Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Do pedophile priests really believe?

Christopher Hitchens, at the Council for Secular Humanism, asked an interesting question in his article, "Belief in Belief."

Hitch wondered if those who argue for religious belief really believe what they claim to believe. He had a hard time imagining that the priests convicted of child-rape sincerely believed in divine judgment. How could they endanger their supposedly immortal souls in that way if they really believed? And what about those in the church hierarchy who helped protect them from punishment in this world?
Does not the Bible suggest these guys are in serious trouble? In Matthew 18:6 it says: "...but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea."

I suspect a lot (but not all) of those pedophile priests, and those who protect them, do believe and still think they are going to heaven. However, before I explain how that's possible I should note that I still ask similar questions about the faith healers that James Randi exposed in his decades old book, "The Faith Healers."

James Randi exposed Peter Popoff, Oral Roberts, Rod Sherrill, Pat Robertson and other ministers who claimed to be God's anointed and then used magician's tricks to perpetrate frauds. Randi showed how some of their tricks were done, like Popoff using a radio to get information from his wife about which diseases a person wanted to be cured of. He exposed their lies and plain old trickery. These guys actually hurt people and seeing human beings getting fleeced unmercifully by these frauds should bother everyone, and yet Peter Popoff is still out there, still showing up on TV, and still scamming people. If more people were aware of these methods, fewer people might be hurt and their abuses of trust and their harmful dishonesty might not go unpunished.

Surely, one would first think, this racketeering and exploitative side of fundy Christianity has to be done by people who are secretly sociopath atheists and who know they are exploiting gullible fools. Often it turns out not to be the case and the fraud will feel religiously justified in using lies and tricks to "increase people's faith."

I think Hitchens is wrong, for somewhat different reasons, in suspecting that pedophile priests can not believe in their religion and still commit their crimes. Remember, in Christianity people are saved by faith, by believing, not by how they act in this world. Jesus forgives sins, as long as you believe in Jesus.

Also, many forms of Christianity define "sin" very broadly. It's not just the things we do that might harm others (or ourselves), it's every primitive emotion, from jealousy to anger to lust (even merely "lusting in your heart" as Jimmy Carter would say) to pride to being selfish, that is also a "sin." Since we can't control how we feel, we are all sinners. You are also supposed to "love your neighbor as yourself" which is almost an impossible dictate if you take it literally. Obviously my Christian neighbors don't love me as much as much as they love themselves else they'd buy me one of those high definition TVs too or, if not me, at least go off to India or Africa and help all those poor people who really need it. Very few Christians do this even if the religion does produce a few who go that far.

Every bit of selfish self interest in your thoughts and actions, such as taking any pleasure or pride in having done something good rather than an egoless pleasure in the fact that good was done, is sin. Some forms of Christianity create as much guilt as possible because it intends to exploit feelings of guilt and thus people with more genuine guilt to feel are going to be more attracted to the religion.

I can brush off that kind of extreme guilt tripping and not feel guilty about my pride, anger or jealousy. Those emotions are just human and they usually serve a useful function. For me, a more or less normal heterosexual male, there's not much sexual guilt to exploit (I'm more inclined to feel guilty about not feeling sexually attracted towards nice people who are attracted to me which is something Christianity doesn't even acknowledge) but if you're out of the normal loop, such as a homosexual or worse, a pedophile who can't help but possibly damage kids should they give in to the desire, then there is more real guilt to exploit.

If you're a pedophile it's a lot harder to brush off the guilt tripping when your desires give you something to really feel guilty about. Thus you'll be more attracted to the cure Christianity promises. The New Testament explicitly promises to change you once you accept Christ and that's something we atheists can't honestly promise yet with all our scientific knowledge.

"That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; and be renewed in the spirit of your mind; and that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness."
-- Ephesians 4:22-24

We don't understand enough, yet, how sexual orientation happens or how it can be changed. However, lack of real results doesn't stop religions from promising things they can't deliver. Thus what is demonstrated by the pedophilia scandal is that the promised changes are a fraud.

What's interesting about the pedophilia scandals that made national headlines over the last few decades is the large amount of homosexuality rather than just pedophilia. The scandals had some people speculating that there was more pedophilia in the priesthood than in the general population. However, according to Wikipedia, a report commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops found accusations against priests was about equal to such abuse in similar institutions such as education. I suspect that's only because we haven't caught them all yet. However, you will, of course, find pedophiles seeking access to children in the same way you'll find more necrophilia in funeral parlors and forensic labs than in high school education or computer programming. While the Church's own findings may or may not be honest we can still see that the church's scandals don't fit the usual pattern of pedophile crimes that get reported in other institutions. Outside of the church pedophilia is far more varied. It's still usually adult males, but they're usually victimizing young girls and there will be some adult females victimizing young boys and fewer instances of homosexual pedophilia. With the church, however, it was mostly homosexual pedophilia and the perpetrators were 100 percent male, a male-only Roman Catholic priesthood, and in 90 percent of these cases, the victims were boys, either prepubescent or teenage.

Just judging by the priests caught (who knows how many haven't been caught since no other institution worked so hard to hide it) it seems abundantly clear that the number of homosexual pedophiles is much higher in the Catholic Church than in the general population. Even higher than the percentage of school teachers, music teachers, athletic teachers who also have a lot of contact with children of both sexes.

And it's not just Catholics who have a problem with homosexuality. Remember Ted Haggard and Sen. Larry Craig.

There are many more Bible passages condemning homosexuality than there are passages condemning pedophilia. In fact, except for the first passage I quoted above, (the one about the "heavy millstone hung around his neck") which isn't really about sex, I don't think there are any passages condemning pedophilia. It may seem no worse than any other sexual activity. These priests were an officially celibate clergy of a Church that claimed not homosexuality, even between consenting adults, was a sin, but any sex out of wedlock.

And in Christianity, since all sins result in the same punishment, they are all equal in that regard. Thus, judging by its claimed punishment, in some forms of Christianity stealing a loaf of bread or telling a white lie is as bad as raping a child. The only real sin is not believing in its insane doctrines.

Newly released records from a California lawsuit settlement show the extent of the Milwaukee Catholic Archdiocese's efforts to conceal priest's sex abuse.

The article in question is also posted on Richard Dawkins site and one of the comments there seems to successfully contradict my speculations here. Aposter calling himself dryope says that pedophilia can not be characterized by sexual orientation. It's more as if children, both male and female, are a third category of sexual orientation.

Articles are quoted:
...many child molesters don't really have an adult sexual orientation. They have never developed the capacity for mature sexual relationships with other adults, either men or women. Instead, their sexual attractions focus on children -- boys, girls, or children of both sexes.

Another article here.

This view is supported by cases of individuals who have suddenly developed pedophilia due to a brain tumor. It suggests that the higher number of boys may simply be a question of access. Girls can't be choir boys after all.

Another comment there, by Laurie Fraser, suggests that it might have been common for catholic families to send their "suspect" sons into the ministry. It shielded the families from having to deal with a homosexual (or pedophile) son, and provided him with an "outlet" for his frustrations.


Runningman said...

You asked the question, "How many haven't been caught?"

Well, perhaps I can offer a bit of insight from a religion that actually keeps careful records.

Jehovah's Witnesses actually have an internal judicial system. When a person commits a sin, they are expected to confess to the elders. If they do not confess, then anyone who knows about it is expected to turn them in. The elders convene a judicial committee, and prescribe punishment. The result is forwarded to the world headquarters in Brooklyn.

A few years ago, a researcher at their headquarters defected with evidence that 23,720 cases of pedophilia had been reported to them. Their total number of adherents is between 6 and 7 million.

Now, to be fair, many of these cases do not involve clergy (elders, etc). Some are from the rank and file. On the other hand, no one knows how many cases were never reported to them.

Jehovah's Witnesses are far more insular than the Catholic church. They scrupulously covered these up, and with very few exceptions, failed to report them to the police, allowing the offenders to victimize even more people. They recently settled a multi-million dollar lawsuit in California.

So, how many Catholic priests and other clergy haven't been caught? My guess is tens of thousands.

Aquaria said...

I still think your first point about why Hitchens is wrong is the most valid. Sinclair Lewis covered this, long ago, with Elmer Gantry. No matter what the fundy does, as long as he repents, he's forgiven--and his cohorts will forgive him...and forgive him...and...

They do this because they're exhorted to forgive if they want to be forgiven. Of course, they're not expected to forgive everyone...but the minister knows how to churn up the scripture mill to drag up every instance of forgiveness when it's his (or the church's) ass in the hot seat. It may even be the only time the parishioners ever hear such impassioned sermons...or anything at all about forgiveness. Interesting, that.

Anyway, this is the way fundy minds work, and why. That's why a Popoff can return again. He's atoned, so he gets another chance. And he'll get more. The fundie leaders program their followers to do this, so that they can be fleeced and bamboozled into their graves.

This is why it does no good to tell a fundy her minister or church is evil, that the parishioners are being robbed, or kids seduced, whatever. Even if the facts become so overwhelming that the fundy can't deny it, she'll still FORGIVE and WELCOME again if the minister (or church) does the dance of atoning for sins. The minister/church has programmed her to make this possible, from the time she entered the doors of the church, and it's very, very hard to break this pattern.