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.
Saturday, March 14, 2009
Child sex abuse: will the Catholic Church go bankrupt?
The bill would give one year to victims of child sexual abuse to file a lawsuit against the alleged perpetrators, an action for which the current legislation sets a statute of five years after the victim turns 18. After one year, the statute of limitations would be permanently extended to ten years. The idea is supported by children’s advocates, who maintain that it often takes a long time to come to terms with having been the subject of sexual abuse, because of the shame and psychological trauma. Similar bills have passed in Delaware and in California, and in New York Governor Paterson has said that he would sign it.
Seems like a no brainer, right? Especially in a child-centric society like the United States, you would think that nobody would dare opposE such a bill. But you would be wrong. The spokesperson for the New York State Catholic Conference, Dennis Poust, was quoted in the New York Times as saying that “this bill is designed to bankrupt the Catholic Church.” Besides the fact that I personally don’t think that bankrupting the Catholic Church would be a particularly terrible sin, the charge is obviously paranoid. Then again, it is true that the incoming Archbishop of New York, Timothy Dolan, was forced to put his headquarters in Wisconsin up for sale in order to pay judgments from law suites generated by a similar law...
Catholic authorities are being helped in fighting against the bill by leaders of both Hasidic and Sephardic Jewish institutions in Brooklyn, which evidently fear that they might be the target of similar accusations and legal actions. Moreover, this is actually the fourth time that the bill has come up for consideration, each time stoically shepherded by Assemblywoman Margaret Markey of Queens (a Democrat). The previous three times the effort was blocked, with the bill never even getting to be discussed by the state Senate because of opposition by former majority leader Joseph Bruno (a Republican). Things are looking up this time, though, because thank god control of the state legislature switched to Democrats after the last elections.
The real question is this: why do some conservative religious people in a position of authority (be they Catholics, Hasidic, Sephardic) have a tendency to engage in child sexual molestation? And why can't Republican politicians help themselves from shielding the perpetrators, legally and in the public arena?
I don’t know enough about Hasidic and Sephardic Jews, but I grew up Catholic and I have a strong suspicion that the reason for the widespread sexual abuse of children within the Church is very, very simple indeed: priests can’t have sex openly, so they get it in other ways. I’m sure this suggestion won’t shock anyone with a modicum of understanding of human nature, but it is remarkable that the Church won’t do the only thing that will stop the practice (other than facing up to it instead of hiding it): let the poor bastards marry, just like the Protestants do. After all, the scriptural mandate for members of the Church not too marry is based on really shaky grounds. I’m sure God would understand.
As for why Republicans are so keen to help child molesters when they are members of the clergy, despite their vocal protestations about “putting children first” every chance they get, this too is rooted in rather simple notions. The most obvious one is that conservatives seem to think that religious authorities need to be protected at any cost, because they are, after all, the source of moral teaching for the rest of us. I doubt the irony of this position in the case of child sexual abuse perpetrated by priests reaches the average Republican mind, notoriously shielded from the real world by thick layers of denial and rationalization.
Then again, the whole relationship between conservatism and sex is so hilarious that it makes for wonderful satirical comedy. Just think of the recent scandal involving “reverend” Ted Haggart and homosexuality, or the the finding that more porn is consumed in regions of the country where religious conservatism is stronger. That’s the problem when one turns normal human behavior into “sin.” Wouldn’t it be better for priests and conservatives to simply enjoy some consensual sex among adults and leave homosexuals free to do what they like, rather than molest children and support the porn industry?