29 Oct 2010

The Catholic League downplays the evils of child abuse

Pharyngula - ScienceBlog May 22, 2009

by PZ Myers

Bill Donohue must be greatly distressed right now, since a commission has blown open the doors on a long history of child abuse by the Irish Catholic Church. He's scrambling to do damage control and making a pathetic spectacle of himself. He basically belittles the trauma that those kids experienced to salvage the reputation of his beloved Catholicism…it doesn't work.

Reuters is reporting that "Irish Priests Beat, Raped Children," yet the report does not justify this wild and irresponsible claim. Four types of abuse are noted: physical, sexual, neglect and emotional. Physical abuse includes "being kicked"; neglect includes "inadequate heating"; and emotional abuse includes "lack of attachment and affection." Not nice, to be sure, but hardly draconian, especially given the time line: fully 82 percent of the incidents took place before 1970. As the New York Times noted, "many of them [are] now more than 70 years old." And quite frankly, corporal punishment was not exactly unknown in many homes during these times, and this is doubly true when dealing with miscreants.

Regarding sexual abuse, "kissing," and "non-contact including voyeurism" (e.g., what it labels as "inappropriate sexual talk") make the grade as constituting sexual abuse. Moreover, one-third of the cases involved "inappropriate fondling and contact." None of this is defensible, but none of it qualifies as rape. Rape, on the other hand, constituted 12 percent of the cases. As for the charge that "Irish Priests" were responsible, some of the abuse was carried out by lay persons, much of it was done by Brothers, and about 12 percent of the abusers were priests (most of whom were not rapists).

The Irish report suffers from conflating minor instances of abuse with serious ones, thus demeaning the latter. When most people hear of the term abuse, they do not think about being slapped, being chilly, being ignored or, for that matter, having someone stare at you in the shower. They think about rape.

By cheapening rape, the report demeans the big victims. But, of course, there is a huge market for such distortions, especially when the accused is the Catholic Church.

Whoa. The insensitive gall of the man.

It does not excuse anything to say that many of the reports are from before the 1970s. It wouldn't make the slightest difference if this report were of events in the 970s — it would still be an indictment of the casual brutality and cavalier disregard of the church for basic human rights, an indictment reinforced by the casual lack of concern given by Bill Donohue now. He ought to be howling in fury at the way the church has betrayed Christian principles (if he believes they actually have them), rather than making excuses for them.

Then to claim that this was merely pedestrian "corporal punishment", and dismiss the victims as "miscreants" — Jebus. It's like all the recent rationalizations by right-wing amoral monsters that torture is only like fraternity hazing, and besides, the terrorists deserved it. Is this what the Catholic Church is about, the dehumanization of children and the justification of abuse? Culture of life my ass.

And these were children and young adults. Donohue doesn't think "lack of attachment and affection" is such a big deal; does he have no kids of his own? Has he forgotten his childhood completely? If that were all the church had done, denied children love, stripped them of their families, put them in isolation, then I would still say that it is a monstrous institution that must be torn down.

Then he belittles "kissing" as sexual abuse. Is Bill Donohue in the habit of walking up to teenaged girls and kissing them? I hope not; most girls would consider that a demeaning and disgusting assault. And if Donohue were in a position of authority of them, using implied coercion to force them to put up with his slobbering intrusions on their persons, it would be even more offensive.

Only 12% of the cases were rapes. ONLY 12%. Does this somehow excuse the crime? I am reminded of the line by Father Ted: "We're not all like that. Say if there's two hundred million priests in the world, and 5% of them are pedophiles-- that's still only ten million!"

Of course, Father Ted was a comedy show. I presume Donohue wrote that with a straight face and thought he was making a serious point.

But what you really need to do is read the personal accounts and the report's discussion of the evils that were performed in Jesus' name.

What was going on in the workhouses was Dickensian in its awfulness — this was child slave labor. Ah, but the little miscreants deserved to be worked to exhaustion, right, Mr Donohue?

The commission report documents the pattern of abuse in considerable detail.

Reported abuse ranged from inappropriate fondling and touching to oral/genital contact, vaginal and anal rape. There were 128 reports of sexual abuse from 127 female witnesses (34%).7 One witness reported that she was sexually abused in two different Schools. Witnesses described their experience of sexual abuse as either acute or chronic episodes occurring throughout their admissions in the Schools. Witnesses reported being sexually abused by religious and lay staff in addition to other adults, the majority of whom were understood to be directly associated with the Schools. Witnesses also reported being sexually abused by co-residents.

I am waiting for Donohue to protest that only 127 girls were abused. Wouldn't one be enough? Also note that 34% of the women interviewed reported sexual abuse. We know that the shame of these encounters also means they are often grossly underreported.

The secretive and isolated nature of sexual abuse together with witnesses' experience of having their complaints disbelieved, ignored or punished contributed to the environment in which sexual abuse was reported to have occurred. Witnesses reported that the culture of obeying orders without question together with the authority of the adult abuser rendered them powerless to resist sexual abuse. Witnesses further reported that the fear of punishment, the threat of being sent to a more restrictive institution or their siblings being removed to another School also inhibited them in resisting, reporting or disclosing sexual abuse. Some witnesses spoke for the first time about being sexually abused during their hearings with the Committee.

Witnesses reported sexual assaults in the forms of vaginal and anal rape, oral/genital contact, digital penetration, penetration by an object, masturbation and other forms of inappropriate contact, including molestation and kissing. Witnesses also reported several forms of non-contact sexual abuse including indecent exposure, inappropriate sexual talk, voyeurism and forced public nudity. Witnesses gave accounts of being sexually abused both within the Schools and in other locations while in the care of the authorities in charge of the particular institution. They reported being sexually abused in many locations, including: dormitories, schools, motor vehicles, bathrooms, staff bedrooms, churches, sacristies, fields, parlours, the residences of clergy, holiday locations and while with godparents and employers.

I should add that this particular document only describes the girls' treatment, and the summary report points out that the sexual abuse of girls was relatively light, compared to the pervasive sexual brutality of the boys' workhouses. Donohue didn't even bother to address the plight of the boys from this report.

Donohue was wrong. Reuters actually played down the horrors of the Catholic workhouses from the commission report — read it yourself and you'll find that it isn't making "wild and irresponsible" accusations at all, but is soberly stacking up a mountain of evidence that the Catholic Church in Ireland was practicing great evils.

I also don't buy the excuse that this was done in the past and is irrelevant today. Donohue makes it relevant, acting as he does now as the embodiment of the mindset that allowed these nightmarish conditions to exist.

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