From USA Today comes this story about coloring/ comic books that the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York is handing out to children to warn them about sex predators. (Click on the image to see it in its full glory.) I quote:
The Archdiocese of New York is handing out coloring and comic books that warn children about sex predators, the first such effort by a U.S. Roman Catholic diocese. In the coloring book, a perky guardian angel tells children not to keep secrets from their parents, not to meet anyone from an Internet chat room and to allow only “certain people” such as a doctor or parent to see “where your bathing suit would be.” In a comic-book version for children over 10, a teenager turns to St. Michael the Archangel for strength to report that two schoolmates are being sexually abused. The books have been distributed to about 300 schools and 400 religious education programs to use as a resource. They also can be viewed online. Some critics, while applauding the intent, say the books should say explicitly that trusted adults, including priests, may be the abusers. (Emphasis added.)
My first reaction to the “some critics say the books should say explicitly that trusted adults, including priests, may be the abusers” part was this:
Gee, ya think?
In the wake of a widespread global scandal about priests molesting children as a common occurrence — and the Church acting to cover it up, even when it meant exposing children to known child molesters — do you really think it might be a good idea to warn children that priests, specifically, are among the adults who might be sexual abusers?
Gosh, what on Earth might have made you think that?
(We need a sarcasm font. Imagine the above three paragraphs in a sarcasm font.)
But then, it occurred to me.
Once you start telling children that priests are fallible human beings and that you can’t necessarily trust everything they tell you…
…well, you see where I’m going with this, don’t you?
Once you start telling children that you can’t necessarily trust everything the priest tells you, you undermine the whole foundation of your religion. As Dennett and Dawkins and countless others have pointed out, the survival of religion depends on the indoctrination of children. The single biggest factor, by far, in predicting what religion you are is what religion you were brought up in. Children’s brains are designed, for very good evolutionary reasons, to trust what adults tell them. It’s like that Jesuit motto: “Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man.”
The perpetuation of religion depends, not only on teaching children your religion, but on teaching them that religious leaders and teachers are special and trustworthy, that they know more about God than the rest of us, and that they deserve a special level of respect and trust. If you tell children not to automatically trust priests, the whole house of cards falls down.
But it’s completely half-assed to to warn kids about generic abusers without pointing out that the adults most likely to abuse them are adults they know and trust — including parents, teachers, coaches, and, hello, priests.
This doesn’t read to me like taking responsibility for the sexual abuse scandal in the priesthood. It reads to me like PR. It reads to me like yet another case of the Catholic Church covering their own ass — at the expense of children’s actual safety.