It’s no longer just a skeleton in the cupboard. It’s more likely to be a crime in the form of sexual harassment or assault they thought they could get away with. That’s what some of us may be inclined to think as we read the revelations about Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and other predators. I, of course, think of my schoolmate, Brother Christopher Wade, the Marist school headmaster recently judged guilty of acts of pederasty, including one on the site of our old Alma Mater at Kogarah, where we were kids in the same class from 1945 to 1952 – the year before we both entered a Religious Order.
Even if you and I do not wake up nights, sweating about sex crimes in our own past, none of us can claim to have a lily-white, innocent personal history. It may not have been a crime, but what we did was wrong, and our conscience still plagues us. Catholics have a ready-to-hand solution to sleepless nights or even just pangs of conscience : Confession, Absolution, Oblivion. For the rest of us, it’s not so easy. Conscience-money donated to the Red Cross or Doctors without Borders is one way. Of course, if it involved fraud or theft and the victim or his/her family is still around, direct repayment is the way to go. But for some of the harm we’ve done, money won’t cut the mustard.
Libel, character-assassination, injustice or aggression that resulted in physical, psychological or professional harm or financial loss – once we admit it – must not be ignored. We must come up with some form of reparation, if that is possible, or at least with some “good deed”, an inevitably inadequate way to at least help repair the damage. Others will suggest this is masochism : better to be zen about it and try to forget the whole mess. It’s your – and my – call. Even if no one ever discovers what we did – or didn’t – do, better to admit it at least to ourselves and do what we can to make up for it. Hiding it under a bushel, hoping no one will ever find out, is a fool’s game, as some smart people are discovering right now. Buying the victim’s silence, if not forgiveness, is hardly a solution, but saying “sorry !” is a first step. The worst decision is denial. I still hope my mate Billy, presently serving an 18-month prison-sentence, finds the guts to admit he did what he did and say he’s sorry. Lucky people like me – without burdens quite like Billy’s – should at least try to imagine how hard that must be.