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On Anti-Catholicism as the Last Acceptable Bias: a Revisiting On Anti-Catholicism as the Last Acceptable Bias: a Revisiting
by Dr. Emanuel Paparella
2013-03-11 10:21:40
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Since the third century with the advent of Gnosticism there have been periodic predictions about the imminent demise of the Catholic Church based on charges of either corruption or   what are considered false theological principles. G.K. Chesterton enumerates those predictions in his book Orthodoxy (see especially chapter 6 of such a book titled The Paradoxes of Christianity, and chapter 8 titled The Romance of Orthodoxy).

Among those who make such periodic predictions are of course assorted philosophical skeptics, agnostics, atheists, i.e., those who consider themselves the intelligentsia of the West, or those who simply hate the very idea of organized or even disorganized religion and would like to replace it with the term “spirituality” to be imposed willy nilly on everyone who claims any kind of intelligence and civilization. This intelligentsia may accept the Aristotelian idea of God as first cause or the unmovable mover, the Cartesian or Spinozan god of the philosophers to logically explain the universe, but reject outright the idea of a personal providential God as defined by the Abramitic religions subscribed to by 55% of the world’s population as we speak. A God, that is, that cares for his creation to the point of becoming immanent within it, in theological terms a phenomenon called the Incarnation.

The implication is of course that those 55% of the world’s population, not to speak of Buddhists and Hindus who also accept the notion of divinity, are simply misguided if not outright stupid. That is to say, the enlighten intelligentsia considers religion a retrogade vestige of antiquity or medieval times, times of ignorance and obscurantism which progress and modernity have by now more than superseded. The first prominent proponent and promoter of such a notion was Voltaire in the 18th century, the so called age of reason. He had a special kind of contempt reserved for the Catholic Church. As far as he was concerned, no truly enlightened man will ever be found supporting or defending religion in modern “enlightened” times at the risk of being dubbed a gothic medieval man. I have challenged this view at some length in Ovi magazine in various articles on spiritualism and the New Age movement as a substitute for religion. Here however I’d like to revisit the article on “Catholicism as the Last Acceptable Bias” in the light of what is currently going on in the media as the Conclave to elect a new Pope fast approaches.

As it was all too predictable, the resignation of the ex Pope Benedict XVI and the preparations for a Papal conclave, has led the media directly to what they seem to know how to do best: conspiracy theories galore. The old Voltairian grudge has been duly rediscovered, the timeless insults and vituperations have been dusted off an re-employed, the predictions of the demise of an old decrepit corrupt Church have been pronounced anew. But as mentioned above, those predictions have been enunciated before, they begin in the 3rd century AD to the great disappointment and consternation of those who made them who not only did not see what they ardently wished for, i.e., the death of the Catholic Church, fulfilled but to the contrary they beheld a Church that did not die so easily, that far from dying went on to resurrect from the ashes like a phoenix.

This has been going on actually for two millennia now, and if one considers Christianity as a branch of Judaism with Abraham as the father of faith, then it is more like four millennia. Considering the billions upon billions of Christians and believers that have been around since then, never mind the four billions around now, that is an astonishing number of people to fool in those two thousand years. An institution that can pull off such a feat, despite human frailty and corruption, must be really genial at a par with say, the Roman Empire. But alas, neither Voltaire nor his devout followers have ever provided a satisfactory answer to such a conundrum. The only one available so far is that most people are naïve and stupid. A bit elitist, to say the least!

To come closer to us, in the Ovi pages the advise has been publicly and loudly offered that not only a new Pope should not be elected but it is not needed; the Church should forthwith be disbanded with cardinals and bishops hanging their head in shame. The reason for this shame is naturally the sexual deviants that allegedly abound in the clergy of such a Church, who far from being prosecuted have been protected and their actions have been condoned by their superiors all the way up to the Pope. Worth remembering here that in 1993 none other than a Cardinal, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago was wrongly accused of sexual misconduct in the media but one heard little in the way of apologies after the slander when it was found out that the whole story was concocted. We have become accustomed to those accusations, but they seem particularly virulent every time a conclave comes about.

I for one, in the process of commenting on the history of Papal resignations have been confronted with this impertinent and insolent innuendo in the form of a question in the comment section of the magazine: “… do you have sympathetic views towards these crimes because of some hidden guilt? Just asking, not accusing” to which I answered thus “…in sophistic rhetorical terms the above disingenuous question is the equivalent of a journalist asking her/his interlocutor: Sir, when was the last time you beat up and raped your wife? Just asking, not accusing.” Predictably that answer did not satisfy the questioner who rebutted that I had not answered the question, thus implying that in fact, like pedophile priests, I had something to hide in this regard, as the innuendo clearly implied. One begins to suspect if indeed the media’s investigation on the scandal in the last thirty years or so is as shallow as that kind of question.

In the light of what I am about to report and given the above mentioned blatantly biased attacks upon my integrity and professionalism, never apologized for by the way, redolent of the attacks against the Church and its one billion adherents as a whole, it is perhaps prudent to reiterate once again that I consider sexual abuse of any kind by anybody (no matter nationality, race, social status, gender, occupation, etc.) and any cover up thereafter, as reprehensible to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. I suspect in fact that the vast majority of Catholics hold the same ethical stance and in all fairness they ought not be found guilty by mere association to a Church not to one’s taste.

That having been said, I’d like to explore this question: to what extent are those conspiracy theories and accusations of corruption applied generally to the whole clergy and even the whole membership of the Catholic Church, motivated by love of justice and ethical integrity, and to what extent are they motivated by sheer bias and prejudice against religion in general and the Catholic Church in particular? To what extent are myths and falsehoods rather than the strict empirical facts fueling the clergy’s sexual abuse scandals of the last thirty years or so? Let’s see.

The first declared assumption can be called into question here with this question: is the clergy full of pedophiles? And are celibacy and an all-male priesthood holdovers from the Dark Ages fanning the flames of lust? It is intriguing that it took a non-Catholic, Philip Jenkins, professor of history and religious studies at Pennsylvania State University (who wrote Pedophiles and Priests: Anatomy of a Contemporary Crisis in 1996)  to point out that the term "pedophile priest" is largely a misnomer when applied to all cases of sexual impropriety. Yes, some priests have engaged in pedophilia — exploitation of children below the age of puberty — but their number is very small. By and large, the scandals have involved sexual relations between priests and adolescents — mostly boys — which would suggests that homosexuality is involved in most cases.

Jenkins documents that after a sex scandal in the early 1990s, the Archdiocese of Chicago opened records of the 2,252 priests who had served there over a period of 40 years. Less than 2% had been accused of sexual misconduct with a minor, and only one was alleged to be a pedophile. Jenkins writes that there is no evidence that the rate pedophilia among Catholic priests is higher than it is among clergy of religions that do not have a rule of celibacy — or in other professions. Fred Berlin, a psychiatrist who founded the Sexual Disorders Clinic at John Hopkins University and has been called on for advice by many denominations dealing with the subject, agrees.

Berlin, points out that the problem of pedophilia and child sexual abuse has also plagued the Boy Scouts and Big Brothers organizations and in most abuse cases the culprit is a close family member or acquaintance. This would suggest at a minimum that the typical media approach, which starts out describing the abuse of an individual  priest and then broadens that to a diocesan and national trend, is either ignorant of the difference between pedophiles and homosexuals, or is deliberately distorting the characterization of the abuse in order to fudge the issue and better discredit the Church.

We’ll let Professor Philip Jenkins speak for a while with his own words as enunciated in an interview. He goes on to declare that “ if there is a crisis it is more in the upsurge of attacks on the Church and its clergy, and the enormous pressure to change Church practice, not to mention the loss of confidence among ordinary believers. The Church also faces enormous financial risks. But what is it about? It certainly is not about pedophiles, who represent only a tiny minority of priests, perhaps one out of every 3000. While there are serious problems with abuse and sexual misconduct, they have nothing to do with pedophilia… Many clergy who offend with minors are not priests — i.e. not catholic priests — and most offending priests are not pedophiles. I don't want to understate the crisis, the loss of faith caused by the abuse of trust. But let's not use words that are simply inaccurate. But put another way, 97 or 98% of priests are not involved with minors, which makes the issue sound rather different. The glass is 97% full.”

Jenkins goes on: “The proper word for a man who has sex with a boy of 16 or 17 is homosexuality….if we are counting cases that go back to the 1960s, any numbers we use have to take account of everyone who was a priest or religious in the United States in the last 40 years or so — what is that, perhaps 200,000 individuals? If we assume that 2 or 2.5% of clergy are involved with minors — which seems likely — that suggests an offending population around 4000. That number is well in keeping with all the cases that have come to light in the last 20 years or so. Don't forget, many of the cases arising now involve acts from the 1970s and before. Also, don't assume that every charge against a priest is automatically justified. Even when the Church settles a case, that does not necessarily involve an admission of guilt. In Civil 'cases, it is often cleverer to cut your losses and settle out of court…the lawyers representing the victims are not always crusaders for truth and justice. A lot are sharks, pure and simple, who shamelessly exploit the media to promote anti-clerical stereotypes. ..There are many cases of offending clergy in denominations that allow marriage. As far as homosexuality among the clergy, as I understand it, Catholic teaching asserts that the tendency toward it is not sinful in itself; it is the practice, just as the practice of sex outside of marriage, that is sinful…So don't accept media definitions of the crisis; don't be afraid to counterattack.

I have published on the history of sexual abuse and molestation, in books like Moral Panic (1998); and I am interested in bigotry and racist movements in American history [Hoods and Shirts, 1997]. This topic brought the themes together perfectly, since I was able to recognize the power of the visceral anti-Catholic imagery that was pervading coverage of the clergy-abuse issue when it surfaced in the late 1980's.

Americans and Europeans often forget what a small proportion of the Catholic world they represent — and that share is declining steadily. Consequently, they ignore the fact that the Vatican has to take account of global matters, and won't jump to the voices coming out of Boston or Chicago. Of course the Vatican is so conservative on social and sexual matters — they have seen the population projections, and they can count! This current crisis might actually reduce U.S. influence in the catholic world, especially if vocations fall any further.”

Let us remember that the above extensive quotes are from a non-Catholic. So, here is another prediction, and you have heard it first in Ovi: the next Pope may very well be a non-European, perhaps an African or a South American. When that comes to pass, it will not be so strange, in a Church which is by definition “catholic” or universal, perhaps the Western media and all those with an ax to grind (the sexual ax which has become an obsession and an idol of sort in the West) against religion and the Church may pause a bit from their narcissistic announcements of the imminent demise of a moribund Catholic Church. Yes, there will be a final demise since as the Body of Christ which the Church is spiritually (no, it is definitely not the external shell called the Vatican…) it will come to end at the end times as Michelangelo depicts in his Last Judgment on the wall behind the altar in the Sistine Chapel, but I am afraid that it will not happen any time soon just as the Gnostic end of the world announced for December 20, 2012 as per Mayan calendar did not come to pass either. Sorry for the disappointing prediction, but it is not much a prediction for as Marx well put it: those who forget their own history are bound to repeat it. 


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Eleana2013-03-11 15:39:35
True Gnostics do not predict the future. That is what clairvoyants do.

Eleana2013-03-11 15:40:31
Seers and Astrologers maybe, but not Gnostics.

One of the ignored abused2013-03-12 02:57:20
"The proper word for a man who has sex with a boy of 16 or 17 is homosexuality" Having been personally abused by the clergy, I find it very difficult to call this homosexuality. Such a clinical analysis of pedophilia could be considered very distastful to victims, especially where empathy towards the victimson the part of the writer seems awfully lacking. However I respect the writers opinion but just want to add that more misery has been perpetuated by people who believe in God than people who don't. Goodday Sir.

Eleana2013-03-12 10:16:45
Emanuel, you can defend the Catholic Church all you like, but facts are facts. Paedophilia is against the law in almost every country in the world. For this Church to take the moral high ground under such circumstances is a resounding disgrace and a travesty of JUSTICE.

Emanuel Paparella2013-03-12 11:07:02
“…more misery has been perpetuated by people who believe in God than people who don't.”

The above statement is simply declared without any hard empirical evidence; the problem with such a statement is that what can easily be asserted can just as easily be denied.

What is more troubling however is that the assertion contains an implied assumption and it is this: the vast majority of the world’s population may believe in God (some 55% in fact adhere to one of the Abramitic religions) but because there is abuse by few of them we ought to deny the use of religion to all of them. But even on a purely legal basis, the abuse never invalidates the legitimate use on anything; e.e., because a few get drunk every day does not mean we ought to deny alcohol to everybody adult who uses alcohol in a responsible nan abusive way. Similarly it is illogical to deny the use of sex altogether to everybody because a few abuse and misuse it. In fact that would be a catasprophic prescription for collective suicide. In the US we were naive enough to try that foolishness for a while. It was called “Prohibition” and it never worked.

So while Philip Jenkins and Fred Berlin and the vast majority of those three billion plus people who believe in God condemn the abuse which, to reiterate, ought to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, and have compassion and sympathy for all the innocent victims of such abuse, that does not mean that we ought not be clear-eyed on the issue and make valid distinctions as suggested by Philip Jenkins. One of the valid distinctions made by him is that pedophilia is not to be confused with sexual abuse of adolescents. I return to my original question: what are the real motivations for such indiscriminate criticism?

Emanuel Paparella2013-03-13 13:21:49
And so, by once again throwing out a distracting ad hominem reprhensible innuendo that I somehow condone those actions and somehow I am complicit in them (for which I predict no apologies will be forthcoming...), Ms. Eleana Winter-Irving has managed not to answer the real question: is a sloppy and indiscriminate blanket criticism motivated by zeal for justice or by sheer bias with an ax to grind against the Catholic Church and religion in general?

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