Posted inEthics, Sex & Gender

Comments on the Catholic Sex Abuse Scandal

Reading Time: 10 minutes By Milliped (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
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I recently ran a pretty big article on the statistics for paedophilia in the Catholic Church, which received a number of very interesting comments that I think are worth sharing with you. Thanks muchly to the readership for indulging.

Astrin Ymris:

Many years ago in an online debate I pointed out that it didn’t really matter whether Catholic priest were more likely to molest minors than other professions or not. The issue is that other organizations with employees who commit such crimes either fire them or find them a position where they have no access to vulnerable children. IOW, at a bare minimum they have the savvy not to allow the creation of new victims by someone wearing the company uniform. Their true concern may be protecting their brand, but regardless of motivation, they aren’t enablers.

The baffling thing about the Catholic Sex Abuse Scandal is that none of the highly-educated and intelligent bishops, archbishops, and cardinals making decisions grasped the simple fact that for purely pragmatic reasons they needed to prevent the sex offenders in their ranks from continuing to molest further victims. Defrock them, assign them to say Mass at monasteries full of muscular contemplatives doing hard labor, send them to minister to men at high security federal prisons… hell, stick them in the Vatican basement to count the cockroaches in the wine cellars. Just keep them the hell away from children and vulnerable adults. It’s not rocket science.

Yet for some reason, the Magisterium couldn’t seem to grasp that setting sexual predators free in new pastures without warning anyone in the new parish that Father Toohandsy has a history of groping little girls* and should never be allowed unsupervised access to children. That shows such a blatant denial of reality that it’s hard to grasp.

*I read somewhere that the reason the victims seem to skew male is that molesting boys was seen as sufficiently perverse to warrant creating a written record. Female victims were considered simply an unfortunate failure of chastity, and not worth creating a file for. Besides, the girls had undoubtedly tempted him, even if they were only five. This is something else to take into consideration when interpreting the statistics. Just sayin’.

To which 

Their true concern may be protecting their brand, but regardless of motivation, they aren’t enablers.
– That’s an interesting point. I think it’s important for commercial enterprises. But the church is basically a monopoly with consumers who aren’t going to just switch to another brand. It’s rather like police. They get away with all manner of crimes because their fellow officers protect them. Their main concern is to keep news of transgressions from becoming public knowledge, but when it leaks |out, they close ranks in defense of the perpetrator. The public has no power to force them to clean house. They won’t just switch to a different brand.

I have two possible theories about the strange response, and they aren’t mutually exclusive. The hierarchy’s possessiveness and insecurity about their power blinded them to pragmatic solutions that would have preserved their power, and led them to instinctively defensive reactions. Or they viewed the problem as the offenders being tempted by homosexuality instead of abusing their power.

What I know of Catholic theology suggests that it doesn’t allow for the religion to be one of many in a secular society, but instead assumes that a society and its institutions are Catholic. A slightly different flavor of theocracy from the type pushed by Protestant fundamentalists. That showed when the lawyers defending Proposition 8 used badly secularized versions of Catholic teachings about sexuality and gender roles, such as claiming that elderly and infertile couples serve as role models for “responsible procreation.” Conveniently ignoring that same-sex couples can’t procreate except with outside assistance.

Luke Breuer stated:

What we need is the RCC coming clean on how it managed to pull it all off. In gruesome detail. Self-policing is no longer an option. They could not be trusted, and they can now only be trusted by outside-policing. But coming absolutely clean would divest them of power. Since when has the RCC voluntarily divested itself of power?

I await the Magisterium’s explanation on how it is obeying the following:

Therefore do not become partners with [the sons of disobedience]; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. (Ephesians 5:7–14a)

Why have they not, of their own accord, led by the Holy Spirit, brought the ‮ailihpodep‬ scandals to light? (Ok, plenty of Catholics in the US have worked toward this goal, but still.)

P.S. Rinse & repeat with any other organization, religious or non-.

You really have 3 separate questions:

1. Are they more likely to have the attraction to people who are underage?

2. Are they more likely to actually commit child sexual abuse?

3. Is the institutional structure more likely to cover up abuse, make it harder for victims, or otherwise take the side of the perpetrator over victims?

I have no idea what the answer to #1 is. I do have concerns that if someone is inclined to commit such crimes, it is more likely to happen in a setting where children are more vulnerable, in authoritarian settings, less able to report, more at risk of negative consequences if they try to resist or report and basically powerless. That’s part of the reason that rates of abuse were so high in residential schools, orphanages and “training schools”: there were no parents around and the kids were completely at the mercy of those in charge.

As for #3: that’s another sign that child abuse is more about power than just sex. Those who cover up and enable know full well that what they are doing is wrong, and they care more about the powerful institutions and adults than they do about child victims.

Emily has a personal slant to bring to the conversation:

I don’t think it’s possible to know whether or not Catholic priests sexually abuse more children than any other definable group does, there are too many people keeping too many secrets. All of the evidence and statistics are incomplete. But yeah, it’s safe to conclude that crimes by Catholic clergy are more likely to be covered up by a huge, wealthy international organization for the very simple reason that they’re more likely to be part of a a huge, wealthy international organization.

There are more legal claims and more money paid out (compared to other types of churches) because victims of Catholic priests have someone to sue. When you’re raped by a pastor in a denomination where oversight stops at the head pastor of the local congregation, you’re not likely to get far because the second question any law firm representative asks is “How much money does he have?” (The first being “what proof do you have”.) Unless the answer to both questions is “A LOT!” too bad, so sad. I’m not sure how you’re measuring accusations, but- no one’s gonna hear about those.

You want to hear something I’m kind of ashamed to admit? As someone who was raped by her youth pastor at a small independent Baptist church, I have at times been jealous of the Catholic victims who can band together in groups of 100 or more and sue their church -er- denominal organization- for millions of dollars. Like- they’re the “lucky” ones.
Weird, huh.

Anyway, I think we have to refrain from drawing conclusions about which group is more likely to offend since all of the available evidence is very obviously skewed. Because “we’re not Catholic so it’s not happening here” is a thing that people literally, actually say. And feeding that denial does a huge disservice to a lot of kids. Kids who grow up to be adults (…unless they don’t…) who carry the scars their entire lives.

I am willing to accept that Catholicism has the same percentage of pedophiles as the overall population. Let’s say that is 5%.

But the priesthood is not a random sample. The priesthood is a self-selected subset of catholic men. So take a population of 10,000 catholic men, of which 5% are pedophiles, and categorize them as “catholic priest” and “catholic but not-a-priest.” All things being equal, 5% of both groups would be pedophiles.

But all things are not equal.

The requirement for celibacy means that the percentage of men with normal, healthy sex drives will be greater in the not-a-priest group. The percentage of men who desire an open, long term, consensual relationship with an adult woman will be greater in the not-a-priest group than in the priest group.

Now consider. The catholic church created a perfect setup for pedophiles. Automatic, unearned deference. Unquestioned authority, backed up by the ability to threaten any disobedience or questioning with an eternity in hell. Unquestioned access to children. Access through confession to private thoughts and actions, along with the ability to lay on guilt. And all of this is in an organization with a centuries-long reputation of protecting its reputation and its priests at all costs. Of the 10,000 catholic men in our sample, those who want to abuse children will be strongly drawn to the priesthood.

It is absurd to think that this “pedophile’s dream” career would not attract pedophiles.

So yes, there will be more pedophiles in the priesthood than in the general population.

The situation with protestant clergy is a little less dramatic, but being a preacher still provides a good amount of deference, unearned respect and access to children. And this occurs in a culture that considers even the most basic, common sense precautions to indicate a “lack of faith.”

There is a reason I would not allow my children to attend a church activity unsupervised by me.

C Peterson replied:

And schools. The difference being that schools (the public ones, anyway) are largely proactive in detecting and weeding out pedophiles and sexual abusers. Not a perfect record, of course, but far, far better than the RCC or the BSA.

To which Cynthia agreed:

This. Anyone running any group or program where there is access to children needs to be proactive: assume that someone who is a pedophile could be around and try to abuse, and have protocols in place to address the risk. Do backgrounds checks. Limits opportunities for an adult to be alone unmonitored with a child. Teach young children about good touch and bad touch and that they can say no and tell someone if someone does something. Have a standard policy and training re mandatory reporting of abuse suspicions. Beware of any situation where authority is exercised and could be abused.

A few more. Carstonio stated:

It’s worth asking why lay Catholics who are disgusted by the abuse of power, or who knew of abuse by specific priests years ago, haven’t done more. Some have indeed left the Church. For others, the answer may be in the authoritarian culture of the denomination. In abusive families, children end up concluding that there’s nothing they can do except try to avoid behavior that they think might provoke the parent. A less extreme version may be involved with many lay Catholics – they’ve been taught to believe that questioning the Church hierarchy is wrong or sinful, seeing themselves as powerless to do anything.

To which Juniper replied:

Yup. The following quotes are from The Way by Josemaria Escriva, who was canonized (declared a saint) in 2002.

“Obey, as an instrument obeys in the hands of an artist, not stopping to consider the reasons for what it is doing, being sure that you will never be directed to do anything that is not good and for the glory of God.”

“ What a pity that whoever is in charge doesn’t give you good example! But, is it for his personal qualities that you obey him? Or do you conveniently interpret Saint Paul’s ‘obey your leaders’ with a qualification of your own…, ‘always provided they have virtues to my taste’?”

“Here is a safe doctrine that I want you to know: one’s own mind is a bad adviser, a poor pilot to steer the soul through the storms and tempests and among the reefs of the interior life.

That is why it is the will of God that the command of the ship be entrusted to a Master who, with his light and his knowledge, can guide us to a safe harbour.”

“ When a layman sets himself up as an expert on morals he often goes astray: laymen can only be disciples.” (Note: women can only ever be laypeople.)

“ A Priest — whoever he may be — is always another Christ.”

“ To love God and not venerate his Priests… is not possible.”

“Like the good sons of Noah, throw the mantle of charity over the defects you see in your father, the Priest.”

“ Never speak badly of your brother, not even when you have plenty of reasons. Go first to the Tabernacle, and then go to the priest your father, and tell him also what is worrying you.

And no one else.”

The Catholic church canonized pretty recently a man who demanded that people worship priests, cover up their faults, and obey with mindless amorality.

Finally, Dave Armstrong, a Catholic, attempted a defence:

As I said, I didn’t intend to get into this huge discussion, and I won’t be drawn into it. I have lots of articles about this sad topic posted on one of my pages. Yeah, I know: no one will go there because it gives me one-sixth of a penny (I need a truck to carry around all the pennies I get from Patheos). I don’t care. Do what you wish. I’m simply showing that I have dealt with this and don’t have my head in the sand.


He got short shrift from Raging Bee:

Hello again, Dave; and thanks for showing your true colors here.

First, I notice that article you cite starts with a list of articles about the Crusades, Inquisition and Burning Times. What the AF69 does that have to do with any child-sex-abuse scandal?!

And second, this little gem of yours leaped out at me:

The terrible revelations now being exposed can potentially be a huge wake-up call to reform seminaries, Catholic educational institutions, and the priesthood from the inroads of theological modernism, false psychological thinking, “political correctness,” heterodox, compromised teaching on sexuality, and relativist, non-traditional ethics and morality in general.

Which would be exactly the wrong, and worst, response to this sex-abuse scandal. Just for starters, clerical child-sex-abuse predates ALL of those things you say you want to purge from the Church. By CENTURIES. ETA: This was also happening in Ireland, back when it was a Catholic theocracy in all but name (Ireland IIRC didn’t even legalize birth-control until the 1990s).

Furthermore, it’s “political correctness, heterodox, compromised teaching on sexuality, relativist, non-traditional ethics and morality in general” that enabled us, as a society, to identify child-sexual-abuse as wrong and harmful in the first place, to enable its victims to speak out, and to investigate and call out the perpetrators. That’s not the problem, it’s the SOLUTION! And getting rid of the solution won’t solve the problem; it will only allow your Church to cover everything up, silence dissent, and continue, unchecked and unaccountable, for another generation, or until another wave of allegations comes out and your sad cycle of reaction and retrenchment starts up again.

Oh. My. Gods. I didn’t expect your response to this scandal to be all that helpful; but neither did I expect it to be as blatantly dishonest and evil as this. Congratulations, Dave, you actually managed to shock me.

Cynthia was in agreement:

I was about the post almost exactly the same thing.

He wasn’t posting a condemnation of the Church’s role in child sex abuse at all. He was doing the exact opposite: some whataboutism, some attempts to shift the target to the stuff that he doesn’t like without a shred of evidence that these things had anything whatsoever to do with the abuse, and a whole lot of silence on the actual factors that enabled abuse and that the church is STILL doing on an institutional level to make life harder for ALL victims of abuse.

Will Armstrong tell us exactly how theological modernism, political correctness, compromised teachings on sexuality or non-traditional ethics had anything to do with the massive scale of abuse that First Nations children were subjected to in residential schools?

There is lots more and the conversation continues.

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Jonathan MS Pearce

A TIPPLING PHILOSOPHER Jonathan MS Pearce is a philosopher, author, columnist, and public speaker with an interest in writing about almost anything, from skepticism to science, politics, and morality,...