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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Whenever I consider the idea of “why priests seem to abuse children”, I remember what my mother said about the issue. She said:
“I had a friend growing up in the 60s. He was gay. Everyone knew it. He knew it, but wouldn’t admit it. So he joined the Church, because that’s where it was safe to not be attracted to women. Maybe what happens is pedophiles know it’s not socially acceptable to go through life without an adult partner, so they go to the Church, where it’s okay to be single and old. And hang out with kids.”
I guess she should have said “Rape kids”, but hey, she’s still dabbling between Catholicism and nothing. I’m not gonna push her too hard there. The scandals are the reason she moved away from being a practicing Christian, so, there we go.
Thing is, if you go digging around the insurance claims, the Proddies have about the same settlement rate as the Catholic churches, even the ones where the the preacher man is allowed to get married. Also, other preachers do enjoy their affairs with parishoners, prostitutes, etc. (Hello, Rekers. It’s so nice to see you!)
I think what we’re ending up with is a lot of young men, with minimal experience in intimate relationships, that get taught that the ideal relationship is the one that their god has with his creation – a highly domineering, one-way, abusive relationship. Most of them are going to become older men eventually, and a certain portion of them are going to reconcile the contradictions between their personal intimacy needs and what they’ve been taught in a way that’s amoral. Compound this with the opportunity of working closely with kids and the great cloak of silence of the churches, and…
Eliminating secrecy and creating deterrent factors is a big portion of what needs to be done, but it won’t be enough on its own.
Thanks for the thoughtful comment. Your point with George Rekers is a good one, and I’m sure that if we look really really hard (read: not hard at all) we can find a couple of examples of all the kinds of behaviour I suggest in this article happening in religious organizations everywhere.
My problem with this hypothesis, however, is that it fails to take into account abuse that happens at secular organizations like Scouts. They have an ostensibly-religious basis, but Scoutmasters are not in the practice of proselytizing or seeing anything particularly ‘godly’ about their role. It would be interesting (and difficult – I’d have to spend some time thinking about methodology) to see a comparison between the two organizations to see if there is indeed an effect that is specific to religion. My instinct is that there isn’t one, but I am quite open to the possibility that there is.
Personally, I passed on the choice of becoming a scout, so I have no first hand experience with it. However, it is not the specifics of religion that I think matter, but early involvment in a dysfunctional relationship.
I can only speculate about what goes on in the Scouts, but I do note that they are deeply enmeshed with the churches here in the States. More, I expect that there’s a lot of hazing that goes on, judging from the stories my cousins used to tell.
I found Scouts to be a very positive experience over all (despite my troop’s close association with the Mormon church I was raised in), and I am really hoping that the BSA ends their prohibition on LGBT and atheist scouts and leaders by the time my boys are old enough to join. I realize there are alternatives to the BSA that don’t have such bigoted policies, but unfortunately there are no chapters (at least not that I can find) anywhere near where we live. (I admit I haven’t looked extensively yet, since I’m nearly a decade away from having to worry about this…)
The prohibition against atheists — even against atheist parents! — is a total deal-breaker for me, because I’d have to effectively ask my sons to lie. That’s just not cool.
Some questions that drifted through my mind:
1) Are priests exposed to something that rationalizes the rape of children, or do pedophiles find a career in the church attractive?
2) Is any such effect specific to religion, or to everyone in a job where people trust you with their kids? (The Catholic church would like to assert the latter, but I’m not terribly convinced that they are actually completely as bad as, say, teachers.)
3) What about parts of the world and time periods where corrupt clergy are better known for being involved for rape, but not of children particularly? Is there only one phenomenon involved here? In those environments, is the vow of celibacy more, or less, likely to be a contributing cause?
4) Is this about any particular doctrine, or is a certain type of power structure bestowing moral authority, in general, something that encourages or attracts child rapists?
5) What is it about the Catholic Church that not only allowed individual incidents of child rape, but sometimes allowed rapists to meet and coordinate with each other, and usually to maintain their positions even after having been “caught” by their peers and superiors? What in the culture allowed this to happen for decades, with such widespread conspiracy?
Was it lack of transparency? The confessional and associated doctrines of forgiveness? The Church’s obstinate refusal to accept “temporal” (civil) authority on internal problems? The desire to salvage the Church’s reputation? A disturbing degree of ignorance regarding the severity and immorality of rape? Some combination of the above?
On another note, I simply do not see a reason to believe this:
“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”
Or more specifically, I have doubts about “all rape”, as a generalization, being more about power than about sex.
For one, some subset of rapes seem to involve total disregard for women’s concerns rather than the desire for dominance over them. In that case, the motive is sex, and what allows it to happen is simply the absence of any moral drive or social norm compelling the man to care about a woman’s well-being. (Or a social norm saying that a woman is obligated to grant sex in certain situations and is wrong if she tries to withhold it, as in cultures that don’t acknowledge marital rape.) One can say that the lack of interest in a woman’s well-being has to do with a man’s presumption of power over her. But not caring about another person’s interests is simply not the same as actively desiring to assert power over them.
For another, it’s not clear what the distinction is between various motives. A serial rapist and murderer, a real psychopath, may enjoy the feeling of power over others. But what’s the difference between a violent crime that is motivated by power (with sexual gratification secondary), a violent crime that is motivated by sexual desire (with the feeling of power secondary), a crime that involves violence primarily because one has a sexual response to violence (unrestrained sadism), or two separate crimes that are motivated by two desires, but inflicted on one person for the sake of convenience (a sexual rape, followed by a murder committed to silence the victim and provide a power rush). In only two of the cases is it even clear whether “power” or “sex” is the more important motivation.
Even focusing on the large number of rapes are performed for primarily non-sexual reasons, I doubt that you can point to a single unified drive for power. Rape can be performed to humiliate or punish a hated person or member of a hated group (either the victim or the victim’s family or both). It can be performed for the feeling of dominance over a specific victim. It can be performed to obtain status amongst one’s peers in a pro-rape social context. It can be performed because of a general need to feel that one can get what one wants. It can be performed for blackmail or otherwise to silence/discredit specific people. There’s a frightening but real possibility that some rapes are committed because men think that they are just socially “supposed to” or required to have sex with certain women, whether either party wants to or not. Or several of the above. I don’t think every one of those can be reduced to a single human drive, any more than all murder can be reduced to a single human drive.
You could define “power” as a meta-drive, which includes pure, cold selfishness, moralized anger/vengeance, and the drive for dominance, all in one big bucket. Are causes of violence related? Sure. A single unified phenomenon? I don’t buy it. In fact I suspect, due to shared mechanisms in the brain and autonomic nervous system, that dominance, anger, and lust are all more closely related to each other than any of them is to ideology, social norms, or cold, uncaring selfishness. I don’t know what use it is to define a meta-drive for “power” that includes all self-promoting behaviors except for lust.
Rape is not remotely acceptable or excusable, in any context, ever. But I don’t remotely believe that all rapes share the same psychological causes, either in the motives of the perpetrator or the social context that affects those motives, nor that it’s useful to state generally that “power” is both distinguishable from, and more important than, sex.
This concerns me sometimes. It doesn’t matter what motives the perpetrator has; that shouldn’t decide the ultimate question of whether rape is a problem or whether rape is wrong.
That is an entirely fair criticism. I suppose what I was trying to convey is that while we have a myth that rape happens because men are too horny to be able to control themselves (which then leads to victim-blaming – “look at what she was wearing! She was asking for it!”), the reality is far more complicated than that. I have my own doubts that rape happens because men cannot find access to consensual sex with anyone. I would classify rape performed to humiliate or otherwise establish dominance as being about “power more than sex”, but you raise the important counter-example of men who date rape not out of malice but out of misguided notions of masculinity, or because they think their desire for sex outweighs their victim’s right to consent.
I certainly wasn’t trying to excuse rape. I was merely trying to point out that the idea of sexually-frustrated priests turning to child rape as a last resort doesn’t really stand up to any kind of scrutiny.
I’m glad to hear that reaction. But I will concede anyway that my criticism was partly inspired by a lot of things that I have had to think about recently, and not exactly prompted by the OP, so it may have been a bit much.
As a matter of personal theorizing, I think that the distinction between rapists and non-rapists is usually about having self-control, and recognizing other people’s rights sufficiently to exercise that self-control. (I know that self-control and impulse control has been related to some other violent crimes.)
I think it’s unlikely that many men think “I can’t get laid, so I’m just going to rape someone.” But I think it’s possible that for someone who is already sexually frustrated, and convinced that he doesn’t don’t need to resort to, say, hiring a sex worker, and has low self-control, and is convinced that his desires are more important than women’s, that combination of factors may predispose someone to rape (and, if this happens multiple times, they may rationalize the habit).
I don’t know why priests should be people with low self-control, however. My (worthless) gut feeling is that the Catholic Church’s failure to distinguish between different types of sexual “sins”, and thus to adequately stigmatize rape, is the real problem. The Vatican has a lot of directives on sexuality, but most of them are not about rape, nor do they single out rape (of children or otherwise) as much as one might hope. Maybe the special moral authority given to priests also predisposes them to corruption.
Do people in non-australian countries have to go through police checks before being allowed to work with children?
It’s not likely to help in most of these cases since it’s only a ‘has this person been arrested for anything before’ check which wouldn’t catch potential offenders, mostly just asking as a curiosity
In Canada, a background check is required (AFAIK – I had to get one to volunteer at a day care once).
Oh well thats okay then, I’ve had to fill out a form authorising a background check when I applied to work in the IT department of a tech college where the youngest people would be 16 (I assume this is an ‘adult decisions’ thing rather than an ‘age of consent’ thing since that’s 16 here). Good to know its not that uncommon
Aliasalpha, my impression is that here in the States it’s become common, but not universal–it seems to depend on the group, but most groups seem to do something along those lines. I had to get fingerprinted before I could go on field trips with my daughter, for instance. And I belong to a medieval re-creation society (SCA) where those whose job has them taking care of kids have some screening.
Unfortunately, of course, background checks do virtually nothing to prevent abuse of children, though they may keep out known repeat offenders.
Also, here (esp. in California) there’s a growing obsession with “sex offenders”, a classification that encompasses a lot of different issues but which the public just assumes means “child rapist”. No distinctions are made; we stigmatize anyone who’s committed a crime labeled “sex offense”, which includes such things as an 18yo sleeping with his 17yo girlfriend. Needless to say that hurts the situation more than it helps.
As others have touched one, the variation argument I have heard is not so much that the celibacy drives them to rape kids, but that a low-paying profession that demands celibacy is going to attract sexually dysfunctional individuals at a higher than average rate. I find this argument much more plausible — but it still sort of looks like it is contradicted by the data.
My impression from what data there is has been that while the incidence of abusers among Catholic priests is not of particular note, the number of victims per abuser is disturbingly high. This makes sense in light of what we know about pedophilia (people aren’t driven to it by celibacy, so it would be weird if the priesthood had a particularly high rate of it) as well as what we know about the Vatican’s response to child rape (bury it, transfer the offender, where he rapes again, in the end tallying many more victims than if he was appropriately dealt with when the abuse was initially uncovered).
It is difficult to say from this report if the same thing is happening with Scouts Canada. It is one thing to make an out-of-court settlement to keep a sex abuse scandal out of the media; it is quite another to then take the offender and transfer him or her to another job working with kids. We can debate the ethics of the former, but the latter is indefensible.
Don’t pre-trial settlements have to be approved by a judge? How can a judge possibly approve a settlement that excuses such a crime?