Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Why isn't this national news?

I want to preface this post by saying that I'm not posting this as a kind of "See, abuse of children takes place in lots of places by lots of sick people, not just in the Catholic church by evil priests!" thing.  We Catholics don't help the abused by such tactics, and admitting that bad things happened and that we're trying to affect positive changes in the Church that will make it harder for predators to gain access to children should be said without qualification.

At the same time, when I read the following story, I wondered why it wasn't all over the national news:
In October 2012, Lori Janczewski was diagnosed with cancer. Days later they received more heartbreaking news.

“Four days after my wife was diagnosed, a state trooper came out to our house and we found out our son was molested,” said  Janczewski, who is also fighting his own battle with Multiple Sclerosis. “Somebody sent an anonymous email with pictures of my son to the board of education and the superintendent.”

The email and pictures proved Erickson “was a predator and he groomed our son to molest him,” he said.

Someone also posted the pictures online.

“They never found out who sent the emails and brought it to the surface,” Janczewski said. “On the one hand, we’re very appreciative … but on the other hand, we’re angry. Why didn’t they come forward sooner? Why did they put the pictures on a porn site?”

Yet despite the horrible news, the family finally had an explanation for their son’s troublesome behavior. [...]

Despite the disturbing revelations, the Janczewskis were content to let the legal process take its course. They kept a low profile and followed Erickson’s criminal case closely. Erickson admitted to his misdeeds, and the couple attended his sentencing July 10.

That’s when they learned for the first time that numerous teachers in the school district wrote to the court to plead for a lenient sentence for their colleague. They were shocked to see several teachers – and school board member Mike Eagan – sitting across the courtroom with the sex offender’s family.
“Neal made a mistake,” teacher Sally Campbell wrote to the judge, according to the Ogemaw County Herald. “He allowed a mutual friendship to develop into much more. He realized his mistake and ended it years before someone anonymously sent something in to the authorities which began this legal process.”

“I am asking that Neal be given the absolute minimum sentence, considering all the circumstances surrounding this case,” wrote Amy Huber Eagan, a teacher and wife of board member Mike Eagan. “I am also hoping that he can stay remanded to the custody of the Ogemaw County Jail and not be sent to a prison facility.”

“Neal has pled (sic) guilty for his one criminal offense but he is not a predator,” teacher Harriett Coe wrote, according to the Herald. “This was an isolated incident. He understands the severity of his action and is sincere in his desire to make amends. He has been candid and conveyed his action to his family, friends and co-workers.”

In all, 10 people, including seven WB-RC teachers, submitted letters of support for Erickson, most pleading for a reduced sentence. They included Campbell, Amy Eagan, Coe, Toni Erickson, Carol Rau, Marilyn Glover, Sandi Lee, Kathryn Weber, Kathleen Sheel and Kathleen Palmer, the Herald reports.

It gets worse: when the family started demanding that these teachers be censured for rushing to support their son's molester, someone started a fire in the family's garage that did extensive damage; they have been harassed in the community as well, though it is fair to note that many supporters have now come forward to share their outrage at the teachers and the local school administration for their actions and words in support of the molester.

And that molester?  That predator who preyed upon this family's innocent son?  Not only was he the boy's math teacher--he was a former president of the Michigan teacher's union.


L. said...

At first, I thought my sympathies would be with the parents and the victim, until I read more. The father is demanding the other teachers be FIRED? For supporting their friend, who did a monstrous thing but (one would hope) is contrite -- and these supporters didn't ask that the verdict be overturned, or that he be allowed around children again, just that he be given a reduced sentence for the crime of which he was convicted?

Sorry, this dad is WAAAAAAAAAAAY out of line. (But the threats and violence against his property are reprehensible.)

And I agree, it SHOULD be national news.

L. said...

Oh -- you can sign my comment with my real name, which I am using on blogs now.
It's Lisa Twaronite.

L. said...

Here's more coverage from a Detroit paper:

L. said...

....and here's what I think is pretty balanced editorial in the local paper:,97683?category_id=3&town_id=7&sub_type=stories,photos

Geoff said...

As I've noted before, child molesters routinely seek out positions where they will be in positions of authority with unfettered access to children. Ministers, teachers, coaches, scout leaders, all of these jobs are attractive to them for precisely that reason.

So why is it not national news when a teacher molests a child?

Well, unlike most bishops in the Catholic Church, from what I've read, the school board took appropriate action. The teacher in question faced criminal charges and was convicted. That's what we should have gotten from the Catholic hierarchy, but didn't. Child molestation, sad to say, is a long-standing blight on humanity that we will probably never fully eradicate, but we can and should expect better of organizations like the Church that molesters are drawn to. So that's why molestation by priests has become national news.

As for supporting him in court, surely that's not a fireable offense.

Or are you suggesting that there are certain offenses for which criminals should not be permitted witnesses in their favor at sentencing? Even mass-murderers are allowed that.

Erickson, no doubt, is just like the rest of us: he's done both good things and bad things, had both good and bad impulses. The teachers he has worked with over the years no doubt have had lots of opportunities to see him at his best. Should that not be taken into account in sentencing?

If the teachers were suggesting that he shouldn't be punished at all or if they had tried to cover up what he was doing (like many Catholic bishops have done), then you would have a point. They didn't do that.

And finally, I have to ask why you think it's relevant that he was President of the Teachers' Union? Are you seriously suggesting that the union membership deliberately elected a child molester to lead them? Or that the union supports molestation of children? Or perhaps you're suggesting that the membership should have seen Erickson for what he was (in which case, the obvious question is why couldn't the Church do that?) The idea is preposterous.

It sounds to me like this case was handled appropriately from beginning to end. One wonders what your political agenda is in making such a fuss over it.

Red Cardigan said...

No, Geoff, I'm suggesting that his former union leadership in connection with the outpouring of support for this molester from teachers who still have daily contact with children and the fact that somebody tried to burn down this family's home with them in it is sort of newsworthy. Just a bit, you know.

Look: yes, criminals, even murderers, should have character witnesses permitted to them. But suppose for a moment that an employee of a shelter for battered women was convicted of rape and domestic violence against a woman who lived in the shelter. If you were a vulnerable woman, how much confidence would you have in the shelter if the shelter's employees rushed to defend this person, to say that he only committed rape against *one* woman, and that otherwise he was so good taking care of vulnerable women that you really think he should be punished very lightly or perhaps not at all?

The situation is analogous to me because essentially you have teachers rushing to say of this molester, "Oh, well, so he made a mistake. It was only one kid. Most of the time he's a great teacher. We think he shouldn't even get any prison time." If you were a child in one of these teachers' classes and you were being molested--by a teacher or by anyone else--how willing would you be to go to any of them for help?

Now suppose that the situation involved a parish priest. Suppose that the priest were convicted in criminal court and his pastor and half a dozen other parish employees, including the youth group leader, showed up at his sentencing to say, "Hey, it was only one kid! Father Thusandso has been *terrific* otherwise. He helps poor children all the time! He deserves the most lenient sentence the court can give him." If you were a parishioner, would you be fine with that? How much confidence would you have in the parish, its pastor, its youth group director, etc.? Especially if you were a parent?

L. said...

Well, since you asked.....
If a priest were convicted in criminal court and his pastor and half a dozen other parish employees, including the youth group leader, showed up at his sentencing as character witnesses asking for leniency, I would still have full faith in those parish employees, youth leaders, even teachers.

Make no mistake, I would not want the predator him(her)self around my, or anyone's, kids. But people don't stop being human even when they do monstrous deeds (particularly if they're genuinely contrite).

Being a character witness for a predator is not the same as condoning his/her crime, nor does it send a signal as such.

A private school has the right to consider the messages conveyed by its teachers' private conduct and dismiss them as it sees fit. A public school can't, unless it determines that the teachers themselves are a danger to students.

L. said...

Update -- the teachers weren't fired: