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Catholic Molestation Scandals

April 16, 2010

There is a huge uproar recently over more evidence coming to light about molestation in the Catholic church. Perhaps surprisingly, this doesn’t interest me at all. I was wondering today: “Why don’t I give a crap about this ‘scandal'”? Here’s what I came up with.

First, it’s not that I don’t care about victims—I do. I think those responsible for sex abuse and those responsible for covering it up (so that it continued) should be punished.

However, for the most part it seems to me that this ‘scandal’ is being used to essentialize Catholicism, just like 9/11 is used to essentialize Islam: these acts are being made to seem representative of Catholicisim as a whole.

I simply have no use for that kind of demonization, despite the fact that I’m not a fan of the Catholic church in general.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. April 16, 2010 1:55 pm

    I respectfully disagree. Islam lacks the same sort of institutional structure, and was therefore incapable of taking collective, institutional responsibility for any acts of malfeasance, such as piloting planes into buildings. Who would we rationally have blamed for that, beyond the pilots? Essentializing and demonization Islam on that basis is profoundly dumb and wrong.

    On the other hand, the Catholic Church is not *merely* a faith that can be demonized or not, but also an institution – a complex, rationalized, extremely hierarchical bureaucracy. And THAT Catholic Church has been insistent, consistent, and unapologetic about its practices of denying mass child rape, protecting the rapists, and blaming the victims and their allies for criticizing the church.

    The analogy would work better if the pilots of 9/11 were part of a large hierarchical bureaucratic Islamic “Church,” which immediately went to work after 9/11 denying (a) that they had anything to do with it, (b) interfering with legal enforcement proceedings against survivor suspects, declaring that the terrorists would be handled “internally”, while simultaneously moving them into a different airport elsewhere, where the terrorists were then provided with explosives, security passes, and access to pilot’s uniforms.

    I thoroughly agree that demonization pure and simple has no place here; but this is not demonization – it is the recognition of ‘demonic’ institutional behavior, and the insistence that it be ended and not protected.

  2. missivesfrommarx permalink*
    April 16, 2010 2:33 pm

    I think you’re absolutely right to point out that the cases are not strictly analogous—the institution thing is something I hadn’t considered. Here we see some serious institutional corruption that we didn’t see on 9/11. I agree wholeheartedly, and I think that the Vatican should be taken to task for it.

    However, I live near a convent full of nuns who would agree with us too—so the sex abuse scandals shouldn’t be used to demonize Catholicism in general.

    Given your last sentence, I doubt we really disagree on this matter, except perhaps apart from emphasis.

  3. April 16, 2010 2:45 pm

    Agreed; I don’t think we disagree in intent . I was picking (hopefully not idly) at the basic words of the post. It is precisely the disgust and criticism coming from within the Catholic Church – and there is a great deal of it, for how many human beings can swallow their repulsion and publicly defend repeated, institutionalized child rape without dying inside? – denies the judgment that the Church is being demonized (in general; obviously, the Church has many enemies who will use this as an opportunity to demonize them, but I don’t see this as particularly relevant).

    But, for those of us who are not within the Church, and I am not, and also uninterested in internicene struggles for their own sake, I think we must not allow criticisms of the institutions of the Church, or the bases of their authority, be criticized only by those within. We must, as McCutcheon, whom you reference elswhere, be critics in our engagements.

    Cheers for a nice exchange.

  4. missivesfrommarx permalink*
    April 16, 2010 2:47 pm

    Yes, I’m all for criticizing the Catholic church, just not in the way that people like Sam Harris might.


  5. April 17, 2010 8:52 am

    Mentioning Harris points out how much of the discourse is transparently self-servings, such as Dawkins & Hitchens’ claims to be paying lawyers to arrest the Pope when he is here in the UK later in the year.

    I think there is a need not to identify the Catholic Church too readily with its central institutional hierarchy. In the everyday lives of most Catholics, the religious institution plays much the same role as it does for observant Muslims; its localized, it’s more personal, its far from universally revered or obeyed. The pontiff in Rome or the diffuse scholars and bureaucrats who do have important mediating roles in Islam, whether they’re in Qum, al Azar, or sitting on a shari’a board in Jedda or Manama, are quite distant figures.

    The analogy might be with the government of the USA who could/should be held accountable for the crimes of its Empire, vs the discourses that are so thoroughly anti-US American people, depicting them as warmongering dumbasses.

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