There has been a lot of astonishing tone-deafness in the media response to the increasing evidence that the pope personally presided over the systematic coverup of child molestation and rape. And do let’s call it by its name; don’t allow people to get away with euphemizing or dissembling by referring to it as “abuse” or “impropriety” or “sexual misconduct”. That last is the term employed by the odious Reverend Lawrence C. Murphy, who molested, raped, and tortured as many as 200 children—some while inside the confessional—at a school for the deaf in Wisconsin. In 1998, the good reverend appealed for mercy directly to then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger on the grounds that he was in ill-health, and that the canonical statute of limitations for his crime had long run out. See, church proceedings to defrock a priest can only be brought within one month of the alleged instance of abuse. Of course the one-month limit is preposterous, because Father Murphy, and his fellow priestly pederasts, demanded vows of silence from their victims, who let us not forget were scared, confused, traumatized children; in Murphy’s case, he intimidated them into keeping quiet under the “sacrament of confession.” Murphy’s victims were also deaf, and they had much trouble alerting church authorities to their abuse. No matter, his case was eventually dismissed and he died a full priest. Maybe he’ll be beatified some day for his resilience in the face of such personal adversity.
Ross Douthat, conservative New York Times columnist and practicing Catholic, wondered in his Sunday column which side of the culture war is more to blame for the scandal:
In reality, the scandal implicates left and right alike. The permissive sexual culture that prevailed everywhere, seminaries included, during the silly season of the ’70s deserves a share of the blame, as does that era’s overemphasis on therapy. (Again and again, bishops relied on psychiatrists rather than common sense in deciding how to handle abusive clerics.) But it was the church’s conservative instincts — the insistence on institutional loyalty, obedience and the absolute authority of clerics — that allowed the abuse to spread unpunished.
This attempt at even-handedness is absurd. You might think, for instance, that the church’s “conservative instincts” would lead it to conclude that child rape should not be a countenanced church activity. And anyway, perhaps there is something wrong with a “conservative instinct” that says the only thing worse than child rape is the disclosure of child rape. But Ross is probably right: my anti-child rape, pro-disclosure position could just be the wild-eyed liberal in me talking.
In a follow-up blog post, Douthat presents a chart showing a big spike in reported cases of molestation in the 1960′s and 1970′s. Ross at least wonders whether the comparatively low number of reported abuse from the 1950′s is simply because fewer victims have come forward from that era. Ross admits that we can’t know for sure, but then presents evidence that he says argues against that possibility. But in order to argue that the liberal sexual mores of the ’60s and ’70s contributed to the uptick in abuse, Ross is forced to make an absurd moral distinction between “‘short term’ incidents — cases where the priest’s abusive behavior reportedly lasted less than a year” — and longer-term abuse, lasting over a year. See, short-term cases of molestation remain constant across the decades: from the good ol’ repressed 1950s through the hippy “silly season” as Ross calls it, and on through the 2000s. Whereas longer-term reported cases increase in the ’60s and ’70s in line with the overall pattern.
So, under this ridiculous distinction, the molestation of a minor in 1950 over a period of say, 10 months, only proves that the priest in question is a bad dude. But if the same priest, in 1968, engaged in binge of rape lasting, say, 14 months, then Ross finds that a strong indication the priest was under the crazy spell of the prevailing “permissive sexual culture”. Ross concludes ominously that “it’s hard to deny that something changed in the 1960s, and not for the better.”
Ross is a very smart guy. But what absolute crap.
First, the data in his chart are from reported cases of abuse, not the total actual instances of abuse. We’ll never know the true grisly scope of this divine crime ring. But do we think that it’s possible that the same consistent pattern of “short term incidents” extends well before 1950? For instance, how many church sex victims were there in, say, 1835? How about 1535? Certainly more than zero. And if there was a spike in abuse reports in 1535, would Ross attribute it to the prevailing permissive culture ushered in by the 1534 publication of Rabelais’ baudy and sexually-charged satires Gargantua and Pantagruel?
And as commenters to his blog post point out, Ross is probably right that something did change in the 1960s, but for the better. It is far more likely that the sexual revolution loosened the code of silence and culture of shame surrounding sex, giving victims more courage to come forward and speak of their abuse. And is it such a leap of logic to imagine that prior to the modern media era, the church was just much more successful at suppressing and otherwise ignoring allegations of abuse? If Ross thinks this lovely pre-modern era of pervasive sexual shame, repression, and persecution is something to be nostalgic for, well that’s his problem. Let him keep his bizarre reactionarism between he and his (hopfully well-adjusted) priest, and off the pages of the New York Times.
Ross ends his Sunday column with a tepid demand for justice:
Popes do not resign. But a pope can clean house. And a pope can show contrition, on his own behalf and on behalf of an entire generation of bishops, for what was done and left undone in one of Catholicism’s darkest eras.
This is Holy Week, when the first pope, Peter, broke faith with Christ and wept for shame. There is no better time for repentance.
Complicity in enabling the perpetuation of child rape is a CRIME. Repentance and contrition don’t cut it here in the earthly domain. Let these facilitators and harborers, including Mr. Ratzinger, be hounded in every civic jurisdiction they show up in for the rest of their lives. They can make their peace with their god from the ascetic comfort of a jail cell.