Friday, March 14, 2014

In America, there is a long history of portraying Catholic priests as predators

In an article which may be found here:, Dr. William Oddie notes that, "Pope Francis has now once again (though to judge by the so far sparse coverage, you’d think he’d never said or done anything before) expressed his abhorrence of clerical sex abuse. Previous popes—indeed most senior clergy—are normally too reticent, however, to do what he has now done as well, that is to say, he has defended the Catholic Church’s record on tackling the sexual abuse of children by priests, by declaring what is now the simple truth: that “no one else has done more” than the Church to root out pedophilia.

The Catholic Church, he said in an interview with Corriere della Sera published March 5, 'is perhaps the only public institution to have acted with transparency and responsibility. No one else has done more. Yet the Church is the only one to have been attacked. The statistics on the phenomenon of violence against children are shocking, but they also clearly show that the great majority of abuses are carried out in family or neighborhood environments.'

He’s not in fact the first pope to point out that child sex abuse is a problem for society as a whole, and not just for the Church. Pope Benedict, having acknowledged that clerical sexual abuse has 'profoundly wounded people in their childhood, damaging them for a whole lifetime,' was quoted by Dr Pravin Thevathasan, in his booklet The Catholic Church and the Sex Abuse Crisis (CTS, 2010), as saying that "'the crimes of priests, while reprehensible, should be seen in the context of the times in which these events took place.' Citing the rise of child pornography and sexual tourism, he concludes that moral standards in society at large have broken down.”

We are not the only ones, Benedict XVI was rightly saying then, and Pope Francis is in effect saying now. This does not mean that the Pope is saying that we don’t have a real problem: just one priest child abuser would be a scandal. But this is principally, tragically (and to me incomprehensibly) a major problem for society as a whole. The percentage of priests accused of this unspeakable crime is in fact lower than that of males in the population at large. It ought to be a lot lower than it is: it ought to be non-existent. But as long as the Church is singled out in the scandalous way it was recently by the UN as the major sex abuse scapegoat, so long will a profound problem for society at large not be taken seriously.

I will of course (as I know from weary experience) be intemperately attacked for this post whatever I say. All the same, let’s be rid early on of the nonsense that this Pope doesn’t take clerical sex abuse seriously. He said in the interview that the abuse cases 'are terrible because they leave very deep wounds.' Pope Francis praised his predecessor Benedict XVI—the first pope to apologize directly to abuse victims—saying he had been 'very courageous and opened up a path' to changing the Church’s attitude towards predatory priests. Francis himself has said that Catholics should feel 'shame' for such abuse. In December he created a commission to investigate sex crimes, enforce prevention and concentrate on care for victims. According to Cardinal Se├ín O’Malley, whose particular concern the new commission will be, the Vatican’s focus so far had been on legal procedures. The new body, he said, would represent a more pastoral approach. The cardinal said the commission would study a number of areas, including programs to educate pastoral workers in signs of abuse, psychological testing and other ways of screening candidates for the priesthood, and also, and not least, the Church’s 'cooperation with the civil authorities, the reporting of crimes.'

Whatever was the case 25 years ago (on which the UN’s intemperate attack seems largely based) the Church has learned its lessons and has acted on them, unlike many other institutions in modern society in which the same problem (with its attendant cover-ups) is still endemic. The facts are clear enough: but the media, and institutionally Left-wing organizations like the UN, refuse to acknowledge this, or even indeed that this is a problem for our whole society. This is now a long-standing problem for us. 'When,' asked the Catholic blog La Salette Journey four years ago, 'will the media acknowledge that the sexual abuse of children is not a ‘Catholic problem’?' The fact is, suggests the writer, Paul Anthony Melanson, that 'the media are not so much concerned with the welfare of children as they are with unfairly portraying the abuse of children as a ‘crisis in the Church.’

For example, the American state school system has a considerably higher rate of sexual abuse than the Catholic Church: according to a report prepared for the US Department of Education entitled Educator Sexual Misconduct: A Synthesis of Existing Literature, “9.6 percent of all students in grades 8 to 11 report … educator sexual misconduct that was unwanted.” This report was virtually ignored by the media.

Around the same time, an article by Jim Dwyer in the New York Times reported that the New York state legislature was addressing the fact that child abuse was not only a problem for the Church, but for the whole of society. Should it be possible, asked Dwyer 'to sue the city of New York for sexual abuse by public school teachers that happened decades ago? How about doctors or hospital attendants? Police officers? Welfare workers? Playground attendants? … there is little evidence to show there is more sexual abuse among Catholic priests than among clergy from other denominations, or, for that matter, among people from other walks of life.'"

It should come as no surprise that many Americans, including some of those who produce our secular media, are anxious to paint the abuse of children as a "Catholic problem" or as a "crisis in the Church."  Many of the major networks have done this.  There is a long history in the United States of anti-Catholicism.  And this includes the attempt to portray Catholics - and especially the clergy - as monsters who pose a threat toward children.

America’s founders were generally hostile to the Roman Catholic Church. Thomas Jefferson, for example, doubted that any 'priest-ridden people' could maintain a free and Democratic form of government.

Well into the 19th century, many politicians hitched their wagon to a rising tide of anti-Catholicism. While the 1830s and 1840s saw vast numbers of immigrant Catholics from Ireland and elsewhere arriving desperate and poor in U.S. cities, conspiracies involving the pope and the Catholic Church were hatched. Particularly attractive to many Americans were the kidnapping plots, which suggested that nuns and priests were out to nab Protestants and forcefully convert them. One example being the popular best-selling book "The Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk," published in 1836 — just two years after a convent near Boston was torched by a vicious anti-Catholic mob.

As First Things noted, "Books about sexual deviancy among Catholic priests and nuns were popular in the nineteenth century. Maria Monk, published her Awful Disclosures of the Hotel Dieu Convent of Montreal, or The Secrets of the Black Nunnery Revealed in 1836. Morris estimates it sold 300,000 copies before the Civil War. “It has been called the Uncle Tom’s Cabin of anti-Catholicism,” Morris writes, “or the anti-Catholic equivalent of the anti-Semitic Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”

The Protocols of the Elders of Zion , not so long ago thought to be permanently discredited, is now enjoying a resurgence of popularity, particularly in Islamic countries. Like the threatening images of the Protocols , the images of foreign, secretive, power hungry, and sexually deviant Catholic cabals go underground in some decades, only to re-emerge in others.

One hundred and twenty years later, the cartoons of reptile-human hybrids, bishops on the hunt for America’s children, have reappeared. Nast’s trope of the alien, not quite human, Catholic has come out of hibernation to be printed in newspapers and magazines all over the United States and the world."

Thomas Nast's cartoon (see above), published in the September 30, 1871 edition of Harper's Weekly, captured the attitude of so many anti-Catholic bigots of his day.  Catholic Bishops were portrayed as predatory reptiles, their mitred hats became the sinister jaws of crocodiles, attacking the children of the republic.

Is it any wonder that some Americans today, influenced by more than 200 years of rabid anti-Catholicism, are anxious to portray the sexual abuse of children as "a Catholic problem"?  The hatred may have become a bit more subtle today.  But it is still with us.


Tom said...

Harvard historian Arthur Schlesinger, Sr., called anti-Catholicism "the deepest-held bias in the history of the American people"--including the liberals of his and our day.

Michael Cole said...

As usual Paul, you challenge our broken culture by exposing its hatred and bias. Great post!

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