Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Support Our Annual Fund Drive! CounterPunch is entirely supported by our readers. Your donations pay for our small staff, tiny office, writers, designers, techies, bandwidth and servers. We don’t owe anything to advertisers, foundations, one-percenters or political parties. You are our only safety net. Please make a tax-deductible donation today.
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Who Will Rid Us of the Pedophile Priests?

by Joan Smith

I recently attended a seminar at which an eminent philosopher described how he would react if he died and found himself, against his expectations, ushered into the presence of God. He would simply explain, he said, that autocratic forms of government are outmoded and demand a timetable for democratic elections. He has a point: churches are far from being democratic institutions and they do not even, judging by the extraordinary behaviour of the

Roman Catholic hierarchy, consider themselves subject to the laws that other citizens are expected to uphold. So the imminent arrival in Rome of all the American cardinals for a crisis meeting with the Pope reminds me of a Hollywood movie, the kind where the heads of mafia families are summoned for a dressing-down by the capo di tutti capi.

What is on the agenda when they meet in the Vatican on Tuesday is nothing less than a conspiracy to protect US priests who have molested children, and in some cases raped them, over a period of two decades. Priests like William Effinger, for instance, who confessed to sexually abusing an altar boy in 1979 and was shielded by Rembert Weakland, Archbishop of Milwaukee, for 13 years. Or John Geoghan, a Boston priest who was the subject of dozens of allegations of sexual abuse. Cardinal Bernard Law, Archbishop of Boston, knew about the allegations but transferred him from parish to parish.

Effinger and Geoghan are just two of 3,000 Catholic priests facing allegations of sexual abuse in the US. Nor is the scandal confined to one side of the Atlantic; a French bishop was given a three-month suspended sentence last year for failing to report a paedophile priest, who was eventually jailed for rape, to the police. I have never been a fan of the vow of celibacy. But I don’t think allowing priests to marry would address the problem of paedophilia, which is as much about power and secrecy as it is about sexuality.

This scandal arises from the church’s assumption that its own moral authority was sufficient to deter serial sex offenders. Even now, when the scale of the abuse is being exposed in hundreds of criminal investigations, senior churchmen are having to be dragged kicking and screaming to co-operate. Senior clerics have effectively been operating a parallel and clandestine system of justice, so used to regulating the sex lives of their congregations that they apparently believed it would also work with parish priests.

But priests are part of the power structure. Priests with paedophile tendencies seem to have judged correctly that their calling would protect them against allegations of sexually abusing minors. There is a kind of erotic excitement attached to the exercise of power and there is no reason to believe that priests are untouched by it. Rather, they enjoy not just status in the community, but unparalleled opportunities to be alone with vulnerable young people. Add the lure of the forbidden and you have a blueprint for trouble.

The meeting between the Pope and the American cardinals is scheduled to last three days. But I doubt whether John Paul II is the man to deal with a scandal that has come near to destroying the authority of his church in the US. Like a mafia boss, he can issue rebukes and insist on changes. But secular habits of democracy and openness are unlikely to come easily to an organisation built on secrecy, repression and a tragically mistaken assumption of its superior moral values.

* * *

What is the word for prejudice against people of Arab origin? It is “anti-Semitic”, although it is rare to hear it used in that context. I mention this because the definition of anti-Semitism is being re-written. At a time when leading Israelis like Ariel Sharon are guilty of anti-Semitism towards the Palestinians, it is being narrowed down to hostility towards Jewish people. But it is being expanded to include criticism of the conduct of a state, a government and an army. It should be obvious that none of these can ever be exempt from scrutiny, and suggesting otherwise would not be taken seriously in any other context. The charge of anti-Semitism should not be used to stifle debate about the founding of the state of Israel in 1948, when it is only by correcting that injustice that this conflict can be solved. In the second half of the 20th century, a body of international law came into existence which regards the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homes as unacceptable. Israel’s supporters should acknowledge this, just as Palestinians need to reject the horrible tactic of killing Israeli civilians in suicide bombings.

Joan Smith is a columnist for The Independent.

 

 

 

 

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

Weekend Edition
September 30, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Henry Giroux
Thinking Dangerously in the Age of Normalized Ignorance
Stanley L. Cohen
Israel and Academic Freedom: a Closed Book
Paul Craig Roberts – Michael Hudson
Can Russia Learn From Brazil’s Fate? 
Andrew Levine
A Putrid Election: the Horserace as Farce
Mike Whitney
The Biggest Heist in Human History
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: the Sick Blue Line
Rob Urie
The Twilight of the Leisure Class
Vijay Prashad
In a Hall of Mirrors: Fear and Dislike at the Polls
Alexander Cockburn
The Man Who Built Clinton World
John Wight
Who Will Save Us From America?
W. T. Whitney
When Women’s Lives Don’t Matter
Howard Lisnoff
What was Missing From The Nation’s Interview with Bernie Sanders
Jeremy Brecher
Dakota Access Pipeline and the Future of American Labor
Binoy Kampmark
Pictures Left Incomplete: MH17 and the Joint Investigation Team
Andrew Kahn
Nader Gave Us Bush? Hillary Could Give Us Trump
Steve Horn
Obama Weakens Endangered Species Act
Dave Lindorff
US Propaganda Campaign to Demonize Russia in Full Gear over One-Sided Dutch/Aussie Report on Flight 17 Downing
John W. Whitehead
Uncomfortable Truths You Won’t Hear From the Presidential Candidates
Ramzy Baroud
Shimon Peres: Israel’s Nuclear Man
Brandon Jordan
The Battle for Mercosur
Murray Dobbin
A Globalization Wake-Up Call
Jesse Ventura
Corrupted Science: the DEA and Marijuana
Richard W. Behan
Installing a President by Force: Hillary Clinton and Our Moribund Democracy
Andrew Stewart
The Democratic Plot to Privatize Social Security
Daniel Borgstrom
On the Streets of Oakland, Expressing Solidarity with Charlotte
Marjorie Cohn
President Obama: ‘Patron’ of the Israeli Occupation
Norman Pollack
The “Self-Hating” Jew: A Critique
David Rosen
The Living Body & the Ecological Crisis
Joseph Natoli
Thoughtcrimes and Stupidspeak: Our Assault Against Words
Ron Jacobs
A Cycle of Death Underscored by Greed and a Lust for Power
Kim Nicolini
Long Drive Home
Louisa Willcox
Tribes Make History with Signing of Grizzly Bear Treaty
Art Martin
The Matrix Around the Next Bend: Facebook, Augmented Reality and the Podification of the Populace
Andre Vltchek
Failures of the Western Left
Ishmael Reed
Millennialism or Extinctionism?
Frances Madeson
Why It’s Time to Create a Cabinet-Level Dept. of Native Affairs
Laura Finley
Presidential Debate Recommendations
José Negroni
Mass Firings on Broadway Lead Singers to Push Back
Leticia Cortez
Entering the Historical Dissonance Surrounding Desafinados
Robert J. Burrowes
Gandhi: ‘My Life is My Message’
Charles R. Larson
Queen Lear? Deborah Levy’s “Hot Milk”
David Yearsley
Bring on the Nibelungen: If Wagner Scored the Debates
September 29, 2016
Robert Fisk
The Butcher of Qana: Shimon Peres Was No Peacemaker
James Rose
Politics in the Echo Chamber: How Trump Becomes President
Russell Mokhiber
The Corporate Vice Grip on the Presidential Debates
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail
[i]
[i]
[i]
[i]