I’d like to say now that I’m well aware that I’m probably going to end up generating a lengthy, flamey comment-thread for the following, and that I am probably not going to get involved in said discussion because, I hope, I’ll be able to say everything I’m trying to say here, and express it well enough that I don’t need to say any more, and anyway I am fed up of all these dogmatic, opinionated and slightly bullish arguments that end up happening once you get truly embroiled in the blogosphere, and I don’t want to get involved. I know that what I’m about to write may well seem contentious, and I’m sorry, but this is what I think.
Right. Deep breath.
Firstly, put yourself in the shoes of The Catholic Church, as it were. Imagine you’re an ordinary, good Catholic soul. You believe that no-one should have sex outside of marriage and that sex is for the begetting of children and therefore you do not understand, really, how anyone can end up ‘in trouble’ and therefore needing an abortion. You can’t see that motherhood is perhaps a huge sacrifice and very difficult for some people at certain stages in their lives, and you probably haven’t even seriously considered the possibility of rape (but then, let’s be honest, when justifying abortion as a woman’s legal right you’re mainly thinking of the but-if-we-have-an-accident luxury-of-choice angle, and not the rape/congenital or genetic deformity/risk to mother’s life angle, whatever you might say). You (Catholic you) can’t see how pro-life is possibly a dangerous and slightly tyrannical view to take because in your mind, abortion is murder. But then, from the other side of the fence, we liberal pro-choicers think that your opinions are dangerous and tyrannical, and we think we are absolutely and dogmatically right, and let’s be objective for a second and all just agree that these are opinions, each backed up by valid reasoning, whatever you might think about the reasoning in general.
So, let’s work on the assumption that Catholics by and large – both lay church members and the clergy – are intelligent, thinking people, at least to a similar degree that we would agree that non-Catholics are. This is an assumption I personally hold but some of you more ‘liberal’ types may not see it like that.
You as a good Catholic soul, therefore, are part of a church full of reasoned individuals, and there’s been a trend in the mainstream media over the last few years, which, really, is quite worrying. It started with a vague anti-Islamic sentiment, being liberal and modern and therefore deeply opposed to the veil as a symbol of male oppression of women, gradually giving the public the impression that actually, all Muslim women aren’t allowed to go to school or be interested in things or read or talk or, well, anything really. And then Atheism got cool, and suddenly everyone was at it (hello, Dawkins) and there was all that stuff about women priests, gay priests, women bishops, the lot, and of course, we, the sheep, by which I mean your average Joe, were told a version of the story which has most of the Church down as a bunch of misogynist rightwing nutters, and so it goes on, and before we know where we are actually the mainstream media is basically just opposed to organised religion in any form.
And the more there’s that kind of slew in the way things are understood and the opinions we are fed about them, the less objective the coverage of those things becomes.
So when a handful of priests, it turns out, are paedophiles, and as we all know paedophilia is a journalism honeypot, someone, somewhere, is swinging objectivity around by its ankles and flinging it out of a first floor window so hard that poor old objectivity is probably still in orbit, somewhere. I am not for a second saying that kiddy-fiddling is in anyway not a despicable and terrible thing, or that it’s not an utter tragedy and one of the absolute worst things that could happen to a child. I’m not for a second saying that anyone who has committed such crimes does not deserve severe and fitting punishment. What I’m saying is, when did mature, respectable people suddenly decide it was appropriate to come out with gems such as this utterly tasteless song (which features a lot of swearing from the very first split second, so be careful when/where you play it) (and from Tim Minchin, too, who can be so genuinely witty and brilliant)? Someone else I know (the friend of a friend) has this to say, which is pretty representative of things I have heard otherwise normal, rational people say recently: “if the Pope is god’s right hand man on earth and by extension infallible then therefore paedophilia should not only be excused but compulsory across the entire world”.
The Pope is not a paedophile. Can we just clarify that for a start? He is in fact the head of an absolutely huge organisation with millions of members globally. He is technically in charge of priests across the world, with a huge and complex heirarchy beneath him of cardinals, archbishops and bishops who are in control of more local areas. It’s organisationally highly complex. The Catholic Church is also under a lot of pressure, constantly criticised from right and left, by other churches, by itself, by other countries and faith systems (and yes, I do include atheism under that heading, atheism is as much a belief as theism) for views which are perhaps difficult to comprehend but nonetheless well-meant and concieved. It’s an ageing church, and a changing one, and its PR isn’t good.
And then, somewhere, hundreds of miles away from the Pope, a handful of priests are doing the most terrible and shocking things to children in their charge. Firstly, it takes a long while to reach the ears of the Pope. By the time the Pope has heard about such incidents, local bishops and archbishops have usually made their own decisions about what to do with the priest in question. The bureaucratic cogs from the Vatican have hardly had the chance to get into gear – and nor should they have to. Because in many cases, local justice systems have become involved, and priests charged and sentenced.
We should blame neither the Pope nor his Church for what has happened. This is an old man, and a figurehead, and it is the responsibility of the justice system, not the church, to deal with this sort of crime. Tarring the entire institution and most specifically the Pope with this brush is akin to blaming the entire state school system and the Minister for Education for the tiny percentage of teachers that fuck their pupils. It’s ludicrous.
It’s a terrible fact that, in any profession that involves a certain level of exposure to children, there will be a handful of people who abuse that position of power and trust to do the most terrible things. It is the responsibility of a good justice system to do its best to safeguard against such awful things happening and to make sure that if they do, those responsible are removed from their position and kept away from children and, to a point, punished.
Perhaps the Vatican has not handled their presentation of the situation particularly well – they’ve made themselves look a lot worse than they are when that was almost certainly their fear – that by publicising these things, the Church would look bad, at a time when looking bad is far too big a gamble, given the way the general public views the organisation as a whole.
What I’m saying is, I feel very sorry for the Pope, for the Vatican, and for the Church. I feel sorry for the victims of pederasty both within and outside the Church. And I am frankly ashamed of the rest of you, who somehow have begun to believe that all the Catholic clergy are paedophiles, that there is nothing about the Church that is not in some way objectionable, despicable or downright stupid.
So I just wanted to stick up for the Catholic Church. Someone needs to do it. Most paedophiles in the world are not Catholics. Most are relatives of the children in question, or teachers, or other carers. Even as percentages (percentage of priests who are paedophiles compared with percentage of, say, teachers who are paedophiles, and so on) the figures put Catholic priests as being less likely to commit those kinds of crimes. And this was a paper put together by an American Jewish academic. I’m sorry I can’t find it for you – I did try.
All I’m saying is – our society is great at being liberal and thoughtful and considerate when it comes to politics, social injustice, the Third World, the health service, and so many other things. Why is it that these days when it comes to religion all we can do is shriek and wail and see things only in black and white?