Nearly everywhere, pedophilia earns its perpetrators the full villagers-with-torches treatment. We don't want them in our communities, we don't want them in our world. Even in prison they're outcasts, becoming the moral underclass of the moral underclass the untouchables' untouchables chased into the rabbit hole of protective isolation and mauled to death if they emerge. And be honest: Do they deserve any better? Maybe not. But maybe society as a whole does. The nation teetered between sorrow and rage last week after Charles Roberts, a 32-year-old milkman in Pennsylvania's Amish country, committed his incomprehensible murders of five girls in a one-room schoolhouse, before turning his gun on himself. The fury over Roberts' savagery was made worse when he told his wife by cell phone shortly before the killings that he had molested two toddler relatives, both of them girls, when he was 12 and that he had been having dreams lately of committing more such abuses. He also brought various kinds of carnal equipment with him into the school with the apparent intention of acting those dreams out on his victims before shooting them.
But in the long prelude to last week's black acts, there might have been a thin shaft of light, and that light might have been an opportunity missed. Roberts was a killer 20 years in the making that's 20 years of being haunted by what he may have done when he was 12 (the now grown relatives say they have no memories of any such incidents), and 20 years in which he could have stepped forward and sought help.
The question is, Could he really have stepped forward? Would anyone with even the faintest pedophiliac stirrings dare? The blunt instrument with which the culture defines pedophilia and the utterly unforgiving way with which we react to it may simply make it impossible. In the same week in which the Amish were burying their dead, Robert Fontanez, a 27-year-old Delaware man, received a sentence of five years for negligent homicide as punishment for beating a 77-year-old neighbor to death after his five-year old daughter accused the man of touching her inappropriately. A medical exam of the child showed no sign of the assault. Maybe the dead man did it, maybe he didn't. In either case, does anyone believe Fontanez would have gotten off so easily if the lethal beating had been a result of road rage?