Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Let's get this in proportion

In response to my previous blogpost about what I would ask the Pope, Steve posted a link to this article on spiked, How the New Atheists are abusing the truth, by Brendan O’Neill.

O'Neill is clearly not an apologist for the Catholic Church, but he points out that various newspapers are quoting excessive figures for "child rape" by "paedophile priests".
A similarly warped conflation has been made in relation to Ireland, now widely looked upon as a country where crazy priests spent most of their days handing out communion wafers and/or raping children. When the report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse was published in May 2009 - with its analysis of accusations of abuse made by individuals who had attended Irish reform schools between 1940 and 1999 - the media reported it as if it had uncovered apocalyptic, Caligulan levels of sexual depravity. ‘Thousands were raped in Irish reform schools’, said the Independent. ‘Thousands raped in Ireland’s Christian Brothers schools’, said the Belfast Telegraph. ‘Thousands raped and abused in Catholic schools in Ireland’, said the Guardian.

So were thousands of children - in particular boys, the main focus of the media reports - raped in Irish reform schools? No - 68 were, allegedly. Two-hundred-and-forty-two male witnesses made 253 reports of sexual abuse against the staff of Irish reform schools at the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse - and of these, 68 claim to have been raped. Once again, not all of the allegations resulted in convictions. Some witness reports involved priests who had died, and out of the 253 male reports of sexual abuse, 207 related to the period of 1969 or earlier; 46 related to the 1970s and 1980s. How did 68 claims of anal rape made against the staff of Irish reform schools over a 59-year period translate into headlines about thousands being raped?  ...

Why is it worth pointing out these basic facts? Not in order to defend the Catholic Church, which clearly has a sexual abuse problem, or to minimise the suffering of those individuals who ‘only’ suffered being verbally abused, shown dirty photos or fondled over their clothing by Catholic priests - all of those acts are abhorrent and potentially punishable in a court of law. No, it is worth pointing out the reality of the extent of allegations against the Catholic Church in order to expose the non-rationalist, anti-humanist underpinnings of the current fashion for Catholic-baiting amongst the liberal, opinion-forming classes in the US and the UK.
It's worth reading the whole article, just to get this thing in proportion. It is bad, and there was widespread abuse of various kinds, but let's be sober and accurate in reporting it. It does not help the victims of this to exaggerate it - it means that once the exaggeration becomes apparent, it will be much harder for any future victims to be believed.

Finally, I want to quote part of Steve's comment:
I'm also reluctant to join in the fashionable chorus of condemnation of other religions because of allegations made by others. Some people allege that Wiccans sacrifice thousands of babies. I have no doubt that ritual killing of children for magical purposes does take place, but to make Wiccans a scapegoat for that would not be fair.
Because Wiccans have been victims of media feeding frenzies in the past (fuelled by right-wing evangelical Christians), we should be very wary indeed of jumping on any anti-Catholic bandwagon. As I said at the end of my previous post, I think much of the brouhaha about the papal visit is being fuelled by intolerance of religion in general and by a general Protestant feeling of anti-Catholicism. And I went on to point out that a lot of good is done by Catholics. Let's not lose sight of that.


Anonymous said...

I think the original poster of that article may be missing the statistic that says only a tiny proportion of rapes are ever reported - and far less often by males than by females, comparatively. There's a fair chance that it could have been a lot more.

Yewtree said...

Yes, it could have been a lot more, but the 10 000 reported incidents were not all rapes.

I think it is important to report stuff accurately so that the Catholic Church can't get away with what it actually did by saying "look at all these people slandering us, it's all just hot air".

Jarred said...

I agree with everything you say. Of course, my other big concern has been and continues to be that the focus on these particular scandals could leave people with the idea that this is a "Catholic only problem." Truth be told, this could happen within any religious group, and I think it would behoove the rest of us to stop and consider how our own groups would handle such sexual misconduct when it crops up in our own religious organizations and communities. And I'm glad that in some instances, people are doing exactly that.

Yewtree said...

Yes, true.

I would hope that large organisations have checks in place.

Unitarian ministers are required to provide evidence of a Criminal Records Bureau check (which is a check that is required for anyone working with children). Guidelines for congregations and ministers, page 18 (PDF)

Angela said...

IMHO the issue with the Irish reform schools wasn't so much the sexual abuse, but the general and widespread emotional abuse that they inflicted on both inmates and staff. And that the Church operated as part of the state, but with no checks and balances. People probably didn't know about the rapes, they did know that reform schools were appalling places.

Feelings against the popes visit however appear to be more Protestant-Catholic tension than anything else. Not something to get excited about in England any more fortunately.

Stephen said...

When false media statements are made about a particular group, it cheapens news reporting and leads to future witch hunts and misstatements about OTHER groups facing allegations, be they false or true. Exaggeration is correctly exposed as such whomever "benefits" from the exposure.