In early 2000, an episode of The West Wing aired in which a lawyer – in an effort to influence the White House to commute his client’s death sentence – convinces a rabbi to deliver a sermon on capital punishment during that week’s services as a senior aid to the President is known to sit among the attendees. The President, a devout Catholic, would himself go on to invite his longtime priest to the White House for a conversation on the topic which is obviously troubling him deeply. The episode is a thought-provoking look at religion’s influence on those who must balance their beliefs with their legislative responsibilities.
But what happens when trusted influencers use that influence in an attempt to protect and insulate themselves or their contemporaries from crimes – no, heinous crimes – that they themselves have allegedly committed?
Such events have been playing out in parishes, congregations, and Boy Scout troops across the country as organizations under fire for the ongoing sexual assault of children have taken their defenses directly to their pulpits.
In a recent story on USA Today, reporters took an in-depth look at the “playbook” being employed by the Catholic Church and Boy Scouts of America to shield themselves and those within their ranks from the implications of lengthening the statutes of limitations that dictate how long a victim of abuse has to bring a case against their abuser. The article opens with Pennsylvania state representative Tom Murt attending services at his childhood church, only to be given a sermon on the mistreatment of the Catholic Church by those working on such a bill in the Commonwealth’s legislature. The Church, according to the priest’s diatribe, was being singled out while crimes committed by others, such as public school teachers, were going unpunished.
Murt’s story is not unique. USA Today’s post tells of supporting lawmakers being disinvited from church functions, and church bulletins being used to publish member lawmakers’ positions on the legislation. For his part, however, Representative Murt has said that he will not be swayed. “I will defend the victims,” he said in an interview, “and I will fight for the victims in this case and in every case because they have been mistreated and they have been neglected.”