Sep 28, 2010

In which Bill Donohue Misses the Point

I refer to this press release by the Catholic League.  In it, Bill responds to someone who had cracked a joke about priestly misconduct, complaining that:
No institution, religious or secular, has less of a problem with the issue of sexual abuse today than the Catholic Church. Indeed, if Lopez wants to be cutting edge, he would do a skit on all the molesters in the public schools who are protected by state law from just punishment.
So the Catholic Church has less of a problem with sexual abuse?  Avoiding the obvious double entendre, let me spell out what the real problem is, and what it is not.

I would hazard a guess to say that any profession which involves adults being in positions of authority over children will be attractive to pedophiles.  Sunday school teacher, babysitter, schoolteacher, whatever--doesn't matter.  People are naturally drawn to settings where they can encounter the objects of their sexual attraction.  As a straight male, I am drawn towards settings where I can encounter females; pedophiles are drawn towards settings where they can encounter children, though some with the orientation would certainly heed their better angels and steer clear.  Obviously, children are more vulnerable than adult women, so screening should be done carefully, but no matter how careful the procedures, some bad apples will slip through.  This is unfortunate, but it is not the real problem.

Catholic clergy are forbidden to marry.  This does not turn Catholic clergy queer.  This does not make them more likely to be pedophiles.  But it does make the job more attractive to those who already have "abnormal" sexual impulses.  It provides both a way to escape those impulses in the self by renouncing sex altogether, and to hide a complete lack of interest in the opposite sex from one's religious peers by entering a profession where that is viewed as virtuous rather than suspicious*.  This is unavoidable so long as the marriage ban remains in place.  It is unfortunate, but it is not the real problem.

There are tens of thousands of Catholic clergy in America**.  It is statistically impossible that none of them should be pedophiles.  There are around 100,000 public schools in America--a figure which excludes private schools--which puts the number of teachers in the millions.  Again, it is statistically impossible that none of them should be pedophiles.  This is very unfortunate, but it is not the real problem.

Abuse of children happens.  I hate it, but it happens, and always will.  However, it is not the fact that it happens, but the steps taken to prevent its happening and the response when it does that determine institutional guilt

By this measure, the Catholic Church has failed--miserably, repeatedly, and at the highest levels.  It has placed the public image of its institution above the safety of children entrusted to its care and justice for those who abuse them.  That is more than unfortunate, and that is the real problem.

Bill fails to recognize the true issue: the proper response to jokes about how a given institution lets people get away with pedophilia is to stop letting people get away with pedophilia rather than pointing out that pedophilia occurs elsewhere, as well.  We know that pedophilia is not solely a Catholic problem--any organization where adults work with children runs that risk.  We're not mad at the Catholic Church because the statistically inevitable occurred, we're mad because instead of coming clean they allowed the offenders to go unpunished and allowed the offenses to continue.

*I don't mean to equate homosexuality with pedophilia, but so long as both are equally condemned then both will be equally fled from and hidden.

**This article puts the number of priests at 46000.  I can't vouch for its accuracy, however, and priests do not represent the entirety of the clergy.

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