Canon Law versus the Law of the Jungle
THE CATHOLIC CHURCH, PEDOPHILIA AND THE MEDIA (Courtesy of the Annals Australasia Ph:(02)9662-7894
This ANNALS editorial takes a frank look at media criticism of the Church’s handling of sexual abuse cases. It suggests that instead of blaming celibacy, attention should be focussed on generations of ignoring Papal directives and tinkering with Catholic doctrine and morals by priests, bishops, religious and teachers in Catholic schools.
‘THE JOINT’S still jumping’ the Sydney Morning Herald Magazine proclaims to its readers as I write, urging them to turn to an article on Nimbin NSW’s ‘Mardi Grass’ which is celebrating ‘10 years of reefer madness’. ‘As the Sydney Mardi Gras began as a protest against the outlawing of homosexuality,’ we are told, ‘so the Nimbin Mardi Grass is a protest against the prohibition of Marijuana’. ‘This,’ whispers a woman pointing to heads of marijuana on a table, ‘is like porno for potheads’.
All good fun? Well, it depends on your tolerance for alternative, not to mention illegal, lifestyles. Predictably, the NSW Hippie refuge, and the Sydney Mardi Gras, get better treatment from the Herald than the Catholic Church. ‘How Vatican fails God’s Children,’ was what the Herald on Sunday ran up as its standard for an all-out attack on the Catholic Church over the allegations of sex abuse.
Celibacy the Problem?
The writer told her memused readers that celibacy was a major factor in the problem of sexual abuse. Yet a recent book by non-Catholic author Philip Jenkins, from Penn State, points out that the incidence of clergy sex abuse of children [in the US] is just as high if not higher, among married clergy in non-Catholic churches.
The Herald’s message is clear: we are free to celebrate alternative sexual and drug lifestyles, no matter how immature, socially disruptive or personally harmful – but not a celibate lifestyle. It is a measure of how sexually obsessed our society has become that, according to the Herald, any celibate person is ‘particularly vulnerable’ to the problem of sex abuse - slandering unmarried laypeople along with Catholic priests.
‘No Popery!’ Rides Again
Sex sells. No one could dispute that. Perhaps, like me, some Annals readers subscribe to free Internet servers who deliver, along with legitimate emails, junk mail by the cyber-tonne. Pre-pubescent children, as much as adults and adolescents, are potential viewers of the ‘free’ pornography and other rubbish peddled to unwitting internet subscribers.
Yet this is not regarded as exposing minors to the danger of ‘abuse’. This is the ‘real’ world - i.e. a ‘World According to the Media’ where business, politics and illusion dominate. Nothing ‘cool’ or modish can be sold without sex; or at least that’s what the mechanics who tune up the PR machines around the country would have their customers believe.
So what are Australians being sold, along with the allegations of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy and religious, and allegations of ‘hush money,’ and ‘cover-ups’ by Catholic bishops, that have dominated the TV screens, talk-back radio and print media over past weeks?
Andrew Greeley, US Catholic priest and author, is in no doubt that Anti-Catholicism has a major stake in the Game Plan. Lurking beneath the surface of American culture, he writes, is an anti-Catholicism that is as American as apple pie à la mode, chocolate malts, Diet Pepsi and silly nostalgia at the beginnning of the baseball season. It raises its head occasionally ‘as it now is doing on the sexual abuse crisis’.
Cal Thomas, a nationally syndicated columnist in the United States, not a Catholic, comments: ‘Not since the “high-tec” lynching of Clarence Thomas and the scandals involving certain TV evangelists have [media commentators] enjoyed themselves this much. They get the added benefit of covering themselves in faux righteousness pretending to care about the health and welfare of a Church in which most have little or no part, while simultaneously and hypocritically giving it a public flogging’.
Church Teachings not at fault
That abuse has occurred is undeniable and deplorable. That its victims deserve every sympathy and help is unquestioned. But that its causes are to be found in the Catholic Church’s doctrinal and disciplinary structures is a gross over-simplification of a complex issue. Media comments on these matters in recent weeks defy logic and makes coming to terms with the problem more difficult.
Depending on which TV channel you watch, or what paper you read, you will be bombarded with journalistic insights worthy of the Grand Wizard of the Ku Kluk Klan. Viewers, readers, listeners are told that sex abuse by members of the Catholic clergy is caused by celibacy, or the all-male nature of the priesthood, or the male hierarchical structure of the Church or the Church’s out-dated teachings on sexual morality in general, or all of the above.
It may well be true that some people seek out a celibate lifestyle for other than worthy motives. Undoubtedly more needs to be done, in these more ‘tolerant’ times, to ensure that such candidates are excluded before ordination.
It may well be true, by the same token, that some people enter the Police Force because of a need to dominate others, and a tendency to violence. But who would say that all who enter have this problem, or that the Police Force in general is power-hungry, authoritarian and violent. Would anyone suggest that we dismantle the Police Force because some officers don’t live up to the high ideals of the Force?
Sexual Abuse ‘common’ in Society
While one case of a pedophile priest is one too many, there is no evidence to show that priests are more likely to be abusers of children than other males (or females). Research indicates that the primary abusers of children in our society are, sadly, parents, family and school-teachers. And yet if we are to believe the media the most dangerous person for a child to meet is a Catholic priest.
Stephen Rosetti is a priest-psychologist and a consultant to the US Conference of Bishops on child sexual abuse conducted a survey of 1,810 adults in the US and Canada and found that over 19% of them had been victims of sexual molestation by an adult before the age of 18. ‘This suggests that there are many perpetrators of child sexual abuse in our society. While we are shocked and rightly so that there should be 60 priests in the Archdiocese of Boston who have molested minors we should be equally shocked at just how common child sexual abuse is throughout our society’.
Rosetti makes the additional point that most priests who molest minors were themselves molested as minors; their sexual abuse of minors is a kind of re-enactment of their own abuse and may have little to do with their sexual orientation. ‘I have known,’ he writes, ‘some heterosexually oriented males who have molested young males’.
Just how vicious some media have become over this issue was illustrated by the kangaroo court screened by Channel Nine on Sunday June 2. Sixty Minutes’ cowardly attempt to dry-gulch Catholic Archbishop George Pell
proved only how deep is the ethical ‘black hole’ out of which such programmes emerge.
Protocols now in place
One by-product of this whole miserable saga will undoubtedly be a more rigorous and speedy approach by Bishops and Religious Superiors in dealing with individuals accused of molesting minors, and in providing help for the victims and their families.
Protocols have been in place in the various dioceses for a number of years  to do precisely that. Recent events have shown that there is still a long way to go in informing the general public about the purpose and nature of these procedures. It is my understanding that other professional groups not immune to criticism in this matter, have been impressed by these protocols. As I write, the Archbishops of Sydney and Melbourne placed advertisements in newspapers around Australia attempting to overcome widespread ignorance of the Church’s initiatives.
* See Part 2 in News & Features for continuation
1. Good Weekend, June 8, 2002.
2. Sydney Sun-Herald, April 28, 2002.
3. Priests and Pedophiles, quoted ‘Traditional Catholicism does not cause sex abuse’ by Dr Larry Chapp, Associate Professor of Theology, De Sales University, in Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Quarterly, Winter 2002 p.3.
4. See Dr Larry Chapp, art. cit.
5. Sydney Sun-Herald, June 9, 2002.
6.‘Scandal brings out the Bigots’ Chicago Sun-Times April 12, 2002
7. ‘Piling on the Catholic Church,’ The Washington Times, May 8, 2002.
8. Pace Bishop Power of Canberra Goulburn. See Compass, ABC TV June 9, 2002.
9. See Stephen J. Rosetti, ‘The Catholic Church and Child Sexual Abuse,’ in America April 22, 2002 pp.8-15.
10. art.cit; also Dr Larry Chapp, art. cit. p.3.
11. That is, over the past fifty years. More than 3,000 priests served the Catholics of Boston in that time. This number represents 2% - and not all those alleged cases were proven.
12. art. cit. p.10.
13. Ibid. p.11.
New York Times, April 13. quoted ‘The Emancipated Child,’ by William Norman Grigg, The New American, June 3, 2002.
Grigg, art. cit.