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Prime Directive: Do Not Upset The System

Reader Becky writes, regarding the Catholic Church crisis:

I commented with this story several years ago, but it bears repeating. When my oldest child was a toddler and I was very pregnant with my second child, I found out that my mother was hiding the fact that two of my cousins had been arrested for possession of child pornography (to the tune of 50,000 files. I do not understand why they are not in jail for the rest of their lives, but they only got probation). She lives within reasonable weekend-trip driving distance and had been begging me to visit for months after she learned about their arrest–while knowing full well that if I visited, my child would be in the company of my pedophile cousins, who live in the same town and are frequently over at the house my mother shares with other family members.

Word eventually got around to one of my other cousins, who is about my age and also has young children, and he alerted me *immediately*, for which I will be forever grateful. I called my mom to confront her, and the first thing my mom did after we spoke was call my cousin and chew him out for spilling the beans.

She claims to understand why I was so angry and what she did wrong, but I don’t really believe her. At the time, she said she was just trying to protect the family. She thought it was no big deal because my child would not have been alone with them. (This is probably correct, but only because I had thought the cousins in question were shady for years–I don’t think my mother would have been especially vigilant if my toddler had wandered into a room and one of them had followed, for instance.)

I am never, ever going to get over the fact that my mom chose to protect her nephews over her own grandchildren. And she is never, ever going to understand the magnitude of her betrayal. Since my cousins are not in jail and live in the same town as her, my mother talks about them all the time despite my repeated requests that she never, ever mention them to me again.

My mother has had a lot of disappointment in her life. I don’t think she’s an evil person. If you asked her, she would tell you that my children are the most important people in her life.

But either my children are not actually the most important people in her life or–perhaps equally likely–their importance to her was not enough for her to prioritize their well-being over covering up family secrets.

And my mother will never, ever understand that what she did in an effort to “protect” the family has scarred her relationship with me and my children forever.

This doesn’t excuse the bishops or church hierarchy for their evil in the slightest, but I suspect there is something deep and enduring in human nature that encourages people to draw a veil over the darkness within themselves and the institutions in which they find themselves. I am missing that particular impulse and find it difficult to comprehend. I suspect we have at least that much in common.

Man, is that ever true to life. I’ve seen it play out in my own family, though not, thank God, over anything as serious as abuse. I think I’m missing something in my personality that understands how and why people do that. I recall that a friend of mine faced something similar in her family, and was told by an older relative that yes, we all know that ____ is a tyrant who pushes everybody around, but your duty is to be loyal to the family and take it like the rest of us. Another friend sat by helplessly as her father ran the family business into the ground, because none of the family members involved with the business dared to confront him about his own deep disorders. To have done so would have been disloyal, according to the family system.

What I find especially hard to take is those who, like Becky’s mother, insist that they are Good People, and therefore cannot be guilty of having done bad things. Becky’s Mom:

  1. I am a good person who loves family above all things;
  2. My daughter says I favor pedophile cousins over her own children, and in so doing show contempt for those children;
  3. If that were true, I would not be a good person;
  4. But I am a good person;
  5. Therefore it’s not true;
  6. And Becky is a louse for saying such mean things about her mother

This is not just a Catholic thing by any means. It’s a human thing — and it is so very, very destructive. It is destructive in part because it allows a system — a family, a church, a corporation, an institution — to avoid facing up to internal problems that could hurt it, even destroy it.


I’d like to hear from readers who have experienced this in their own lives. How did it work out in the end? Was the institution (family, church, etc) destroyed? Did you leave it? Or did it somehow come around to accepting that what you were saying was true, and act on it?

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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