I hope nobody can confuse me with someone who approves of religion, my recent posts supporting the idea of humanist ‘churches’ notwithstanding. I don’t. Religion is built on a foundation of unwarranted belief in claims that are nonsensical at best, and horribly destructive at worst. It concentrates unchecked and unimpeachable power in the hands of people who have done nothing to warrant it, and propagates abusive practices through threats and bribery:
Britain’s madrassas have faced more than 400 allegations of physical abuse in the past three years, a BBC investigation has discovered. But only a tiny number have led to successful prosecutions. The revelation has led to calls for formal regulation of the schools, attended by more than 250,000 Muslim children every day for Koran lessons.
The chairman of the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board said he would treat the issue as a matter of urgency. Leading Muslim figures said families often faced pressure not to go to court or even to make a formal complaint. A senior prosecutor told the BBC its figures were likely to represent the tip of an iceberg.
But hey, so does the Boy Scouts, apparently:
CBC News has learned that Scouts Canada has signed out-of-court confidentiality agreements with more than a dozen child sex-abuse victims in recent years, shielding the incidents from further media attention. In many of the agreements, a confidentiality clause prevents victims from revealing the amount paid or even the fact that there was a settlement. At least one bars a former boy scout from publicly divulging that the abuse took place. Scouts Canada has refused to disclose details about any of the settlements. Sources tell CBC News that some settlements were around $200,000.
One thing for all you writers out there: when we’re talking about children, it’s not sexual abuse. It’s rape. Any kind of explicitly sexual contact occurring in the absence of mutual consent is rape. Children, by definition, are not mature enough to consent to sex. This isn’t a weird old pedo priest having sex with some underage kids in the confessional – it’s rape. Child rape. I’m not interested in using euphemisms for that.
Whenever the issue of abuse in religious communities – particularly the Roman Catholic Church – comes up, many people invoke the priestly vows of celibacy as a potential explanatory factor. The reasoning goes, I suppose, that men who cannot find any sexual relief in the arms of a consenting adult will turn to the closest available target – a target that can be intimidated into discretion. Many people argue that allowing priests to marry would help reduce the incidence of child rape. Aside from the fact that this view misunderstands both the history and intent of the celibacy vow (it has more to do with property inheritance and single-minded devotion to the Church than it does God’s prohibition against horizontal hi-jinks), and the fact that it essentially reduces the role of wife from “partner and team-mate” to “masturbatory aid”, I don’t see much plausibility in this hypothesis.
First off, prostitutes. With the exception of priests who live in incredibly remote areas where there is no sex trade whatsoever, I can’t imagine that priests will think of raping a child before they’ll think of skimming a few bucks out of the collection plate and soliciting sex from a consenting adult. My adult life has been fraught with Return of the King-length dry spells, but at no point did children start looking good to me. To think that priests can fabricate lengthy bullshit sermons about a deity that many of them are pretty sure doesn’t exist, and yet lack the creative thinking skills required to read the back of a trashy local newspaper, strains credulity.
Secondly, porn. If priests are so shackled by their vows of celibacy that child rape starts to seem like a plausible idea, why can’t they simply employ the same method that the rest of us who aren’t getting regular sex use? I recognize that it’s much less satisfying using the self-service pump at the gas station of love, but I think most of us wouldn’t break a sweat in choosing between a life of self-gratification and the rape of just one child. Whatever your thoughts about religion, you simply cannot imagine priests to be so devoid of morality that this becomes a simple crime of desperation.
Thirdly, adult parishioners. Assuming for a moment that it is not the sex but the lack of companionship that drives the celibate to child rape, there are a number of consenting adults that could conceivably provide a wayward priest with company. Lonely wives, unmarried youth, divorcees, widows – your cup runneth over with options. Even if one was particularly scandal-averse, there are enough adult non-parishioners with whom one could start a relationship. If there are men out there who can hide a second family, there must certainly be priests out there who have the stealth capability required to keep a fling on the down-low.
Fourthly, other priests. Many people point to the prison environment as an analogue for what dire straits men who cannot sleep with women will go to. While I am not entirely convinced that prison rape isn’t similar to all rape – insofar as it is about power more than it is about sex – if we grant this argument for a moment we still have many options that are old enough to vote. If you’ve got a bunch of celibate priests, running around as randy as all-get-out, it can’t be too difficult to find another Father to call ‘daddy’ once in a while.
I am not trying to trivialize the horrific consequences of child rape. What I am saying is that vows of celibacy don’t at all explain the proclivity towards such action. The people who abuse their power in this way are not simply desperate for sex; there is something else going on. It seems, from the parallel behaviour of Scouts Canada, that there is a correlation between organizations that exercise power and authority over children and the exploitation of that trust.
Whether it is that the possibility of rape without consequence attracts those with such an appetite, or that being in that position leads to abuse (absolute power corrupting absolutely), the twin facts of rape in churches and in organizations like Scouts Canada suggests to me that we cannot rely on the integrity or honesty of our organizations. We have to build them in such a way that transparency is automatic and inviolable. If organizations that work with children indeed attract (or produce) molesters, then scrutiny of those organizations must be high, and punishment for rape must be open and severe.
Only by working out which ideas make sense, and learning from the mistakes of others, can we hope to create a world in which those of us who are the most vulnerable can be afforded safety.
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