About Rationally Speaking

Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Catholic Woodstock and the German Shepherd (i.e., the Pope)

We have talked quite a bit on this blog (and others) recently about the so-called “Woodstock” of evolution, in reality a technical workshop that I organized in Austria earlier this month. Heck, even Science magazine has said that “Massimo Pigliucci is no Jimi Hendrix” (true, both literally and metaphorically), though they went on to say that I am “soft-spoken,” which I take as a compliment, though I’m afraid a quick look at this blog would easily dissuade even the casual reader from making any such statement.

But I digress. This post is about what CNN has baptized (the term is apt, given the occasion) “the Catholic Woodstock,” the World Youth Day held in Australia, where pope Ratzinger (no Hendrix himself, I might add) has made an appearance. The pope, whom Romans ironically refer to as “il pastore tedesco” (the German Shepherd (1), with an obvious reference to the dog breed), has once again apologized for the persisting scandal of Catholic priests sexually abusing children all over the world (in the US the conservative estimate is of 4,000 priests having engaged in such behavior since 1950, with the Church paying more than $2 billion for it so far, largely in the past few years).

Ratzinger (and before him, John Paul II) has apologized several times for the problem, which is more than most popes do, regardless of the subject matter (John Paul II refused to apologize for the burning at the stake of Giordano Bruno, which happened back in 1600, and I doubt Ratzinger is going to do it, considering that before becoming pope he was the head of the office that used to be the Inquisition). But of course apologies are rather cheap to make, what counts here is real help for the victims and a much more serious attitude toward policing the problem, including referring priests to the secular authorities, instead of simply transferring them from one parish to another.

Well, to his credit, the German Shepherd has just called for judicial action! As far as I can tell from a glance at the US media, most of them missed that detail, but the Italian press has made a big deal of it. According to the 24 hour news channel of Italian public television, Benedict XVI has actually said that “Le vittime devono ricevere compassione e cura e i responsabili di questi mali devono essere portati davanti alla giustizia,” which translates to “The victims deserve compassion and cures, and those responsible for these evils have to be brought to justice.” Wow, fighting words, good for Ratzinger.

Of course, it remains to be seen whether the pope will actually follow through with real action, instructing high prelates the world over to aggressively fight priest pedophilia, directing them to collaborate with the police while at the same time channeling a significant amount of the church’s resources to help the victims with psychological and medical counseling.

The timing of this announcement was underscored by the fact that yet another scandal of the same sort is brewing right there in Australia, where according to the Independent newspaper, Cardinal George Pell has been accused of covering up the sexual abuses committed back in 1982 by Father Terence Goodall. Pell lied back in 2003, when he said that internal church investigations did not uphold the accusations, when in fact they did (isn’t lying a sin for Catholics? Just asking). Oops. Perhaps the German Shepherd could show some teeth and set an immediate example, firing Pell and denouncing Goodall (if he is still alive) to the Australian authorities. Somehow, though, I don’t think that’s going to happen.

(1) Every time I go back to Italy, as I did a couple of weeks ago, I am reminded of how wonderful the subtle sense of humor and tendency toward sarcasm of the Romans really is. It has developed over many centuries of political oppression, mostly under the yoke of the popes...


  1. ...Benedict XVI has actually said that “Le vittime devono ricevere compassione e cura e i responsabili di questi mali devono essere portati davanti alla giustizia,” which translates to “The victims deserve compassion and cures, and those responsible for these evils have to be brought to justice.”

    Is it reasonable to suppose he meant secular justice?

  2. The Italian papers made it clear that the breakthrough is the pope's call for secular justice.

  3. Hm... maybe he stopped to catch his breath and then conveniently forgot the "divina" after "giustizia"? :o)

    Anyway, I too hope it's not just PR from Herr Ratzinger et al. If they didn't go against billions of years of evolution and would just let their priests be normal sexually reproducing animals, I doubt this problem would exist to begin with. It seems like the more sexually repressed a person (or society, for that matter) is, the sicker and more depraved it gets...

  4. Could you imagine if a department of the federal government had the same indictments made against it as the Catholic church? It would be shut down in a second, no matter how good the cause (unless it was Defense, in which case abuse is OK). Instead, the Catholic church is still revered as an "intellectual" bastion compared to most religions. Why there is such a double standard between secular and religious institutions is absolutely beyond me to offer explanation. ugh!

  5. In fact, Chris, there is a problem with teacher/student sexual abuse in public and private schools, a considerable problem. According to Nan Stein, at the Center for Research on Women at Wellesley College, it's estimated there are at least several hundred such incidents each year. I've seen corroborating estimates and estimates that suggest that's at the low end.

    Yet it doesn't have the pizzaz, in the press and elsewhere, that the priest scandal has - it often doesn't even register as a scandal.

  6. Interesting stuff, it is indeed rather uncommon for a leader of a religious sect to not only acknowledge where they were wrong...but also possibly even hint at secular justice. I personally haven't followed many of the Catholic Priest's Pedophilia cases but, has there been any action taken by the church besides apologizing and rotating priests?

  7. G'day from Sydney (woops - Woodstock. I always wanted to be at Woodstock)

    A inside view of Woodstock 08.

    I don't mind taxpayers money going on WYD, though I think it would have been more cost effective and given the punters a better view, to use the Sydney Olympic Park facilities, but then it wouldn't have been as spectacular or have record crowd numbers. What was that Big George (Cardinal Pell) said about the evils of ego in his mass - Pell attacked "old, fat relentless egos" to a record 150,000 crowd mass in Australia (til Sunday that was) standing in front of the splendour of Sydney Harbour).

    Sydney taxpayers spent a lot of money building Eastern Creek raceway so I could go to a couple of Moto GPs there and there was a lot of complaining at the time about that expenditure. Horses for courses in a secular liberal parliamentary democracy.

    I was not inconvenienced by WYD and the kids seemed to be having a good time. I don't know if the old men of the church bothered to take any notice of their young views and I doubt we'll be seeing a young Pope any time soon. I heard my wife's neice do a very good interview on the radio and I liked the big group of very funky black pilgrims who passed me one evening singing a very tight version of "Hot Hot Hot"

    As that Meher Baba devotee and critic of "A Man In A Purple Dress", Pete Townshend says, "The kids are alright."

    Though I still think their supernatural beliefs are absurd and having been indocrinated by the Presbyterians while growing up, I think that many aspects of their church services are rather weird, to say the least.

    On the evening after Big George droaned his way through that record mass down by the harbour, I left work to find myself in a massive crowd heading for the same station as me. They were in very jolly spirits. So I get on a busy train, just behind a man in a purple dress. Very nicely tailored too. PIlgrims make up nearly all of the carriage. Half of them are singing and clapping and having fun. I have no problem with that. I get on with my book, Karen Armstrong's "Muhammad".

    Next station, a couple got into our carriage and squeeze in next and opposite to me. After a bit he turns around and yelles "Shut up" at the singers. They quieten for a bit and then start up again. A couple of minutes later he yells "Shut up you're not the only ones on the train." They quieten but no one says anything to him. He's giving me the shits. If he does it again, I'm going to have to say something if no one else does.

    Sure enough, after the singing rises again he turns and tells them to shut up again. No one, including the man in the purple dress says anything. Well, I've had enough.

    I tell him I don't have a problem with them and he starts arguing with me. We argue back and forth and I can feel he's working up to a name callling moment as he has nowhere to go with his vacuous argument and no one is supporting him, not even his girlfriend. Mind you, no one is supporting me either. His girlfriend then suggests they change trains to which he grumpily agrees. Ironically, the next train is bound to have even more Woodstockers on it.

    As they head out of the carriage, they turn to me. He says, "You're a dickhead mate."

    "No," I say, "I'm an Athesit. I just don't have a problem them with them having fun."

    He gives me a blank look. His grilfirend says, "You're an Atheist?" with a rising inflection. I nod.

    And then they were gone. I went back to my book. The woodstockers went back to singing. No one said anything. Maybe if I'd said I was Presbyterian, someone may have said thank you. Never mind, that's not why I did it.

    Then again I may just be one of those "shallow, apathetic, self absorbed dead souls that poison friendships" that Benedict was attacking in his homily at his Sunday mass at Randwick racecourse to the 400,000 gathered there. But I think he's talking through his hat and of course he's not being agressive and militant is he, he's just being muscular.


  8. So, no commentary concerning justice or concern for the children as applied to the teacher/student sexual abuse scandal in public and private school systems?

    Does that suggest that the Pigliuccis of the world simply don't care about the kids, unless an anti-religion theme can be given top billing? Otherwise, it doesn't matter?

    If so, is that not a type of moral inversion itself, caring more about presumptive ideas, rather than the children in question? Seems that way. Or, if not, I'd love to hear the justification.

    Michael B

  9. Michael,

    I'm afraid I don't follow the reasons of your criticism. The post is specifically about a news event, the Pope's first call for secular justice in these cases. Therefore, I commented on the Church's problem in this area. How does it follow that therefore I don't care about the kids? The fact that kids are molested in other settings and by other people is a sad reality (and usually it _is_ dealt with by the secular authorities), but was not the news item that spurred the post in the first place.

  10. Massimo,

    It's not that difficult, your softspoken confusion notwithstanding.

    The children are the primary concern here, the primary focal point - or at least should be - and everything else is secondary or even tertiary, relative to that primary focus. That you don't follow that rather stark, unambiguous moral line of reasoning is suggestive of something.

    Yes, the post is (obviously) about a news event, chosen by yourself and commented upon by yourself, the primary focus of that commentary touching upon the sexual abuse scandal. Is sum, you function as writer, editor and publisher, with all that implies. Hence your confusion provides a certain wry bemusement, and little else.

    And it isn't simply "other settings," it's a certain, specific institutional setting with its own perduring history, thus it serves as a direct corollary with the equally repugnant priest scandal. That "other setting" is the public and private primary school setting. In terms of "other settings" and "sad realities" you might additionally review the sexual abuse scandals that have long been evidenced out of the United Nations as well.

    Iow, of the three institutions of note, 1) primary school systems, 2) the United Nations and 3) the priests within the Catholic church, your focus is highly selective, to be overly kind. If I'm wrong, point me to similar commentary concerning the U.N.'s sexual abuse scandals or the sexual abuse scandals with public and private primary school systems.

    Finally, what planet to you live on? The "secular authorities" are not doing a terribly good job in the case of the U.N.'s sex scandals, nor in the case of the sex scandals in private and public primary schools either. For one, lobbying efforts are needed to open up public coffers such that victims, past and present, can more adequately be compensated.

  11. jeremiah,

    it seems to me that we have different ideas about what a blog is. A blog is a *personal* log of opinions, so you cannot fault me for not writing about topics that interest you, no matter how important. You are more than welcome to start your own blog, but not to make the wrong, and frankly offensive, inference that I don't care about children just because I wrote an entry specifically on the Pope and not on the broader problem.

  12. Gosh, Massimo, not even close. I'm offended myself, doubly so since you additionally failed to engage on any rational basis whatsoever. I much more simply called attention to your choices, which reflect a general sense, if only a general sense, of priorities. I did not suggest you should adhere to my or to others' choices. What loony, projected landscape do you inhabit that you would infer that from what was said? I called attention to your choices as applied to the subject matter at hand, adding commentary as well, but not in the least suggesting you adhere to anyone's priorities and interests other than your own.

    Otoh, if you need to be coddled and cossetted and only given warm praise and applause - well, I suspect, if again only in a general sense, that suggests something as well.

    What is of note here is that you don't, on any rational ground whatsoever (even to the contrary), argue successfully against anything I took note of, instead you claim offense. Nice work, from a tactical point of view, it's still rank bullshit though. More succinctly put, you're sellin' it, but I'm not buying.

  13. jeremiah,

    "More succinctly put, you're sellin' it, but I'm not buying."

    Well, then, it's a good thing I don't charge anything to peruse my blog! Enjoy the rest of the nonsense I write for free.

  14. Nonplussed, phlegmatic. Good choice, nicely executed.

    The focal point, the subject was, after all, choices made and what the reflect.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.