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“Trusted adults, including priests, may be the abusers”

CartoonFrom 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_shadow_of_the_crossIn 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.

RatziOf course the Catholic Church can’t tell kids that priests, specifically, might be abusers, and that they shouldn’t automatically trust them.

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?

BreakingthespellOnce 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.

Betrayal_frontBut 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.

Comments

  1. AttemptingReason says

    They could present it as some priest not being “real” priests, but there would still be the breakdown of full trust given to priests. Is there more to the comic than just that frame?

  2. Inkysand says

    First, I’ve been reading your blog since the infamous Atheist Anger post. You have won a continuing fan!
    Second, this is a beautifully done article. Religions based in faith will always cause harm because they are dependent on keeping that faith intact, no matter what. This does cause harm and always has, and you ably point out the connection in this instance.
    Brava, m’ija. Sending you virtual kisses.

  3. says

    “Once you start telling children that you can’t necessarily trust everything the priest tells you, you undermine the whole foundation of your religion.”
    Wait a minute. Certainly in Christianity, no one but God is supposed to be totally infallible. Even in Catholicism, there are limitations on papal infallibility. Why is the idea of a clergyperson being fallible supposed to be more of a threat to religious education than the idea of teachers and parents being fallible is to secular education?

  4. says

    J.J., I think one needs to keep in mind that these coloring books are intended for a very young audience. Children in this age group simply may not be capable of making the fine distinctions that you point out. How long does it take for them to realize that their daddies aren’t the strongest men in the world, or that their parents sometimes make wrong choices? How long does it take them to recognize that their schoolteachers are sometimes mistaken?
    From infancy, priests are included in a special class of people that children are taught to trust. Greta Christina points out that the Church has a very good reason, its self-preservation and perpetuation, for instilling this belief and this trust. And with respect to the examples we’ve both cited – parents and teachers – the Church again has powerful reasons for placing itself on a plain above these other authorities. The Church wants, eventually, to be either the sole (ideally) or highest authority in the lives of its adherents.
    Parents and teachers ultimately want to teach their charges to think and behave independently. Contrast this attitude with that of the Church, which needs to keep people in a perpetual state of dependence upon itself. Absent that relationship of dependency, the Church (Catholic and Protestant alike) will surely die.

  5. says

    What the chaplain said, J.J.
    I would also add: Secular teaching differs from religious teaching in another very important way. Secular teaching can be confirmed (or refuted) by personal experience or experimentation. Religious teaching can’t be.
    And as Dennett pointed out, the very fact that religious teachings can’t be confirmed in the real world makes believers (not all believers, but a lot of them) place *more* trust in the teachings and teachers — not less. The belief has to be supported by common agreement — otherwise it falls apart.
    So religious teachers are accorded a special status. And it’s expected that their teachings are to be trusted, even without any evidence supporting them.

  6. says

    “How long does it take for them to realize that their daddies aren’t the strongest men in the world”
    I could be wrong, but I think kids learn that their teachers aren’t perfect and their daddies aren’t the bestest and strongest well before they leave grade school, and by that point, the idea that the priests aren’t perfect isn’t going to be an earth-shaker.
    “Parents and teachers ultimately want to teach their charges to think and behave independently. Contrast this attitude with that of the Church, which needs to keep people in a perpetual state of dependence upon itself.”
    But not necessarily upon particular individuals in the Church–and that goes double for several strains of Protestantism. If the authority structures of religions were as fragile as you surmised, we probably wouldn’t even be having this conversation.

  7. Jud says

    Fucking sad that the kids get the comic book and the responsibility to protect themselves, but there’s no fucking coloring book for priests that says “don’t rape the kid, dammit!”

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