Academic journal article Text Matters

Testimony, Responsibility and Recognition: A Ricoeurian Response to Crises of Sexual Abuse

Academic journal article Text Matters

Testimony, Responsibility and Recognition: A Ricoeurian Response to Crises of Sexual Abuse

Article excerpt


In 2002, the Boston Globe broke a story about allegations of sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic archdiocese of Boston ("Spotlight Investigation: Abuse in the Catholic Church").1 Not only did these allegations prove true, but the sexual abuse scandal in Boston turned out to be a watershed moment for victims of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church worldwide. Not only have individual cases of sexual abuse come to light in diocese around the world, but compounding this scandal is the fact that, since 2002, it has come to light that for decades before, and since, the public exposure of this abuse, the Church-at the local and international levels- actively pursued a strategy of "cover-up" and sought to keep this information from being publically revealed (see Hamilton 67-96). Since 2002, the Church has remained ineffective in addressing its sexual abuse crisis, and unable to provide an adequate explanation for its secrecy.

In 2010, the Boy Scouts of America were ordered to pay over $18.5 million to a Scout who had been sexually abused in the 1980s by a Scout leader (Associated Press). Once again, what made this case problematic- beyond the sexual abuse-was the evidence presented in court that indicated the organization's knowledge of the problem, and, consequently, the actions they took, not to protect the scout in question, but to protect the reputation of the organization (McGreal). Secrecy and cover-up prevailed, where responsibility and justice should have been the order of the day.

In 2011, a former assistant football coach at Penn State, Jerry Sandusky, was indicted by a grand jury for sexually abusing a number of young men while employed at the university ("Times Topics"). Once again, the scandal of Sandusky's sexual abuse took on new life when it came to light that when brought to the attention of Sandusky's superiors in the football program, as well as to a number of administrators at the university, the decision was made to cover up the situation, and keep it out of the public eye, rather than report it to the proper authorities. These individuals chose to protect their own interests and their own personnel, at the expense of the young men who continued to be abused.

The aforementioned examples of sexual abuse point to two things: first, the phenomenon of the sexual abuse of minors-a phenomenon that is both shocking and frightening; second, each of these institutions, when faced with the reality of sexual abuse within their ranks, chose to actively conceal this information from the public eye, and cover up the transgressions of their respective communities. The sexual abuse of minors is a tragedy in and of itself, but the compounding of this tragedy through decisions and actions taken to cover up, rather than address and end, the problem of sexual abuse calls for pause-at the very least-from all those involved in these, and similar, communities.

The question must be asked: how can we respond to crises of sexual abuse more adequately? What are the resources we can enact to achieve this end? This, therefore, is the question I would like to address in this article, and I will do so from within the philosophical hermeneutics of Paul Ricoeur. Ricoeur, however, is not just an accidental conversation partner in these deliberations. The philosophical resources Ricoeur provides-specifically through the concepts of testimony, responsibility, and recognition- shed light, not only on the challenging phenomenon of sexual abuse itself, but on the potential avenues for attending to these crises latent within the dialectical tensions grounding these hermeneutical possibilities. Thus, the question from this point of view becomes: what resources does Ricoeur provide to help us approach crises of sexual abuse, understand-as much as possible-what happened, and evaluate potential avenues for us to move forward in the shadow of these crises?

In order to address this question, this article will proceed along the following lines. …

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