KEVIN LEININGER: There’s a proper way to expose bad behavior, so why do we increasingly resort to mob justice?

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Kevin Leininger

Buried deep in the Friday’s story about Bishop Kevin Rhoades is now being accused of having had an “odd” relationship with a male several years ago was a sentence that can be defined as overdue or profoundly unjust only by facts still to come.

Since a Pittsburgh grand jury issued its report last month about how 301 Catholic priests and lay teachers had sexually abused more than 1,000 people in six Pennsylvania dioceses, Dauphin County District Attorney Fran Chardo said, his office has seen an increase in the number of complaints involving Catholic priests.

“A lie never lives to be old,” Socrates once optimistically observed, and even though legal statute of limitations may spare some wrongdoers criminal punishment, exposure of their deeds at any time is salutary nevertheless. But where, exactly, does the search for truth and justice end and a dangerous mob mentality begin? It’s an increasingly important question not just within the Roman Catholic Church, but in American politics and culture as well.

After allegations of sexual misconduct against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein surfaced last year, the resulting “me too” movement successfully encouraged other victims of other abusers to come forward — often years after the fact. In that sense, there is now a “me too” movement within the Catholic Church, as Rhoades now knows. His alleged victim died in 1996 and Rhoades, who was made bishop in Harrisburg in 2004, has been in Fort Wayne since 2005. As Chardo noted, a first-hand account of what did or didn’t happen is impossible, and Rhoades has not even been accused of a crime. Yet he must now issue denials of wrongdoing against a charge from the grave.

I have interviewed women who claim to have been abused by their childhood priests, and know how hard it was for them to challenge the authority of the church, even in adulthood. Still, it is undeniable that their years of silence allowed the very abuse they sought to expose to fester in secret, possibly exposing others to the same horrors they endured.

But it’s one thing for a child to report abuse by a stand-in for God almighty; quite another when adults who supposedly know right from wrong and possess the maturity to act accordingly do so only when shielded by time or anonymity. Many “me too” victims have been lauded for their bravery, but true bravery would have been to stand up to Weinstein and other alleged abusers when to do so could have threatened their popularity or employment.

Similarly, many have called former pro football player Colin Kaepernick and other athletes of the so-called “woke” movement heroes for raising awareness of America’s treatment of minorities. But how much courage does it take for millionaires to kneel during the national anthem in protest of a society that — by any objective and fair standard — has far less racial injustice than it did when true heroes literally risked their lives in the fight for civil rights?

Which brings us at long last to the anti-Trump “resistance,” the latest hero of which is the anonymous “senior White House official” who just penned an anonymous New York Times column informing the public that he and other members of the so-called “deep state” are covertly working to undermine the man elected president by 63 million Americans in order to protect the country from a man the author considers misguided, impetuous, petty, ineffective and amoral.

“Americans should know that there are adults in the room,” the official wrote, with no obvious discernment of his own elevated sense of self-importance.

Donald Trump may be all of those things, and more. Certainly his own words and actions invite such contempt all too often. But is the republic really threatened by attacks on the media? Policy flip-flops? A “preference for autocrats and dictators”? If so, a conservative mole in the Obama administration could have written a very similar piece — which no doubt would have elicited a very different response.

As a journalist, I use anonymous sources as sparingly as possible — and only if I have confidence in the source and understand and agree with the need for anonymity. In the Times’ case, however, the newspaper took the admittedly rare step of publishing the Trump piece because the writer’s job “would be jeopardized by its disclosure.”

Trump has been president for more than a year and a half. Assuming this person has been in the administration since inauguration day, why did he/she wait until now to sound the alarm? Why join an administration you consider dangerous or corrupt? If you didn’t know Trump was dangerous then, what does that say about your judgment now?

There are plenty of reasons to question and oppose Trump and his policies. To do so publicly is intrinsically American. To do so anonymously in order to protect power and position is not. It’s not brave to join the mob. True courage is about doing the right thing, at the right time and in the right way — no matter the personal cost. That’s how battles are won.

Can we get a “me too” movement for that?

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Kevin Leininger at kleininger@news-sentinel.com or call him at 461-8355.

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