Planks and Specks

Conservative/evangelical religions have joined with right wing politicians from all branches of government, including those in the federal judiciary, to overrule Roe vs. Wade and its progeny and to undo 50 years of “settled law” (so acknowledged by the various members of the conservative Supreme Court who were appointed since Roe and who are now poised to overturn it, nonetheless).

The focus of these religious/political conservatives on the “sanctity of life” from conception forward is mind-boggling. Politicians, with clerical backing, are poised to make pre-viability abortion a felony crime and to grant “personhood” status to fetuses that could not live outside the womb. They have  enlisted vigilantes to spy on pregnant women and their doctors and to sue them, have demonized and penalized women who seek abortion services, have disrupted the operations of abortion counselors and providers, and have required victims of rape and incest to carry the fruits of those crimes to term births.

Unfortunately, their sanctimoniously-proclaimed concern for the sanctity of life stops abruptly when the baby is born.  After that the mother is on her own–often trying to care for and support her child without adequate health and child care, rental assistance, social services and food-security.  (The 2021 Montana legislature killed 11 bills that would have benefitted live children and their families).

But worse, all the while conducting their holy war to protect the unborn, clerics have also been sexually abusing live children.  And, their buddies in the legislature have facilitated those pedophiles and their churches in covering up these sexual crimes.

The original posterchild was the Catholic Church.  In 2002 the Boston Globe published its investigation into sexual abuse by predator priests in the Boston Diocese. In 2002 a Church commissioned report exposed more than 11,000 incidents of child sexual abuse. However, U.S. Dioceses have tallied complaints from 17,000 people for which they have paid out about $4 billion to victims since the 1980s.  The Catholic Church’s standard practice was to not report these crimes to the civil authorities, but to cover up the offending priests’ conduct, often moving pedophile priests from parish to parish.

Most recently the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, commissioned a study of sectarian pedophilia. This study reported that, over 2 decades, there were some 700+ incidents of child sexual abuse at the hands of pastors.  Following the Catholic Church’s playbook, those who reported abuse were ignored, disbelieved, or met with the constant refrain that the Church could take no action. Known molesters continued in the ministry with no notice or warning to their current churches or congregations.

Not to pick on just the Catholic and Baptist Churches, every institutional religion, regardless of denomination, has its own stories of child sexual abuse at the hands of its ministers–mishandled in essentially the same ways.

Indeed, most commentators agree that victims’ numbers are seriously undercounted. There simply is not space in this essay to comprehensively discuss this tragedy.

Regardless, the point is that if churches devoted as much effort to protecting live children and prosecuting abusers, as they have on protecting pre-viability fetuses, then likely there would be a fraction of the damaged-for-life, living victims of clergy pedophilia.

Just as concerning, these, the Lord’s stewards, are able to commit their heinous acts under the protection of man-made laws designed to enforce man-made religious doctrines and practices. Every state has a statute, like Montana’s § 41-3-201(6)(b) and (c), that allows incidents of sectarian child sexual abuse to not be reported if the church’s canon law, doctrine, or established practice requires that the reports of abuse be kept confidential.  To put it bluntly, Montana’s and other states’ laws give sectarian pedophiles a stay-out-of-jail card, a free pass.

So, there it is: right wing politicians, legislatures and conservative religions care more about protecting pre-viability fetuses and demonizing women who obtain abortion services, than they do about protecting live children from sectarian pedophiles and requiring timely reporting of these crimes to civil authorities.

These politicians and religions need to recall Matthew 7:5, wherein Jesus said: “Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

James C. Nelson a retired Montana Supreme Court justice. He lives in of Helena.

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