It seems like the Catholics have really stepped in it. Or they stepped in it a while ago but in the last month or two people have followed the nasty tracks on the carpet back to the special, white, button-up platform heels of Pope Benedict himself.
Watching the resulting feeding frenzy from the position of an Ex-Catholic and friend of more than a couple practicing Catholics has made me feel a little weird. The conversation has dredged up old resentments and underlying tensions. I’m an EX Catholic for a reason. But I notice almost completely missing from the debate any questioning the validity of some of the claims, standing up for any of the accused, or for rank and file Catholics by demanding that the conversation steer clear of blanket statements regarding the sanity or intelligence of the faithful.
Please don’t get me wrong. Hushing or otherwise protecting child molesters is wrong unequivocally. Molesting and raping boys and girls is wrong. I think we can agree that they are criminal acts which can and do happen among any group of people. Jewish mikvahs were in the news last year for being places where little boys were routinely raped. It was an open secret. This isn’t a just a Catholic thing.
People who already hated religion, Catholics, Church-goers and authority have taken this opportunity to bash. I’ve seen on Facebook and in comment threads things like “anyone ignorant enough to go to a Catholic church after recent revelations deserves whatever scorn we can muster” and worse. People who claim to strive for tolerance are veritably gleeful as they revel in the latest tidbit, or re-hash an old one. Let’s just remember a few things:
First, most Catholics are just people. They’re good hard-working people who inherited their religion if not their actual church from their parents. Church is part of their family. Turning their back on their church simply isn’t an option. Not because they don’t care about abused children, not because they really think the pope is infallible, but because church is family in a very real way. Remember the people. Most of them mediocre, some of them stupid, some very smart, most good. They’re just people and their family is in scandal right now. It seems mean spirited to rub it in.
Catholic Priests are mostly decent people, like most of the lawyers I know. It’s wrong to paint them all with the same brush. More importantly, it isn’t fair to sacrifice a few innocent priests in order to save children. Almost all cases of repressed memories have been shown to be false. Giving credence to these claims takes away from the credibility of the people who really were abused, and just as bad, it ruins the lives of decent men.
In an attempt to allow sunshine into the discussion of sexual abuse, the pendulum has swung too far the opposite direction. People are encouraged, comforted, remunerated and praised for telling their tales of abuse. We are admonished from the bumpers of cars that “Children should be seen, heard and Believed”. Children as young as 3 years old have been allowed to testify in court against alleged abusers. I have children. I was a child. Children should be heard, but obliging people to believe them is madness.
Not enough people understand that it’s not just possible, but that it’s easy to remember something that never happened. 2003Nature Even easier if a therapist or social worker is on a mission. Memory is alarmingly plastic and an accusation of sexual abuse is nearly impossible to cleanse from one’s reputation, especially if the accused is socially inept or otherwise vulnerable. I’m saying these things because I’m starting to smell the stench of a witch-hunt wherein even people who defend the accused end up being taken down. Michael Schermer has a great little book, “Why People Believe Weird Things” He’s got at least a chapter dedicated to why sexual abuse is the new witch hunt, it’s enlightening and should serve as a warning.
I’m a little afraid even to write this post. Real sexual abuse happens. That only serves to make it more important that we make sure that the false accusations are rooted out and that both the innocent and the guilty are well defended. It’s also why it’s important to not pollute the real accusations and anger with your own pre-loaded venom for the church or for institutional organizations generally. There is a cadre of people (right and left wing) who appear to be enjoying this whole thing, and that’s wrong.