Child Rape, Penn State, and the Catholic Church: Is Religion Especially Bad?

This piece was originally published on AlterNet.

The child rape scandal at Penn State raises inevitable comparisons with the Catholic Church. Does religion make these kinds of abuses worse?

I can’t be the only person who heard about the Penn State child rape scandal and thought, “Holy crap — it’s just like the Catholic Church.” The abuse of power by a trusted authority figure; the cover-up by people in authority; the unwillingness of witnesses to speak out; the grotesque, morally bankrupt defenses of a beloved institution by its followers… all of it is depressingly familiar.

And I can’t be the only critic of religion who’s been wondering, “Hmmm. If Penn State has been acting like the Catholic Church… then did the Catholic Church child rape scandal actually have anything to do with religion?”

I still think it does. But I think it’s a complicated question… and I want to take a closer look.

Apologists for the Catholic Church and its role in the extensive child rape scandal often use the “But everyone else does it!” defense. “Priests aren’t the only people in positions of trust and power over children who abuse that power,” they say. “Parents, relatives, teachers, babysitters, coaches — they rape children as well. It’s all terrible… but it’s unfair to single out the Catholic Church as if it were special.”

Atheists and other critics of the Church typically respond to this defense — after tearing their hair out and screaming — by pointing out: The rapes aren’t the scandal. The cover-up — that’s the scandal. The rapes of children are a horrible tragedy. The scandal is the fact that the Catholic Church hid the rapes, and protected the child-raping priests from discovery and prosecution: lying to law enforcement, concealing evidence, paying off witnesses, moving child-raping priests from diocese to diocese so they could rape a whole new batch of children in a place where they wouldn’t be suspected. The scandal is the fact that it wasn’t just a few individuals in the ranks who protected and enabled the child-raping priests: it was large numbers of Church officials, including high-ranking officials, acting as a cold-blooded matter of Church policy. The scandal is the fact that the Church treated their own stability and reputation as a higher priority than, for fuck’s sake, children not being raped.

And many critics of religion have concluded that the nature of religion itself is largely to blame for this scandal. They have argued that religion’s lack of any sort of reality check, and its belief in a perfect supernatural moral authority that transcends mere human concerns, makes religious institutions like the Catholic Church far more vulnerable to abuses of this kind.

I’ve made this argument myself. And in my own writings on this subject, I’ve asked what I thought was a rhetorical question: “If these scandals had taken place in any organization other than a religious one — would you still be part of it? If it were your political party, your softball league, your university, your children’s school, your employer? Would you still be part of it? Would you still pay your league dues and show up for softball night? Would you still pay your tuition and send your kids off to the school every day? Or would you be walking out in moral outrage?”

But it seems that this question wasn’t so rhetorical. It seems that, at least sometimes, the answer to that question is, “Yup — we’d be defending our school.”

At least sometimes, the answer is, “If we see our coach raping a child — we won’t alert the police. If we’re in positions of authority in a school and we hear reports about our coach raping a child — we won’t alert the police, and we won’t investigate. And if we hear that a coach at our school raped children, and that the authorities at the school knew about it and didn’t alert the police or investigate, we will become outraged — not at the fact that the rapes occurred, not at the fact that the witnesses and school authorities did nothing, but at what we see as unfair treatment of the perpetrators, and at the very fact that the media is covering it.”

Clearly, defending the indefensible is not unique to religion.

Clearly, institutions centered on something other than a belief in the supernatural are perfectly capable of inspiring this grotesquely contorted form of loyalty. This unwillingness to believe that the people and institutions we admire could do anything that vile; this ability to rationalize actions we would normally find thoroughly despicable when we’ve made a commitment to the people who perpetrated them… this clearly isn’t just about religion. This is about the more fucked-up directions that the human brain can go in.

So I want to take a step back. I want to be rigorous, and ask: Is there anything special about the child rape scandal in the Catholic Church? Does the fact that the Catholic Church is a religious organization have any effect on how the child rape scandal has been playing out for them? Is there any real difference between the child rape scandal in the Catholic Church, and the child rape scandal at Penn State?

I’ve been looking at this hard. And I’ll acknowledge that I don’t think the difference is as great as I’d originally thought. The degree to which many students and supporters of Penn State have behaved like blind religious zealots has, quite frankly, shocked me.

But I still think there is a difference. There are non-trivial differences between these two scandals: differences of degree, and differences of kind. I want to look carefully at those differences… and I want to look at whether religion has any part in how the Catholic Church has behaved, and continues to behave, when it comes to the rape of children.

How Much Worse Was It?

1: Scope. At Penn State, one man, former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, has been charged with the rape of seven children. In the Catholic Church, over 4,000 priests raped over 10,000 children. That’s in the United States alone: not in Ireland, or Germany, or Italy, or Belgium, or Latin America, or Africa, or… And that’s according to conservative estimates. The actual numbers are likely to be much higher.

And at Penn State, about eight school officials and staff members are currently thought (according to grand jury records) to have turned a blind eye to the alleged rapes. In the Catholic Church, the Church officials who either ignored the rapes or deliberately acted to conceal them number in the hundreds — going all the way up into the top echelons of the Church hierarchy.

That is a huge freaking difference. To be comparable in scope to the Catholic Church child rape scandal, the Penn State scandal would have to extend to multiple major universities across the country, with a deliberate campaign of concealment extending throughout the Association of American Universities and into the top levels of the Department of Education. And as appalling as the recent events at Penn State are, that’s clearly not what we’re looking at.

Have non-religious institutions sheltered and defended child rapists? Yes. But have any of them done so on anywhere near the scale that the Catholic Church has? Not to my knowledge.

And it’s hard to see religion as irrelevant to that. Religion is uniquely unfalsifiable — and it thus has a unique lack of any sort of reality check. And most religions have a belief in a perfect moral authority, and a belief that it understands the wishes of that moral authority and knows the right way to interpret them. So because of this lack of reality check, and because of this belief in a perfect supernatural moral authority that trumps human morality, religious institutions have a uniquely powerful armor against any sort of criticism or self-correction. And because of that armor, appalling situations — like the widespread rape of children by priests — have the capacity to spin wildly out of control, with a scope that’s hard to imagine in secular institutions.

2: Duration. As far as we know, the alleged rapes of children by Sandusky at Penn State, and the conspiracy of silence about them, have been going on since about 1996. The rapes of children by Catholic priests had been going on for decades — possibly centuries — before people finally began talking about them.

That, again, is a serious difference. And again, it’s hard to see religion as irrelevant to that. Because of religion’s lack of a reality check, and because of its common belief in a perfect supernatural moral authority that trumps human morality, grossly immoral behavior within its ranks is protected. So it can go on for much, much longer before people are able and willing to see it, and to speak out against it. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that people finally began speaking out about child rape in the Catholic Church only after religion had begun to lose its grip on society: at a time when society was beginning to be more secular, and when criticism of religion was beginning to be more accepted and more common.

Again: Have non-religious institutions sheltered and defended child rapists? Yes. But did any of them get away with it for anywhere near as long as the Catholic Church did? Not to my knowledge.

3: Degree of authority and power. I will confess: The degree to which people see sports figures as epic figures of heroism and power is somewhat baffling to me. But I recognize that it exists. And I also recognize that, for people who want a career in professional sports, coaches have real power and authority, as well as the perceived kind.

But the Catholic priests who were raping children weren’t just seen as heroes, or as people with real-world authority and power who could improve or screw up your life. They were seen as the Earthly representatives of a perfect, all-powerful God. They were seen this way by their victims… which made those victims far more vulnerable to their abuse. They were seen this way by the people in the communities… which made those communities far more trusting, and far less willing to believe the charges when they started to come out. They were seen this way by other church officials, by cardinals and bishops and other priests… which made those officials more inclined to defend and protect them.

And this gave them a degree of authority and power undreamed of by Jerry Sandusky at Penn State.

This doesn’t just apply to the child-raping priests, either. It applies to the Church as a whole. The Catholic Church teaches its followers that the Church is the one true conduit to God and salvation, and that without it your soul will be lost forever. So many of its followers are terrified to leave it, or to call the cops on it, or even to speak out against it. And this, once again, armors the Catholic Church — and other religious institutions — with a degree of bullying, terrorizing power, enabling them to commit unspeakable crimes with impunity.

4: Moral authority. Colleges and universities can, and do, take on an air of superiority. Students and alumni, faculty and staff, administrators and boosters, often imbue their school with a hazy golden aura, and treat other people associated with the school as an elite cadre of the best and the brightest.

But Penn State, to the best of my knowledge, has never presented itself as the ultimate authority and arbiter of universal human morality.

The Catholic Church has. And does. And will continue to do so.

That’s an important difference. And not just because of the whole “greater degree of power and authority/ greater capacity for abuse” thing. It’s different because of the hypocrisy. It’s different because, when an institution presumes to position itself as the ultimate moral authority and infallible interpreter of God’s moral teachings — and when it takes legal and political action to enforce those mores and turn them into laws controlling even people who don’t share the faith (such as pressing for laws banning same-sex marriage) — then their reprehensible behavior takes on a whole new shape of grotesquery.

Admittedly, the lack of any special moral authority on the part of Penn State does make the fervency of its defenders seem, shall we say, disproportionate. You can understand — almost — how people would become righteously outraged at accusations of immorality against the divinely appointed representatives of their perfect loving god. But against their football coach? Really? I mean — really?

But as long as the Catholic Church presents itself as a moral authority — not just a moral authority, but the moral authority, the ultimate and final authority on how all human beings should and should not behave — then, when it acts in ways that would make any sane human being retch in revulsion, it automatically adds the offense of hypocrisy to its already overwhelming litany of turpitude. And this hypocrisy becomes especially vile when you look at the obsessive degree to which the Catholic Church aims its moral outrage at entirely consensual adult sexual behavior… and contrast it with its willingness to shelter and enable and rationalize the rape of children.

Is Religion To Blame?

Now. Most of these differences are, I’ll grant you, differences of degree and not of kind. The scope of the Catholic Church child rape scandal is larger, it’s lasted longer, it took longer to be exposed, etc.. So people might argue that, compared to the Penn State child rape scandal, the Catholic Church child rape scandal isn’t really all that different. It’s really just a difference of degree.

But that’s a pretty fucking big difference of degree. We’re not talking about taking an all- too- common moral failing — the human tendency to rationalize bad behavior when it’s done by people we admire — and dialing it up a notch or two. We’re talking about taking an all- too- common moral failing, and cranking it up to eleven.

And not all these differences are differences of degree. The fact that the Catholic Church — both the child-raping priests and the officials who protected and defended them — are claiming God on their side, the fact that they claim to have a moral authority that comes from the perfect creator of the entire universe… that makes them categorically different from the culprits at Penn State.

These are significant differences. And when you look at how much worse the child rape scandal was in the Catholic Church than it was at Penn State, it become clear that religion is at least partly responsible. The basic idea of religious faith — the idea that it’s not only acceptable, but positively virtuous, to believe things you have no good reason to think are true — is a fundamentally harmful one. The belief in a perfect supernatural moral authority that trumps human morality is a fundamentally harmful one. And it doesn’t just do harm to the people who believe in it. It enables people to do terrible harm to others. Other institutions do that as well, of course — but religion does it in ways that are categorically different, with an absence of a reality check that allows this harm to flourish to a grotesque degree.

Atheists are often accused of blaming religion for every bad thing that people ever do. But I don’t know any atheist critic of religion — even the most fervent and hard-core — who does this. Atheists understand that human beings can do appalling things, for a wide variety of reasons: from grotesque sociopathy and a profound failure of even the most basic empathy, to the contortion of the entirely understandable tendency to be loyal to those we admire. Atheists even understand that horrors done within religious institutions are complex and multi-factorial, with motivations and after- the- fact rationalizations that are mirrored in secular life. We get it. Religion is not solely to blame for the horrors committed within its institutions and in its name.

Religion just makes it worse.

Child Rape, Penn State, and the Catholic Church: Is Religion Especially Bad?

26 thoughts on “Child Rape, Penn State, and the Catholic Church: Is Religion Especially Bad?

  1. 1

    Thanks for nicely and coherently gathering a lot of the thoughts that many of us have been playing with. Just one thing to note is that, there are some respects in which it may be more appropriate to compare the church with the Second Mile, rather than with Penn State, since, for instance, it was the parents who put their trust there, rather than in the university, whose children were raped.

    When we make that comparison instead, the answers to most of the above questions become even less ambiguous. For example, when asking if people would continue to be a part of any other organization where something like this happened, it seemed clear very quickly that nobody would trust the Second Mile going forward either with their money nor with their children, and they seem prepared to close.

    Yet they keep trusting and financing the church…..

  2. 2

    I’ve heard college football described as a religion and for some people it really provides the same type of blind trust that a religion does. On a much smaller scale of course.

    I’ve heard on my local talk sports radio that the rapes were also reported to the local police back in 2002 and they didn’t even file the complaint. If that is true, it makes the story even worse.

  3. 3

    Your logic is thorough and you clearly mean well, but the problem with logic is that it follows a direct line which is developed from a premise. In this case, an important element of the premise is that the Roman “Catholic” Church is representative of all religions. If you were to anthropomorphosize different religions as a family, Roman “Catholicism” would certainly be regarded as a sociopathic miscreant who twists the families values to manipulate others to follow him. In other words, Roman “Catholicism” is an insidious usurper of the term “religion”, it is the one that missed the point but used fraudulent means to disguise itself as a legitimate religion in order to gain power.

    By comparing the Penn State rape scandal to those committed by “Catholic” priests, you present a very limited view while you use your conclusions to make a very broad argument. If you are interested in finding and broadcasting the truth on this matter, would it not be more effective to tabulate instances of child rape in all applicable situations (abuse of power, cover-up, claim to moral authority etc)? So, for example, were there quite as many instances found in Buddhist schools or Muslim sects? How many rabbis and swamis have been involved in such crimes and cover-ups. Then, factor in the number of rapes committed and hidden by politicians, military personnel and other civil servants. If this number is higher than that of other religious groups (excluding Roman “Catholicism”s), following your logic, would this mean that civil service is an aggravating factor to the human potential for evil?

    Furthermore, most other religions do not claim infallible moral superiority. Many claim that if their teachings are followed diligently, one can achieve a higher moral baseline; one that would never consider rape or any other form of harm to another creature as remotely excusable. In most other religions, those who believe in a “supernatural authority” (though nowadays, the majority of intelligent people who work within religious systems have realised that their scriptures are primarily allegorical) would never consider that their deity supports rape. Only a system as demented as the “Catholic” church could get that one wrong on such a widespread level.

    In conclusion, I appreciate and support your efforts to denounce such atrocities and to shed light on their causes, I only ask that you consider all the factors more fully before making such serious accusations. You never know which impressionable minds might come across your words.

  4. Erp

    The Southern Baptists certainly have complaints about child abusing ministers though the method of coverup is somewhat different. The abuser leaves his/her current church and moves to a new one; the old church doesn’t tell the new one about the abuse or accusations of abuse nor does it report them to the police (but there is no one higher up doing the moving or coordinating a coverup). Some within have called for reform. Structurally universities, if it is a problem, may be closer to Baptist churches in their method of covering up. Either forcing the abuser to move on (but not telling the new university) or forcing them into retirement (but in neither case reporting to the police). Though they cannot threaten hellfire on those who might tell (not usually explicitly for telling but for taking it outside the organization).

  5. 5

    There’s at least one other major difference: Penn State, as far as I know, doesn’t screen its applicants for coaching positions by asking whether they are willing to give up normal sexual relationships if they take the job. As anyone with a background in recruitment will tell you, this practically guarantees that successful candidates will be a) weird; b) deluded; c) liars or d) any combination of the above. And since half the population are already ruled out on gender lines, that doesn’t leave a very inspiring pool of potential recruits.

    Does anyone really think this is a good way to get quality recruits? If it was necessary to take a vow of celibacy in order to get elected to the Senate, say, does anyone seriously believe it would improve the current crop of incumbents?

    By putting up a sign saying, in effect, “Only weirdos and liars need apply”, the Church has deliberately and with malice aforethought stacked the deck against itself.

  6. 6

    JL #3:
    “In most other religions, those who believe in a “supernatural authority” … would never consider that their deity supports rape. Only a system as demented as the “Catholic” church could get that one wrong on such a widespread level.”

    You seem to be suggesting that the Catholic Church says that God supports rape: that’s absurd. Got anything, anything at all, to back that up? Or are you in fact meaning something else: that there were scandalous cover-ups at high levels of rape and abuse? I’m not denying that – what I am calling you on is that the Church somehow suggests that Catholics’ “deity supports rape.” Nonsense.

  7. 7

    You are trying to nuance your views, and I really like it. There has been too much anger connected with the lack of criticism (and very bad statistics!) in discussions of this sort. Still, the results of applying two of your criteria don’t seem persuasive to me.

    At Penn State, one man, former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, has been charged with the rape of seven children. In the Catholic Church, over 4,000 priests raped over 10,000 children. That’s in the United States alone: not in Ireland, or Germany, or Italy, or Belgium, or Latin America, or Africa, or… And that’s according to conservative estimates.

    Impressive, but very misleading. I don’t think it’s fair to compare what was done by just one man with what was done in such a large institution as the CC. I don’t think it’s fair to compare even the data from just one school. For comparisons to have any sense, a broader perspective would be needed. Cf. the following fragment from a synthesis by Shakeshaft.:

    This analysis indicates that 9.6 percent of all students in grades 8 to 11 report contact and/or noncontact educator sexual misconduct that was unwanted. 8.7 percent report only noncontact sexual misconduct and 6.7 percent experienced only contact misconduct. (These total to more than 9.6 percent because some students reported both types of misconduct.) Of students who experienced any kind of sexual misconduct in schools, 21 percent were targets of educators, while the remaining 79 percent were targets of other students. To get a sense of the extent of the number of students who have been targets of educator sexual misconduct [an estimation is given]: more than 4.5 million students are subject to sexual misconduct by an employee of a school sometime between kindergarten and 12th grade.

    This is also a “huge, freaking difference” with what happened in the CC … only in the opposite direction. (Not that I advocate taking these concrete numbers for comparison – my intention is rather to indicate the difficulties connected with choosing such data.)

    Have non-religious institutions sheltered and defended child rapists? Yes. But have any of them done so on anywhere near the scale that the Catholic Church has? Not to my knowledge. And it’s hard to see religion as irrelevant to that.

    Again a quote from Shakeshaft:

    When students do report, they almost always report incidents of contact sexual abuse—touching, kissing, hugging, or forced intercourse. Verbal and visual abuse are rarely reported to school officials. Of the cases that come to a superintendent’s attention, nearly 90 percent are contact sexual misconduct (Shakeshaft and Cohan, 1994). When alleged misconduct is reported, the majority of complaints are ignored or disbelieved (Shakeshaft and Cohan, 1994). Other students note this lack of response and conclude that teachers (or coaches or administrators) cannot be stopped (Shakeshaft, 2003). If the school will not act, what can a mere student do?

    Does the (instinctive?) reaction of disbelieving or ignoring the complaints count as “sheltering and defending the perpetrators”? My own answer would be: yes, it does. And it seems that it happens at schools at quite a large scale. (You may have some point in that singling out one concrete institution, like one school, for comparison doesn’t bring such effect. But singling out just one school for comparison with the CC is not a good idea.)


    Have non-religious institutions sheltered and defended child rapists? Yes. But did any of them get away with it for anywhere near as long as the Catholic Church did? Not to my knowledge.

    Compare this. It’s a description of the Boy Scouts case (abuse scandal), together with an allegation that a cover up attempts had a quite long tradition there. We read that confidential files were kept by the Scouts authorities “dating to at least 1925”. Of course it’s just a newspaper article and I don’t know how believable it is; anyway, old (and big!) institutions would be needed for comparisons in terms of duration with the CC.

    Your “degree of authority and power” and “moral authority” criteria look more promising. I will try to comment on them later (now I must rush to work!).

  8. 8

    “As anyone with a background in recruitment will tell you, this practically guarantees that successful candidates will be a) weird; b) deluded; c) liars or d) any combination of the above.”

    How does having a background in recruitment qualify someone to make any comment at all about celibacy? How many positions requiring celibacy do people “in recruitment” deal with? Maybe … none?

    “Does anyone really think this is a good way to get quality recruits?”
    The vast majority of Catholic priests are “quality recruits” – at least in the sense of living out their celibacy. Celibacy isn’t the problem, obviously (celibate priests aren’t rapists) – rather, not living celibacy is the problem.
    To suggest otherwise is ignorance.

    “By putting up a sign saying, in effect, “Only weirdos and liars need apply”, the Church has deliberately and with malice aforethought stacked the deck against itself.”

    You insult the majority of Catholic priests, including the good men I know, some of whom I call friends.

    You also ignore the fact that most child abuse occurs in the home, by men known to the victims – men who have never made a promise of chastity.

  9. 10

    Generally speaking, the wider the pool of potential recruits you have, the better selections you will be able to make. The Catholic Church already arbitrarily cuts its selection pool for priests in half by refusing to ordain women. Then it insists that candidates be prepared to publicly renounce the single most pleasurable experience known to the human race.

    Do you honestly think that’s going to leave a lot of people behind? Enough to fill all the vacancies for priests with honest, sincere, well-adjusted people who are capable of monitoring and understanding their own behaviour?

    It’s no secret that the Church has had major recruitment problems for its priesthood for some time now. And when that happens either numbers go down or standards go down — or both. Don’t you wonder why so many of the scandals involve priests, and so few involve ancillary workers — who are presumably equally steeped in Catholic traditions?

    I have no doubt that the selection process does turn out some good people. But by maintaining its insanely unrealistic criteria for priests, the Catholic Church has done a lot to bring this scandal upon themselves.

  10. 11

    In my mind, the biggest difference is when the brakes got applied. Penn State eventually considered itself beholden to public opinion, albeit tragically too far up the ladder of the leadership. When the board of the university had to answer for what the public found out was going on, that is when the correct actions started taking place.

    In contrast, the RCC in no way considers itself beholden to public opinion. Even now, after all the evidence and criticisms, I am aware of no institutional changes in the organization specifically aimed at reducing child rape cases.

    So the root problem, in my mind, is the submission to an authority. This need not be religious in nature, but many, many, religions require this to some degree or another. Much like failing to wear seat-belts will not necessarily cause a car accident, blind obedience is not a cause of such failures, but when such incidents occur the damage control mechanism is lost. The only thing that can stop the abuse is transparency and the influence of a wider audience that will challenge what is going on, the things that a punctilious obedience eliminates in an institution.

  11. 12

    In this case, an important element of the premise is that the Roman “Catholic” Church is representative of all religions. If you were to anthropomorphosize different religions as a family, Roman “Catholicism” would certainly be regarded as a sociopathic miscreant who twists the families values to manipulate others to follow him.

    While there isn’t much evidence of child rape among them, at least among Christian sects, wasn’t there a study done not long ago that estimated that some fairly high percentage of adult women (we assume adult, mind) where sexually propositioned by their priests? Can’t imagine how that wouldn’t happen with most other strongly authoritarian religions either, save for the minor issue that, in the case of some like Islam, you will never find men and women in the same room during services, and probably not in the same room with the church leader.

    There have been several non-Christian cases not too far back though where a big scandal existed, with respect to the priest in question claiming that their “spiritual enlightenment” would be undermined, if they didn’t function as a sort of harem for the church leader.

    It may be true, generally, that non-religious organizations have these things in them, sometimes, but there is a) more transparency, for the most part, b) easier access to courts, for sexual harassment (how many cases have we seen with idiots arguing that rape and harassment don’t really exist?), and c) they don’t, generally, claim, at the same time, to be promoting high moral standards.

    But, as to the statement someone made on how football is almost like a religion, there is the joke that the morons of the country where planning to remove, “E Pluribus Unum”, as too foreign and confusing, and place, “Yo Football!”, on our money, along with, “In God We Trust”, instead. No clear indication of how many of the same twits actually would have voted to see that happen, rather than seeing the joke…

  12. 13

    You left out one very large point about other churches. There are more than 40,000 denominations of protestant faiths. Why do you call out only the Catholics?

    FYI Catholic clerics as a whole had less than 2% of their clergy guilty of these horrible crimes. Surveys over the years since the scandal show that as many as 10% of the Protestant Clerics were guilty of the same offenses.

    I wonder why this is skipped by the main-stream press and others like yourself who choose to lambast Catholics only.

  13. 14

    Hi, Greta. I have read your site for a while and think that you represent a consistently thoughtful and nuanced voice, however, this post troubles me for two reasons. First, you are taking “religion” as a something, as opposed to “religion” being an empty signifier as many contemporary scholars of religion do (McCutcheon, Day, Braun, et al). This is not to say that you must agree with their position, which, admittedly is a minority even in the academy, but their goal is to push against Durkheimian and Eliadean notions of “religion” that fail to take into account the banal, mundane, very real aspects of (power) relationships between people that are often cloaked as religious. That leads me to the second reason that this post troubles me. It seems to me that what connects these instances is positions of power and authority, a connection which you make early on. Thus, a more fruitful examination of the relationship between these incidents would be one that examines how positions of power and authority correspond to instances of rape, sexual abuse, sexual harassment, etc. I recognize and appreciate the nuanced differences that you lay out and that you are being careful to not blame religion for every bad thing that happens. However, you appear to be guilty of a common fallacy, that association does not equal causation. So, because there are more instances of abuse in the Catholic Church than there have been toward Sandusky, religion somehow makes it worse. That seems to me a break in your logic that requires a considerable leap.

    Anyway, keep up the good work and keep thinking deeply about these issues.

  14. 16

    @Emmet and rape

    They must be dividing the spoils they took: there must be a damsel or two for each man, Spoils of dyed cloth as Sisera’s spoil, an ornate shawl or two for me in the spoil. (Judges 5:30 NAB)

    Lo, a day shall come for the Lord when the spoils shall be divided in your midst. And I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem for battle: the city shall be taken, houses plundered, women ravished; half of the city shall go into exile, but the rest of the people shall not be removed from the city. (Zechariah 14:1-2 NAB)

    “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest part or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place.” (Matthew 5:17 NAB)

    @Emmet and celibacy

    The vast majority of Catholic priests are “quality recruits” – at least in the sense of living out their celibacy.

    “Celibacy in crisis: a secret world revisited” by A. W. Richard Sipe

    … at any given time, Sipe estimates, 50 percent of the clergy is not observing the requirements of celibacy; second, church officialdom continues to impose a culture of secrecy, stonewalling a discussion of celibacy’s disarray; and third, Catholic moral teaching on sexuality is based on patently false anthropology, depriving clergy of a moral doctrine in which they can believe and moral guidance that they can follow.

  15. 17

    In reply to post #5, Emmet says:

    “You insult the majority of Catholic priests, including the good men I know, some of whom I call friends.”

    I’ve heard this response and defense of Catholic priests numerous times. While there may be, as you say, priests who are good men and who don’t commit abuse, they too may be culpable. Any priest who had a strong suspicion that any of his fellow priests were abusers had the responsibility to investigate, and any priest who knew that any of his fellow priests were abusers had the responsibility to report the priest to his bishop and if the bishop failed to act, report the priest to the police.

  16. 18

    @Veronica Abbass

    When the laity, such as Emmet, come to the defence of Catholic priests,
    they become complicit in the institutionalized abuse of children by paedophile rcc clery.

    Explicitly by their monetary support (I assume) of the rcc, implicitly by their continued membership in the rcc.

    While paedophile rcc clergy perform the actual rape of children, the laity enable them to do this by their financial and moral support.

    By not leaving the rcc they are as guilty as any child raping priest.

  17. 19

    As a survivor of child sexual abuse by both Catholic nuns and priests and one who spoke out at the time and experienced the full gamut of the cover up within the Catholic through years as an activist in this regard with other survivors across the world. The common conclusion is religion – in our instances the Catholic and Christian religion.

    The fact is that the Christian religion is exploitative of women and children. The environment is established early in Catholic homes and furthered in the Catholic education system. This was where the cover up was engendered. It was a place where bullies were rewarded and those who remained silent were rewarded with position and authority – the more you learned to forgive the more you forgot. The nearer you were to a psychopath the greater the reward – these were your school mates who emulated what they experienced at home and what was rewarded in the schools – these are the people who go on to become leaders and position and stake holders in the Catholic system – it truly is bizarre and would fail every psychological test we have available to us. When you can be manipulated through threats to your god and your faith and when your god and your faith come before others including your children then you are dealing with people who have a very different philosophy in regards child rearing – for them it is not possible that they have been inculcated into a scheme that abuses on a grand scale. The sexual abuse of boys is only a small part of the abuses of the Catholic church as a result of their religious beliefs and practices. This includes genocides in Canada, Rwanda and more, it includes global child theft and the sale and trafficking of children via religious adoption services. In country after country the religious have been involved in funding and financing a fraud that benefits only a few. Only religion can produce this type of child abuse and horror.

    Christianity is focused on retaining possession of the children that come into their grasp and are willing to deploy fear and terror tactics of eternal agony along with persistent and unrelenting presentation of fear and phobia based argument to keep the children in line – this is an act of child abuse and it breeds abusers – this is the reason it is so wide spread throughout our communities. In every country wherever Christianity has gone child sexual abuse has followed. Any religion that requires the dismissal of the natural parental responsibility towards their children based on this fear based and therefore corrupted form of love must always put the physical and land based objects and representatives before the real and genuine biological and psychological needs of their children will produce this type of outcome.

    In a natural environment the safety and the protection of children comes first and foremost – this is simply not possible in a Christian or religious environment. The natural priority of human beings has been usurped by the greedy and the corrupt and they have used this tool for centuries. Human beings are a product of their environment, they both create and perpetuate what we have in our society today. We see the results and it is the most ugly and the most toxic picture we could paint.

    It is impossible to interact fully as a genuine human being with your own children while ever that person holds a religious belief or a god before all else. This is the core of the conflict of interest Christianity and religion have. They cannot and must not protect the rights of the child, nor must they provide their children with the opportunity to exercise a genuine choice of their own free will without repercussions of any kind upon reaching the legal age of reason. To not afford that right to your child is an abuse of that child’s rights. Their right to choose freely as an adult has been taken away from them forever under the present system. It is this abuse of the child and their rights which is at the core of the abuse found across all religions.

  18. 20

    JohnB, I marvel that you suffered such torture at the hands of Catholic system and have come through the experience with your faculties intact as evidenced by your ability to put your story and values into words.

    And I compare that to the sheer, disgusting, evil banality of those who defend this monstrous system and would put it’s reputation before the welfare of a child.

  19. 21

    “You insult the majority of Catholic priests, including the good men I know, some of whom I call friends.”

    In more than 50 years of speaking out on this issue and with contact with hundreds of survivors across the globe and knowing of their stories I can say that collectively and individually we have yet to encounter one of these so-called “good men” despite contacting hundreds of clergy globally with the specific request for assistance for the abused. These contact have not been limited to clergy they have included each and every Catholic human rights charities, their Social Justice programs, Education, child welfare, and their support for the abused and destitute only to be ignored, forgotten abused, scapegoated as delusional and insane, bullied, intimidated, shunned and publicly humiliated by everyday Catholics and members of all areas of the organizations.

    Find me one of these “good men”. Find me one of these “good Catholics” who is prepared to directly assist the victims of these crimes without there being a requirement to have a belief in the myths of the church or to have a requirement of forgiveness entwined within that support.

  20. cmv

    i think scenario hits it on the head in comment 2 – Football is, for all intents and purposes, a religion in many college towns (major sports more generally, but football in particular). The coach becomes “Coach”, much like the priest becomes “Father”. It is not just a title, but an honourific.

    Julian @3 – Look into the Residential school scandals in Canada and if memory serves similar scandals in Australia – The vast majority of that abuse was by lay bothers of the United and Anglican churches. Finally here you can find an article about the girl who was made to apologise to her rapist in front of her congregation. Abuse in religious circles is in no way limited to the Catholic church.

    The reason, in my opinion, that religion makes it worse is that religious leaders take upon themselves the patina of moral authority. If you say anything against them, it is not just making a claim against a secular authority such as a teacher, it is making a claim against a consecrated representative of GOD. They use that status as a shield to hide behind and as a cudgel with which to further abuse their victims.

    Steve @16 – Thank you! I read Emmet’s comment and knew immediately that the answer to his question was “read the bible”, but I wouldn’t have known where to get the verses. Beautifully done, sir.

  21. 23

    Greta: thanks for the interesting and nuanced article. I love nuanced. I think that you may be oversimplifying, however, since the size of the institutions involved (Penn State athletics vs. Catholic Church) are so vastly different. So yes, of course the child rape scandal of the Catholic Church is vastly larger than the Penn State football program, but you need to have some kind of “multiplier factor” to correct it in order to compare … I guess what I’m driving at is the statistical incidence of child rape in these two authoritarian power structure cultures. And you can’t deny that the Penn State football program has only been around for a couple decades, not centuries. So, yes, difference of degree.
    In any case, huge fan, enjoyed the piece, etc.

  22. 25

    Greta, I can’t say I was one of those people. The first thing I thought of was, “Great, everyone is going to try to make this look like the Catholic Church…”

    For example, you list

    morally bankrupt defenses of a beloved institution by its followers

    as a similarity. Yet, 1,7000 people signed an online petition by the student body asking for the resignation of PSU president Graham Spanier for his inaction in this case. It was not until Joe Paterno was canned that the riots took place. Joe Paterno did fulfilled all of his legal obligations and reported the incident. Some of the people who say that his actions were morally indefensible or even criminal have gotten it all wrong – the law did not require him to report the crime to the police, but to his immediate supervisor. He did. Plus he reported it to the man who oversaw the police. This is not the way things have gone down for the Catholic Church, not by a long shot. The riots were in his defense, not in the defense of anyone at PSU who may have harmed children or had been involved in a coverup.

    To me it seems almost that Paterno had to go because he was involved in football culture, and football culture has a really bad reputation. In other words, he took the fall even though in his case he did the right thing. So to me, rather than comparing it to the Catholic Church, I would compare it to a female-dominated teaching institution, such as a high school. If someone fails to report a female sex offender and there is no football team involved, does it cause a national scandal? Or, what if it’s a DV shelter employee who abuses some of the children that come through the shelter’s door and the DV shelter covers it up? There have been instances of that, to the best of my recollection, and it has never caused a national scandal. Those are the kinds of sex offender coverups which are more similar to the PSU scandal than to that of the Catholic church. Please note that none of them were really anything like the Catholic church scandal.

  23. 26

    […] Angry Black Lady, The Jerry Sandusky Rape Case: The History of the PSU Coverup Greta Christina, Child Rape, Penn State, and the Catholic Church: Is Religion Especially Bad? NPR, Is Football Culture The Core of The Problem? Scalzi, Omelas State University The Onion, […]

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