September 29, 2009

Atheist Activism Needed on Catholic Clergy Abuse

Priestly Ordination, a popular devotional depi...Image via Wikipedia

So there I was sitting in front of my computer, coffee in hand, looking forward to enjoying a nice quiet Sunday morning catching up with the atheist blogosphere. I clicked on a link left in a comment by pelican666, and my calm was shattered. The priest abuse scandal in Italy commands attention but is receiving virtually none in the U.S. media. There are plenty of things in this world that piss me off, but I am finding that few have more power to do so than what this article characterizes as the "culture of silence" around sexual abuse by Catholic clergy.

I know that sexual abuse is often an uncomfortable topic. I also know that the pedestal on which many Western cultures place religion inevitably leads to greater discomfort and avoidance of discussing abuse committed by members of the clergy. Unfortunately, this means that the burden of raising awareness of these crimes tends to fall disproportionately on two groups: victims' advocates and atheists.

I have known a great many victims' advocates who work tirelessly to raise awareness about the prevalence and dire consequences of child sexual abuse. But they need our help. Many are in positions where it is difficult for them to call out religious institutions or point to the unique manner in which religious belief protects pedophile priests and allows the churches to perpetuate such abuse. Frankly, they should be expected to do this because their primary role is one of providing assistance to the victims.

Perhaps atheist activists can increasingly take on the role of raising public awareness of how religious belief facilitates child sexual abuse. Whenever I see one of these stories, I experience what can only be described as rage. "How dare these sick Christians do this to children!" But at least an equal source of outrage involves the growing realization that the rest of us allow this to continue. The institutions which have been proven to perpetuate these atrocities need to be dismantled. Bill Donahue be damned!
For decades, a culture of silence has surrounded priest abuse in Italy, where surveys show the church is considered one of the country's most respected institutions.
Maybe I should feel relieved that such news is reported at all. But when I see how quickly these stories are buried and hear Bill Donahue claiming that those of us wanting to protect children are somehow anti-Catholic bigots, whatever relief I might have felt evaporates.

What can we do? For starters, I think we need to do a better job of covering these stories and demonstrating how religious belief facilitates these crimes. We need to overcome our hesitancy about confronting these crimes. I also think that it is important for us to spread the word about organizations such as the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP). Those who are victimized need to know where to go for help. It is clear that the Catholic power structure remains determined to sweep these crimes under the rug. We must not allow that to happen.

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