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Is hiding sexual abuse in the Catholic Church a “guy thing” or a “religious thing”?

March 31, 2010

Photo: evergreenla.orgBack in January, I posted about how religion might be bad for women.  Easter week is upon us, and the timing is eerie as we consider how deeply hurtful religion – and specifically the Catholic Church – may be to men as well. Well, maybe it’s hurtful to everyone.  A new round of sexual abuse cases has broken at an unfortunate time for the Catholic Church, and this time for the Pope it’s personal.

While certainly there are female victims of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, since widespread allegations came to light last decade, the victims of this particular episode have been overwhelmingly male.

This has prompted several questions about whether, if there were more women in high places in the Catholic Church, it would have made a difference in either preventing or addressing such abuse.

Maureen Dowd posts about this idea this week, though rather than actually explore the notion of what having a female religious leader would mean, she sort of superficially bandied the idea about.  (Sorry, Dowd generally irks me)  Nonetheless, what she suggests is interesting: that a nun-Pope (which she rather annoyingly calls a “Nope”) would never have let this happen.  Hmm.

I would hope, but am not so sure that would be the case.  While many statistics do point to men being the perpetrators of abuse more often than women, perhaps gender really has nothing to do with it.  Perhaps the issue with the sex abuse scandal and the Catholic Church is a deeper, more systemic problem with the impunity toward wrongs committed by religious institutions, that suck both men and women, all individuals into it’s habit of immunity.

From the HIV/AIDS and reproductive rights world, I can say that the Catholic Church is inordinately good at decrying the “other,” and often very, very bad at turning a castigating glance on itself.

Now, I strongly support the principle of religious freedom.  But religious freedom has long been a shield for hateful and gruesome acts worldwide.  What to do?

In his provocative read, “The God Delusion,” Richard Dawkins looks down his nose at all institutionalized religion for being hardly anything more than an excuse for folly and prejudice.

He cites one particularly troubling example of a student who wears a tee-shirt to school, which is hateful toward homosexuality and Islam.  The school tells him to take off the shirt; hate speech toward other groups is not tolerated.  The parents sue the school on grounds of the first amendment.  Now, this is a slippery slope for sure and this kind of case isn’t unique – on either side of the debate.  But as Dawkins points out (and of course he’s not the tolerant Yoda-type himself), religious institutions have been inordinately successfully at evading, avoiding, and superseding the norms and laws that govern most everyone else.

That is just part of what is so troubling about the latest round of sex abuse scandal… While sex abuse isn’t better or worse depending on how able the individual is, there is something particularly cruel about the sexual abuse of some hundreds of hearing-impaired boys, who tried for years to get officials to listen to their accusations.

There’s also something ironically cruel that the punishment, in all seriousness, for one of the main perpetrator creeps being “seclusion and contemplation”… The impunity and ridiculousness is outrageous.  I wonder, earnestly, if this were any other institution, or even a non-Christian institution, would such perpetual of “sin” be tolerated??

  1. April 1, 2010 4:10 am

    Given the extent to which women were involved in perpetrating the abuses in the Magdalene Laundries, I find it extremely unlikely that having women in higher places in the Roman Catholic Church would have prevented any of this abuse–except that to get women into those places would most likely require major structural changes.

    • Jessica Mack permalink*
      April 1, 2010 8:38 pm

      I agree — though she wasn’t the only one to suggest this idea, by any stretch, I am usually irked by Maureen Dowd because she seems to use feminism as a trope, such as in this case. I’m suggesting it’s a deeper structural issue with accountability in certain religious institutions.


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