Twenty-five years or so ago, I was having one of those fun "what if" discussions with a group of friends.
We were gathered around a wooden table in a little hole-in-the-wall coffee shop. Jazz played quietly in the background. The décor was late 80's-early 90's chic, with lots of reproduced art deco posters on the walls, big chairs to sit in for the loners and ferns hanging from the ceiling in macramé holders.
There was no FaceBook, SnapChat, What's App, or anything that even vaguely resembles the online phenomenon today. Some of us were nerdy enough to have a presence on a BBS board somewhere but most social interaction still took place in places like I remember - cool little coffee shops where the most exotic thing you could order was a cappuccino or an espresso (which would be served in little cups so you could pretend you were in Italy).
I was newly sober - maybe a little over a year or so - and just managing to recapture some of my ability to think. After nearly a decade of alcohol and cocaine-fueled discussions with other freaks, being able to have a rational discussion was once again being introduced to me and I was loving it. I was not yet returned to The Church, but I was back in a relationship with God and starting to heal from my own sexual abuse issues. I still had a long way to go, but the fact that I could sit at a table and discuss something - anything -in the presence of men I did not know and trust was huge.
The discussion turned to the McMartin PreSchool Case which had broken open in 1983 with an explosion that had rocked the country. People had made signs, gathered in front of the courthouse, and screamed horrible things at the accused, convinced that no child would EVER make up anything as horrific as that with which the defendants were being charged. "No one lies about this kind of stuff" was the mantra of the period. We watched, with glee, as a family once beloved in the community was destroyed. They were thrown into prison, vilified in the press and literally reduced to rubble. At the end, after SEVEN YEARS, there were no convictions.
None. In fact the one guy that was probably guilty of exposing himself to children slipped through the prosecution's fingers because they botched the investigation so much. The wild accusations of tunnels beneath the school, ritual abuse, animal sacrifice and satanic worship? All fell apart....all of it.
What bothered us all about this situation was the leap we all admitted to taking when this case first broke. The idea that children had been preyed upon was horrible. Add to that the concept that a little old lady and her family, known in the community as people dedicated to caring for and nurturing children, could carry on a demonic campaign against the most vulnerable members of our tribe was really ugly. We were shocked and we were disgusted and we believed the experts when they said kids cannot lie about sexual abuse.
Having to eventually say, "Ooops. Sorry"?
Yeah, see that was tough too. Because by the time the dust settled, and it was determined that none of the accusations were true. Of course it was way too late for the McMartins. Their life work was destroyed.
We had to look at the whole premise of abuse victims and lying and be willing to learn about the nuances of a situation, how children can be lead to state (with conviction) that certain things had happened to them or that they had been exposed to behaviors that had never taken place. To realize that the victims were both the kids AND the adults that had been accused had been rather unsettling for us. It meant we had made a decision too soon. It meant we had not employed our critical thinking skills in any real way.
It meant we had made a mistake - and had been swept along by the hysteria of the times.
Descending upon an issue and taking sides immediately has, as result of the hysteria over child abuse accusations during the 1980's, remained distasteful to me. Wanting to wait until facts are in and investigations are done, requires patience, has stood me in good stead. I may not have always reached the right conclusion, but I have resisted again and again the 'let's leap onto this wonderfully decorated and well staffed bandwagon' through several high profile cases. I am saddened by accusations. I am immediately ready to hear more, to pause and wait, but what I am never ready to do is to leap to a conclusion when I know that doing so can ruin someone's life. I have also, because of taking this position, not ever had too much trouble saying, "Wow, I was absolutely wrong to think so-and-so is guilty of murder" when it has been determined that I was, well, wrong.
The idea that 'no one lies about stuff like that' is absolutely ridiculous. Of course people lie about being raped or beaten up or attacked or kidnapped. Good heavens, people lie about going to the supermarket on a Saturday to buy candy.
The possibility that a rape or sexual assault victim can never be mistaken in their identification of the perpetrator is ALSO ridiculous. Men have been released from prison after spending the majority of their lives there when DNA evidence has proven that, despite being identified from a witness stand by a traumatized victim they were innocent of the crime of which they had been accused. When a prominent Catholic Blogger declares that he is not worried about being accused of rape, and neither are his sons, because they are not guilty of rape he is showing a marked lack of knowledge (and leaving himself open, in today's world, to a vulnerability that is not very smart).
The idea that an accusation cannot be politically motivated is also silly. Of course it can, just as the attitude towards an accusation by the free press can pretty much steer the collective conscious of a nation.
I can fall prey to salacious ideas as easily as the next person. What I am trying to do is NOT allow those ideas to determine my opinion until I can gather as much information as possible for someone in my position. I am not a big shot. I am a small part of a greater whole. I can only make a decision based on information given to me. When I reach a conclusion, I am more than willing to say, "I was wrong" if more information is made available that shows me that my conclusion was misguided.
What I cannot, in good conscience, do is vilify an entire group of people based on their gender and their color and declare them horrific. That is not who I am...and it is not being a good Catholic.
No matter what the outcome of this latest scream fest on social media, I have been given some real insight into the inability of a lot of people's inability to think. I have seen their soul displayed, so to speak, and while I know that they can change - because, after all, I changed - it makes me wary of trusting their insight, their ideas or their take on anything.
I have learned a lot.
I have learned how much I miss an old fashioned coffee shop and a late night Bull Session.....with men and women of grace and dignity.