Sexual Abuse

'Spotlight' and the Value of Truth-telling

Spotlight cast

Spotlight cast, via Open Road Films

Early in the film Spotlight, about the Boston Globe investigative reporting team that exposed the decades-long cover-up of sex abuse by Catholic church leaders, a Globe reporter is shown at Mass with her grandmother. The priest, launching his homily, says, “Knowledge is one thing. Faith is another.”

In a simplistic film, this binary statement might set the tone for a black-and-white portrait of journalists as pure heroes and people of faith as solely hypocrites and worse. But Spotlight works with characters not caricatures; not one-dimensional heroes and villains, but real people who sometimes choose expediency and sometimes courage. No one is shown to be flawless, not even the reporters and editors who do great good in bringing to light systemic crimes.

But the movie does illustrate quite clearly one tension between knowledge and faith: The guardians of institutions, including churches, can fear knowledge to the point of pathology. 

I Was John Howard Yoder's Graduate Assistant. Should I Still Use His Work?

Image via /

For me, the question of what to do with Yoder is not only an academic issue but a personal one. I was Yoder’s graduate assistant — and would be his next-to-last — for two years. Academically, how I teach my “War and Peace in the Christian Tradition” course is indebted in great extent to what I learned from him. As evident in numerous footnotes, my scholarship and publications, including for Sojourners, over the last two decades on just war and just policing also owe a lot to both his research and his mentoring.

Nevertheless, after this semester, I am leaning towards Blanton’s recommendation of setting Yoder’s work aside, at least for the foreseeable future. I think it is now possible to rely on the work of others for persuasive defenses of nonviolence and for strong critiques of Niebuhrian realism. I struggled over whether to use one of his books or essays in my course this semester. I hesitated to say anything about Yoder’s misconduct to my students. It took me a while before I did so.

What to do with Yoder? I’m not sure.

‘God Weeps,’ Says Pope Francis, Calling For Accountability on Sex Abuse Crimes

Image via Cathleen Falsani/Sojourners

Pope Francis began the final day of his U.S. visit by meeting privately with five adults abused as children by clergy, teachers, or family members, telling them they should expect the church to look after them and vowing “the zealous vigilance of the church to protect children and the promise of accountability for all,” including bishops.

“For those who were abused by a member of the clergy, I am deeply sorry for the times when you or your family spoke out, to report the abuse, but you were not heard or believed. Please know that the Holy Father hears and believes you,” he told the three women and two men — who he called “survivors” — at the private meeting at a seminary here on Sept. 27.

A leading victims’ advocacy group in the U.S. quickly dismissed the meeting as another “feel good, do nothing” papal meeting with survivors. This is the second time Francis has met with victims; the first was in the Vatican in July last year.

According to the Vatican’s account of the meeting, Francis expressed “deep regret” that some bishops shielded abusive priests, and added: “I pledge to you that we will follow the path of truth wherever it may lead. Clergy and bishops will be held accountable when they abuse or fail to protect children.”

The pope praised the witness of the victims, who were not identified, and said their presence was “so generously given despite the anger and pain you have experienced.”

Lady Gaga's New Video Shows the Reality of Campus Assault, and How We Can Help

Screenshot from 'Til It Happens to You'/YouTube

Unlike her previous music videos, known for their theatrics and intricate dance numbers, Lady Gaga’s new video “ Til It Happens to You” opens on a simple black and white shot of a college dorm. Like most dorms across the country, the walls are sparse cinderblock, the floors are tiled, and the desk and beds are made of heavily lacquered pinewood.

Like many dorms across the country, this set is the scene of multiple sexual assaults. More than one-in-five women are sexually assaulted or raped on college campuses each year. Lady Gaga’s video was made in conjunction with the documentary film on campus rape, The Hunting Ground, and the stories her video portrays are both unique in their details and disconcertingly familiar.

There are harrowing scenes to watch, but the video does not end on the nights of the assaults. Each survivor has to deal with the trauma in her own way. They pull away from their friends. One fears the bathroom and stops showering. The two friends are unable to talk about what happened and one drops out of school.

Finding Healing Through Theater

Image via Africa Studio/

Image via Africa Studio/

Kranti is Hindi for "revolution." Indeed, this extraordinary organization is working to erase the heavy labels that come with being born, raised, and even trafficked in Kamathipura. Laal Batti Express ("Red Light Express") is a three-segment depiction of the girl’s delightful and dark stories, of which each performer was asked to add three.

"We call the girls revolutionaries," Robin said.

A Duet of Demise

Sepp Blatter & Dennis Hastert

Sepp Blatter in 2007 kojoku /; Dennis Hastert in 2005 by Doug Bowman via

My experience in the worlds of both religion and politics convinces me that one of three issues is at the heart of the catastrophic demise of any leader — money, sex, or power. Sometimes it’s a trifecta of all three together, like the case of John Edwards, the former Democratic presidential candidate. But in virtually every case, a leader’s personal inability to exercise appropriate constraint and control over one or more of these three dimensions of life can lead to careers that crumble and reputations that become shattered.

That’s why, despite all the fascination on the external qualities, traits, and strategies of successful leaders, it’s their internal lives that can be far more decisive in their long-term ability to be transformative leaders — or not. But that requires attentiveness to the powerful but often hidden dynamics of one’s interior life, which “successful” leaders rarely have the time or courage to undertake.

Australians Push for Vatican Cardinal to Testify on Abuse

Photo via REUTERS / Tony Gentile / RNS

Australian Cardinal George Pell arrives for a meeting in the Vatican on March 6, 2013. Photo via REUTERS / Tony Gentile / RNS

More than 55,000 people have signed a petition calling for Cardinal George Pell to return to his native Australia and face a government commission on child sex abuse, after allegations that he tried to bribe the victim of a pedophile priest.

Addressed to Pope Francis, the petition calls for Pell — the Vatican’s financial chief and former archbishop of Sydney — to answer questions from Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

What I Learned from 'The Hunting Ground:' I Am A Part of Rape Culture

Screenshot from 'The Hunting Ground' trailer.

Screenshot from 'The Hunting Ground' trailer.

During my freshman year of college, a girl who lived in my dorm was raped. It was during the first month of school. I didn’t know her well. As the rumors spread, I remember thinking, “Oh yeah, the blonde with the big boobs.”

I remember having a conversation with my friend about how nice the accused boy seemed. I remember that friend replying, “She did wear low cut shirts during orientation — makes sense she would start a rumor like that.”

The survivor transferred from my college the following semester.

During my senior year of college, my best friend was the president of his fraternity. During the fall semester, there was a reported case of rape that occurred with two males and one female in the basement during a party. All I remember is how stressed my friend was because, as president, he had to deal with the legal proceedings of the case. The case was closed without either of the men being prosecuted. I remember being upset because my favorite fraternity was put on probation (no parties on the weekend) for two months. I never knew the survivor.

The documentary The Hunting Ground taught me I was part of campus rape culture, and I didn’t even realize it. It is estimated that between 20 percent and 25 percent of women experience completed or attempted rape over the course of a college career. That means for every 1,000 women attending a college or university, there are 35 incidents of rape each academic year.

Rape Culture Is Real

The rape of the Sabine women, Florence Italy. Image courtesy Markus Gann/shutter

The rape of the Sabine women, Florence Italy. Image courtesy Markus Gann/

The term "rape culture" is a sociological theory in which individuals who sexually harass and assault others are given a social license to do so, as they live in a society that makes excuses for perpetrators and blames victims for their own abuse. Feminist theorists often argue that rape culture beliefs are socialized into young men and women from childhood. Young men are socialized into beliefs that they have power and/or control and entitlement over others' bodies from a very young age. Likewise young women are socialized into believing they control men’s desire and lust via their clothing, behavior, and attractiveness. The theory of rape culture argues that these social beliefs facilitate sexual harassment, inappropriate sexual touch, sexual assault, and sexual objectification of others by reducing the stigma of engaging in unwanted sexual behavior and by increasing a since of entitlement from men towards women.

In Christian spheres of influence there has been an increasing focus — via Sojourners, Christians for Biblical Equality, and likeminded groups — to exposing how social beliefs, church leaders, and authoritarian theology has contributed to rape culture beliefs in the church and in the larger community. This focus comes in the midst of a media debate between social conservatives and social progressives about the very existence of rape culture. Inspired by conservative opposition to the recent publicity from the White House on the epidemic of sexual assault on college campuses, this debate was further inflamed by the retraction of a Rolling Stone article about allegations of sexual assault at the University of Virginia. In response, it has become popular in recent months for conservative commentators to argue that there is no such thing as "rape culture."

This escalation of rhetorical debate is dangerous because it distracts from the real concern that rape culture theory was developed to address — that we help socialize dangerous behavior in children by our actions, inactions, and modeled beliefs.