July 28, 2013

How Religious Indoctrination Enables Clergy Abuse

Monseigneur Rauber, Cardinal Danneels, Monseig...
Monseigneur Rauber, Cardinal Danneels, Monseigneur Vangheluwe and his sucessor Monseigneur Jozef De Kesel, both bishop of Bruges. Mgr. Vangheluwe is old-Bishop of Bruges, and was succeeded by Mgr. De Kesel after a case of child-abuse. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
This will be a short post because I really just want to highlight something I read at Bitchspot, which I think is important. Cephus (Bitchspot) has been writing a weekly series of "Horror Show Sunday" posts in which he focuses on some of the worst religion has to offer. In today's installment, Horror Show Sunday: Take Those Little Girls Home, he tells us about Nigerian pastor Fidelis Eze and how he has admitted taking two 11 year-old girls home and having sex with them. Pastor Eze first claimed that the 11 year-olds consented to sex. When police did not buy that, he claimed he was possessed by evil spirits.

The part I want to highlight is what Cephus had to say to those who complain that it is unfair for him to pick on clergy. As someone who addressed clergy abuse, I've certainly received this same complaint. It usually goes something like this: "People in many professions abuse children, so why do you focus on clergy as if it is somehow worse when they do it?" Well, because it is worse when they do it.

Cephus provides three reasons why it makes sense to consider clergy abuse as a special category:
  1. The clergy is taught to be respected across wide swaths of American life, parents teach their children to listen to, respect and obey their priests and ministers and to turn to them in moments of crisis, both religious and physical. True, this respect and obedience also extends to a select few other occupations like police, firefighters and teachers, but they do not share other detrimental aspects.
  2. The clergy has unfettered access to children at virtually all times. Parents trust and respect the clergy to do what is in their children’s best interests and have little problem leaving their children in the care of men of the cloth, even in situations that they’d be uncomfortable leaving them with other professions. Teachers may have some access to children, but usually only in controlled conditions and rarely in very private situations where abuse can occur.
  3. Finally, the clergy has a particular hold over the minds of children, whereas a teacher or a police officer can offer an earthly threat to a child should they disobey, a priest or a minister can offer a heavenly one. Clergy are often looked upon as being closer to God and thus, having in “in” with the almighty. A cop can out you in jail, a teacher can give you detention, many people look upon the clergy as people who can see to it you’re sent into eternal perdition. That’s a powerful incentive to not only comply with a minister’s wishes, no matter what they want to do, but also to keep quiet about the whole situation after the fact.
Excellent points that we do not address nearly enough. One could argue that #1 and #2 apply to other professions, as Cephus acknowledges. Parents teach children to respect people in many professions (#1), and some professions may have even greater access than clergy (#2). But #3 is where things really get interesting. In many religious traditions, clergy are viewed as conduits to some sort of god or gods. Eternal damnation is at stake. Talk about an incentive to cooperate and keep quiet afterward!

Those of us who cover clergy abuse from time-to-time would do well to highlight the aspects of religious doctrine that facilitate abuse and enable perpetrators to escape detection and punishment.

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