trying to defend the indefensible

April 5, 2010

Unless you’ve been living on another planet with no access to any form of mass media, you’ve heard of what’s happening in the world of Catholicism. The supposedly American phenomenon of pedophile priests shuttled around to shield them from the long arm of the law turned out to be a global problem which the Vatican chose to ignore or cover up for years to defend its veneer of piety and high moral standing. But as the world realizes just how little Pope Benedict seems to care about pedophilia in his ranks and the sheer scale of cover-ups in the U.S. and Europe, that veneer seems to be slipping and the Vatican is busy blaming anyone and everything for its problems except the pedophiles themselves and their inability to deal with these issues without making things worse at every possible turn. In short, the Pope and his followers are trying to defend the indefensible.

dark soul

There is only one way to deal with pedophiles in any institution. Remove them from their positions, hand them over to the authorities with every bit of information you have on them, and take whatever lumps you deserve. In the last few decades however, the Vatican’s method of addressing this problem has been the exact opposite, and lacking any argument to deflect their more than fair share of blame in the matter, they’re using the kind of brain dead excuses that should be met with nothing other than derision and contempt. We’re not talking about religion or personal beliefs here. We’re talking about a crime against children by people who are supposed to be trusted with nothing less than the souls of mortals around them. The same people who were supposed to be shining beacons of morality failed spectacularly in their task and instead of being properly punished, were shuttled around to stay one step ahead of the law. So how exactly could you defend a practice like that?

Well, the first attempt came from Andrew Brown, the Guardian’s logically and apparently, decency impaired columnist who argues that since Catholic priests don’t molest children any more than any other profession, it somehow means that we’re unfairly singling out the Church. Please remind me, when was the last time that plumbers, or mechanics, or programmers, or corporate managers were charged with providing their clients a way towards immortality in heaven and leading the community by their example of upstanding morals? That’s what priests do. They’re supposed to hold themselves to the highest ethical standards possible, otherwise, their prescribed role in the community is pretty much unnecessary and their message is nothing more than a hypocritical exercise in false piety. The other, more sinister implication of Brown’s article seems to be that the public should be ok with a certain pedophile rate and not get worked up when the very person who gives them lessons in ethics and morality on Sunday mornings rapes their kids. The only acceptable rate of pedophilia in any profession is zero, especially in one which holds itself as an apex of societal good.

If you thought Brown’s defense was bad, let’s consider Pope’s Benedict’s personal preacher and the only one with the authority to question the pontiff, Reverend Raniero Cantalamessa. His method of dealing with all the negative reports about the institutionalized cover up of child abuse in his organization? He offhandedly quoted an unnamed Jewish friend of his comparing the media attention to anti-Semitism. Yeah, that’s low. If you’re in a position of power in a religious movement that supported the infamous Deicide Doctrine, one of the main sources of anti-Semitism in the Western world, you don’t get to use the anti-Semitism card. Just because you apologized to the Jews for over a millennium of demonization, you don’t get to use them as a smoke shield for your members’ crimes against children. No wonder a number of Jewish religious councils condemned these excuses as repulsive, asking how Cantalamessa could use the history of violence and hatred against a small group of people, fueled in no small part by the Vatican, to deflect from outrage against institutional pedophilia. And quoting your “Jewish friend?” Do I even need to spell out all the things wrong with this framing?

But even this excuse is nowhere near as vile as the one spat forth by that professional ball of pure hatred, Bill Donohue. Whatever mind Donohue had at some point at his life was obviously discarded when he said that a vast majority of child abuse cases involved pubescent boys and thus weren’t rape but cases of homosexual behavior. Basically, what he’s saying is that once little boys get some hair down there and a couple of zits on their faces, they’re fair game to be raped by a pillar of their community. After these comments, the members of the Catholic League should hang their heads in shame for allowing this amoral lunatic to become the head of their organization, fire him and get somebody new at the helm, preferably a person who doesn’t go on national television to defend pedophiles by borrowing an argument from NAMBLA. And not only did Donohue really say that having sex with a 13 year old isn’t pedophilia, he’s been as defiant as possible about his comments, just as you would expect from someone who’s incapable of telling right from wrong, simply foaming at the mouth and straining at the end of his leash like a rabid dog.

Here’s the important thing that the pope and his apologists should keep in mind next time they decide to take a shot at blaming something else for their priests’ inability to keep their penises in their pants around kids. In a situation in which a child is involved, our evolutionary drive is to protect them and defend them from any and all evil, especially the kind of evil which masquerades under false piety and high morals. Our children are the biological point of our lives. They’ll carry on our lineage and deserve nothing but love, support, instruction and protection. If someone under your supervision does something awful to a child, there is nothing you can ever do or say that will somehow make it better. Trying to excuse their behavior only makes you look heartless and corrupt, especially when you insist that you’re the only thing standing between heaven and hell…

[ illustration of a dark soul by Neil Blevins ]

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  • Gerald Murphy

    I noticed the secularist feeding frenzy castigating the Roman Catholic clergy for child seduction, and used a simple Google-based metric to judge whether we were seeing a denomination-specific Catholic perversion, or the tip of a larger iceberg.

    See links:,,,,,

    Once you visit the links you see that its a general problem.

    My guess is that wherever sexual-aged mentors interact with pubescent minors, something like this can happen. If that’s the case, then we are watching a crucifixion, Herr Ratzinger getting lynched for the sins of scoutmasters worldwide, and unable to escape, because poor Ratzy is German, an ex-Hitler Jugend, and not photogenic.

    All those suddenly finding a brand new capacity for outrage over this can be forgiven …. the class of available hate objects is massively reduced in the post-PC universe, and finding something, anything we can all diss together guilt-free gets tougher every day. It’s Ratzy’s bad luck that he and his homophobe rapist crew fit the bill so eminently.

    That said, try to hold back a little,…. after each new Krystallnacht, you feel empowered and refreshed, its true, but it is just a hatefest after all, and we tell ourselves we are over such stuff now in the Obama age.


  • This gives fuel to the fire of conspiracy theories that the Catholic Church is a hot-bed of Satanism.

    The Pope didn’t give the Church any cover of credibility at all.

    Too bad for the kids. They’re the true victims.

  • DamianD

    Gerald, you’re either missing the point of the article or are intentionally skirting around it. That child molestation happens within the church is a given. It happens in any environment where children interact with adults. The difference here is that there aren’t many other places (if any) that go to such lengths to cover it up and pretend it’s not happening.

    The Catholic Church is taking a problem that exists in many places around the world and are compounding it with their reaction to it.

  • Greg Fish

    I noticed the secularist feeding frenzy… and used a simple Google-based metric to judge whether we were seeing a denomination-specific Catholic perversion…

    … demonstrating that you missed the point entirely. Is there child abuse from virtually every group you can think of? Yes. Does this excuse the Vatican’s actions and a few decades of hiding priests from the law? Absolutely not. The scandal here has much more to do with the cover up and the dirty politics of moving pedophile priests where they could commit another crime and get away with it yet again for the sake of public appearances and fear of the worshipers’ outrage.

    Your point seems to be that because the incidence of child abuse in a certain group is more than zero, we should go easy on Ratzinger and his staff. This is pretty much the same fallacy made by Andrew Brown and detailed pretty extensively in the post. It doesn’t work and I really don’t like its implications. Doesn’t matter how many abused kids there are, pedophiles have to be punished.

    If the Catholic authorities defrocked priests and turned them over to local police after evidence of sexual abuse surfaced, we wouldn’t even be having this discussion right now. But instead, they hid the priests’ crimes to make themselves look righteous and moral, turning a deaf ear to the kids and the families, and ignoring the issue until the cover ups just couldn’t continue anymore and the victims went public. To say that they don’t deserve to be ridiculed for that simply doesn’t make sense, and considering the outrage from Catholics themselves on the issue, calling the outrage at the Vatican’s behavior in the matter a secular frenzy is just as wrong.

  • RaggMopp

    @Gerald Murphy: OK, now I get it. Child seduction? The correct term is RAPE, seduction includes something to do with the age of concent. Typically 16 to 18 years of age. “Seducing” 13 year olds is legally rape in any state in the union, and most European countries.

    A secularist feeding frenzy? What about the Catholics who are outraged? Yes, scoutmasters, teachers, anybody who has priviledged access to children is likely to abuse that trust, but does the BSA or the shool board cover for the transgressors? I don’t think so.

    “…after each Krystallnacht you feel impowered and refreshed,…” Man, that’s the bottom of the barrel! You are out of your tree. This issue has no semblence to kristallnacht. That was an organized, coordinated, staged attack for propaganda purposes, this outcry is responsive to an organizational evil that resulted in a pattern of abuse over dedades.

    Just between you and me: I’ll bet this has been going on for thousands of years in religious institutions with a priestly class. So long it makes the Catholic Church seem like amatuers. That does not excuse it, and perhaps the age of Obama is the age where we simple folk finally say, “Enough!”

  • Russ Toelke

    One huge problem is the Catholic Church’s insistence on celibate male priests.
    What we’re seeing is the result of too few celibates available to fill too many priest positions. They need to embrace women as well as men, married or not, as priests.

  • RaggMopp

    @Russ Toelke: Is your basic assumption that women are less susceptible to the charms of child abuse?

    More women priests would reduce the incidence of child abuse. No? I can hardly disagree with that, it seems that women are less likely to be propelled into transgressions by their uncontrolled desires than men. Of course, I might call to mind the preponderance in the MSM of women who transgress with their underage students. I know. The coach who’s hittin’ on HS girls never makes the media, often never makes the local papers. The Sup. jerks him up and terminates his contract, and he moves to another school district, reminiscent of the bishop’s story. Gotta move quick, before it gets on the radar.

    I hope your contention is not that priests who get no sex are more likely to commit child abuse. That sounds almost reasonable. Priests vow celibacy, not necessarily chastity. They have options, and resort to them with alacrity. Not as bad as Baptist Ministers perhaps, but not much better. But mainly, the contention that child predators are simply frustrated guys has little currency in the field. A popular contention of the 50’s was that homosexual men were the logical culprits in cases of child molestation.

    This has since been downgraded to the realm of popular mythology, as of 1972. Child abuse in fact, and kiddie porn in autoeroticism, are apparently separate from normal sex drive equations. These people have a screw loose, they are in a different catagory.

    To Wit: I have lived a very quiet life (never, never did no wrong). And yet I have been personally acquainted with several men who had a wife and two or three kids, who were caught in flagrante delicto with other men. In several cases, the mother of my children, God rest her soul, gigged me in the ribs and whispered, “He’s queer.” I invariably said, “Oh, please! He’s got a wife and (x) kids.” She was never wrong. Some subliminal radar? I guess the moral is: sleeping with a good woman does not overcome certain sexual predilictions; and your hypothesis is therefore highly suspect.

  • jimijr

    …”I’ll bet this has been going on for thousands of years in religious institutions with a priestly class…”

    You win! Consider ancient Greece, y’know, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle — those guys. Not really a priestly class but sort of, since they were teachers and mathematicians and prominent citizens. They were all pederasts and had a series of young “clients” as they were later called in Rome, which continued the practice.

    It was seen as perfectly okay, there and then. It points up Twain’s contention that human ideas of right and wrong are largely a matter of “latitude and longitude.”

    That said it does nothing to ameliorate the church’s situation. Today, it is not alright. Today you can go to jail just for looking at a picture of a naked child, a picture you did not take but simply posess, unless you’re a priest I guess. The church is going to have to serve these men up and turn them over to the authorities. Then they’re going to have to sell a few Rembrandts and Titians to raise money for the cash settlements that are going to come about.

  • RaggMopp

    @jimijr: Xenophon in his story The Anabasis (called the March up Country – aka the March of the 10,000) besides telling the story of this impossible adventure, mentioned several of the Greek generals who took young men as their sex slaves. He expressed it much like the dominance motif of the prison. Was it sexual desire or powermadness? Xenophon seemed to ascribe it to the latter. Maybe we should look at this aspect more.

    Hooray for today!

  • DamianD

    RaggMopp, I think what Russ was inferring was that in accepting women and married individuals into the clergy, they would have a larger pool of people to draw from and could afford to be more selected in the processes, potentially weeding out people who might be more prone to unfortunate behavior.

    I agree that the idea that celibacy leads to child molestation is bunk, but I think there is some merit to opening the doors to women and married individuals allowing the church to be more selective and thus actively lower the number of incidents through the screening of their potential clergy members.

  • Jeff Keller

    Ah, the joys of sanctimony. There is almost certainly a correlation between the assumption of higher morality and hypocrisy. Those without shame, delusion, or lust for power have no need to proclaim their holiness. For an intelligent commentator to point an outraged finger at the Catholic Church is a disingenuous exercise in public display, that can be countered, in the vernacular, with the phrase: “Well duh.”

    We are, as Gerald Murphy suggests, in the midst of a feel-good hate party, the sweet liquor of which is served in sufficiency by this article. Calm rationality would serve us better. All mammalian behaviours exist on a curve, determined by aeons of evolutionary adaptation, and while protecting children is inherent to some animals, it’s far from a universal condition. Nature abounds with infanticide and child rape, and even familial bonds are no guarantee of safety. Pedophilia could be an unfortunate but statistically inevitable expression of the evolutionary urge to acquire and breed a young mate. If so, it’s a wiring issue, and emotional exhortations based on ethics and morality are counterproductive. Pedophiles need to be found, isolated and studied. Casting them as inhuman monsters probably drives their behaviours to even more horrible extremes.

  • Pierce R. Butler

    A defender of the Roman Catholic hierarchy decries sanctimony?

    No wonder modern irony meters come standard with logarithmic scales…

    (Psst: Keller, you dumbass – read our host’s comment, above.)

  • RaggMopp

    @DamianD: Russ was implying, perhaps, or I may have been inferring. Imply is to the speaker, infer is to the listener. Nevertheless, I don’t see how your point has merit. Surely you’re not implying that the Church has such sophisticated psychological testing techniques that they can assign a value to one’s likelyhood of transgression? They now are compelled to accept persons who score low on this attribute? I prefer to believe that almost all the people who accept the life of an apostle are pure in heart. At least to start with. They don’t begin to deviate until in their later thirties or early forties, like normal men. What needs to be studied is this almost typical derailment.

    @Jeff Keller: “…sanctiomony.” “…proclaim their holiness.” “…feel good hate party,…” I sure hope you know what the hell you’re talking about, because, I have no idea! I cannot imagine a scenario where it would be wrong to castigate an institution which has covered up sex abuse, and sexual abusers as a policy for lowe these many decades. You sound like Gerald Murphy. Since you have no rational apologia, you resort to high sounding ad hominum attack. I am not impressed.

  • Jeff Keller

    @Butler: How you could think I’m a defender of the RC heirarchy is beyond me. Take a pill, then read my first paragraph again. I am a devout atheist, I just don’t subscribe to the popular indignation.

    @RaggMop: what is the point of attempting to criticize something you admit you don’t understand? You have added nothing to the diiscusson. I am not impressed.

  • RaggMopp

    @Jeff Keller: I admit you’re incoherent.

    Apparently Mr. Butler was equally misled.

  • RaggMopp

    @Jeff Keller: What in the hell is a “devout atheist.”

  • Jeff Keller

    @RaggMopp: Sorry, I’m not going to descend to your level (although I suppose, really, I just did). “Devout atheist” is an ironic phrase – sorry if you’re not equipped for subtlety. As for coherence, I think you’ve answered your own criticism with the quality of your comments. People on bandwagons have enormous blind spots, and you are not the exception that tests the rule.

  • RaggMopp

    @Jeff Keller: Ad hominim! “You are not smart enough to talk to me.” Is not a reply, it’s an attack. Don’t you have sense enough to grasp this simple rule? Apparently not.
    Why, exactly, in terms us poor simple folk can understand, should we not be offended by the RC coverup?

  • Greg Fish

    RaggMopp, Jeff, let’s at least try to feign some semblance of civility.

    And yes Jeff, you should really follow Pierce’s advice and note that your points have been already addressed in the comments. So instead of analyzing who has what blind spot, maybe you’d like to take a look at the real reason behind the current pile- on-the-Pope before continuing?

  • Amadan

    Those who didn’t grow up in Catholic countries, particularly before the 1980s or so, will find it hard to understand the status and authority given to priests, bishops and (to a lesser extent) nuns. The suppression of sexuality and the pressure to avoid scandal were also hugely important in a way that is very hard to describe to people brought up in today’s environment.

    Those conditions were exploited to the full by abusive priests. The reason the Vatican is being called to account is firstly because it fostered those conditions (in fact, it demanded them: causing scandal to the church was and is considered a sin), but secondly because it persists in claiming moral authority in telling us how to live our lives and raise our families when it patently has no credibility.

    The Vatican seems unable to say anything about this scandal without making it worse. I have no doubt that this will spread from the USA and Europe to the Africa and South America and complete the job of undermining them. No harm either: the institution is corrupt and hypocritical.

  • RaggMopp

    @Amadan: “Those who didn’t grow up in catholic countries, …” You might be surprised. Of course, I was born before WW II in southeast Texas, so I might not fit your framing of “before the ’80’s…”, but I have no problem grasping the allusion to the “…status and authority given to priests…” And my background is strictly oldline Anglo-Saxon protestant.

    My personal, 5 year old, problem was with the nuns. They made a US Marine DI look like a sweetheart. Fortunately my Mom was inclined to give me the benefit of the doubt, so I never went back, after the first week. Praise the Lord!

    Thank you for putting a cork in that little bottle.

    @gfish: Sorry to have offended your sense of civility. It’s hard not to react negatively to ridicule, even at my age. I’ll try to do better in the future, honest.

  • Curious

    In the field of history there is a term for the particular bigotry of condemning an entire group for the actions of a small number of its members. The name for that brand of bigotry is “collectivism”, and I can see it is alive and well on these boards.

    Must the criminal priests be held accountable for their actions under the law, the Roman Catholic church institute procedures to prevent the abuse in the future, and any involved in a cover up equally be held culpable? Absolutely.

    But to tar, feather, and lynch any group (in this case priests) for, by all statistical accounts, between 4 and 8% of its members is not rational, and it is not just. It is bigotry and prejudice at it’s worst. I saw it on the CBS boards, where the coverage lead one poster to claim, “All Catholics are rapists”.

    What nonsense.

    Justice demands things like “perspective” and “proportionality”. Can the leader of over a billion people reasonably be expected to oversee the actions of anything but a tiny number of his 1+ billion flock? If we are rational human beings, the answer is a pretty clear “no”…

    I think one reason this issue is so emotionally charged is that the bishops involved in the cover-ups of most of the abuse (as many of the current stories revolve around what happened decades ago) are long dead, and therefore beyond punishment, and that tends to make people mad. It’s a ‘locus of control’ thing.

    Incidentally, gfish, there were many Catholic clergy that worked to save and protect Jews from anti-Semitism throughout the past millenia. The “Deicide Doctrine” blame on the Catholic Church is not truly a doctrine. That word–doctrine–has a very specific meaning in Catholicism, and refers to something that must be believed. If you don’t believe it, you aren’t Catholic. There aren’t very many doctrines, and that is certainly not one of them.

    You ought to look at some of the instances of outrage against anti-semites from St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Augustine of Hippo, and many others. Not to mention many clergy who risked their lives (and quite a few who died) moving European Jews to safety during WW II. Before becoming Pope John XXIII, papal nuncio Angelo Roncalli used his connections in Turkey and Europe to smuggle thousands of Jews to safety.

    By all means, let’s be people of truth. Truth demands looking at all sides of the story, not just cherry-picking evidence or distorting definitions to best serve our own small views.

  • Greg Fish

    to tar, feather, and lynch any group (in this case priests) for, by all statistical accounts between 4 and 8% of its members is not rational, and it is not just.

    This is why I don’t suggest it. The post states very clearly that I expect pedophiles to be turned over to the appropriate authorities instead of making excuses as to why it would be bad for the Church to weed out pedophiles. Likewise, I also want to see all those who covered up abuse to be persecuted for aiding and abetting criminals. I’m not sure how this is anything like lynching all Catholic priests and as you say, this is what you also think should happen as well.

    I saw it on CBS boards, where the coverage lead one poster to claim, “All Catholics are rapists”.

    Well, this is not the CBS boards, the poster did not claim it here, and his/her opinion isn’t within my or your control. I’m not sure what you expect me to say about this.

    Can the leader of over a billion people be expected to oversee the actions of anything but a tiny number of his 1+ billion flock?

    No, but again, no one expects him too. We expect him not to make excuses for child molesters for the “good of the universal Church” and turn a blind eye to it when he’s told of what’s been happening. So far, he has failed to do that, blaming us for priests who rape children in a disgusting abuse of his status and power.