Media coverage of sexual
abuse by Catholic priests in Europe is being formatted according to the
Watergate template: sensational crimes, decades-long cover-ups, dogged
reporters, denials from official hacks, half-apologies from quivering
bureaucrats, threads leading to the dark lair of lies and obstruction. Only
Deep Throat is missing.
“Abuse Scandal in
Germany Edges Closer to Pope” was the headline in the New York Times a week
ago. The Times has even set up a special blog to track and interpret the
Day by day, the
drumbeat grows louder. Earlier this week the media’s
favourite atheist, Christopher Hitchens, bundled together a handful of
yellowing newspaper clippings and packaged it as a sulphurous attack in the
on-line magazine Slate: “The
pope’s entire career has the stench of evil about it.”
Tomorrow Benedict XVI
is to publish a letter to the Irish Catholic bishops about the horrendous
scandal there. No doubt this will prompt more speculation about whether sexual
abuse in Germany will be the Pope’s Watergate, about whether he will be forced
to resign, about whether the Catholic Church will have to abandon its tradition
of clerical celibacy.
The scandal of clergy
who sexually abused children is diabolically real. It has to be confronted
humbly and courageously by the bishops who run the Catholic Church. Clergy who
are found guilty should be punished. Higher-ups who shielded them should
There is no doubt that
Pope Benedict is ready to take a tough line on this.
After all – contrary to what Hitchens claims – it was he who established clear
guidelines and he has enforced them sternly. On several occasions he has spoken
of the “deep shame” he feels at revelations that some priests had betrayed
their calling and preyed upon innocent children. When he addressed American
bishops in 2008 he spoke with a hint of sarcasm, quoting their own words to say
that the crisis had been “sometimes very badly
But it’s important to remember that these
scandals relate to priests who offended decades ago. Wannabee Woodwards and
Bernsteins are deflecting
attention from the crisis that is happening right now, a crisis from which the
media is averting its eyes, just as the bishops did 30 years ago, a crisis in
which they play an active role.
Chancellor Angela Merkel got it right this week. She denounced sexual abuse of minors as “a
despicable crime” but refused to single out the Catholic Church for special
criticism. “Let’s not oversimplify things,” she said. “We need to speak
about [changing] the statute of limitations, we can address the idea of
compensation, but the main issue is that this is a major challenge for our
The huge, unreported story is that we are
in denial about a widespread, deliberate, systemic encouragement of people not
to control their sexuality. It’s as if a health department allowed witch
doctors and Reiki therapists to edge out surgeons. Or as if a defence department
allowed its tanks to rust. Fundamental principles of a civilized society like
sexual restraint, fidelity in marriage, and nurturing families, are being
undermined. The mind-numbing list of politicians caught with their pants down,
the tsunami of pornography, sky-rocketing teen sex – all these are warning
bells about the consequences of creating a hyper-sexualised culture.
Just take this week’s announcement by an
Australian company that it had sold the licensing rights to a
testosterone roll-on underarm deodorant to boost men’s flagging sex drive for
US$335 million to pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly.
Or the news that the International Planned
Parenthood Federation recently gave girl scouts a glossy pamphlet
encouraging them to have “lots of different ways to have sex and lots of different
types of sex”.
Or the UK government’s new guidelines for
sex education for children as young as five.
If a priest had suggested these ideas, they would have been called grooming. And in fact, they are grooming — for a lifetime of commercial exploitation. What kind of society are we creating if we actively
encourage children to treat sex as
entertainment and encourage men to remain in a constant state of
arousal? Sex is not a toy. Without clear moral standards, it is a natural passion which
easily becomes an unnatural addiction. Does anyone seriously believe that in 30 years’
time there will be less sex abuse after giving children classroom lessons in
how to masturbate?
Of all our social institutions, it seems
that only the Church realizes that a crisis is brewing for which we are going
to pay dearly in the years ahead. As Benedict told American bishops:
to grow up with a healthy understanding of sexuality and its proper place in
human relationships. They should be spared the degrading manifestations and the
crude manipulation of sexuality so prevalent today. They have a right to be
educated in authentic moral values rooted in the dignity of the human person…
What does it mean to speak of child protection when pornography and violence
can be viewed in so many homes through media widely available today?
Contrary to the impression conveyed in the
media, the Catholic Church has been incredibly successful in teaching its priests
how to control and channel their sexuality. There are 400,000 celibate priests
in the world. The number who have been accused of sexual misconduct is a
minuscule fraction, even though the Pope surely feels that a single failure is
too many. True, bishops and priests should rend their garments in shame for the
bestial crimes of their associates. But that must not keep them from warning
the world about the next abuse crisis.
Michael Cook is editor of MercatorNet.