The Orchards of Police and Priests: lessons from clergy abuse scandal

Police Priests Lessons Kelly

Title: The Orchards of Police and Priests: lessons from clergy abuse scandal

Author: Pastor Kelly

Publisher: Ronald United Methodist Church Blog

Date: 30JUN2020

“In seminary, you’re taught to use your power for service, and corruption happens when you lose the service and it’s only about that power.”
– Jim Keenan, a Jesuit priest and son of a police officer.

It’s impossible to imagine what it might look like if Catholic priests and clergy from other denominations had a gun and a badge, though I do know one or two bi-vocational pastors who are also employed as local “constables.”

In light of the current nationwide debate about policing in America, it may be worth reflecting on lessons learned from the clergy abuse scandal. While the parallels are not exact, there are many worth considering. As John W. Miller wrote in America the Jesus Review, “priests and police both wear iconic uniforms and perform service work for their communities. Both have at times commanded immense public trust that has now been eroded. Both are fiercely loyal to their ’professional’ communities with good and bad consequences.”

It took decades of abuse and hundreds of victims sharing their stories before the public began to take notice enough to demand justice. Similarly, reports of police using racial profiling, excessive force, and over policing are not new. However, the ubiquity of cell phones means that every encounter with law enforcement may be recorded, shared and publicly scrutinized by a nation that has come to believe there really is a problem.

When bishops and other leaders in the church learned of clergy misconduct, many simply moved the priest from one parish to another, spreading the abuse from one community to another. Similarly, without a national database to track officers who have been suspended or dismissed for use of force or other improper behavior, these same officers can be hired by departments in other communities.

Allowing these officers to remain in law enforcement is irresponsible and dangerous; it allows seeds of toxic behavior to spread like a dandelion blown in the wind. And like dandelions, given the tiniest crack, toxic behavior can germinate and thrive.

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