A quick thought on the continuing child abuse scandal in the Catholic Church

I think everyone can subscribe to the sentence, “The abuse of children by priests was terrible, and the bishops were wrong to cover it up and transfer known abusers.” If you’re at all inclined to follow this up with a sentence beginning with “but,” however, or if you find yourself thinking that people who follow it up with “but” have a point, I think you might need to go to confession.

23 thoughts on “A quick thought on the continuing child abuse scandal in the Catholic Church

  1. Of course nothing should be said to blunt the moral condemnation of those who engaged in child abuse, but your formulation threatens to prevent one from pointing out that the NY Times piece about the role of the Pope in the matter of Father Murphy (to mention just one example) appears to be, at least in part, fraudulent. Worse, it could stifle the fact that child abuse is not primarily a Catholic problem; it extends into the school system (which has much higher rates of abuse), into the home, and into religious denominations of every sort.

    It’s important to avoid moralistic posturing, especially when the very act of posturing can cover up the extent of the problem.

  2. So that’s a good example of a ‘but’ response. Incidentally it amazes me how quickly these kinds of talking points can propogate themselves. I was disinclined to let Thomas (non-Bridges)’s comment through but it felt too perfect in a way.

  3. Well, perhaps this is Thomas’ confession. He squeezes into the dark wooden box, crosses himself, and kneels before the lattice, whispering in a broken voice “Forgive me father, for I have sinned.” And what have you done? “Well, I know child abuse is wrong, and that Catholic priests are well known for it… but I can’t help thinking that others do it too, and that sometimes the Catholics aren’t given a fair shake of the sauce bottle in the popular media… I mean, I keep being tempted to see the other side, and balance our wrongs by pointing out the wrongs of others.” The priest tutted. “Say three Hail Marys, then come over here and I’ll give you a lolly-pop…”

  4. Your position strikes me as bizarre, Adam. How is Thomas’s response to you different from the following?:

    “John Doe Inc. victimizes its workers with long hours, low pay, and a dangerous work environment. But we can’t forget that this is only a part of a wider capitalist system that crushes the least of these. It’s important to avoid moralistic posturing, especially when the very act of posturing can cover up the extent of the problem.”

    Furthermore, I wonder whether your staying in the Catholic Church might be construed as an unwritten “but” by some who would agree with your post here? “The abuse of children by priests was terrible, and the bishops were wrong to cover it up and transfer known abusers… [but I remain in communion]

    And I don’t say this simply to be an ass, but in order to raise a real concern which I wouldn’t have bothered to raise if you hadn’t pointed out the “sin” of the “other” Thomas here. Why not read his first line charitably and assume that he means it as much as he means the rest of his post?

  5. I haven’t been to mass or confession in years. My understanding is that the Catholic Church will continue to view me as a “member” no matter what I do — what else is required of me to avoid the implicit “but”?

    The problem with comments like Thomas non-Bridges’s is that it’s so opportunistic. Where were all these Catholic apologists denouncing the scourge of child molestation before all this happened? They’re more like someone from the PR wing of a major corporation saying, “Well, of course our company screwed our workers, but the sad reality is that capitalism is an unjust system overall and we should never lose sight of that….”

  6. What’s more, if you’re concerned about child molestation “in general,” doesn’t it make sense to focus on reforming the organization nearest and dearest to your heart first, rather than whining that everyone’s picking on it? The whole thing is just appalling to me — as though the suffering of children who’ve been molested in public schools is being called upon to absolve the Catholic Church in some way.

  7. The problem with comments like Thomas non-Bridges’s is that it’s so opportunistic. Where were all these Catholic apologists denouncing the scourge of child molestation before all this happened?

    That’s a convenient explanation, I suppose. But who’s to tell whether Thomas non-Bridges would have spoken up in the comment section if there were an AUFS post denouncing the scourge of child molestation before all this happened? We quickly run into the realm of stupid when we try to make accusations like this, which we can’t at all substantiate. I mean, you’re free to critique “all these” people if you want to, and I don’t disagree with your general sentiment here. But (and I use the “but” without losing any sleep), I also don’t see exactly what sort of thing this accomplishes other than conflating judgments with assumptions and pretending it all squares.

    I mean, Thomas non-Bridges says we’re posturing towards a condemnation of the priests now but neglecting the school teachers. You’re saying that Thomas is posturing towards a condemnation of the priests now but he neglected the problem before all this happened. It all sounds pretty much the same to me.

  8. It’s not about Thomas non-Bridges as an individual for me. Maybe he was one of the foremost advocates for wiping out child abuse in the history of the world — if so, I’m sorry.

    What I’m more interested in is the talking points as such, and the talking points definitely are opportunistic. Where, for example, was the papal encyclical denouncing the horror of systemic child abuse in all our major institutions (schools, even the family itself)? Only when the Catholic Church is revealed to have a systemic problem with child abuse, which implicates even the pope himself, are we suddenly asked to confront that horror.

    And no matter what the individual motivations are when people parrot talking points, the talking points as a discourse are bigger than that particular individual or the sum of the individuals parroting them — just like (one could argue) that the discourse surrounding abortion winds up scapegoating women’s sexuality even though many of the individuals who take part in that discourse are unambiguously sincerely motivated by their concern for the unborn.

    Is it opportunistic of me to point out that the talking points are opportunistic? Does that make me “the same”? I guess, but what am I gaining? What am I distracting from? Do I have some kind of institution that I’m developing talking points for?

  9. Wow, people are insane cowards, passively aggressively sounding off when it comes to the comment policy, as if every other blog online doesn’t review comments either before or after they are posted. Live in the real world!

  10. And just when the “but” strategy seemed the peak of pathetic insanity:

    “A senior Vatican priest speaking at a Good Friday service compared the uproar over sexual abuse scandals in the Catholic Church … to the persecution of the Jews”

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