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No more passing the trash in schools and churches

Posted in Child Abuse on Friday, January 22, 2016.

There is a term that is sometimes used in connection with allegations of child sex abuse. That term is “passing the trash.” When a teacher (or other school employee) is accused of abusing children, they should be turned over to police and publicly fired. Too often, however, the employer allows that employee to quietly resign and look for work elsewhere. The employer may even provide a recommendation, omitting any mention of sexual abuse allegations.

Employers (and others) who do this are “passing the trash.” They care more about protecting themselves and their reputation of their organization than they do about protecting children. Most sex abusers who are relocated instead of punished will go on to abuse other victims. Pennsylvania enacted a passing-the-trash law in late 2014 to prevent this from happening in schools.

Unfortunately, this practice is also common in other organizations that allow abusers access to children. Perhaps the most blatant example is the Catholic Church, which has a lengthy history of quietly settling abuse allegations with victims, then moving the priests to other parishes or even to other states. When the truth finally comes to light in these cases, it is plain to see that abusive priests have committed acts of sexual abuse nearly everywhere they have been assigned.

Thankfully, news reporters and victim advocacy groups are making it harder for the Catholic Church to pass the trash quietly. One recent move has gained national attention and outrage.

In June 2015, John Nienstedt resigned after serving as the Archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis for about seven years. The archdiocese has been mired in sexual abuse allegations and lawsuits, and there is considerable evidence to suggest that Nienstedt was aware of these acts of abuse and helped cover them up. Yet when he resigned, Nienstedt made sure to note that he was leaving “with a clear conscience.”

Recently, a priest in Battle Creek, Michigan, made a nonchalant announcement in a church bulletin. Citing personal health concerns, the priest mentioned that he would be bringing in an occasional substitute to fill in for him. The fill-in priest would be “retired” Archbishop John Nienstedt.

There’s a good possibility that the two men expected to make this move quietly and without controversy. Thankfully, that was not allowed to happen. The parishioners in Battle Creek are now making their outrage known.

Passing the trash is a practice that can no longer be allowed to continue if the Catholic Church wants to regain trust and credibility. Hopefully, this incident will serve as a wake-up call to church officials.