In the wake of the scandal at Penn State University, the public dialogue has suggested that Americans are both shocked by the incidents of sexual abuse and appalled by the extensive cover-up perpetrated by top officials at the University. There is now increased awareness that predators will utilize the very institutions designed to help protect and save vulnerable children to gain access to and abuse children.
This week that violation of trust has shifted to Minnesota. On Sunday, November 12, 2011, the St. Cloud Times reported on allegations of child sexual abuse by a man, Michael Willard Weber, who served as a deacon in the diocese in 1969 and 1970. Two police reports have recently been filed against Weber.
Importantly, Michael Weber has been serving in several prominent roles in the community. He is a board member of the Greater Twin Cities United Way and (as recently as March of this year) was President and CEO of Volunteers of America-Minnesota. Perhaps, most offensively, Weber has been actively involved in organizations concerned with preventing the abuse and exploitation of children. Weber was once associated director and acting executive director of the National Committee to Prevent Child Abuse, and he is the chairman of the board of Rainbow Research, an organization allegedly experienced in designing programs and services dedicated to the prevention and protection of children, youth, and families.
Given Weber’s affiliation with these prominent organizations and the desire to avoid public scandal, Weber has quickly been removed from the websites of St. John’s University, the Greater Twin Cities United Way, and Rainbow Research. This behavior of scandal avoidance, however, is the root of the problem.
Americans are angered at the violation of trust from our institutions, such as Penn State University and Sandusky’s non-profit organization, the Second Mile. The fact that child predators are able to insinuate themselves into our communities and into programs and activities designed to protect children is frightening. The Penn State scandal and the local case of Michael Weber are wake-up calls for vigilance and determination. In order to move on from these recent revelations, we must learn from them. We must demand that light be shed on the truth. We must seek greater accountability in both our public and private institutions. And we must be vigilant in exposing child predators and the institutions that protect them.