This post deals with pastoral and other forms of abuse,
and contains some discussion of pedophilia;
due to the nature of the topic, it has not been possible
to mark out those sections of the post more particularly.
Please read and share only with extreme caution.
Nothing Fails Like It
I said in my last that the Catholic Church in the US has a bad case of corrupted values. Grouchy Catholics love saying this, semper, ubique, et ab omnibus; more specifically, the bacillus of the World has infected it—a distinct disease from the fungus of the Flesh and the virus of the Devil. What do I mean? The best way to summarize it might be this: the Church is addicted to pursuing success.
I’m not talking about the dictionary definition of success here. “Accomplishing goals” is not inherently bad, obviously. (If you want to get pedantic, none of us can forsake success in that sense, due to the self-contradiction of setting one’s goal as “failure.”) But I mean success in its connotative sense: prestige, popularity, financial security, importance.1
To my knowledge (I’d check, only I don’t want to), the word success doesn’t appear often in the Bible. The more concrete things it represents, like reputation or money, certainly do. They are frequently depicted as alluring enemies and hostile idols that the people of God should be exceedingly wary of. The text of the parable of the sower is characteristic:
A sower went out to sow his seed: and as he sowed, some fell by the way side; and it was trodden down, and the fowls of the air devoured it. And some fell upon a rock; and as soon as it was sprung up, it withered away, because it lacked moisture. And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprang up with it, and choked it. And other fell on good ground, and sprang up, and bare fruit an hundredfold. … And that which fell among thorns are they, which, when they have heard, go forth, and are choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection. —Luke 8.5-8, 14
But this is old news. There have been Christians denouncing the Church for worldliness since Tertullian (if for some reason we’re not counting St. John the Divine’s sub-epistles to Sardis and Laodicea2). What does this have to do with predatory deviants?
I’d Have Called It “The Not So Great Apostasy”
In itself, nothing. However, there are predatory deviants in the pay of every large institution on earth; but, having said that, I must immediately clarify it in two ways before proceeding.
Clarification number one: many Catholics eagerly talk about how there are predatory deviants in the pay of every large institution on earth, but in my experience, when they’re not literally doing this for money, they are generally doing it as a tu quoque to exempt our holy Mother from criticism. This has nothing to do with the well-being of victims, past, present, or possible; far from being an expression of piety, it’s a disgrace. The fourth commandment tells us to honor our Mother, certainly—and the eighth tells us not to bear false witness. Whitewashing the public image of the Catholic Church with distortions, lies, and double standards (or trying to do so, since, thank God, most people don’t fall for this flimsy excuse) probably breaks the eighth while certainly failing to fulfill the fourth, because making up pleasant falsehoods about your parents is not in fact a good way to honor them.
The other necessary clarification, in a post-2016 world, is that I’m not about to try and sell you on a conspiracy theory. There is no secret cabal of pedos taking the blood of the youth à la Countess Báthory. (Among other things, far from keeping it a secret, guys who do take the blood of the youth apparently think this is an interest they should write down and show to people—which I suppose is pretty obliging of them.) Nor is there a dastardly mob of Communists, Jews, or Communist Jews cackling to themselves as they calculate exactly what reddit comment and/or edition of Dungeons & Dragons will finally destroy every last American flag. This is simply not how how reality works. The motives and behavior—bad and good alike—of Communists, Jews, Catholics, and every other group you care to name, are on the whole pretty boring; life is a full-time job for people you disagree with or dislike just as much as it is for you. Most of the exceptions to that rule come from poets, lunatics, and saints.
As I was saying, there are predatory deviants in the pay of every large institution on earth, and this is neither a defense of Catholicism nor a conspiracy theory. The truth is much worse: it’s just statistics and human nature.
Abuse, whether sexual or not, can be described both like a strategy and like a mental disorder—which is good, because not all abuse is created equal. Abusers are human beings and do things for human reasons (which even the crudest behaviorist will admit are at least as varied as human circumstances). Insofar as abuse is a strategy on the part of the abuser, it’s something anybody can do; insofar as it’s a compulsive response to a psychological disorder, those disorders are distributed throughout every class, ethnicity, gender, and religious group.3
As for pedophilia specifically, research on it does remain incomplete; however, my understanding is that the percentage of the population that has these impulses seems to be roughly constant, and more or less randomly distributed.4 In a high sample size like “an institution of some kind in the US,” we would therefore expect a number of pedophiles roughly proportionate to the percentage found in the general populace. The number of people who act on these impulses is presumably fairly constant as well, outside of places and periods that are either exceptionally severe or exceptionally lax toward them (like ancient Greece or contemporary Malaysia).
Common sense would therefore lead us to expect to see predation tolerated at culturally disproportionate levels in a sick institution, and at cultural-average levels in a normal institution. Common sense might, on investigation, turn out to be mistaken, but it serves as a place to start; and while this bears further examination too, we have seen a series of failures similar to those of the Catholic hierarchy: public schools, Protestant churches, the film industry, the Boy Scouts, college athletics, and countless more organizations have all had their abuse scandals. This seems to be a general cultural problem, not a proprietary Catholic one. (The Church may be disproportionately to blame for her institutional behavior, given the gifts and duties that she claims to have from God—I certainly think she is—but that’s another matter.)
As an aside: this may also be a much older problem than we’ve fully realized. I know little about its history myself, but one disquieting tidbit is that when C. S. Lewis was attending an English public school, as he narrates in Surprised by Joy, pederasty was—if a bit less public—about as traditional as it was when the Spartans fought at Themopylæ.5 I have a hunch that’s going to be important; besides any other implications that might have, sometimes the reason a problem is old is that it’s had time to build structures that either keep it in existence, or let it respawn quickly when dealt with.
O, For a Voice Like Thunder6
Anyway. The fact that people like this show up in leadership positions is to be expected. No selection process for any authority figure is perfect, and neither are any of the figures. When a case of abuse is discovered, it may mean said institution’s selection process calls for improvement; all it proves for sure is that the institution has had a piece of horrible luck. If the culprit is promptly removed from power, his victims receive due care, and the institution furnishes the authorities and the public with relevant information about what happened, the institution has done its duty. Not all abuse constitutes an abuse crisis, insofar as by “crisis” we mean the results of a deeply flawed system perpetuating harm (as distinct from the individual errors and imperfections that any institution will be subject to).
What makes abuse a crisis is not that it occurs. It’s that the institution which gives the abuser their power tolerates, and even protects, people it knows to be abusive. Which is what the Catholic Church did for decades.
The Temptation of Saint Anthony by Lucas Kranach the Elder (1506)
What makes the Catholic Church’s own abuse crisis not only loathsome, but both ridiculous and despicable, is the bouquet of hypocrisies involved. The first and worst is that, in addition to the normal human being reasons to do the right thing, Christians, especially Christian ministers, have particular cause to set an example of doing the right thing. Perhaps the sourest aspect of the problem is the willing involvement of so many Catholic priests not only in promoting Christian sexual ethics—that’s part of their job, really—but in essentially political campaigns that use bad data and irrational rhetoric to scapegoat queer people, and which sometimes provoke violence. And just to review: this is over a problem which individual clergymen themselves created, and that the clergy as a group escalated to crisis level, in the first place.
But again, what does all this have to do with “the World”? How is it even about “success,” exactly? To answer that question, we have to talk about Mario Kart.
To be continued
1Just to be clear, I chose specifically to say “addicted to pursuing success.” Not only is it not in mortals to command success, Sempronius, but saying “addicted to success” could imply she is good at obtaining it. I’m not sure that is true; her handling of the abuse crisis and resulting PR disaster cast some doubt on it.
2Rather than going into my personal reasons for thinking that the author of Revelation, the author of the Fourth Gospel, the Beloved Disciple, and St. John the Apostle are all one and the same person, I here content myself with the neutral descriptor St. John the Divine plus this passive-aggressive footnote.
3This isn’t to say that factors like class, ethnicity, etc. don’t influence these things. They do, but they don’t do it in a completely straightforward way. For example: if you’re well-off, you probably have plenty of disposable income and good insurance, meaning mental health care will not be hard to access, at least not in principle; we might therefore predict that, normally, a prosperous person will be more likely to be in good mental health. At the same time, we would expect individual exceptions: e.g., a wealthy member of an extremist charismatic church might view taking SSRIs as saying “God can’t heal,” and therefore buck the trend.
4Random may not really be the best word here. Unluckily, I can’t seem to think of a good substitute. The real situation is along these lines: pedophilic urges seem to correlate with several factors—many of them have to do with brain structure and the like. I used the word random because these are neither straightforwardly genetic (the way, say, eye color is), nor a result of nurture (not the way most people think of nurture: the “daddy didn’t hug me so now I do crystal meth” sort of picture). Their real development seems to be a blend of both, and not really something that’s under anybody’s control (that is, the development of the impulses doesn’t seem to be controllable—an individual’s behavior, with rare exceptions, is under his or her control).
5Around 1911 and in 480 BC respectively, if you want to be particular.
6This comes from a poem by William Blake, originally composed as the prologue to a play; it runs:
O for a voice like thunder, and a tongue
To drown the throat of war! When the senses
Are shaken, and the soul is driven to madness,
Who can stand? When the souls of the oppressèd
Fight in the troubled air that rages, who can stand?
When the whirlwind of fury comes from the
Throne of God, and the frowns of his countenance
Drive the nations together, who can stand?
When Sin claps his broad wings over the battle,
And sails rejoicing in the flood of Death;
When souls are torn to everlasting fire,
And fiends of Hell rejoice upon the slain,
O who can stand? O who hath causèd this?
O who can answer at the Throne of God?
The Kings and Nobles of the Land have done it!
Hear it not, Heaven, thy Ministers have done it!