A False Claim to Divine Morality: Sex, Lies and Pedophiles

Huffington Post

Jeff Schweitzer

Over dinner with a group of good friends awhile ago, I was taken aback when during one of the many lively discussions someone offered a defense of the Catholic Church in the now-old-news sex abuse scandal. I had previously operated under the assumption that even the biggest Church apologist would hesitate to venture in that direction in any public debate in a mixed crowd no matter what justifications one might conjure up in private. Yes, my friend is a practicing Catholic who attends church every week, but I had assumed that her association would increase rather than diminish her outrage. Not so.

Her defense did not attempt to dismiss the facts of the case or diminish the horror of the crimes. Rather my friend offered a defense of relativity: the Church is a human institution and the number of sex abusers is no greater proportionally than in the general population. There was the tangential argument that the media unfairly targeted the Church and so gave the impression of a larger problem than really exists. Finally, coming soon after the Sandusky scandal at Penn State, she argued that the problem of pedophilia is perhaps even more prevalent in the world of sports, or at a minimum at least as bad. She posited that, as with the Church, in the case of Penn State plenty of people in a position of authority chose to turn a blind eye.

I had largely forgotten the discussion until yesterday. I was talking to the owner of an Indian restaurant who was lamenting her problems with vendors. She then made a comment that caught my attention: “I now try to deal mainly with Christian sellers.” She herself is Buddhist. The implication clearly is that Christians bring to the table a higher degree of morality and therefore honesty. This assumption is so deeply embedded that no further explanation was offered in the statement — it was considered self-evident.

My first reaction to that unquestioned assumption was to think of the more than 10,000 children alleged to have been violated by Catholic priests, and in contrast to that ugly reality, the dissonant claim to a higher morality. In that grating contradiction lays a central problem with the Church, and more generally, with religion: any embarrassing challenges to divine claims can be dismissed as the consequence of human frailties. The Church can claim simultaneously to be the arbiter of a morality inspired by god while offering the excuse that they can be expected to be no better than the general population when it comes to abusing children because it is a “human institution.”

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