January 11, 2006

They look just like us

Boston Globe

By Eileen McNamara, Globe Columnist | January 11, 2006

Did we all make a New Year's resolution to forget the lessons we have learned the hard way?

Nice kids do drink and drive. Pillars of the community do molest children in their care.

We could have been living in Pleasantville instead of Greater Boston in the last week for the level of denial in circulation. First, it was the unwillingness to face the likelihood that alcohol played a part in the crash that killed two teenage sisters in Southborough. Now, it is incredulity that a popular high school teacher could stand accused of molesting a student in Maynard.

After all the booze-fueled car wrecks that have claimed the lives of football stars and merit scholars, after all the rape trials that have resulted in the convictions of beloved priests and trusted teachers, why do we persist in this kind of magical thinking?

Not her. Not him. Not here. Not us.

Prosecutors and child abuse therapists have to struggle against our collective wish not to think the worst of those of whom we are so inclined to believe the best. How could a teacher who has been so kind to his students, so instrumental in their academic success, and so supportive of their dreams be accused of exploiting their innocence?

Because that is how child molestation often happens. No one jumps out of the bushes. No one waits in the dark. Someone ingratiates himself into a child's life. Someone takes the time to win his trust. There is even a name for it: grooming.

Those of us in Boston should know that better than most. We have spent the last three years processing the hard reality that so many predatory men in Roman collars molested so many vulnerable children.

Did those men look like ogres, or did they look like respected authority figures? The Rev. Paul Shanley ministered to runaways and drug addicts on the city's streets in the 1960s and 1970s; he also abused many of them. The Rev. Robert E. Kelley was solicitous of the little girls in his parishes; he also raped dozens of them. The Rev. Ronald H. Paquin took altar boys on overnight camping trips to Maine; he raped some of them there.

Posted by kshaw at January 11, 2006 08:39 AM