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Editorial: The evil of silence

It’s not just priests.

It’s also teachers, Scout leaders, Little League coaches and more. Pedophiles know their prey: who the most vulnerable are; where to find them; how to approach them and, critically, how to silence them.

Too often, they move from place to place, finding new targets while the public is left in an ignorance that, in some instances, has been deliberately imposed by institutional leaders. It needs to change.

The point, already well enough known, was made plain in stories appearing in the weekend’s editions of The Buffalo News. On Saturday, leaders of the Park School announced that four former educators may have engaged inappropriately and sexually with students there in the 1970s and 80s.

It was the second time in recent months that a private school has discovered and reported possible – or actual – sexual abuse by teachers in decades past. The Nichols School had its own reckoning last year and one of the abusive teachers there – the late teacher and hockey coach E. Webster Dann – had previously worked at the Park School, according to Nichols alumni and people familiar with the Nichols investigation.

In that, it echoed a common theme regarding child molestation by priests, who were often shuttled from parish to parish with parishioners left in the predatory dark. In the school case, there has been no suggestion that either school was aware at the time of Dann’s misconduct, but the Catholic church knowingly transferred abusive priests to serve congregations unaware of the dangers placed before their children.

Whether that happened at Most Precious Blood Church in Angola is unknown, but the Buffalo Diocese’s recent list of 42 priests accused of child sex abuse included four who served at Most Precious Blood Church in Angola. They came from somewhere and, when they left, went to somewhere. Indeed, all four worked at multiple churches.

There needs to be a way for the public to know when people credibly abused of child sexual abuse take up new posts that involve contact with children. For that to happen, institutions cannot simply rid themselves of such individuals or shuffle them around within their organizations. They need to report suspicions and evidence to authorities, even at the risk of embarrassment or disruption.

Looking back, it’s hard to fathom that any organization would turn a blind eye to conduct that is illegal and immoral and that preys on the innocence of children. But it happened, over and over again. The assaults committed by individuals was terrible enough, but the larger crime is that institutions hushed it up and, in so doing, tacitly encouraged it to continue.

Edmund Burke, the 18th Irish statesman, is said to have observed that “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” For decades, good men have committed evil, themselves, by doing nothing.

That, most of all, is what has to change.

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