Friday, September 12, 2003

Anti-Catholicism and clerical paedophilia

Last month I wrote this re the recently discovered 1962 Vatican policy on keeping clerical sexual abuse hidden at all costs. Although this story got another quick run through the global news wringer two weeks later, it has since seemingly disappeared without trace.

As to why, I’m actually not too bothered. The Catholic Church would appear to be pari passu with the Saudi royals when it comes to believing in the almighty salvation power of pricey public relations advice. But what does genuinely creep me out is this kind of paedophile-apologist spin:

The soundest study of priestly sexual misconduct--involving 2,252 priests over forty years--indicates that 1.7 percent behaved badly, such behavior ranging from inappropriate speech to rape, and in only one case involving a true pedophile: i.e., an adult sexually interested in prepubescent children . . . [M]ost targets of unwanted priestly attention are girls and women.

It is just too easy to debunk the “soundness” credentials of this (1992) study. You can read a bit more of its background here, but I have a useful, and more reliable, statistic to the contrary, in any case. One hundred percent (100%) of the male teaching staff at my Catholic primary school in 1971 were cleric-pedophiles*. And primary school kids, in case it’s not absolutely obvious, are prepubescent children.

Statistical windschuttling can soon become a tiresome game, though, so let’s go back to unpacking the non-numerical spin in the above quote. Of course there’s a difference between an adult having sex with 5-year-olds, compared to sex with pubescents, but how has this point managed to become a faith article owned by the fundamentalist Right? It’s nothing to do with religion – the difference has long been abundantly spelled-out in the gradations of criminal law sexual offences, and in blanket and tiered ages of consent.

Of course, denying mundane reality soon becomes a slippery-slide, going to ever stranger and stranger places. The “most targets of unwanted priestly attention are girls and women” sentence from the above quote fits seamlessly in after the ellipsis (I reckon, anyway) but would you believe that it's actually by reviewer Joann Wypijewski, criticizing the supposed Gays-Under-his-Bonnet attentions of author and academic Philip Jenkins, from whose book the earlier part of the above quote comes (and about which "1.7 percent - TICK" Wypijewski seems to have no issues with whatsoever).

Still with me? If so, “good”. Now, you may have already explained Wypijewski’s rhetorical acrobatics as due to a simple case of Trish Bolton-itis; definable as the conviction (without a shred of evidence) that childhood sexual abuse (i) only happens to women, and (ii) only happened to baby boomer (and older) women. Actually, though, Wypijewski is making a much more daring move – for martyrdom, at least of the symbolic kind. After having observed that Philip Jenkins’ views of the culpability difference between the abuse of children vs pubescent teenagers had seen him attacked from both sides (liberals pushing for an end to celibacy and the ordination of women, and conservatives seeking to purge gay priests), Wypijewski has carved for herself an even-more contrived, tortured niche – “What about the girls?” – a singular, floodlit grotto, all of her own making.

As for “anti-Catholicism” then, spare me the self-inflicted stigmata. And save yourselves the bother, too – the more that denying the damage done by clerical paedophilia is aligned with supposed anti-Catholicism, the faster the Church will shrink into, and under, its contradictions.

* The Age story linked to cites “a disturbing number”. The Herald Sun 5 April 1997 (no URL) cites “the entire male teaching staff”.

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