The Smoking Gun of Catholic Culpability

The steady drip, drip, drip of documents showing the Vatican’s complicity in a worldwide child-rape scandal is ongoing. And the most recent drop to fall was a huge one:

By 1996, an advisory committee of Irish bishops had drawn up a new policy that included “mandatory reporting” of suspected abusers to civil authorities. The letter, signed by Archbishop Luciano Storero, then the Vatican’s apostolic nuncio — or chief representative — in Ireland, told the Irish bishops that the Vatican had reservations about mandatory reporting for both “moral and canonical” reasons.

The actual letter is available as a PDF file, so you can see for yourself. A short summary of the matter is that, in the early 1990s, revelations about sex predators among the Catholic clergy erupted into a huge scandal in Ireland. A committee of Irish bishops responded by drawing up a policy that made it mandatory for priests to report suspected child molesters to civil authorities, upon which Storero, essentially the Vatican’s ambassador to Ireland, wrote the following:

The Congregation wishes to emphasize the need for this document [i.e., the mandatory reporting policy] to conform to the canonical norms presently in force [implying that it didn't do so in its original form].

The text, however, contains “procedures and dispositions which appear contrary to canonical discipline and which, if applied, could invalidate the acts of the same Bishops who are attempting to put a stop to these problems. If such procedures were to be followed by the Bishops and there were cases of eventual hierarchical recourse lodged at the Holy See, the results could be highly embarrassing and detrimental to those same Diocesan authorities.

In particular, the situation of ‘mandatory reporting’ gives rise to serious reservations of both a moral and a canonical nature”.

To translate the diplomatic jargon, the Vatican was saying that if the Irish bishops adopted a mandatory-reporting policy, it would violate canon law and the accused priest could appeal to Rome to overturn any sanctions against him – that is, any church sanctions, such as defrocking or excommunication. The Vatican clearly considered this a far more important matter than the question of whether that priest should be tried in a criminal court. Since that outcome would be “highly embarrassing” to the bishops (and that potential embarrassment, of course, outweighs ensuring that child molesters are tried and punished by the law), the letter was implicitly urging them not to adopt this policy.

Unsurprisingly, apologists for the papacy have already gone into damage-control mode:

Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi said the letter had been misinterpreted: “It must be pointed out that the letter in no way indicates that the law of the land should not be adhered to.

…Fr Lombardi argued that the “reservations” about “mandatory reporting” referred to in the letter concerned the impact that such reporting might have on any subsequent canonical proceeding.

First off, let me note that this statement confirms my argument above: the Vatican, by its own admission, was more concerned about the effect of this policy on internal church proceedings than it was about its effect on the police’s ability to arrest and punish child molesters. They say this as if it were a defense, rather than a confirmation of the point at issue, which is that the church puts obedience to its own internal policies above the civil law and the well-being of children.

And no, the letter doesn’t explicitly command the bishops, “Obstruct justice.” It didn’t have to. By calling the mandatory reporting policy “contrary to canonical discipline” and saying that it gives rise to “serious reservations” in Rome, it said all that had to be said. The Vatican knew perfectly well that their disapproval would quash the policy and discourage bishops from going to the police – which it did, with predictably disastrous results:

Yet as a result of the 1997 letter, most Irish dioceses never implemented the 1996 commitment to report all suspected abuse cases to police, according to the conclusions of the government-mandated investigation into the Dublin Archdiocese published in 2009.

“This in fact never took place because of the response of Rome,” the commission said in its report…

That eight-year inquiry interviewed two senior Dublin Archdiocese canon lawyers involved in handling abuse complaints. They were quoted as saying the letter discouraged bishops from pursuing their 1996 initiative for fear of being overruled by Rome, as had already happened in one notorious case of a serial pedophile [this is a reference to the case of Tony Walsh, described in this article —Ebonmuse].

Given how many new revelations there have been in the ever-growing story of Catholic sex abuse, I wouldn’t bet that this is the last we’ll hear of this matter. There may well be other letters from the Vatican, even more explicit in their orders to keep predator priests under wraps, that haven’t come to light. Keep watching the headlines: the day may come, and sooner than we expect, when the full depths of the church’s complicity will be exposed.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • L.Long

    And this is a surprise to who???
    When you consider the moral character of some schite whose arse sits on a golden throne and issues edicts about ‘thou shalt not phuck!’ while getting a BJ from his mistress.
    In the past all this activity was an open secret no one talked about because the church was THE POWER. Now that their power base is reduced they have to keep their BS internal. This activity with little boys is just the tip of a corrupt iceberg that has been floating around for ages. And so long as so many people have a great respect (or fear) of religion it will continue.
    All religions deserve no more or less respect then we would give to the local McDonald’s.

  • http://friendlyhumanist.net/ Timothy Mills

    Sadly, it is a surprise to many Catholics. Consider the response of a Catholic commenter to my own blog post here. Apparently, she was unaware of any involvement of Ratzinger in the coverups.

  • http://technologeekery.blogspot.com/ Hendy

    Ebon: slight edit for Storero’s response (second quote block):

    …which, if applied, could invalidate the could invalidate the acts…

    [Fixed. —Ebonmuse]

  • NoAstronomer

    “In particular, the situation of ‘mandatory reporting’ gives rise to serious reservations of both a moral …”

    No moral reservations here. Anyone else?

  • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/ Verbose Stoic

    NoAstronomer,

    Imagine this scenario:

    Someone makes such an allegation. You know that the allegations are, in fact, false, because you know the person was with you at the time of the alleged incident. However, if you report it to the police, the allegation will be reported publicly and the alleged molestor will have their reputation ruined if you report it.

    Do you think a mandatory reporting policy that would force you to actually report it in that scenario would be a good idea? Wouldn’t you have moral reservations about reporting the allegations in that scenario?

  • heliobates

    Do you think a mandatory reporting policy that would force you to actually report it in that scenario would be a good idea? Wouldn’t you have moral reservations about reporting the allegations in that scenario?

    Good question, VS. Now put this back into the context of the Catholic Church and tell me if that changes anything.

  • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/ Verbose Stoic

    heliobates,

    Why would it change anything if the Catholic Church was the one with the mandatory reporting policy and it was a bishop who knew the allegations false and that reporting it to the police would get it published widely in the local news?

  • Fargus

    VS: In what other social context is what you describe acceptable? If I find out that there are allegations that one of my subordinates at work has been molesting children, even if the allegations turn out to be false, would it be acceptable for me to wait until an internal investigation has been conducted to report the allegations? Or is that a privilege reserved only to the Catholic Church?

  • http://peternothnagle.com Peter N

    VS,

    Even now, knowing the breathtaking scale of the worldwide child-rape scandal, you’re going to defer to a bishop to decide between protecting a child and protecting the reputation and influence of the church?

  • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/ Verbose Stoic

    Fargus,

    So, if you knew it false, and you knew it would destory that person’s reputation to report it, you’d have no moral qualms at all about reporting it? See, the actual effect here would be that that person would be branded a child molester over a clearly false allegation.

    Even if you had strong reasons to suspect that the allegations might be false, I’d expect a least a little hesitation before running to the police under those conditions, and perhaps more investigation before doing so.

    Since the Catholic Church actually has mechanisms for investigating claims, it would surely be even more reasonable to someone there to, in fact, investigate before reporting. Which a mandatory reporting policy would preclude.

    And note that my situation was really about it being reported directly to you. Your example is about you finding out about allegations. If I merely found out about allegations, I certainly wouldn’t rush to report it since that implies it’s second or third hand; I’d leave up to the primaries to do so before risking, again, ruining someone’s reputation on innuendo and rumour. Which wouldn’t mean that I might not, say, remove that person from handling the Children’s Christmas Party, just in case (and discreetly).

  • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/ Verbose Stoic

    Peter N.,

    The reputation of an individual, actually. But you miss my point. My point was against it being mandatory, across the board, in all cases. Clear guidelines need to be given in those cases, and I agree that it doesn’t look like there were at the time and may well not be now. But the idea of mandatory reporting can and should give people some moral qualms, and that’s what the original comment said wasn’t reasonable.

  • heliobates

    Why would it change anything if the Catholic Church was the one with the mandatory reporting policy and it was a bishop who knew the allegations false and that reporting it to the police would get it published widely in the local news?

    * Because the RCC, by 1997, not only knew that these kinds of abuse were occurring within its ranks but also knew that the abuse was “endemic” (to use the language of the Iris Commission).

    * Because the RCC had been actively engaging in a decades-long cover up, and in some cases effectively enabling and abetting the abusers.

    * Because: “If such procedures were to be followed by the Bishops and there were cases of eventual hierarchical recourse lodged at the Holy See, the results could be highly embarrassing and detrimental to those same Diocesan authorities.” <— is not an expression of moral concern that someone's personal reputation could be harmed, rather that priests could have Canonical recourse against Bishops and that would undermine the RCC heirarchy (it's right there in the letter!)

    * Because this directive instructs the Bishops to follow Canonical Reporting Procedures, and Canonical Procedure (as the author of the letter must have known), was to cover up the abuse.

    * Because a mandatory reporting policy, coupled with transparent investigation and reporting of the facts doesn't necessarily result in damage to an innocent person's reputation. In fact a thorough, transparent investigation can exhonerate the accused individual and expose the accuser as dishonist.

    Oh yes, the RCC had qualms. But your moral apprehension about a mandatory reporting policy is misplaced, given the context in which this directive was issued.

  • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/ Verbose Stoic

    heliobates,

    I was replying directly to the idea that one could have moral qualms with a mandatory reporting policy. None of the “context” you add changes that, since I can in fact still point out that a mandatory reporting policy is not a good way to solve those issues. About the only potentially relevant point is this:

    “Because a mandatory reporting policy, coupled with transparent investigation and reporting of the facts doesn’t necessarily result in damage to an innocent person’s reputation. In fact a thorough, transparent investigation can exhonerate the accused individual and expose the accuser as dishonist.”

    And it fails because once someone is accused of something as heinous as child molestation, their reputation generally never recovers, even if they are found innocent. We know all sorts of cases where this occurs, and that’s why politics uses smear campaigns.

    So my moral qualms still apply; there is good reason for someone to say that such a policy may not be a good idea. The rest of it is reading in intentions behind the letter, and I’m not actually discussing that.

  • http://journal.nearbennett.com Rick

    VerboseStoic: I understand your concept, but I think the situation you describe is incredibly rare. Allow me to restate your scenario a little more explicitly to be sure I’ve got it right.

    Jim and Alex are adults and know each other. On Friday night they go see a movie together that starts at 8PM and ends at 10:30PM.
    On Saturday, Tony’s parents go to Jim and say “Our son tells us he was molested by Alex last night around 9PM. What are you going to do?”

    VS, your point is that Jim should be allowed judgment in this case and should not report the allegation because he knows that Alex could not have perpetrated the act. Is that correct?

    No, I don’t have evidence for this, but that seems incredibly rare. And to allow someone the latitude of attempting to make that decision seems very dangerous. How would the reporting requirement read? “You must report all allegations to the authorities EXCEPT ones that you KNOW to be false.”

    In the above allegation, what if the child didn’t report the time accurately, and the abuse happened at 11PM? Shouldn’t a disinterested third party investigate because of the risk that it might be true? Reputations ebb and flow and change with information available about the individual. Yes, just the allegation would harm the reputation of the person, but exoneration would improve their reputation as well. And I think a blanket policy would protect more children than harming the reputation of innocent adults.

  • Fargus

    VS: I suppose that, especially when we are talking about organizations which claim a head with a direct line to God, the circumstances of “knowing” an allegation is false would have to be pretty clearly defined, right? They couldn’t, for instance, be “I have known this man for years and prayed on it and have been told by God that he’s innocent of these charges,” right?

    Regardless, your posts read much like the “ticking time bomb” defenses of torture. Proposing a scenario that is blindingly unlikely in order to thwart decency and justice is pretty reprehensible.

  • http://peternothnagle.com Peter N

    VS,

    You are suggesting that when an allegation of child rape is made against a priest, his bishop should be allowed to decide whether to notify the police, or to hush it up. That seems to be the way it’s been done up until now. We can never know how many times this has prevented a priest’s reputation from being unjustly harmed, but we can also never know how many children have been victimized by rapists who could have been stopped. It’s a lot.

    It would be much better for all of us, including the church, if there had been a mandatory reporting policy in place. If the church were truly a force for moral good in society, it would have had a policy of aggressively investigating every child rape allegation, cooperating fully with civil law enforcement, and being on the forefront of protecting children. In reality, of those three, the exact opposite is true.

    If the church had earned and kept our trust, then if a priest were accused and later exonerated, that would mean something. But instead, what we have learned, to our horror, is the extent to which the church protects criminals, and lies.

  • heliobates

    You are suggesting that when an allegation of child rape is made against a priest, his bishop should be allowed to decide whether to notify the police, or to hush it up.

    To be fair, VS’s objection is to the mandatory reportage of any and all “suspected” instances of child abuse, in every case, no matter what.

    I don’t share his moral concerns, but I don’t think they’re unreasonable in the abstract.

  • Nathan

    I agree that reporting of such charges (child molestation) would be, in a perfect world, better left with some wiggle room for discretion and better judgment.

    Empirically speaking, however, that model fails. And it doesn’t just fail once, every now and then, it has proved to fail systemically to the extent that a huge organization, nominally devoted to the well-being of all and higher moral behavior, has behaved in such a way to earn the condemnation and horror of all. If you haven’t read the official Irish report, I would invite you to do so.

    In our real world, the mandatory reporting rule is the way to go.

  • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/ Verbose Stoic

    Rick,

    I would suggest waiting to report it until that new evidence comes in. But you do make a good point about when to report it. For an individual, that would come in when their own personal conscience dicates it, which isn’t all that great. For any institution, though, I would expect policies and measures to be put in place to, in fact, decide that. So, for the Church, I would expect a clear set of guidelines on when to start an investigation and a dictate that if the investigation determines that the incident likely actually occurred that at that point it would be reported. We can talk about not trusting the Catholic Church to do that, and I agree that they have deservedly lost some of that trust, but that’s the sort of procedure that should be taken. This is because an institution has the resources to actually investigate it in enough detail to make a reasonable conclusion about likelihood, and even have a policy for disinterested third parties to do so.

    Now, for you and Fargus, I did pick a blindingly obvious example. But I’d have some moral qualms even if, say, it was just a case where the person making the allegation might have had a grudge against the person accused, which is at least slightly more common. And other similar cases. But note that in all of the weaker cases, I don’t propose it be dropped, as I said above with the work example with what are mere second or third hand allegations. I insist on quietly investigating it to see if the allegations can be supported, and moves to protect children from new victimizations.

    Pater N.,

    I actually think that in the context of the Church there should be formal procedures for deciding when reporting it is mandated that should be strictly adhered to. I’m not opposed to a bishop deciding it, but the standards should be made clear and the bishop should have an obligation to investigate any case that is suspicious to get enough information to make an informed and accurate decision. I already conceded that those were and probably still are missing.

    Nathan,

    What happened aside, I think we can do better than mandatory reporting.

  • Fargus

    VS: At what point does “quietly investigating it to see if the allegations can be supported” move to “quietly investigating it to see if it can be swept under the rug, the priest moved, the family paid off, etc.”? You see why it’s troubling to have an internal investigation by the organization that stands to look bad in a third-party investigation?

  • monkeymind

    Verbose Stoic, at least in the US, mandated reporters are required to report to the state child protective services, not directly to the police. The police would only become involved if CPS found the charges to be substantiated. People do make reports to CPS based on grudges or vendettas. CPS has to investigate every report, but people are investigated and exonerated by CPS all the time with no measurable loss of reputation. Though obviously it’s not fun to have CPS show up on your doorstep.
    I find it hard to believe that Ireland does not have a specific agency like this, whose investigators, though not infallible, are more likely to make an objective determination on whether criminal charges should be filed, than an organization with an interest in protecting the perpetrator.

  • Paul S

    Verbose Stoic: “What happened aside, I think we can do better than mandatory reporting.”

    Well, the RCC has had what, about 2000+ years to come up with something better? It appears to me as if they’re not interested in coming up with anything except more of the same “we’ll handle this in-house” bullshit. Time’s up.

  • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/ Verbose Stoic

    Fargus,

    Can it be problematic? Yes. But we do sometimes have to rely on that sort of thing, unfortunately.

    A confidential, third-party organization like CPS — as monkeymind suggests — might be different, so if that exists and would investigate it quietly in case the claim is not valid saying to bring them in would be acceptable, but I doubt that was what was suggested by the Irish clergy.

  • Fargus

    VS: “We do sometimes have to rely on that sort of thing, unfortunately.”

    Why? Why do we have to rely on that sort of thing? Saying it doesn’t make it so.

    We’re talking about children being abused sexually. Let me say that again: children being abused sexually. But you think that protecting the reputation of priests by handing the investigation over to an organization with an implicit interest in trying to make sure priests don’t look bad is more important than those kids.

  • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/ Verbose Stoic

    Fargus,

    I think it necessary for the reasons I gave. I don’t want to destroy the lives of people over false allegations. And your last comment is out of line because I conceded in the comment that you replied to that if there is an organization like CPS that will be confidential and neutral about it it should be reported to them.

  • Billy Danner

    I think they just wanted to avoid the absolute, mandatory. I’d do the same thing because I don’t like absolutes.

  • Fargus

    VS: Do you have reason to believe that there are false allegations being made to ruin priests’ reputations in Ireland?

  • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/ Verbose Stoic

    Fargus,

    If you’re making a policy, you don’t do it based only on what’s happening, but on what could happen. It wouldn’t surprise me for some people to make false allegations of child abuse for various reasons (wanting money, for example) which would have a great impact on the life of the person accused. I want a nice middle ground that respects both and the idea that someone is innocent until proven guilty. Mandatory reporting doesn’t meet that, in my opinion.

  • Fargus

    VS: In what world does reporting something to have it investigated by authorities violate the precept that people are innocent until proven guilty?

  • monkeymind

    VS, all the concerns you raise apply to any and all organizations that work with children. I don’t know the status or history of mandated reporting and child protection in Ireland. But, as an organization whose mission is supposed to be “care of souls” the church had a moral responsibility to work with the civil authorities to work out a system that was fair but made the protection of innocent children the top priority. Just unilaterally deciding that the church would handle it internally is not acceptable.

  • monkeymind

    Arguing that the system for reporting abuse was not perfect after a massive abuse scandal has been uncovered = not cool. The church has, or at least had, tremendous influence in Ireland. It could have worked to bring about a fair and confidential system for investigating abuse, instead of stonewalling.

  • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/ Verbose Stoic

    monkeymind,

    I agree that it applies to all such organizations — and have stated such, I believe — and agree that the Church should have and must do more. I’m not sure what more you expect from me.

    Fargus,

    If, as I said, it will get reported and cause harm — a punishment — to the person, then that’s applying a punishment before they’re proven guilty. There are, of course, multiple ways to get around such problems, but as long as they exist mandatory reporting is a bad idea.

  • Fargus

    VS: That’s the most bullshit interpretation of “innocent until proven guilty” that I’ve ever heard. Sorry, but it just is. Divorce this from the church. What you say would imply that bringing someone to trial is violating the precept that they’re innocent until proven guilty. It’s complete bullshit.

  • monkeymind

    Fargus, it’s worse than that, because it doesn’t even necessarily mean a public trial and formal charges. Reporting a suspected crime does not automatically lead to arrest and indictment, even in the auld sod, even for child abuse.

  • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/ Verbose Stoic

    Fargus, monkeymind,

    You both need to recall my specific claim, which is the claim about it getting reported publicly in the media, which can destroy a reputation. That, in and of itself, does indeed to me violate “innocent until proven guilty”, because a whole lot of people do leap to “guilty” when they hear about these cases, even before there are charges. It happens. And I think that police reporting needs to take that into account as well. And so I support anything that preserves keeping these sorts of things out of the public eye until there’s at least good reason to think it likely true, to avoid the consequences of simple allegations that occur in far too many people’s minds.

    Ultimately, my point is that the public tends to judge these cases as “guilty if alleged”. I reject mandatory reporting because that sort of consequence is harmful if the evidence supports the idea that they’re actually innocent.

    Essentially, reading back that’s actually my entire point: let’s be careful about doing things that will hurt someone until we have good reasons to think them guilty, because we’re supposed to think of them as innocent until we prove them such. A lot of the arguments for mandatory reporting seem to prejudge them as guilty, although I might be reading a bit into that considering my starting point.

  • monkeymind

    VS, why would you assume that “mandatory reporting” to the proper civil investigative body means “mandatory publishing in the newspaper?”

  • Fargus

    More importantly, monkeymind, who cares? The principle of people being presumed innocent until proven guilty doesn’t mean, and has never meant, that no one can think you have ever done anything wrong until you are proven guilty. It means that the state cannot punish you until you’ve had a fair trial and been found guilty by a jury of your peers. VS is completely out in left field on this in his attempt to defend the church’s actions. “Innocent until proven guilty” is there to protect people from state overreach, not to protect people’s reputation against other people’s thoughts.

  • http://politicalgames.posterous.com themann1086

    VS: you are either full of it, or they’re piping in the extra-strength Kool-Aid right to your house. As was noted above, the “well what if the bishop knows it’s false” rings as hollow as the “ticking time bomb” wet dream scenario used to justify torture. “What ifs” are fun and all, but they don’t provide a sound basis for policy.

    Simply put, if such a situation does arise, and the bishop doesn’t report it, and he’s right, then at most he gets a slap on the wrist under such a policy. If he doesn’t report it and he’s WRONG, then he’s in some serious liability. (This is the same response to the “ticking time bomb” scenario, btw. If such a situation, no matter how absurd, actually occurred, then no jury is going to actually convict someone for breaking the law if they can show they were justified in doing it. Anything else is a smokescreen to cover up the much more frequent case of there being no justification)

  • http://kagerato.net kagerato

    @Verbose Stoic:

    While I agree in principle that major allegations should not be publicly reported until they can be thoroughly substantiated, we don’t know (nor did you present) any such cases regarding the Church’s abuse. Without that, your objection is simply irrelevant.

    In fewer words: it doesn’t matter if their reputation is ruined when the accusations were true.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    @Verbose Stoic:

    I want a nice middle ground that respects both and the idea that someone is innocent until proven guilty. Mandatory reporting doesn’t meet that, in my opinion.

    I don’t understand this position at all. Where did you get the idea that reporting an allegation to the police automatically results in it being disclosed to the public? Unless the law in Ireland is drastically different than the law in America, the police can choose what to do with any report they receive: investigate it if they find it credible, and ignore it if they don’t. As monkeymind said, mandatory reporting to the civil authorities doesn’t equal mandatory publication in the newspaper.

    The huge problem with anything less than a mandatory reporting policy is that, in some sense, it will be up to the Catholic church’s discretion in deciding whether to report any particular allegation of child molestation to the police. And if there’s any organization on earth that’s proven beyond the shadow of a doubt that it can’t be trusted not to abuse that discretion, it’s the Catholic church.

  • http://thechapel.wordpress.com the chaplain

    The huge problem with anything less than a mandatory reporting policy is that, in some sense, it will be up to the Catholic church’s discretion in deciding whether to report any particular allegation of child molestation to the police. And if there’s any organization on earth that’s proven beyond the shadow of a doubt that it can’t be trusted not to abuse that discretion, it’s the Catholic church.

    That may be the closest thing to an absolute truth I’ve ever read. :)

  • 2-D Man

    In my usual style of jumping on something wayyyy upthread,

    I was replying directly to the idea that one could have moral qualms with a mandatory reporting policy. None of the “context” you add changes that, since I can in fact still point out that a mandatory reporting policy is not a good way to solve those issues.

    What the hell are you talking about, VS? Context changes everything! Sure, some people shout “context” as if it’s a catch all, but in this case people actually told you why the context is important. Weren’t you listening reading?

    I agree that it applies to all such organizations — and have stated such, I believe — and agree that the Church should have and must do more. I’m not sure what more you expect from me.

    We expect of you the same as we expect of the Catholic church and the preachers at the mosque, synagogue or what have you: we expect that your beliefs can be relayed through words* and conform to reality.

    What happened aside, I think we can do better than mandatory reporting.

    Do you think what happened was better than mandatory reporting? If not, why are you defending people for going with their course of action instead of the mandatory reporting? If not, well say so, and we’ll all know how you prioritize child rape.

    If, as I said, it will get reported and cause harm — a punishment — to the person, then that’s applying a punishment before they’re proven guilty.

    This is the craziest argument I’ve ever heard anyone make. By this definition, any sort of detainment at all is a punishment that’s being applied before a conviction, and we have no right to drag a person into court. Well, it’s either that, or conclude that there’s no such thing as a wrongful arrest, in which case, why bother with trials? Seriously: Craziest. Argument. Ever.

    *If they can’t be relayed through words then why the hell are you on here, trying to relay your ideas through words?

  • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/ Verbose Stoic

    Okay, let me start by simply pasting my clarification of the “innocent until proven guilty” point:

    “Essentially, reading back that’s actually my entire point: let’s be careful about doing things that will hurt someone until we have good reasons to think them guilty, because we’re supposed to think of them as innocent until we prove them such. A lot of the arguments for mandatory reporting seem to prejudge them as guilty, although I might be reading a bit into that considering my starting point.”

    To clarify even further, the discussions about the specific legality “innocent until proven guilty” aren’t kinda asides, because I’m after the philosophical principle of that as opposed to the specific legal one. I wasn’t arguing that mandatory reporting policies would let them make a claim at trial that that right wasn’t respected, but that it would at least violate the spirit of the principle. Which, to me, is “Until the person is found guilty, you must consider their interests as being of equal importance to those of the victim, society, and any other involved parties”. I think mandatory reporting policies in cases where, say, it is very likely that it will be made public (more on that later) and where allegations will cause great harm to them — in this case, through damage to their reputations — are bad.

    But to avoid the slippery slope, I’m not saying that you can’t take any action that might harm them. My point is that all interests must be balanced, which includes that of the victim, of potential victims, and of society to get justice. So, the idea is that philosophically (which is to say, at some level, morally I suppose) you take the method that is the least harmful to the accused that still covers the other interests. You, for example, don’t give bail to people who committed serious crimes and who are a major risk to run away, even though being in jail harms them. Maybe you don’t report at all an allegation of a parking violation. You keep them away from new potential victims. All of this, of course, for individuals should be based on what they know themselves as well; if the evidence indicates that they are likely guilty, you can take more harmful measures than if you’re pretty sure they’re innocent. But you still have to think about the victim, as well, so even if you’re fairly sure you may want to discreetly ask around anyway (see my previous comment about the “grudge” case.)

    And here’s why I’m getting a “judging as guilty” vibe:

    kagerato: “In fewer words: it doesn’t matter if their reputation is ruined when the accusations were true.”

    But at the time of deciding to report allegations, you don’t know that. Thus, either you’d have to prejudge them as guilty to say that it doesn’t matter, or you’re claiming that someone should institute and follow policies on the basis of information they don’t have. I’m saying that you have to consider their interests as well, in case they aren’t guilty. And, I admit, balancing all interests is tough. Life’s not easy. But I think we need to do that.

    themann1086: “Simply put, if such a situation does arise, and the bishop doesn’t report it, and he’s right, then at most he gets a slap on the wrist under such a policy. If he doesn’t report it and he’s WRONG, then he’s in some serious liability.”

    This is the same sort of idea: judging the action by how it turns out, ignoring what information they had at the time. This is exactly why I reject strong consequentialist moralities, because you’re judging how much the bishop should be punished by whether or not they turn out to be right, not by whether based on the information he had at his disposal he made the right choice. This is ignoring the fact that some people, if you put in a mandatory reporting policy, will never, ever, violate it. And they will be genuinely of the opinion that that’s the way to go.

    My preferred solution would be to have a policy that precisely specifies as best as possible when you report and when you don’t, and has all the right mechanisms for doing that objectively. And then you make sure that policy is followed.

    monkeymind, Ebonmuse, why do I talk about it being made public? Because history has shown that serious crimes about prominent people do in fact get made public, even years after the fact. I’m not saying that the police just go running to the press as soon as these things come up, but that some of the methods they use allow it to public. At the very least, there has to be an official report even if an investigation doesn’t proceed. And imagine that we take my case where the bishop knows that the person is innocent, they report it to the police, and the report reads “No investigation due to solid alibi given by the bishop”. Since that’s an official report, it can be found in many if not most jurisdictions, and if it was, are you telling me that it wouldn’t be considered — at least initially — evidence of a cover-up, with police complicity? Again, I’m not saying that this covers all cases or that in a lot of cases it shouldn’t or doesn’t need to be reported. Just that mandatory reporting is not a good idea in reality.

    As for the Catholic Church’s specific situation, if the “smoking gun” was simply people calling for the Church to actually have a policy and bring in third party oversight, I wouldn’t have said anything. But even your post is hinting at what someone else explicitly said: that they’d have a problem with a mandatory reporting policy is an indication that they wanted to cover up these crimes, since you can’t have a legitimate reason for opposing such policies. I think you can, whether I’m right or not.

    2-D Man: “Do you think what happened was better than mandatory reporting? If not, why are you defending people for going with their course of action instead of the mandatory reporting? If not, well say so, and we’ll all know how you prioritize child rape.”

    No, I don’t think what they did was the right thing to do. I think they should have had better and stronger policies, and certainly one that if they concluded it quite likely that the abuse occurred it should be reported. I’ve said that I don’t think their policy was right or good already. That being said, I don’t think, as I’ve said, that mandatory reporting is the right policy either, because it risks going too far. I can certainly think that without “prioritizing child rape”, and you’ve just given another example of why I’m concerned that these ideas are predicated on thinking of the accused as guilty from the instant an allegation is made.

    I apologize for the length, but then again since my last comment there were seven full comments to reply to [grin].

  • Fargus

    In what sense are the civil authorities not a neutral third party? That’s who the mandatory reporting system would have notified.

  • Nathaniel

    Al Gore for awhile was suspected of rape when a massage therapist accused him. He was declared innocent when the case feel apart. Would you of rather the police not dealt with it because of a possible harm his reputation?

    More generally, which do you think is more harmful: Mandatory reporting, in which some innocent people are accused, or discretionary reporting, where guilty people get away with rape?

  • monkeymind

    if the evidence indicates that they are likely guilty, you can take more harmful measures than if you’re pretty sure they’re innocent. But you still have to think about the victim, as well, so even if you’re fairly sure you may want to discreetly ask around anyway (see my previous comment about the “grudge” case.)”

    Sigh. Seriously, Verbose Stoic? Only a person with a massive ignorance of their own incompetence would think, yeah, I’m totally more qualified to conduct a preliminary investigation into suspected child abuse than someone with professional training and experience in that area.

    You seem to confuse “mandatory reporting” with “being a tattletale.” Mandatory reporting for suspected child abuse is like the “mandatory strapping to a backboard” policy for lifeguards anytime they suspect they might be dealing with a spinal cord injury. It prevents further damage being done until a qualified person can diagnose and treat the injury.

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com Steve Bowen

    Victims of sexual abuse are in a much more vulnerable position than say someone who is mugged in a back alley. For one thing they may feel ashamed and blame themselves and they will likely be young and easily intimidated. Consequently they will not go to the authorities themselves. It becomes a moral duty of whichever organisation oversees the alleged perp; school, scout group, workplace or church to follow the precautionary principle and report that person.
    The only point on which I understand VS’ reservations is that accusations of sexual abuse tend to stick, even if the accused is subsequently found innocent, but we can’t let that change the rules. It would be better if society as a whole trusted the system to exonerate the innocent and clean the slate.

  • http://Daylightatheism.org J. James

    Well, Mr. Bowen, that would be nice but that’s just the way it is. But it us very easy to take that idea dangerously far into that gray area of doubt, that regretful, niggling suspicion that you wish for all the world you had acted upon before it was too late. Anyway, it seems as if the further the Church stoops the more damage is revealed, but at the very least it is a promising sign that the entire institution is relict and dying.

  • kogo

    Wow, there’s just nothing unstupid with the way you think is there, Verbose?

    Here’s the ground truth: the RC does not want it’s priests to face criminal charges. Ever. No matter what they have done. Deep down they secretly want the old medieval order: priests accountable only to other priests, civil police with the doors shut in their faces.

    Fuck that shit. If there’s a suspicion of child abuse, it gets reported FIRST, then the actually trusworthy civil authorities investigate, same as any other time. No evidence, no harm done. Priest falsely accused can suck it up if there’s some harm to his precious “reputation”.

  • kogo

    Oh and VS, I’m curious who you think should be investigating possible child abuse if not the police? The bishop? What is he going to do? We don’t have to guess, we know: He will ask tha priest, “Did you do it?” He will say no. Then he will ask some of the other priests if the guy did it and they will say no. The bishop will pointedly NOT ask the victim or his family their story. His conversations with them will consist of, “Look, I questioned this guy and he said he didn’t do it. So I’d appreciate it if you’d stop this rumormongering. Here, sign this paper saying nothing happened.”

    I mean, what do you think: that dioceses have high-tech in-house CSI operations? That they will do medical and psychological exams of the victim? No. Sorry. That just isnt reality: whatever it is bishops are supposed to be good at, “investigating sex crimes” isn’t it.

  • Kogo

    Oh and I should add the final step in the chain: The bishop will then call in the priest say, “Look, I’m sure you’re not a child molester. But these allegations–false though I’m *sure* they are–have damaged the reputation of you in the eyes of the parish. So I’m going to transfer you to XYZ parish.”

    Then repeat from step one. Second verse, same as the first.

  • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/ Verbose Stoic

    Okay, so before I get into specifics, let me clear some general things off the table:

    1) “Mandatory reporting” means MANDATORY reporting, which means that you report it no matter what the circumstances are. Even if it’s almost certainly false. Even if the internal investigation would actually be FAIRER than that of the police (think corrupt regimes with bishops that are more concerned about justice than reputation). I oppose that.

    2) However, that doesn’t mean that I think that it should be left to the bishop’s conscience. I think that there should be precise, specific and binding rules about how to go about it and when to report it. I even support a “If there is any uncertainty about whether to report it or not, report it” rule. To use D&D and reveal my utter geekiness, I’m Lawful, not Chaotic. I want rules, just not that one.

    3) I don’t think that the Catholic Church handled these things properly, and I think they need to work a lot on doing that better, with more provisions against bias, for third party involvement, for reporting, and against the culture of keeping it quiet to preserve their reputation. Again, I just do indeed have some moral qualms with mandatory reporting.

    Fargus,

    I think I’ve dealt with that multiple times already, and am not interested in repeating it, except to say that you missed “confidential”. Also, see 1) above.

    Nathaniel,

    I think that’s a false dichotomy. I think that you can balance both of those to a reasonable degree. But also note that in the law there are technicalities that can let rapists and child molestors go free, but you seem willing to accept them, at least for now.

    monkeymind,

    And if that policy would actually hurt someone, and the lifeguard knows it, there should be a provision in the policy for them not following it, and some precise guidelines on known cases where you, well, should ignore the rule.

    As for investigation, I think I only said that for a case where you were fairly sure it was false, at least for an individual, but that you should anyway in case there’s something missing. Remember, I was saying that in those cases you probably shouldn’t report it since by the evidence you saw it was pretty likely false.

    And I’ll add the one thing that Kogo said that I haven’t already addressed, on investigation:

    “I mean, what do you think: that dioceses have high-tech in-house CSI operations? That they will do medical and psychological exams of the victim? No. Sorry. That just isnt reality: whatever it is bishops are supposed to be good at, “investigating sex crimes” isn’t it.”

    Considering the resources the Catholic Church has and that it would have to investigate anyway to determine what religious sanctions to impose, why shouldn’t it? It’d be better at investigating this sort of thing than the police in an unfortunately large number of countries, if it took it seriously and took steps to ensure that it wasn’t just covering its own reputation and that biases were covered off, and so on and so forth. It’d have to change its culture and how it approaches it, but it certainly has the resources to do it.

    Let me put it this way: I work for a large multinational corporation. If in a third world country with a corrupt police force there’s an allegation that an employee raped a local, should the company inform the police so that the employee might be able to buy their way out or might get railroaded by the police reacting against the “foreigner”, or should they apply their own resources even to the point of hiring private investigators to get at the truth of the matter so they know how to deal with that employee? Who do you think, in that case, is more likely to get the truth?

  • Fargus

    VS: This is idiotic. As noted upthread, you’re using the same exact tactics torture apologists use. Concocting an intricate and unlikely example where a system of mandatory reporting might fail is not argument against it in the broad sense. It’s argument against it in that case.

    Your qualms about the word “confidential” not being included are moronic. As has been noted over and over again, mandatory reporting does not mean mandatory media coverage, as you seem to think it does.

    As far as your multinational corporation angle, choosing to operate in a country means choosing to abide by its local laws and statutes. If you don’t like that and think you can do it better, I’d suggest that you not operate there.

  • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/ Verbose Stoic

    Fargus,

    “VS: This is idiotic. As noted upthread, you’re using the same exact tactics torture apologists use. Concocting an intricate and unlikely example where a system of mandatory reporting might fail is not argument against it in the broad sense. It’s argument against it in that case.”

    I’ve given a fair number of examples of varying probability, and you are still missing what my point is, and heck even the point about the torture cases. See, the point is about general, global, moral objections, and it’s quite hard to say that “torture just is morally wrong” if I can concoct even an improbable case where the person saying that would even agree that it would be the morally right thing to do. The same applies here: if I can find even one case where everyone would agree that it shouldn’t be reported, there are potential issues with mandatory reporting that people should be concerned about. And that’s all I was doing with that example.

    “Your qualms about the word “confidential” not being included are moronic. As has been noted over and over again, mandatory reporting does not mean mandatory media coverage, as you seem to think it does.”

    Since I’ve explicitly stated that I don’t think it means that, how in the world do you get to claiming that I think mandatory reporting means mandatory coverage? All I said was that, in practice, that’s what happens. Gonna deny that? Where’s your evidence?

    “As far as your multinational corporation angle, choosing to operate in a country means choosing to abide by its local laws and statutes. If you don’t like that and think you can do it better, I’d suggest that you not operate there.”

    So … you don’t care about truth, do you? Remember, that is what that was aimed at, as proven by my explicitly stating it in the last sentence of the example.

  • Fargus

    No, I care about truth, which is why I think it’s beyond folly to have a self-interested party be the investigator. You seem to think that the RCC would somehow be able to conduct an impartial investigation of its own members despite the mountains of evidence that in practice, they’ve shoved things under the rug, paid people off and generally pretended this wasn’t happening.

    The point about mandatory reporting (and likewise torture) is this: in the vast majority of cases, mandatory reporting (a hard ban on torture) is unquestionably the right decision. Those ridiculous scenarios you cite, where there is a purported grey area, are the scenarios in which the people in charge should have the courage of their convictions and break those rules and then defend themselves later. They are certainly NOT examples of why there shouldn’t be those rules in the first place.

    So in practice, news is covered, and therefore alleged crimes shouldn’t be reported to the civil authorities? I feel like you’re not fully grasping how stupid you sound when you say stuff like this.

    As far as getting at the truth, if we’re talking a corrupt local government versus a multi-national entity that broadly enjoys immunity and has a track record of doing wrong and covering up its own wrongdoing, I’d be more inclined to go with the local government, as at least they have some potential accountability to their citizens.

  • monkeymind

    VS, I seriously hope you are not in management. Even in the extremely unlikely hypothetical situation you outline, you have a problem that is not going to be helped by you playing Nancy Drew. Either you have a traumatized child who may have got details wrong, in which case, your further probing is like to further traumatize the child and compromise the case, OR you have an extremely troubled child (or manipulative parent) who wants to stir up trouble with false accusations. In the latter case, they are fully capable of stirring up a whole mess of trouble with or without an investigation. Your attempt to forestall an investigation with “discreet inquiries” is probably going to hurt your employee’s defense. Forestalling a formal investigation does not prevent an unscrupulous person from engaging in character assassination – it only demoralizes the victim who mistook you for someone who cared about justice.

  • monkeymind

    Also, we’re not talking about a hypothetical 3rd world country, we’re talking about Ireland in 1994. I don’t know anything about the reporting system in Ireland or which agency is tasked with investigating child abuse, and I don’t think you do either. Since the question of false accusations is such a common one, it’s probably very likely it was brought up and addressed in the decision-making process.

    In any event, that’s not the objection that Rome made, it was blah blah canon law blah.

    This is a smoking gun.

  • kogo

    *Considering the resources the Catholic Church has and that it would have to investigate anyway to determine what religious sanctions to impose, why shouldn’t it? It’d be better at investigating this sort of thing than the police in an unfortunately large number of countries,*

    What a stupid assertion. Are parishioners going to be told this when they donate? “Today’s offering will go toward the diocesan Internal Sex Crimes Investigation Unit.

    Plus, why are the police in Boston or Dublin going to be judged by the standards of the Harare or Ho Chi Minh City police? “Because some police can’t handle this responsibility, we will just pretend that none of them can.”

    How shall I put this? I have NO confidence that the RC church can investigate itself fairly. If you want a “impartial third party”,’we already have that: the courts and the police. No, I don’t particularly buy the assertion that since they are bad someplace, then they’re bad everywhere. Heck, where the police are bad, the church tends to be bad too: rich, corrupt, lecherous. The African RC is rife with priests with concubines. The Latin church is full of friends of old milItary governments.

    *Let me put it this way: I work for a large multinational corporation. If in a third world country with a corrupt police force there’s an allegation that an employee raped a local, should the company inform the police so that the employee might be able to buy their way out or might get railroaded by the police reacting against the “foreigner”, or should they apply their own resources even to the point of hiring private investigators to get at the truth*

    Wow, corporations actually pretend that they would impartially investigate something like that? What a total naïf. You think Blackwater gives a shit about what their employees do?

    The moral answer is simple: you operate someplace, you obey the laws there.

  • Kogo

    You know this entire argument is about YOU, VS, prioritizing *possible* damage to someone’s fucking *reputation* over the very likely incidence of child rape. What an stupid, evil arrangement of priorities.

    Given that in this country and most other democracy we have confrontation of accusers, assumption of innocence, due process of law and similar, I do not understand will never listen to your bullshit masturbatory philosophical christian twaddlespeak. We have a perfectly just justice system here and also in Australia, Ireland, Britain, Argentina and a dozen other places the RC’s rape squads got to work.

    You are in favor of child rape, there’s simply no way around it. You might be Lawful, but certainly NOT Lawful Good. Fuck you.

  • Kogo

    ALSO also: Aren’t you assuming a pretty unlikely degree of slavishness and passivity on behalf of the modern Catholic laity here, VS? Time was, the RC could expect to soothe things over with the civil authorities with a sly wink and a sufficiently heartfelt, “Nothing to see here, officer!”

    Nowadays, by the time the bishop hears about an accusation of sex abuse, it will be in the form of an entry in the police gazetteer followed shortly thereafter subpoena for testimony from circuit court. Catholic laypeople–at least in the West–aren’t putting up with tapdancing bullshit from their leaders anymore.

    As the husband of a former Catholic schoolgirl, I can tell you that if my wife ever got wind of something unsavory going on regarding a priest and our son, she would NOT be found sitting in the waiting room of the bishop’s office: That priest would be DEAD. D.E.A.D. Bullet to the head, dead.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Kogo, while I mostly agree with your viewpoint, your personal attacks are uncalled for. Cool it, please.

  • http://kagerato.net kagerato

    The threat of violence isn’t exactly helping his case, either.

  • http://www.facepunch.com/member.php?u=298989 Jeep-Eep

    I would have to agree. Although I was rather enjoying watching VS get pwned.

  • Kogo

    In 1908, my wife’s great-grandmother shot and killed her husband after like the 7th or 8th time he beat her. After she was released from prison and arrived back home in her Sicilian neighborhood in Providence, RI, she was cheered and carried shoulder-high through the streets to her home–stopping to allow her to spit on her husband’s grave on the way.

    So I assume this sort of thing runs in the family. Y’know, something about death and not going in against Sicilians . . .

  • http://www.facepunch.com/member.php?u=298989 Jeep-Eep

    Eeek. I though that was just common or garden internet tough guy sh-er, rubbish. Now I know better.

    (No offence intended.)

  • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/ Verbose Stoic

    I’m going to start here:

    monkeymind: “In any event, that’s not the objection that Rome made, it was blah blah canon law blah.

    This is a smoking gun.”

    See, here’s what the letter said: If you go against canon law, and it gets appealed to us, we’ll overrule you. If the priest was already reported to the police, that wouldn’t matter. So from that and other reading, it sounds like the policy change of the Irish bishops wasn’t just about mandatory reporting. So they essentially said — quite reasonably — that if they adopted a policy that contravened canon law canon law would not support their decisions, which would basically be the same thing as them breaking canon law. Which would not be good for the bishops.

    The letter then went on to express that they had specific moral concerns with mandatory reporting. And the discussion here does seem to acknowledge that there might be concerns. The arguments against are essentially of these types:

    1) The concerns are outweighed by the seriousness of child abuse.
    2) The concerns are sufficiently rare; you’d have to have a really large amount of information that the person is innocent and there’d have to be very large consequences for reporting it, which generally doesn’t happen.
    3) The concerns would not apply in Ireland at the time.
    4) The Catholic Church has proven itself too untrustworthy to not have such a policy, and so need it to re-establish some level of trust.

    My answers to that are that I agree that in a lot of cases 1) is correct, but I don’t like mandatory anything policies; I think that if a rule doesn’t have exceptions it’s a bad rule. But I think the exceptions should be spelled out, too, and can protect children appropriately without accruing the negatives. I might be wrong, but that’s a different debate. What I just said is also my answer for 2). For 3), the Church hierarchy has to apply it around the world, in places that are not so good, and if they are going to allow exceptions that has to be in the rule itself, so it’s basically what I want (“Report all cases if you are in X locality or under X rules”). As for 4), I’d say that worrying about that sort of thing is what got the Church in trouble in the first place; the Church should do what is right even if others don’t think it is.

    Now, I totally agree that the Church did things wrong with respect to child abuse claims. But I don’t think that mandatory reporting policies are the answer. I think what really needs to be done is a culture change. I think the Church has to say that in these cases what is important is the truth, not the reputation of the Church. The minimum would be the idea that finding out the truth and dealing with the perpetrators is better for the Church’s reputation than covering it up, but I’d still far prefer the idea that they really should care about the truth.

    And if they do, then you can see the link to investigation. The Church may well be better qualified to investigate than the local authorities are, for various reasons, and has to be prepared to do so for their own ecclesiastical punishments. If they have the attitude I propose above, in those cases the internal investigation may well be less traumatic and more just than leaving it to the local authorities. If they care about the truth, then their intentions are good and they’ll likely find it, if they can, which would also apply to a corporation if it had an interest in knowing the truth. Most of the real objections to that comment were assuming that they would be biased against finding the truth, and I agree that that would be a problem. I just don’t see that as being more necessary for them than it is for, say, the police.

    Which leads back to rules. As I said, I would never, ever put in place a rule that I expected people to break, because good people won’t, even when they should. Mindsets differ, and if I make a rule that I expect people to break I’ll tell them the cases where they can break it to the best of my ability. That seems reasonable, and is part of the rules themselves. I personally can’t see any way to actually object to that, really.

    Oh, and Kogo: I’m Lawful Neutral, thanks [grin].

    (If I’ve missed a point that someone made, remind me.)

  • monkeymind

    Verbose, I can’t believe you are continuing to defend this. You argument is based on a number of false assumptions and indeed fantasies.

    1. My answers to that are that I agree that in a lot of cases 1) is correct, but I don’t like mandatory anything policies; I think that if a rule doesn’t have exceptions it’s a bad rule.

    How about mandatory laws like “don’t tamper with the evidence at the scene of a crime”? Or the iron-clad (at least for most people, but maybe not you) ethical principle that you should aid and not further injure a hurting child? That’s exactly what your “discreet inquiries” would do. As in the backboard example I mentioned earlier, the policy is in place precisely to prevent idiots like you from preventing further damage. I sense the Dunning-Kruger effect is strong with you.

    3. the Church hierarchy has to apply it around the world, in places that are not so good,

    Nope, it was something proposed by Irish bishops for Ireland, and Rome overruled it.

    As for 4), I’d say that worrying about that sort of thing is what got the Church in trouble in the first place; the Church should do what is right even if others don’t think it is… I think the Church has to say that in these cases what is important is the truth, not the reputation of the Church…
    And if they do, then you can see the link to investigation.

    Say what? I have no idea what point you’re trying to make here. Does the term “conflict of interest” mean nothing to you? We are talking about an institution (the Irish church) in which thousands of children were tortured. This is not an exaggeration. Children were raped and then beaten for “tempting” the priest into sin. Repeatedly. That is torture by any definition.
    The Irish bishop’s recommendation was a realistic admission that they had not and could not deal with the problem.

    The Church may well be better qualified to investigate than the local authorities are, for various reasons, and has to be prepared to do so for their own ecclesiastical punishments.

    This is just fantasy worthy of Monty Python. Do you really imagine a Canon Law: CSI scenario where Swiss Guards with halberds swoop in to investigate? Do you know what canon law is? Do you really think the Vatican has jurisdiction to investigate civil crimes anywhere outside Vatican City? Were you asleep during that Western Civ lecture? Vatican investigation teams have no business interviewing crime victims. That is something that requires very specific expertise, and something which they have no authority or jurisdiction to do outside the Holy See.

    ;Mindsets differ, and if I make a rule that I expect people to break I’ll tell them the cases where they can break it to the best of my ability

    Not all human contingencies can be reduced to rules and checklists such that they can be negotiated by anyone who just follows the rules. That’s why you need to bring in a properly trained response team ASAP.

    Finally, I think you are basing your objections on the assumption that the Church is or can be a gatekeeper for child abuse allegations against the church. Absolutely nothing prevents a victim or the victim’s family from going straight to the police or child protective services. The only time the Church can be a gatekeeper is when a victim who has no one else to confide in confides in a priest or nun. And, for the most part, the church failed these most vulnerable of children.

  • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/ Verbose Stoic

    monkeymind,

    “Verbose, I can’t believe you are continuing to defend this. You argument is based on a number of false assumptions and indeed fantasies.”

    This would concern me if I was convinced you actually were following my argument, but it seems clear that you are not.

    “How about mandatory laws like “don’t tamper with the evidence at the scene of a crime”? ”

    Tampering essentially means “interfering with it unreasonably” so if it’s called tampering it’s already wrong. The more appropriate rule would be “Don’t move things at a crime scene, because that result in tampering.”. And there are all sorts of situations where we can see that sometimes you do need to move things like, for example, to free someone from confinement or to perform CPR or whatever. Mandatory reporting is not a rule like “Don’t do bad things”; it is a rule far more like “Don’t move things around.”

    We’re talking about cases where we have reason to think that it might be right to not follow the rule. My comment about exceptions is just that; I can’t think of too many if any rules where you would never have to achieve the purpose of the rule by breaking it. It might have been a bit of exaggeration to say what I did, but it’s far more common than you think it is.

    “Or the iron-clad (at least for most people, but maybe not you) ethical principle that you should aid and not further injure a hurting child?”

    The problem here is that, in fact, some of the cases I’ve cited where the rule would be broken are broken to avoid further hurting the child. Your attempts to make it sound like I want the child to be hurt are completely off-the-rails. As I have said repeatedly, I want to balance the needs of all parties, including the child and the accused. I think that this is, in fact, generally demanded. Putting it all on that one principle is not, in my opinion, good. Things are more complicated than you make them seem.

    “That’s exactly what your “discreet inquiries” would do.”

    Then they shouldn’t be undertaken. Remember that “balance” thing. It would only occur when the person was pretty sure that the accusations were false. Or, to put it more generally, the rules would only advocate not reporting when in those cases where we could pretty much agree that they shouldn’t be reported, and to make discreet inquiries only when that’s the right thing to do. About the only objection we can be having is if you think there are no such cases and I think there are some. Certainly not over that principle that you somehow doubt I hold over not hurting the child.

    “As in the backboard example I mentioned earlier, the policy is in place precisely to prevent idiots like you from preventing further damage. I sense the Dunning-Kruger effect is strong with you. ”

    Hmmmmm. So, I’m in favour of putting as strict and clear rules in place as possible so that I and others never have to rely on our own personal consciences in deciding these things and I’M the one who is under the Dunning-Kruger effect? Ya might want to re-read what that effect is, chum.

    Again, we can disagree if there are any cases that could be exceptions to a mandatory reporting rule, but that’s not what you’re fighting me over and calling me an idiot over.

    “Nope, it was something proposed by Irish bishops for Ireland, and Rome overruled it.”

    Because it couldn’t conform to canon law, which has to be applied worldwide. As I explained. In detail. I’m not verbose just for fun, you know; when I say something, it is because I think it relevant.

    “Say what? I have no idea what point you’re trying to make here. Does the term “conflict of interest” mean nothing to you?”

    You seem to have missed completely the part where I said that the right solution to this is to instill a culture in the Church where the interest of the Church is indeed finding the truth and dealing with the perpetrators harshly, not in covering it up. If that’s done, and the Church really considers finding out the truth to be in its interest, then the “conflict of interest” has to be in finding out the truth. Not much of a conflict there.

    “This is just fantasy worthy of Monty Python. Do you really imagine a Canon Law: CSI scenario where Swiss Guards with halberds swoop in to investigate? ”

    No, but I could very well expect there to be access to Church authorities that are fully trained in all the ways that police officers, psychologists, social workers and the like are trained to deal with these investigations. The Church in fact has the resources to do it AND has an interest in it since they need to investigate the claims on their own to determine ecclesiastical punishments. Yes, they’d have no actual legal authority, but I never claimed they would have to. I only claimed that they’d have the ability to investigate — within the law — the claims. So only voluntary interviews, for example. And a little less access to some modern techniques, since they couldn’t force it to occur or even to get access to it. But in some areas of the world, that’d still be better than what the local authorities could do.

    In short, pass it off to local authorities when it makes sense and don’t when it doesn’t. But make at least reasonable guidelines for when that is.

    “Not all human contingencies can be reduced to rules and checklists such that they can be negotiated by anyone who just follows the rules. ”

    I don’t argue that they should. But this is instituting a rule. Unless you really think that there is no reason to ever no report such an allegation, you should have no objection to codifying any possible exceptions so that people can follow it. And of course I’d add “If there’s any doubt about whether you should report it or not, report it.”

    “Finally, I think you are basing your objections on the assumption that the Church is or can be a gatekeeper for child abuse allegations against the church. Absolutely nothing prevents a victim or the victim’s family from going straight to the police or child protective services. The only time the Church can be a gatekeeper is when a victim who has no one else to confide in confides in a priest or nun. And, for the most part, the church failed these most vulnerable of children.”

    I actually have no objections to them going to the police first, and while I didn’t say it — because it was off-topic a bit — I’d even want to think about a policy where they in no way discourage people from reporting it after they talk to them, even if they decide they don’t want to report it themselves.

    But note that what you’re talking about here takes it a step further, since it would apply to any case where the child reports abuse, such as against their parents. I don’t think their policy covered those cases, but for you it would have to.

  • monkeymind

    So Verbose – if someone with no hands came up to you and said: “Please help me, I’ve been raped!” would you say “Well, since you have no hands and cannot dial 911, I feel empowered to investigate whether or not a crime has taken place. Where did this alleged rape occur, etc, etc.?” Would you do that, or would you simply act as the person’s hands, and dial 911? Would it matter if the alleged rapist was your employee?

    As a mandated reporter, you are simply acting as the child’s hands. You are not authorized to play detective. It doesn’t matter if the child names your employee or a parent, you still are just the hands.

  • Nathaniel

    Then they shouldn’t be undertaken. Remember that “balance” thing. It would only occur when the person was pretty sure that the accusations were false. Or, to put it more generally, the rules would only advocate not reporting when in those cases where we could pretty much agree that they shouldn’t be reported, and to make discreet inquiries only when that’s the right thing to do. About the only objection we can be having is if you think there are no such cases and I think there are some. Certainly not over that principle that you somehow doubt I hold over not hurting the child.

    Hmm. Let’s see how that’s worked in real life.

    “Cardinal, Father Childlover has been accused of doing terrible things to children!”

    “Settle down. This charges are of course, ludicrous.

    “Should we not at least have people investigate this?”

    “A holy man of the lord would never do such things. However, given the fact that these baseless assertions have undermined the parish’s trust in Childlover, it would be prudent to move him elsewhere.”

    “As you command, Cardinal.”

  • http://politicalgames.posterous.com themann1086

    This might come as a shock to VS, but the police in most countries are required to investigate every reported crime. And when it involves children, they’re required to bring it to court if there’s enough evidence.

    So when people come to the bishops and report to them that a crime has a committed, with the history of the RCC’s handling on this, why in the hell should there not be an investigation? Because a Catholic priest might have his reputation lowered? It’s a bit late for that; Catholic priests entered Acceptable Target territory long ago…

  • monkeymind

    I think Mr. Verbose is struggling with the concept that children have rights.

  • kogo

    Sorry, out of luck again Verbose: all those psychologists and social workers you imagine the RC has on staff to undertake secret, impartial, sealed-file investigations (while, of course, you imagine the parents just sit on their hands)? Professionally obligated mandated reporters, every one of them. In some cases it’s just a professional imperative, other times it’s a legal obligation as a condition of state certification.

    You lose again.

  • http://politicalgames.posterous.com themann1086
  • Kogo

    Oh and as regards the value of “canon law”: Canon law is to real law what alternative medicine is to real medicine:

    -Ancient
    -Premised largely on the placebo effect
    -Essentially useless in cases of real danger to life and limb

  • Kogo

    I simply cannot get over the gormlessness of this:

    *…but I could very well expect there to be access to Church authorities that are fully trained in all the ways that police officers, psychologists, social workers and the like are trained to deal with these investigations.*

    Except that they aren’t. “You expect” quite erroneously. We don’t have to guess or hypothesize about this, VS, we KNOW from huge experience and vast documentation what a RC Church “investigation” consists of: A bishop, in an office, making a few phone calls.

    *The Church in fact has the resources to do it*

    No they don’t: We’ve been over this. The RC does NOT have a huge, trained staff of people with investigatory talents. And even if it wanted to, where exactly would that money come from? I’ll tell you where: From parishioners. Parishioners who would either not take kindly to having to fund such a thing OR, if you propose that dioceses formulate these CSI units secretly, then that wouldn’t exactly be in keeping with your whole “culture of truth” thing would it now?

    *AND has an interest in it since they need to investigate the claims on their own to determine ecclesiastical punishments.*

    Stop right there: “to determine ecclesiastical punishments.”

    Have we not made this clear? WE DO NOT CARE ABOUT ECCLESIASTICAL PUNISHMENTS. The RC can do whatever the f*ck it wants to its own priests. AFTER they are hauled away to jail.

    This is what I meant when I said the RCC still is trying to perpetuate the old medieval order: Religious courts for religious. The idea that priests are NOT magical fairymen or foreign diplomats immune to mere little-people law seems to have not impacted at all on their–or your–minds.

  • monkeymind

    “Gormlessness” is such a great word!


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