The Catholic Code of Omerta

As Russell Blackford informs us, the Vatican is again indulging its persecution complex, sending out an archbishop to whine about how unfair it is that gay and lesbian people are increasingly gaining equal rights and how the church is victimized by this:

“People are being attacked for taking positions that do not support sexual behaviour between people of the same sex,” he told the current session of the Human Rights Council…

“These attacks [the attacks on the church! —Ebonmuse] are violations of fundamental human rights and cannot be justified under any circumstances,” Tomasi said.

Archbishop Tomasi also maintains that “states can and must regulate behaviours” and that “certain kinds of sexual behaviour must be forbidden by law”, so there’s that. It’s no surprise, but it’s nice to hear the Vatican confirm that they don’t just want to outlaw same-sex marriage, they want to reinstate medieval sodomy laws. (Presumably, if they got their way on this, the next step would be a law listing the permitted sexual positions.)

Well, whenever the golden-robed hypocrites of Rome come parading before us to insist on their moral authority, I feel compelled to take them down a peg. Fortunately, two stories have recently come out of the still-unfolding Catholic child-rape coverup scandal that serve the purpose. I apologize if all the posts about this are becoming repetitive or taxing your patience – they’re certainly taxing mine – but I feel it’s extremely important to have a record of this, to set down the facts in black and white so that there can be no mistake.

So: the latest development to break is this lawsuit filed in Chicago, charging that the Jesuits knew about and covered up the actions of a serial child molester, Donald J. McGuire, over a span of fifty years (see also). (McGuire himself was convicted and imprisoned several years ago.) The suit includes previously-secret church documents, dating as far back as the 1960s and as recently as 2003, showing that church officials were repeatedly warned about his predatory tendencies and took no action. The extent of their response was that they told him to stop traveling with young “assistants”, but he ignored those feeble directives and they did nothing.

And this isn’t the only embarrassment for the Jesuits. In another major story, the order’s Oregon province has agreed to pay $166 million – the third-largest settlement ever to survivors of sex abuse – to hundreds of students, almost all of them Native Americans, who were abused by priests at Catholic schools throughout Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. The attorneys representing the plaintiffs charged that the Jesuit order deliberately used isolated schools in rural areas and reservations, peopled mostly by poor, indigenous students, as a “dumping ground” for problem priests – adding a generous ladle of racism to its thick stew of hypocrisy, sadism and callousness toward violated children.

Any normal person would feel extreme revulsion at these stories, but it’s important to say precisely why. It’s not that the Catholics are the only ones guilty of this: there have been similar serial molesters in other denominations, even in public schools. It’s not that their anti-sex fanaticism warps the minds of their followers, making them uniquely likely to become pedophiles; that’s a neat, tidy and emotionally satisfying hypothesis, but there’s no evidence for it that I’m aware of. It’s not even the nauseating hypocrisy of the Vatican pontificating about how they’re the sacred guardians of morality in a secular world, while at the same time conspiring to cover up the most repulsive evils.

No, the most indefensible, infuriating aspect of this vast scandal is the cold and utterly calculating systematicity of the coverup. It’s the fact that this happened so often that the upper echelons of the Catholic hierarchy became a well-oiled machine for protecting pedophiles, capable of shuffling them around from parish to parish, across continents or decades, without anyone involved having any serious crisis of conscience. (As another example, I wrote some time ago about a pedophile priest so notorious that the church was having a hard time moving him around, because his proclivities were apparently known to every bishop in Canada and none wanted to take him – and still, not one of them raised the alarm.) It’s the fact that so many Catholic hierarchs over the years accepted this as if it was business as usual, just a mundane and unremarkable function of the church’s bureaucracy.

It’s incredible how complete was the veil of silence, how universal the agreement to sustain the coverup. The Mafia only wishes it could sustain such a code of omerta among its members. Nevertheless, despite all their attempts to hide it, this wall of secrecy is cracking, and the truth is emerging despite the church’s decades-long effort to cover it up.

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.

  • Nathaniel

    Oh Ebonmuse, there you go again, you and your atheist lack of a source for morals. If only you knew the eternal unchanging revealed truth of the church this would all be perfectly understandable.

  • Raven

    You would think a bishop would be smart enough to understand that merely being criticized for something does not in any way constitute a violation of any particular right. If their rights were legitimately being violated I would want to stand up for them on principle, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard of any such thing.

  • Monty

    Especially ironic when you consider how many of those abuses have been same-sex.

  • James Thompson

    Attacked? Like with threats of violence? Gangs with knives and guns?

    No just people suggesting you might be wrong….

  • 2-D Man

    …adding a generous ladle of racism to [the Catholic Church's] thick stew of hypocrisy, sadism and callousness toward violated children.

    I think you’re giving them too much credit; racists care about people more than the Catholic Church does.

  • L.Long

    The religious (any kind) are only about bigotry and hate to others and a big load of self-hate as well.
    As we have pointed many many times…. NO ONE is forcing the (insert favorite bigotry) to like or tolerate gays. They can dislike them as much as they like and they do not have to marry them into the church. It just that we re NOT a grossly bigoted xtian country but a secular one so they can just piss off.

  • Kogo

    Shhh! If you’re real quiet, you can just *hear* Verbose Stoic coming up with something incredibly stupid to say about this . . .

  • paradoctor

    Of course it was systematic. The Catholic Church _is_ a system. From their point of view the problem wasn’t systematicity but its breakdown. And systematicity isn’t bad as such; they could have been systematically law-abiding.

    Beneath the abuse, beneath the bureaucratic cover-up, was infallibilism, a.k.a. hubris. The Church could do no wrong, so when it did wrong anyhow, it had to seem to do no wrong, even though making such a seeming meant more wrongdoing.

  • Monty

    @Kogo: check the comments in the first link, he beat you to it.

  • Kogo

    *It’s not that their anti-sex fanaticism warps the minds of their followers, making them uniquely likely to become pedophiles; that’s a neat, tidy and emotionally satisfying hypothesis, but there’s no evidence for it that I’m aware of.*

    Isn’t there? I wish I could find it now but wasn’t there some statistic floating about that TEN PERCENT of all the priests ordained in the year 1970 ended up as convicted pedophiles?

    Plus, why are we not allowed to do a Glen Beck on this one? “I’m NOT saying that Catholicism turns people into pedophiles. That’s not what I’m saying . . . but I’m not NOT saying that either.”

  • Alex Weaver

    Isn’t there? I wish I could find it now but wasn’t there some statistic floating about that TEN PERCENT of all the priests ordained in the year 1970 ended up as convicted pedophiles?

    You mean “child molesters”; pedophilia is a psychiatric condition, not a behavior, and it’s actually found in about 10% of convicted child molesters.

    And how would you differentiate your hypothesis from that that, knowing that being involved in the Catholic hierarchy would provide a cover story for their disinterest in adult women and/or being aware of the opportunities it would offer for access to children and the potential to coerce their silence, the priesthood was especially attractive to prospective child molesters.

  • Alex

    One theory I favor is that the Catholic Church’s stance on homosexuality makes a disproportionate number of young, gay, male Catholics attempt to bury their sexuality by joining the priesthood. Years later, we get this horror. Humans are sexual beings. Expecting anyone to deny their own forever is just asking for that sexuality to come out in an unhealthy way. We can label the priests as monsters, but think of what they have been asked to do in order to avoid being rejected by their family and the only community they have ever known. I wish that young self-loathing Catholics considering such a sacrifice in order to belong would realize that there are other communities waiting for them that only ask them to be honest with themselves.

  • Nathan

    Alex Weaver said:

    One theory I favor is that the Catholic Church’s stance on homosexuality makes a disproportionate number of young, gay, male Catholics attempt to bury their sexuality by joining the priesthood.

    I would point out that blaming same-sex oriented men has long been the Catholic strategy for diverting blame from the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) for permitting (encouraging!) this sort of abuse. There is no evidence supporting it. Consider instead the possibility that the RCC’s sexual repression affects both same- and opposite- oriented initiates equally, which would provide a framework for recognizing the rape of young girls as an equal problem for the RCC instead of trivializing and dismissing this form of molestation.

    As it is, this argument excuses the RCC by demonizing ‘the gays!’, allows them to silence their female victims from expressing themselves in this debate (as the RCC has always sought to silence women), and divert calls for fixing the real problem (the RCC’s failure to address the systemic cultural shortcomings that permit this ongoing abuse) by public (and meaningless) attempts at tighter screening of ‘the gays’ from its seminaries.

  • Kogo

    I also blame the Catholic church for ruining one of my favorite books, “The Decameron” of Giovanni Bocaccio. One hundred tales, about 40 of which involve randy monks and clerics. Ah for the days when Catholic clergy went around trying to seduce *adult* *women*. But no: Now I can’t read that book any more without feeling weird that I’m enjoying it and even rooting for the cleric sometimes.

    Seems like something weird happened to the church in terms of sex some time between the Middle Ages and the present day. I mean, it was already weird, but it’s like they only made vows back then: They didn’t really expect to keep them. But now they actually are just so *serious* about it and it doesn’t work psychologically or physiologically and so something cracks in their psyches and then this sort of thing happens.

    I mean, would the Christian church–Catholic or otherwise–even *exist* today if they didn’t have abortion or homosexuality to rail against? It’s like it’s the last thing they’ve got in the ammo can.

  • http://daylightatheism.org J. James

    “People are being attacked for taking positions that do not support sexual behaviour between people of the same sex. These attacks are violations of fundamental human rights and cannot be justified under any circumstances.”

    Well then. I suppose, by that logic, and since little children have the right to NOT be raped by perverse priests(which of course cannot be justified under any circumstances) the next rational step would be to dissolve the Catholic Church and use their obscene wealth to modernize third world countries!

    PROBLEM SOLVED!!

  • Jormungund

    These attacks are violations of fundamental human rights and cannot be justified under any circumstances

    This is hilarious. You would think that they were being beaten or killed the way it is phrased. This is the kind of thing you say when a genocide is occurring.
    But no one is killing, torturing or raping them. They aren’t being beaten into silence in a manner that is a fundamental human rights violation.
    People are complaining about their abuses. Verbal and written complaints. The way they have phrased this, writing about how the Catholic Church has done bad things is on the same order of wrongness as an ethnic cleansing.
    They should slow down on the hyperbole. Overstating one’s case like this makes it silly.

    Let me rephrase this in order to make it make sense:

    These numerous child molestations and systematic efforts made to protect their perpetrators from the criminal justice system and civil actions from the victims are violations of fundamental human rights and cannot be justified under any circumstances

    I would agree with this statement a lot more than the first one.

  • http://defendingreason.wordpress.com/ Ben

    The way they have phrased this, writing about how the Catholic Church has done bad things is on the same order of wrongness as an ethnic cleansing.

    This is pretty much the same tactic that losers in debates and discussions use to play the victim: they claim that they’re not allowed to have their opinions heard. Simply because people disagree with them (though they won’t put it like that). I guess we’re just supposed to sit back while everybody says whatever they want, but we’re not allowed to disagree or criticise them for fear of “silencing” them.

    The sad thing is the church thinks verbally attacking them is the same “violation” of their “rights” as their attacks on gays. I wish somebody in the media would tell them they don’t have a right not to be called immoral arseholes.


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