A few weeks ago, Michael Cook of MercatorNet wrote an article about the abuse crisis in the Church and the skewed media coverage of it. Eric Masseus has a Dutch translation at his blog. It’s a good article that looks at things from an angle often ignored by the mainstream media.
The scandal of sexual abuse by priests in Europe is distracting us from an even bigger scandal in the future, one which the media helped to create.
Media coverage of sexual abuse by Catholic priests in Europe is being formatted according to the Watergate template: sensational crimes, decades-long cover-ups, dogged reporters, denials from official hacks, half-apologies from quivering bureaucrats, threads leading to the dark lair of lies and obstruction. Only Deep Throat is missing.
“Abuse Scandal in Germany Edges Closer to Pope” was the headline in the New York Times a week ago. The Times has even set up a special blog to track and interpret the unfolding story.
Day by day, the drumbeat grows louder. Earlier this week the media’s favourite atheist, Christopher Hitchens, bundled together a handful of yellowing newspaper clippings and packaged it as a sulphurous attack in the on-line magazine Slate: “The pope’s entire career has the stench of evil about it.”
Tomorrow Benedict XVI is to publish a letter to the Irish Catholic bishops about the horrendous scandal there. No doubt this will prompt more speculation about whether sexual abuse in Germany will be the Pope’s Watergate, about whether he will be forced to resign, about whether the Catholic Church will have to abandon its tradition of clerical celibacy [a seemingly endless discussion. Celibacy in itself is not the cause of abuse. Faulty formation and preparation for a celibate life may be.].
The scandal of clergy who sexually abused children is diabolically real. It has to be confronted humbly and courageously by the bishops who run the Catholic Church. Clergy who are found guilty should be punished. Higher-ups who shielded them should resign.
There is no doubt that Pope Benedict is ready to take a tough line on this. After all – contrary to what Hitchens claims – it was he who established clear guidelines and he has enforced them sternly. On several occasions he has spoken of the “deep shame” he feels at revelations that some priests had betrayed their calling and preyed upon innocent children. When he addressed American bishops in 2008 he spoke with a hint of sarcasm, quoting their own words to say that the crisis had been “sometimes very badly handled”.
But it’s important to remember that these scandals relate to priests who offended decades ago. Wannabee Woodwards and Bernsteins are deflecting attention from the crisis that is happening right now, a crisis from which the media is averting its eyes, just as the bishops did 30 years ago, a crisis in which they play an active role.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel got it right this week. She denounced sexual abuse of minors as “a despicable crime” but refused to single out the Catholic Church for special criticism. “Let’s not oversimplify things,” she said. “We need to speak about [changing] the statute of limitations, we can address the idea of compensation, but the main issue is that this is a major challenge for our society.”
The huge, unreported story is that we are in denial about a widespread, deliberate, systemic encouragement of people not to control their sexuality. [Amen] It’s as if a health department allowed witch doctors and Reiki therapists to edge out surgeons. Or as if a defence department allowed its tanks to rust. Fundamental principles of a civilized society like sexual restraint, fidelity in marriage, and nurturing families, are being undermined. The mind-numbing list of politicians caught with their pants down, the tsunami of pornography, sky-rocketing teen sex – all these are warning bells about the consequences of creating a hyper-sexualised culture.
Just take this week’s announcement by an Australian company that it had sold the licensing rights to a testosterone roll-on underarm deodorant to boost men’s flagging sex drive for US$335 million to pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly.
Or the news that the International Planned Parenthood Federation recently gave girl scouts a glossy pamphlet encouraging them to have “lots of different ways to have sex and lots of different types of sex”.
Or the UK government’s new guidelines for sex education for children as young as five.
If a priest had suggested these ideas, they would have been called grooming. And in fact, they are grooming — for a lifetime of commercial exploitation. What kind of society are we creating if we actively encourage children to treat sex as entertainment and encourage men to remain in a constant state of arousal? Sex is not a toy. Without clear moral standards, it is a natural passion which easily becomes an unnatural addiction. Does anyone seriously believe that in 30 years’ time there will be less sex abuse after giving children classroom lessons in how to masturbate?
Of all our social institutions, it seems that only the Church realizes that a crisis is brewing for which we are going to pay dearly in the years ahead. As Benedict told American bishops:
Children deserve to grow up with a healthy understanding of sexuality and its proper place in human relationships. They should be spared the degrading manifestations and the crude manipulation of sexuality so prevalent today. They have a right to be educated in authentic moral values rooted in the dignity of the human person… What does it mean to speak of child protection when pornography and violence can be viewed in so many homes through media widely available today?
Contrary to the impression conveyed in the media, the Catholic Church has been incredibly successful in teaching its priests how to control and channel their sexuality. There are 400,000 celibate priests in the world. The number who have been accused of sexual misconduct is a minuscule fraction, even though the Pope surely feels that a single failure is too many. True, bishops and priests should rend their garments in shame for the bestial crimes of their associates. But that must not keep them from warning the world about the next abuse crisis.
Michael Cook is editor of MercatorNet.