A couple of weeks ago Andrew Brown over at the Guardian wrote an article on sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. In it he asks what appears to be a somewhat shocking question concerning the outrage over the crimes in question: “But was the Catholic church unfairly singled out?” His concern is that the Church has been unduly criticized for the abuse that has been perpetrated by those within its priesthood. His reasoning for this is that the proportion of abuse by priests is no different than the proportion of similar abuse occurring within other professions. That’s actually the title of his article, “Catholic child abuse in proportion.” Given that this is the case, Brown suggests that the treatment of priests is somehow unfair, as there are individuals guilty of similar crimes within the ranks of other professional communities, though they seem to receive less attention and scorn.
I don’t care about Brown’s numbers, so I won’t debate those at all. Let me grant him everything he says as to the raw facts concerning abuse of children. That being the case, does his conclusion follow? That is, if it is true that Catholic priests molest children in the same proportion as bankers and plumbers, does this mean that priests, and the Church as a whole, has been treated unfairly by being on the receiving end of heavier criticism. The answer looks to me to be a very clear “No.”
Catholic priests molesting children in the same proportion as plumbers is a greater failure on the part of the priesthood, and for very straightforward reasons. Imagine that the professional community under scrutiny is not the priesthood but mathematicians. Now imagine that the concern surrounding them is not child abuse but is the solving of math problems. If it were the case that the number of problems answered correctly by the mathematicians was equal to the score of such tests by other professions, we would see that as a failure on the part of the mathematicians, and this would be for obvious reasons. The job of the mathematicians is to do math. In that light, we expect them to do that job better than specialists from other areas. So, if fishermen get just as many math problems correct as mathematicians, the mathematicians have failed.
With the above in mind, it should be easy to see why it is worse to discover that priests are molesting children than taxidermists. Certainly, it is awful in either case. However, taxidermists do not put themselves in the position of being considered figures of trust by way of their very job. They have chosen to enter a field whose entire point is to be good and guide and protect others. In that respect, they have failed at the very thing for which they are trained when they do vile acts that violate the very trust that is the core of their profession. That makes their failure much more significant and much greater than if a similar act is committed by those from other careers.
This should be simple and straightforward. Priests, teachers, doctors, etc, have duties that are different from plumbers and fisherman. That’s obvious. Given that those duties revolve around safeguarding those under their care, it should not be a surprise that the criticism of those people is much louder and more angry. It would be surprising if this were not the case. So, Andrew, no, no one is being unfair to those priest, nor are they being unfair by criticizing the Church as a whole for hiding such acts. On the contrary, I don’t think enough has been done, and I’m tired of government agencies giving these rapists a pass just because they say they love the baby Jesus.