If everyone else jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge, would you do it too?
And if everyone else raped children, would you defend it?
The child rape scandal in the Catholic Church (like Stephen Fry, I am no longer willing to call it pedophilia or molestation or child abuse) has been heating up lately, with new stories about the widespread rape of children by priests in Germany, an admission from the senior cleric in Ireland that he was present at meetings where two abused teenagers were made to sign vows of silence, questions about Pope Benedict’s handling of an abuse case when he was an archbishop, and more.
So via Pharyngula, we have the story of one Andrew Brown of the Guardian, who has written a defense of the Catholic Church child rape scandal and an excoriation of those who are condemning it… on the grounds that everyone else does it, too.
From this it emerges that the frequency of child abuse among Catholic priests is not remarkable…
This is vile, but whether it is more vile than the record of any other profession is not obvious.
There are, however, some fragments of figures from the outside world suggesting that not many professions do better.
Where to begin?
First of all, as many commenters in the Pharyngula thread have pointed out: Brown’s analysis of the child rape statistics are appallingly ignorant, both of statistics in general and of these statistics in particular. There is every reason to think that child rape among Catholic priests occurred — and for all we know, is still occurring — at a much higher rate than in any other field where adults have access to children and authority over them.
But as far as I’m concerned, that question is only tangentially relevant. And for Brown to focus on it so fixatedly shows that he is completely missing the point.
What makes the Catholic Church child rape scandal so morally repugnant, and what is making it have the effect of turning people away from the Catholic Church, is not the rapes themselves. Of course the rapes themselves are morally repugnant. And of course we need to be looking at whether there is some institutional force that makes Catholic priests more likely to rape children than other people in positions of trust and authority: such as the celibacy requirement for the priesthood, or the Church’s fear and loathing of sexuality as a central part of their theology, or the special power that priests have because they purport to have a special line to God, or religion’s veneration and armor against criticism which makes people less comfortable making accusations against it. (Indeed, it’s fair to look at whether it’s even true that Catholic priests rape children at a higher rate than other trusted authority figures.) But it is certainly the case that child rape does occur in other fields where adults are in positions of trust and authority with children: teachers, coaches, etc. Brown’s not wrong about that.
That is not where the depth of the scandal lies. What makes the Catholic child rape scandal so morally repugnant, and what is giving it the effect of turning people away from the Catholic Church in horror, is the way the Church handled it.
The Church knew about widespread reports of priests repeatedly molesting children… and instead of acting to protect the children, they acted to protect the priests, and themselves. Thus deliberately and knowingly putting more children in the way of known child rapists, solely for their pure self-interest.
Repeatedly. Time and time again. In every part of the world. As a cold-blooded matter of Church policy.
That is the scandal.
The fact that some adults in positions of trust and authority over children violated that trust by raping them? That is a tragedy. The fact that the Catholic Church knew about it — and instead of reporting the child rapists to the police, they deliberately shielded them from detection and criminal investigation? The fact that the Church moved child rapists from parish to parish, thus exposing even more children to them? The fact that they lied to law enforcement, concealed evidence, even paid off witnesses… purely to protect their organization from looking bad?
That, Mr. Brown, is the scandal.
You fucking moral imbecile.
We don’t know what makes people into child rapists. It is a serious mental illness as well as a profound moral failing. But the Church hierarchy who shuffled around known child rapists from diocese to diocese — not out of uncontrollable impulse, but consciously, thoughtfully, with a cool evaluation of the pros and cons, in a calculated attempt to prevent a PR disaster and protect their own self-interest? We know what makes people do that. What makes people do that is utterly craven moral bankruptcy. They don’t even have the excuse of mental illness.
And for Andrew Brown to defend this moral bankruptcy? For him to use the “Everyone else does it, too” defense — a defense that doesn’t even stand up at third grade recess, and that absolutely has no validity in a serious adult discussion of morality? For him to insist that the Church is being picked on, unfairly singled out among all the teachers and coaches and babysitters and so on who have raped children?
That suggests a moral tone-deafness that makes me physically ill. Brown is essentially doing exactly what the Church has consistently done in the face of this scandal. He is placing a higher value on the well-being of the Catholic Church than he is on the people, the children, who trust in it.
Shame on him.