The following comment is not meant as a criticism of the "On Faith" website at The Washington Post. I'm glad that the website ran the story about which I am poised to gripe.
It certainly do not intend to criticize the skilled team at Religion News Service, a crew that I always strive to praise for its essential work, even when I am offering some criticism. This RNS story focuses on the religion angle of a national story and covers that angle pretty well.
So what am I upset about?
The headline on the story will offer some clue. It is very broad and direct. The first thing I thought when I read it, however, was: What is this story doing in "On Faith"?
The headline, you see, simply said: "Too often, abusive predators hiding in plain sight."
That is not a religion headline, you see, unless there is a journalism committee somewhere that decided the sexual molestation of children is now exclusively a religion-beat story.
So what's the lede in this particular story? That should be obvious:
The abuse allegations at Penn State seem unthinkable: revered assistant coach and prominent community activist Jerry Sandusky preying on eight children. But such abuses of trust play out across the country over and over again.
Experts say respected people who set up charitable or social groups for children, only to be implicated in some form of child sexual abuse, are a frightening reality.
“I call them ‘institutions of trust,' ” said Portland, Ore., attorney Kelly Clark, who has represented more than 300 sex abuse victims.
Some predators are so tacitly trusted “that when something like this happens, the instinctive reaction is, ‘That can’t happen here. We can’t allow the mission to be compromised,’” he said.
Any reader can connect the dots. Many of our culture's "institutions of trust" are churches or other organizations with strong religious or moral components to their work. Like the Boy Scouts. You know, of course, that sexual molestation is especially if not uniquely a problem in churches and Scout troops, right?
This story goes on, as it should, to mention some other cases in addition to allegations at Penn State and the local Second Mile charity. There are horrible cases linked to an orphanage, a Catholic church and (wait for it) the Boy Scouts.
But there is also a very valuable quote that returns readers to the broader themes of the headline and the lede:
“A pedophile is going to go where they have access to children,” said Richard Serbin, an Altoona, Pa., attorney who has represented 150 clergy sex abuse victims statewide since 1987.
And predators only stalk children in Catholic churches and in the Boy Scouts? It seems to me, once again, that is essential for journalists to continue to hold these particular institutions to a higher standard and to push for information about cases linked to them. I am not questioning that.
But are there other institutions in which the leaders need to have their feet held to the fire? Can predators linger in secular schools as well as religious? Can they strike in liberal pews (think Nevada and the Episcopal Church) as well as conservative? Are there other civic groups that need to get their houses in order, as well as the Boy Scouts?
The religion angle is there. It must be covered.
But let me ask the question again: Have many journalists, in effect, decided that the sexual molestation of children is now exclusively a religion story?
Get religion? You bet. But someone needs to get the rest of the story, too.