July 10, 2013

Catholics Show Willful Blindness to Clergy Abuse

St. Peter's Basilica at Early Morning
St. Peter's Basilica at Early Morning (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I find myself unable to stop thinking about what is merely the latest of a long list of Catholic scandals involving child rape and attempts by the Church to conceal it, actions which often enable the perpetrators to continue violating children. One one side of the conflict, you have an immensely powerful organization with over 1 billion adherents around the world and wealth too massive to comprehend. On the other side, you have innocent children, many of whom are vulnerable due to stature, poverty, disability, or the trust faith generates on the part of their families. I suppose it is no wonder that this is not exactly a fair fight.

Sexual assault, particularly the forcible rape and molestation of prepubescent children, is considered by many to be one of the worst offenses imaginable. Ask most people what sort of crime bothers them the most, and sexual perpetration against children inevitably rises to the top. Survey the general public about under what circumstances they might consider indefinite incarceration or even the death penalty, and child rape will be mentioned. For good reason, we consider this to be one of the most despicable things someone can do.

In spite of this, millions of Catholics right here in the U.S. are not willing to leave the Church. While many have indeed sought to distance themselves from the Vatican, they continue to provide financial support to the organization that enables these crimes. How they live with themselves is not an easy thing to understand. I suspect compartmentalization, denial, and even willful blindness are all relevant factors.

They tell themselves that it could never happen to them or their families. Catholic families all over the world thought that until it happened to their children. They argue that the problem is rare and is limited to only a handful of priests. And yet, scandals involving Catholic clergy and others closely associated with the Church have surfaced again and again. We have seen how a single perpetrator can abuse several hundred children over the years. but most troublesome of all, we have seen how the Church hierarchy has conspired to cover up these crimes, often transferring the offender to a new location with plenty of unsuspecting victims.

The Catholics who refuse to leave the Church in spite of these atrocities try to put great psychological distance between their priest and the Vatican, between the church they attend and Rome. Some may acknowledge that the Vatican has problems but insist that everything is great at their local church. They try not to think about how a portion of the money they contribute locally supports the hierarchy that continues to commit the crimes about which they read in the papers. And they try not to think about how the pious attitude with which they approach their church is part of the problem.

On the occasions where I have attempted to have conversations with Catholics about this subject, I sound like a broken record. No matter what they say, I keep coming back to two things:
But children are being raped. We're talking about children being raped by Catholics they trust.
and
I understand that you are not a fan of child rape, but you are supporting an organization that enables it. I'm not asking you to reject the gods in which you believe; I am baffled as to how you can say you oppose child rape while continuing to support it through your financial contributions and your presence.
They protest that I am anti-Catholic, and I remind them that I am anti child rape. They accuse me of trying to paint all Catholics as criminals, and I remind them that we usually consider someone who supports a criminal organization at least partially responsible for allowing the organization to continuing to commit crimes. They give me many examples of issues around which they sharply disagree with Vatican policy. "I think it is nice that you have recognized that the Vatican is wrong about many things," I say, "I wish you could see that they are also wrong on child rape and that your continued support makes it less likely that they will see this."

What would we make of someone who condemned persons who use drugs while using drugs herself? How would we judge someone who preached hatred of LGBT persons while engaging in a homosexual relationship himself? What are we to make of someone who pays lip service to opposing child rape but continues to participate in and provide financial support to an organization that enables it?

Catholics, I desperately want to believe that you find child rape every bit as intolerable as I do. I want to believe that you are serious about protecting children. Your actions suggest otherwise. It is time to overcome the willful blindness and leave the Catholic Church.

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