference of Catholic Bishops. Is exposing their past wrongs in the name of accountability an objectively valid reason or is it a subjectively valid reason? If it is the former, then by all means their wrongs should be disclosed. If it is the latter, then it is a violation of the commandment and an insult to their human dignity.
Catharsis versus Bodily Integrity
So how do we determine if accountability is an objectively or subjectively valid reason? The accountability/prevention dichotomy has very serious consequences. Accountability leads to catharsis. Prevention prevents future violations of bodily integrity. When viewed this way the answer is clear. Bodily integrity undeniably is inherent in human dignity, and “Respect for Bodily Integrity” is the subtopic heading before CCC paragraphs 2297 and 2298. This is the objectively valid reason. Catharsis has value, but it isn’t rooted in human dignity and necessarily gives way to bodily integrity.
Sexual misconduct is vastly underreported. The #metoo movement initially was initiated to force accountability and thereby achieve the end goal of preventing future instances of abuse. The idea was conceptually sound – bring bad behavior to light with accountability to prevent future bad behavior. That’s not unlike parental discipline, and sometimes forced discipline is necessary to cure bad behavior. The concept was workable because the focus was balanced; accountability was the vehicle to achieve prevention. However, the dynamics have changed. Now, accountability is the vehicle to achieve catharsis, not prevention. Until the original focus of the metoo movement returns the original end goal is harmed.