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Sunday, June 7, 2015

The Duggar Scandal – Religion Is No Excuse For Bad Behavior

First appeared on Blogcritics.

dug 1 The Josh Duggar sexual abuse scandal begins to sound very similar to the Catholic Church and its sex abuse issues with priests. Of course, not as widespread or as pernicious as those ordained men who violated oaths and people’s faith, it still represents a situation where religion tends to provide a cover for the guilty and protect them and prevents the victims from seeing justice served.


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The Duggars are famous (and now perhaps infamous) for starring in TLC’s 19 Kids and Counting, a show that chronicles the lives Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar and their brood of kids. Being that they are a conservative Christian family and promote those values on the show and by appearing in other arenas, the recent revelation that oldest son Josh (27) had molested four of his sisters and a babysitter when he was 15 sort of shattered the illusion that had been created on TV.

When the matriarch and patriarch appeared on FOX news and explained the situation, it didn’t help matters. It seems that the girls had not reported these incidents to the parents, rather it was Josh who admitted to doing these terrible things. The Duggars told anchor Megyn Kelly that they took Josh for “counseling” and the situation only came to light a few years later when police investigated the incident, but no charges were ever filed.

dug 3Two of the sisters whom Josh abused, Jill and Jessa, also appeared on Kelly’s program and indicated that they had forgiven their brother and that most of the accounts in the media were overblown saying, “Most of the stuff out there is lies.” They explained that Josh had touched them while they were sleeping and fully clothed and that they didn’t see themselves as “victims.” Jill Duggar added something that sounds very much like what could be a perfect promo for a new season of the show – if TLC ever brings it back – “We’re not a perfect family. We are just a family.” 

The fact is that these girls were violated by a young boy who, while still a minor, had to have a notion that what he was doing was wrong because he did go to his parents and confess. Why they sought counseling for Josh exclusively and not also his sisters who were involved seems unclear, but it is troubling that the people who could have been most damaged were not helped as much as the perpetrator.

The Catholic Church has also been accused of not helping victims of sexual abuse. For years priests who violated the trust and faith people had in them abused children in parishes all across the world. A recent case in Minnesota highlights the fact that this is not over in the Church, but an ongoing issue

The problem with some Catholic priests as abusers first came to light back in 1983, when lawyer Jeffrey Anderson filed a lawsuit against the Diocese of St. Paul, Minnesota, on behalf of victims of sexual abuse by priests. Since that time Anderson has led the way in the fight to expose these predators and the media has followed with new stories all over the country. In this new case by a victim Anderson is representing, the target is not just the diocese but the Vatican itself – attempting to make the case that the Pope has not done enough to stop these things from happening.

dug 5The situation in Minnesota highlights the fact that sexual abuse by priests is not over by a long shot, even though Pope Francis had promised to hold bishops accountable for not protecting children from priests who were sexual predators. The age-old practice of sending off accused priests to new parishes without any ramifications was supposed to end, but the sad reality is there is no proof that is the case.

The Duggar situation and the predator priests are part of the same problem – using religion to cover-up truly despicable behavior. It is no less hypocritical for Josh Duggar to stand up in public and talk about moral values than it is for a Catholic priest accused of sexual abuse to stand on the altar to celebrate mass. In both cases being religious seems to obfuscate the line of responsibility, almost to the point that abusers are immune to being charged criminally. There is definitely something wrong with this picture.

The Duggars are a marketed product, and these interviews are clearly damage control to save the viability of selling it in the future. The Catholic Church is also afraid of poor publicity affecting its marketing – and its cash cow of donations from the faithful. In both situations the innocent victims seem less important than moving forward in order to forget and keep the money flowing.

Make no mistake – Josh Duggar’s sisters are victims even though they say that they are not, and the fact that Jim Bob admitted to putting locks on doors to keep Josh out of his sisters' rooms after the incidents clearly indicates that he understood the seriousness of his son’s depravity. Even though Josh was only 15, that does not eliminate his culpability and therefore he should have received more than what amounts to a slap on the wrist.

As a Catholic, I truly hope that Pope Francis is as wonderful as he has appeared to be in his leadership. I hope that he confronts the situation of sexual abuse by priests in America and around the world more proactively. Yes, it is a horrific situation, but the Pope should not just insist that bishops be held accountable – he should demand that all priests accused of sexual abuse come out from behind the protective veil of the church and be charged criminally like any other person accused of such abhorrent behavior.

dug 4For now it seems Josh Duggar – matured and changed man that he is – will go on with his life and continue to enjoy the now dubious amount of fame he and his family have achieved. Some accused priests will slip out of their assignments, appear elsewhere, and perform their duties including hearing other people’s confessions – how totally incongruous is that!

While these abusers will go on with business as usual, their victims continue to suffer pain beyond comprehension. I am happy the Duggar sisters seem completely well adjusted and are moving on with their lives, but it’s not so easy for other victims. It is on their behalf – the innocent young people who look up to someone who violates their trust – that we must not allow this Duggar case to alter the course of pushing for justice for victims of sexual abuse by any abuser.

Perhaps the Duggar case is an anomaly where the victims feel as if they were never victimized; however, I worry that faith and forgiveness have clouded Jill and Jessa’s judgement. Or, could it be a case of the family closing ranks, hoping to protect not just the oldest child but the most important thing of all – the sham of a product that they call a reality TV series about family values? In either case the Duggar defense of the indefensible diminishes the need to protect victims of sexual abuse everywhere.

Thank goodness for guys like Jeff Anderson who take a stand against these predators. We should all follow Anderson’s lead, be mad as hell, and not be willing to take any more of making excuses for sexual predators or anyone else who uses a position of power to hurt people.

  Photo credits: gossipbunch,intouchweekly,huffingtonpost,ecollege.edu, joemiller.us

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