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The Catholic Church still doesn’t get it

Originally posted on Pharyngula

No matter how many revelations of child sex abuse by Catholic Priests come out, the Catholic Church still doesn’t get it. Take, for example, this story told by the Archbishop of New York, in which he recounts a (probably apocryphal) encounter with an angry man at an airport.

According to the Archbishop, the ex-Catholic said that he cannot look at a Catholic Priest without thinking “sexual predator”. The Archbishop’s response is telling, as he thinks only of the “shame and damage of the wound” that had been inflicted on himself with those words, rather than the far worse damage inflicted upon countless children by the Church’s actions.

Archbishop Dolan considered yelling and swearing at the guy, but instead proceeded to excuse the Church from all misconduct - taking the common line that sexual abuse is everywhere, so the Catholic Church should not be singled out.  The Church just doesn’t get it, still treating child sexual abuse as just another sin on par with consensual homosexuality, rather than as a crime. They are also ignoring their own records, which suggest that Catholic Priests are more than 100-fold more likely to be a child sex offender than an average member of the public. There is a real genuine problem of child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church that just cannot be eradicated until the Church accepts that the problem is within Catholicism itself, rather than just being a society-wide problem that has reached into the Church.

Most revealing of all is the musings by the Archbishop on the reasons why the Catholic Church is attacked over child sexual abuse. The Archbishop gives three reasons:

1. “For one, we priests deserve the more intense scrutiny, because people trust us more as we dare claim to represent God, so, when one of us do it – even if only a tiny minority of us ever have — it is more disgusting.”

I have to say, I think the Archbishop has a point here. Not about “a tiny minority”, the Church’s own figures suggest that ~9% of Catholic Priests ordained in 1970 were child sex offenders. But it is true that the crime is more horrific when the same monster who is abusing children is also telling adults in a loving consensual relationship that their act is a crime against God. The solution is simple, however – until the Church achieves some semblance of morality itself it should cease from condemning others.

2. “Two, I’m afraid there are many out there who have no love for the Church, and are itching to ruin us.  This is the issue they love to endlessly scourge us with.”

Ah yes, the Church is the victim of a witch-hunt (a term which originates, incidentally, from the practice of the Catholic Church in persecuting innocent women and executing them without evidence). America does indeed have a history of Protestant discrimination against Catholics, but the child sex abuse scandal is not limited to America. There has been scandal and outcry in staunchly Catholic European countries, such as Belgium and Ireland. The rise of anti-Catholicism in these countries is not due to historic prejudice, but rather is being directly created by the actions of the Church. The Archbishop has cause and effect the wrong way around – child sex abuse is driving anti-Catholic sentiment, not the reverse.

3. “And, three, I hate to say it, there’s a lot of money to be made in suing the Catholic Church, while it’s hardly worth suing any of the other groups I mentioned before.”

This is contemptible, the Archbishop is making the outright accusation that cases of child sex abuse are being invented for profit. Once again, the Church is considering itself to be the victim rather than the culprit. Not only is this a disgusting slap in the face to all those people abused by Catholic Priests, but it is certifiably wrong. The John Jay Study, commissioned by the Catholic Church, detailed that Church investigations of sex abuse allegations found that 80% were “substantiated” and only 1.5% were “false”. So even when the Church investigates itself, using a Canon Law process that is judged by the local Bishop and does not allow for forensic evidence, they agree that only the tiniest minority of cases are made up.

The Church needs to stop assuming that the outrage against child sexual abuse is confected for political or monetary gain. The outrage against child sexual abuse is genuine outrage at the horrific nature of the crime itself.

I have suggested before the five steps that the Church needs to take in response to these crimes:

1) Admit that child rape is a wide-spread crime being perpetrated within the Catholic Church by a substantial proportion of Priests, reaching across continents and as far back as records exists.

2) Admit that this child rape has nothing to do with homosexuality or secularism or any such, and is instead a problem disproportionately within [the dogma of, edit re:Mike] Catholicism.

3) Admit that the Church knew for a long time that this was a problem but chose to cover it up, and that Church doctrine is still preventing cases being reported directly to the secular authorities.

4) Admit that the Church has spent, and still spends, far more time devoted to petty concerns such as preventing contraception than it has to preventing child rape by its own members.

5) Fix the damn problem. Sell a few pieces of art and pay restitution to the victims. Make it official Church policy to report every incident to the police. Investigate Priests with the zeal shown during the Spanish Inquisition. Shut up about other people's "sins" until the Church is clean. Change those aspects of doctrine or theology that drive child rape. Show some humility.

Unfortunately, decades into the scandal the Church is still failing to grasp step 1.  

Reader Comments (11)

Thanks for putting into words what I am sure many of us feel. The Catholic Church is in denial, and until it accepts full responsibility it will not progress. I cannot improve on your post, you have said it all. Thank you.

March 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterHaggisForBrains

Thank you HaggisForBrians, the whole tone of the Archbishop's blog post just made me so angry that I really needed to express myself about it.

March 20, 2011 | Registered CommenterAdrian Liston

Thank you for brilliantly articulating this! I commented on Pharygula. I'd like to post it here too- They certainly DO NOT get it. I feel the same way as the man who sees evil in the clerical garb. I was 10 when a Roman Catholic Priest got extremely inappropriate with me in a confessional. He asked me personal questions about touching myself while I'm pretty sure he was touching himself. 9% is surprisingly low for pedophile priests. Let's also factor in priests who use their power go after adults. My cousin's brother-in-law the priest impregnated a nun. It's a broken system which does not take into account- the humanity of these men. Nor does it try to understand the kind of person who would give up normal needs for love and intimacy to serve gods.

Thank you for meaningful Sunday Morning reading material!

March 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCarm Cole

Thank you Carm Cole, it is great to get so much positive feedback from Pharyngula - I firmly believe that outrage is an entirely appropriate response to these crimes.

The 9% figure is only based on reports recorded by the Church and found (by the Church) to be justified, presumably it is a floor figure rather than a ceiling figure. What I would like to know is how many Priests knew that something was going on but either didn't report it at all or only reported it to the Church? When 10% of an organisation are committing a crime, it must be far more than 10% who are willing to look the other way.

March 20, 2011 | Registered CommenterAdrian Liston

I wanted to drop by to thank you for your response earlier. I'm curious, however, why you deleted my previous comment and the edit you made to your article in response to it. As far as I can see, you still haven't established a case for claiming that child rape is a problem disproportionately within Catholicism. You have provided data suggesting it is a problem within the Catholic clergy. Discussion at Pharyngula has brought up the finding of religious fundamentalism, after alcoholism/drug abuse, as a significant risk factor for offending as a child abuser, but nothing has yet been presented that suggests Catholics are, as a group, more fundamentalistic or more likely to offend as child rapists, than the population as a whole -- a population that includes numerous non-Catholic fundamentalist sects. It seems to me that a false equivalence is being made here.

March 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMike

Thanks for the excellent article. I read your guest post on Pharyngula, but I wanted to post my compliments on your own blog.

You may be interested in following this trial; it is certainly going to receive a lot of media attention.


March 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterVeronica Abbass

Hey Mike, your comment and my change was not on this blog entry, it was on this previous blog entry, which I ended with the same comment: http://www.adrianliston.eu/blog/2010/9/18/a-true-apology-from-the-pope-would-acknowledge-that-catholic.html

I'll make the same change here.

March 21, 2011 | Registered CommenterAdrian Liston

Hi Veronica, thank you for the feedback and the interesting link.

March 21, 2011 | Registered CommenterAdrian Liston

Completely agree with this post. But then again it comes as no surprise that the vatican are a bunch of out of touch & hypocritical criminals. (Although i remain convinced that a lot of individual priest do a lot of good for their communities)

March 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCedric

Very, very well written. The Catholic Church is a medieval institution that is more interested in building its coffers than fixing the priesthood...

March 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJohn


I sent a link to this article to John McKiggan at http://www.sexualabuseclaimsblog.com/ and he posted a link to the article:


March 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterVeronica Abbass

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