I was raised Roman Catholic at the tail end of an era of seeing priests as infallible, as inherently good. It was unthinkable to question a priest’s motives or moral authority even if my own survival depended on it.
In the article “Ex-Cop to Americans, ‘I’m a Black Ex-Cop, and this is the Real Truth About Race and Policing’” Jay Syrmopoulos mentions a recent Gallup poll where Americans rank police in a list of top five ethical professions which also ironically includes clergy. The irony feels meaningful.
Do I think that a majority of priests sexually abuse children? Heck no. I believe an overwhelming majority answer the call to the priesthood to do good work. A very small minority of priests actively hurt children, but—and this is a big but—the system protected that small minority in such profound ways that it forever altered the system for the worse until it became impossible to see any good. For the Catholic Church to harbor the insidious evil that it did and to do the damage that it did, it required good priests and non-clergy to ignore the un-ignorable over centuries.
Racism is at the core of a similar sickness in this country’s police force. Do I think that an overwhelming majority of police officers are good people who entered policing wanting to be helpful? Yes. Yet I think much like the Catholic priesthood of a few decades ago there is a systemic sickness of which we (white Americans) are only beginning to see the tip of the iceberg. Talk of a few bad apples, better training, etc., masks the systemic sickness. That isn’t the cure any more than moving priests around healed the church and protected children.
When we call for and work for systemic reform of policing and judicial systems, and the abolishment of the prison industrial complex, it isn’t anti-police. It’s a call to up-end a whole toxic system that makes it possible for the pursuit of justice to really mean Justice.