A cloud still hangs over the many institutional circles in which the Rev. Robert Carlson moved and worked. Rev. Carlson took his own life by jumping from the Penobscot Narrows Bridge two months ago. That sudden, tragic departure from a very active public life raised more questions than can be answered by the investigations launched by law enforcement agencies. Those investigations centered on allegations that Rev. Carlson had sexually molested a young boy.
On Saturday, the BDN reported more troubling allegations about Rev. Carlson. It seems the educational qualifications and achievements he claimed on his resume were exaggerated or fabricated. Yet on the other side of the scale, reported in the same news story, were some of the undeniably positive impacts Rev. Carlson had on the Greater Bangor area.
But should we evaluate people with such a scale? If their good, public deeds somehow outweigh or perhaps balance out their bad, personal acts, must we give such people a pass? Or should we judge such people even more harshly, and conclude they are wolves in sheep clothing, using their public persona to prey on the vulnerable?
Armchair psychologists might posit that seriously flawed men, who are tortured by their dark, private failings, are driven to balance the scales themselves. They work to build a legacy of good deeds and perhaps persuade themselves that these more than offset their private sins.
Every institution with which Rev. Carlson was associated must be reeling with each new revelation.
The integrity of those institutions likely will be questioned given their inability to see Rev. Carlson clearly. This is unfair. The general public will never know whether Rev. Carlson’s professional colleagues had doubts about him, whether suspicions were reported, whether he was dismissed from some posts when enough doubts were raised.
And few of us have the ability to peer into the soul of another human with any degree of clarity.
Too often in the past, educated, professional men with public stature were treated differently when suspicions were raised about them than when allegations were raised about uneducated, less polished men. This double standard has begun to fade, as well it should.
The final legacy of the tragic story of Rev. Bob Carlson is that we will and must be a little less trusting, a little more skeptical and a little more vigilant about those who present themselves as public do-gooders. We can hope the institutions with which he was associated are not tainted by his failings, but some fallout is inevitable.
Sadly, there will be no resolution. Some of those who revered Rev. Carlson will be devastatingly disillusioned. Some will be angry. Others will continue to see him as a force for good. Just as his secrets were locked away, the final analysis will be held in individual hearts and minds.