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June 15, 2014

It's a mistake to ignore messes

St. Louis Catholic Archbishop Robert Carlson drew the ire and derision of many people this week after testifying in a lawsuit deposition that he wasn't sure he knew years ago that it was a crime for an adult to have sex with a child.

The archdiocese said his remarks were taken out of context, but it's perfectly clear what he was doing. He was trying to justify why, when he was in the Archdiocese of Minneapolis-St. Paul, law enforcement wasn't called in to investigate allegations that a priest had sexually abused a minor.

Leaders in the Belleville Catholic Diocese, Freeburg School District 70 and St. Clair County government would have similarly difficult times explaining why they never reported the sexual abuse or harassment that went on in their jurisdictions. Their failure to quickly respond to the problems, more so than the problems themselves, have cost people collectively millions of dollars.

A fifth former Freeburg student just filed a lawsuit alleging he was sexually abused by former Superintendent Robin Hawkins. The district has paid four other former students a combined $5.6 million to settle their claims. Another cost: Hawkins took his own life.

The Belleville Diocese has paid millions of dollars to people who said they were abused as children by priests, including $7.5 million in just two cases.

And St. Clair County just paid $665,000 to five employees of the clerk's office who alleged they were sexually harassed by former clerk Bob Delaney over a number of years.

Cleaning up messes like these are difficult, but sweeping the problems under the rug doesn't solve anything either. With time, it's much more likely the mess will get worse -- and be much more difficult to explain.

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