Maybe my readers can help

A reader asks:

Is there a corollary to Godwin’s Law that covers the practice of immediately going to pedophile priests when losing any argument with a Catholic?

I know what she’s talking about. Somebody erupts in an illiterate rant about, say, how Catholics are stoopid and the Church believes in six day creationism. You try to correct this with facts. Response: “Oh yeah! Well Catholic priests are all child molesters!” This tiresome tendency of launching a nuke to avoid any sort of intelligent conversation is a staple among some anti-Catholics.

I got nothin’ in terms of a name. But it seems like there should be a name for this particular sleazy dodge, if only to defuse it as citation of Godwin’s Law serves to highlight the BS strategies of other Internet conversations. The Pedo Strategem? I dunno. If you have an idea, let me know.

Update: The heavy lifting has already been done courtesy Jay Anderson at Pro Ecclesia. It is called “Anderson’s Law”” and is formulated thusly:

“As a debate involving the Catholic Church (either a discussion about the Church specifically, or a discussion in which the Church is taking a position) grows longer, the probability of someone mentioning the sex scandal approaches one.”

Jay also has a corollary (which I suppose can be called “Anderson’s Corollary”):

“Once such reference to the Scandal is made, whoever mentioned the Scandal has automatically “lost” whatever debate was in progress.”

Both the Law and the Corollary presuppose, of course, that the Scandal is not actually germane to the subject at hand. So an argument with proceeds “Catholics stoopid for believing the Real Presence.” “Actually, there are solid biblical reasons for it.” “Oh yeah? Well your priests are all pedophiles!” fulfills both the Law and the Corollary. However, an argument which proceeds. “We Catholics are awesomely superior to you Protestants.” “Well, there is that little matter of your priests raping children while bishops covered it up that would tend to open that claim to question” fulfills neither the Law nor the Corollary.

Upperdate: Reader Victor Lam moves that the Law be changed to the Bernard Francis Law. I emphatically second that. The motion is moved and seconded. If Mr. Anderson agrees, I think it should henceforth be called the Bernard Francis Law or, alternatively, the Cardinal Law. What say you?

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  • MarylandBill

    Saint Godwin’s Law? :) There was at least one.

  • Will

    I thought this was Anderson’s Law: “As a debate involving the Catholic Church (either a discussion about the Church specifically, or a discussion in which the Church is taking a position) grows longer, the probability of someone mentioning the sex scandal approaches one.”
    “Once such reference to the Scandal is made, whoever mentioned the Scandal has automatically “lost” whatever debate was in progress.”

    • Mark Shea

      Ah! Thanks! Perfect! My work here is done!

      • Rosemarie


        Great! I was wondering about this myself.

  • Andrew

    Once the person you’re speaking with goes down that line of “reasoning” I pretty much give up and think of why we’re admonished not to lay “pearls before swine.”

  • Jon W

    Most appeals to Godwin’s Law are totally unfair. The Nazis aren’t brought up for the purpose of comparing one’s interlocutor to a Nazi but only to cite at least one case in which pretty much everyone can acknowledge that people’s behavior was evil per se. It’s used to get people to agree that it is, in fact, possible to condemn certain kinds of behavior justly. It’s a tactic used to deny relativism, which is extraordinarily hard to get people to do.

    • Mark Shea

      When you say that, you remind me of HITLER!!!!

    • Sean O

      It is both what you say [a generally agreed upon standard of evil] and a form of laziness or silliness. I think we see the later more often, such as Obama is Hitler or is like Hitler. No matter how much we dislike him or his policies this kind of statement is pure nonsense. It undermines rather than promotes rational discussion.

  • victor

    Shouldn’t it be the Bernard Francis Law?

  • John C

    How about “cartoon discourse”?

    • Linebyline


      A cartoon takes life and simplifies/exaggerates it to shed light on a broader truth. (Well, that’s what it’s supposed to do; just as often, it’s a convenient excuse for a lack of drawing ability.) It’s not unlike what Jesus did with His parables.

      Call the thing what it is: Bad discourse.

  • Rick

    What about the Scoff Law?

    You know, one who ignores the law of common sense and decency about Catholics…

  • Melissa

    Thank you for this. Now let’s all go out and turn this into a meme.

  • Heather Price

    I wondered this same thing a couple months back or so! The poor soul I was… discussing the HHS mandate with still didn’t have any idea what Godwin’s Law was.
    It was in newspaper article comments, which mostly explains the matter.

    So, Bernard Francis Law, then?

  • thomas tucker

    I kind of like the Law Law.

  • Joanne K McPortland

    Oh, let’s be correct and call it the Bernard Cardinal Law. Perfect.

    I’m trying to figure out (a) what to call and (b) how to respond to the following exchange, which happens terrifyingly often these days:

    ME (in some casual context): I’m a Catholic.
    WOMAN (recoiling in horror): YOU PEOPLE CAN’T HAVE MY UTERUS!

    This is beginning to Cause Commotion in Bars, which is significantly cramping my ability to practice the New Evangelization. Any thoughts?

    • KML

      Start talking about cervical mucus. Hey, you bring up your ladyparts, I get to talk about mine. Billings Corollary.

  • Ed Pie

    Would this also apply to news articles where a reference to the Scandal is slipped in somewhere in the transition between important and merely interesting relevant facts, for no discernible journalistic reason?

  • Rachel K

    Yeah, this is so bad that even non-Catholics acknowledge it. A few months ago, I was debating the HHS mandate with a friend-of-a-friend, who eventually resorted to “yargle blargle CHILD MOLESTERS!” Our mutual friend, a staunch atheist, winced and immediately awarded me the victory.

  • Richard C.

    Writing from Boston here. Could you leave Cdl. Law out of this one, for our sake? We have enough stigma already, thanks.

  • Jay Anderson

    It’s the only thing I got to my name after 8 years of blogging, and y’all want to give it away to that reprobate Cardinal Law?


  • Jay Anderson

    But in all honesty, apart from my own vested interest in not wanting to have something that originated with me associated with that reprobate, let’s not forget that Cardinal Law ACTUALLY DID (or aided and abetted) what Anderson’s Law predicts someone will mention in an ad hominem fashion to distract from a completely unrelated discussion.

    When someone inevitably mentions the scandal in a discussion completely unrelated to the scandal, is throwing Cardinal Law’s name into the mix actually likely to steer the discussion back on course?

  • Bishop Mark Camp

    As an Anglican bishop who will be received into the Catholic Church this Sunday (PTL!) I say simply call it “Peds Law”. The first response I have received from 90% of the people who have said anything about our coming into the RC Church was “What about all the molesting priests? Why would you want to join a group like that?” Personally, I think Cardinal Law was an accomplice to many many crimes and should have been indicted by the Grand Jury and stood trial like the rest of us would have. JPII was an accomplice in that he knew of the crimes and did nothing. I dearly loved the man but he let crimes go unpunished.

    If I was ever to be a bishop in the RC Church and one of my priests turned out to be a pedophile I would damn his soul to hell for eternity because he could not be reformed.

    • Mark Shea

      It is not for us to damn anybody to hell, nor to declare who is beyond redemption. We are responsible to punish crimes with the penalties of law, not to play God.