February 12, 2019
By Steven B. Barrett, Esq.
Not many people know that the first three established “professions” were medicine, law, and the clergy. These distinct areas of practice became formalized during the Middle Ages. In each, persons (obviously only men then and for the next several centuries) had to undergo training in each field, typically at established institutions, and pass reviews and/or tests to evaluate the degree and breadth of knowledge necessary to practice. Also, each had a governing body that monitored and gauged members. Today, these would be considered medical and legal associations with the clergy being part of a scion or controlling denomination. These are the outward trappings of a profession, however. What each of these classic professions have in common is their purpose. Whether a lawyer, doctor, or priest, each has a fiduciary duty to those they are attending. These professions afford power to their members to do good. Their special training serves what purpose? To aid and help others with the specialized knowledge and skill they possess. The penultimate goal of a professional is to interact with one who needs guidance, assistance or care and, through the trust placed in the professional, the client, patient or parishioner will hopefully benefit. It is axiomatic, however, that with the power, the professional is to subordinate his or her own interests for purposes of seeing someone through a legal issue, medical problem, or spiritual crisis. Understanding the role of a professional makes the breaking of that trust – and abuse of that power — even more egregious. When Larry Nassar was found to have sexually abused the female gymnasts whom he was treating, he not only violated these young women physically, but broke their trust and his duty to ensure he would improve their well-being as a physician. Similarly, when an attorney is helping a client, but seizes on a client’s vulnerability in facing a legal challenge by making advances or having sexual relations, the lawyer has abused the necessary trust and has caused further harm to the client. And of course, clergy who are entrusted with the spiritual and emotional care of parishioners, particularly the youth whom they are shepherding, shatter the spirit and commit crimes when sexually abusing children. The breaking of someone’s trust is always difficult and can have devastating effects. However, professionals hold themselves out to the public that they are highly trained, competent, and wish to better those who come to them for assistance. In essence, professionals are advertising that they can be trusted. When abuse occurs, a professional’s power must be checked, curbed or taken away. Professionals must be held accountable.