The searing publicity exposing Catholic priests sexually preying on children also reveals our American schizophrenic doctrine of The Separation of Church and State, which is more myth than it is reality. In reality there is a deep connection between religion and social order in our commonly shared civic life. The disorder of this attempted separation, this flawed bifurcation, is revealed in our media’s examination of what to do with priest pedophiles.
Both moral theology and criminal law deal with human behavior, freely chosen human acts that are at the same time immoral as well as illegal, sins as well as crimes. While it is true that some acts can be illegal, they many not be immoral, just as immoral acts may be legal.
The act of sexual child abuse in its nature is both immoral and criminal at the same time, a grave sin and a felony. And this is true also with abortion. There is no denying it, the silent scream of the child being sexually molested echoes the silent scream of the baby being aborted. They are twinned in horror. Both are victims even though there are those who claim these are âvictimlessâ? private choices. The privatization of morality consequently caused our reactions to pedophilia to be confused, unfocused and emotional, instead of clear-sighted, purposeful and thoughtful.
By its very nature the Catholic Church examines and understands human choices through the lens of what it understands to be sinful. It understands that sins, in their very nature, attack human relationships. They diminish what we as human can and should be. And because the Church has a vision of what we can be, she speaks of redemption, insisting that we can be brought back to our higher selves and holistic relationships with others and with God.
But however much the Church sees evil in that context, others do not, claiming that discussion about sin is something that is to be confined only to realms of private, personal opinion. It is a religious notion and so, they assert, it has no proper place in the public forum.
By its very nature the State examines and understands human choices through the lens of what it understands to be illegal and criminal. Its response is necessarily in the public sector; crimes deal with what is external, public and willful in nature. Therefore the State deals with such things in external fora. What is sinful is private, what is criminal is public. This accounts for the State’s insistence in going public about pedophilia.
In the media’s treatment of priest child abusers, the Church is portrayed as overprotecting its priests. Being unconcerned about such things as sin and morality, or redemption and transformation of the human nature, it is understandable that this would be the case in the media’s perspective.
It is my position that the protection of priests is a secondary (with emphasis) consideration. The primary consideration of both the Church and the State should run to the victims of pedophilia and their families. Only after that, only after the Church has given every consideration and assistance it these victims and their families, should Church officials even speak about the interests of the Church’s priests and the Church’s institutional credibility. Furthermore, pedophiliac acts being not only immoral but criminal as well, every effort should be made to cooperate with civil law enforcement and judicial officials because harboring and protecting a felon is likewise complicity in his or her felony and subjects one to the criminal justice system.
I have priest friends who have been falsely accused of child molesting. I know, too, that the Church’s insistence on internal processing of accusations is well motivated. It knows history; it has absorbed countless attacks that have been based solely on prejudice and malice; it knows how vulnerable priests are to false accusations. How, then, in all justice and fairness, should it care for priests who have dedicated their lives to caring for others?
All that having been said, the Church wants its priests to be public figures. That desire comes now at a cost, namely the cost of public accountability. When it comes to dealing with false accusations, American priests should stand on the same ground as all other public figures, especially those entrusted with caring for children.
The Church has its areas of competence and responsibilities and the State has its corresponding areas of competence and responsibility. We should not impose the duties of the one upon the other. At the same time we need to understand that while we can distinguish between the two, we cannot separate them. The same human choices, decisions and acts are within the purview of both Church and State.
From Michael Medved:
As the platoons of political correctness pile on regarding priestly pedophilia, it’s important to keep in mind another “p” word: perspective.
An objective analysis of the situation suggests, first, that the Catholic church is no worse than others when it comes to the incidence of child molesters in its ranks. Second, whatever the failings of the Catholic hierarchy in dealing with this appalling problem (and they are legion), those sins pale in comparison to the blatant hypocrisy of the Church’s enemies on this issue.
In fact, some of those adversaries inadvertently assist the process of placing the scandal in context. Sylvia Demarest, a Texas lawyer, won a $119 million jury award on behalf of former altar boys abused in Dallas and tracked allegations against priests in every part of the country. She told the Washington Post that her updated list of priests who stand accused of molesting children will reach 1,500 names representing about 2 percent of the 60,000 priests who have served in the United States since 1984. Even this modest percentage may overstate the problem, since no one would suggest that every member of clergy who stands accused of pedophilia is actually guilty of the crime.
Ms. Demarest’s numbers conform with estimates by Thomas Plante, a California psychologist at Santa Clara University who treats priests who have molested minors. “The best data we have is that approximately 5 percent of priests have a predilection toward minors,” he declared. “That seems consistent with other clergy who are not priests (such as Protestant ministers or rabbis).” Moreover, Plante cites research suggesting that among the general population, 8 percent feel sexually attracted to children a higher percentage than among priests or other clergy. Such numbers, of course, reflect those who feel sexually drawn to contact with kids, rather than indicating the percentage who actually act upon this inclination.
The Washington Post, an establishment liberal journal with no reason to whitewash the church, approvingly cites Gary Schoener, a psychologist in Minneapolis whose Walk-In Counseling Center has consulted with more than 1,000 victims of sexual abuse by clergy. He also affirms that the percentage of abusers among Catholic priests is no higher than among Protestant ministers.
Why, then, the disproportionate focus on problems within the Church? In part, that emphasis stems from a few truly horrifying high-profile cases and multi-million dollar legal settlements, like the example of Boston’s John Geoghan who personally molested more than 130 children.
Then there is also the status of the Catholic Church as the most visible, powerful religious institution in the world: General resentment of organized religion will often focus on the Church of Rome, the most centrally organized and hierarchical faith on earth.
Finally, many attacks center on the tradition of priestly celibacy, in a spasm of trendy Catholic-bashing that reflects the basest sort of inconsistency. Gay activists and establishment opinion leaders unequivocally insist that homosexual identity is innate and inborn as blue eyes or left-handedness. These same enlightened thinkers then turn around and say that celibacy in the priesthood pushes prelates to pedophilia. If only priests were allowed to marry, the conventional wisdom declares, then they wouldn’t even feel tempted to molest little boys.
This proposition contradicts basic liberal assumptions about gay identity: If a priest is congenitally gay due to factors utterly beyond his control, how could marriage ever re-wire his orientation? This might work only if the Church sanctioned same-sex marriage for its priests, a radical demand that few critics of celibacy dare to advance.
Meanwhile, the tragic experience of child-molesting priests undermines another pillar of politically correct thinking. Gay activists repeatedly insist that pedophilia has no connection to homosexuality and that straight people are just as likely to abuse children as gay people. That contention flies in the face of statistics and experience: Consider the prominent public fascination with underage boys in gay pornography, and even in some of the ads in “mainstream” gay publications. Heterosexuals display no comparable obsession with little girls in their fantasies.
Moreover, nearly all victims of child-molesting priests turned out to be little boys, not little girls. If celibacy caused this problem, rather than homosexuality, why wouldn’t straight priests laboring under the same sexual restrictions abuse girls at least as frequently as their colleagues ravished boys?
This uncomfortable question touches another illogical position of those who want to use this scandal as an excuse to attack a traditionalist church. The same people expressing the most strident condemnation of gay priests molesting young boys, also demand public pressure to force the Boy Scouts to embrace gay scout masters insisting that such leaders present no danger to our sons.
As a non-Catholic, I feel confident that the Church will eventually clean house and deal with the problems of its clergy. But left-wing critics of the Church may never come to grips with the obvious internal contradictions in their own irrational ideas.