Jane Haddam’s WordPress weblog

Facts and What We Find Wrong With Them

with 3 comments

I got into one of those FB conversations yesterday that–well, that requires me to write a long answer to something.

And because I have to write a long answer to something, I find myself required either to wait until tomorrow to do so on the computer system at school, or just give up.

My system at home does not handle FB well–trying to load the thing causes total computer freeze and a lot of rebooting. 

And I really can’t write anything this long on my Kindle.  I’ve done it a few times, but it’s a struggle, and I end up forgetting half of what I’m saying.

So here I am, and I’ll just have to post a link to this on FB later.

To start, I’ll direct your attention to this:


which is at the heart of what started the FB conversation.

This is not the link that was posted on FB, but it is a link to the study William Donohue, head of an organization called the Catholic League, was referring to when he made a statement that resulted in a headline that read something like

“Head of Catholic League Says Sex With Teenagers Is Not Pedophilia!”

And at that point, I did my usual pedantic thing, and pointed out that this was not a scandal, it was simply factual.

Pedophilia is sex with children who have not yet entered puberty.

There is a different name–a couple of them, actually–for sex with teenagers.

What’s  more, the difference matters. 

Sex with children has been viewed as an aberration in most societies over most of the history of the human habitation of earth.

Sex with adolescents has been viewed as entirely normal, and still is, in most places. 

We may have enxtended the definition of childhood to include people all the way up to the age of eighteen, but rest of the world, and the rest of history, have not.

Now, none of these things is in serious scientific dispute, and most of the conversation I posted them consisted of a discussion of the ways in which are extention of the definition of “childhood” and the use and abuse of the sex offender laws and registry was doing bad things all around–

When a new poster chimed in to declare that: it didn’t matter what you called it, it was an evil thing that had ruined thousands and maybe hundreds of thousands of lives AND Donohue was defending the priests who did these evil things and therefore he was just as evil himself.

And that’s how we ended up here.

So let me make a few points:

1) what the priests did was evil, and they most certainly deserve to be condemned for it, but by no stretch of the imagination were “hundreds of thousands” of children and/or adolescents involved. 

There were in fact fewer than 5,000 such allegations for a period covering nearly 30 years.  Even if you consider all of them to be automatically true and substantiated–and they weren’t–you’re still dealing with a problem whose dimension are (grantly sadly) pretty par for the course for this kind of thing.

This does NOT excuse what happened.

This does NOT relieve the Church or the priests of responsibility for what they did and didn’t do. 

It’s just a fact, and the facts won’t go away just because we want them to, or because cartoonish exaggerations are so much more emotionally satisfying than reality.

2) Donohue was not defending the priests or what they did.

The Catholic League, which Donohue created, exists to combat what it feels is anti-Catholic bias in the media and the culture.

In pursuit of this, the League has done some fairly silly things, like picket museums that show Andre Serano’s Piss Christ.

In this case, all Donohue was trying to do was insist that reports on the “priest pedophilia” scandal be accurate.

When we get to the point where calls for accuracy result in accusations of siding with the evildoers, we’re in a place we shouldn’t ever want to be. 

No matter what it is that you think you’re doing when you declare that facts don’t matter, only passionate condemnation does, what you’re NOT doing is siding with the victims or preventing any more victimization.

In fact, you’re probably helping to increase the number of children and adolescents who will be victimized in the future.

Without accuracy and honesty in investigating the problem, there’s no chance in hell that you’ll be able to understand enough about what the hell went on so that you’ll be able to prevent the same thing happening in the future.

A Catholic Church full of priests lusting after 6 year olds is not the same thing as a Catholic Church with a distinct minority (about 4%) who preyed on 15 year olds. 

It’s a different problem morally, physically, and in every other way. 

If you set up a bunch of defenses against the problem with 6 year olds, you’re going to miss the majority of what’s going on.

3) No matter how much fun it might be to beat up on the Catholic Church, or how much need you may have to be able to declare the Church to be totally discredited from commenting on moral questions, making accusations so exaggerated as to make them false does not help your case.

The “priest pedophilia” scandal generated as much attention as it did because the Catholic Church is rich and powerful and on very vocally on the conservative side of lots of social issues. 

It is not, however, at all unusual in the percentage of its staff who engage in pedophilia or sex with adolescents.

Predators go where the prey are.  Every organization in the country which deals with large numbers of children has pretty much the same percentage of staff engaged in sexual predation–and that’s an important thing to know.

If all you care about is whether or not you can make the Church look bad–well fine.

But if you want to decrease the number of children and adolescents who fall victim to these people, then you have to acknowledge who they really are and what they’re really doing.

4) One of the things we all have to acknowledge if we really want to do something about these problems is that pedophilia and the urge to have sex with adolescents are VERY different things.

They are different historically, culturally, and psychologically. 

And because of that, it may be much easier to combat the one (pedophilia) than the other.

But you’re not going to combat anything if you restrict yourself to morally satisfying fairy tales.

Written by janeh

September 7th, 2014 at 11:16 am

Posted in Uncategorized

3 Responses to 'Facts and What We Find Wrong With Them'

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  1. I can’t argue with anything you’ve written – and the local RC church (not to mention various foster parents and a youth institution in Nova Scotia) was the centre of one of the biggest and most agonizing exposes.

    And, as you’ve said, if you point out that most RC clergy are NOT child abusers, that some people in any position involving vulnerable people are child abusers, or even that sex with teens and sex with pre-pubescent children are not the same thing…..well, you’re obviously either an abuser yourself, or some kind of idiot.

    In my more depressed moments I wonder if I’ll live long enough to see the big expose about how children living now in the group homes that have replaced the orphanages are abused, and which group is going to get most of the blame.


    7 Sep 14 at 4:20 pm

  2. Can’t argue with Jane of Cheryl on this one. Facts are continually getting in the way of sweeping generalizations. That said:

    –I don’t think the crowd having hysterics on Facebook is much interested finding measures to reduce such cases in the future. The crowd prone to hysterics over sexual abuse in the armed forces has done much to create the situation they (officially) deplore, and this looks similar. (Imagine the response if the Catholic Church announced that in view of the abuse cases, they would no longer ordain priests with homosexual orientation. Consider the response to the Boy Scouts who did just that in order to keep a lid on their Scoutmaster problem.) If you’re not interested in solving the problem, clear definitions and firm statistics are not your friends.

    –In which context,I read the link through, re-reading passages, which does not seem to be the style of the Internet Era, and it’s a lawyer’s brief in the bad sense–possibly accurate sentence by sentence, while being no more truthful than it can help.

    The first few paragraphs, full of “it’s complicated” and “well, technically there’s another name for that” are the classic defenses of the guilty. I also wasn’t much impressed by the equally classic “they all do it” routine. I hold no brief for a Methodist minister having an affair with a parishioner, but it’s not the same as buggering the altar boys–and it needs to be for that “10% of Protestant ministers” figure to be useful.

    Certainly any organization which gives people access to a vulnerable population will have members who prey on that population, and who sometimes joined for no other purpose. But what this article lacked was a clear statement of the specific as opposed to the general problem, which would look something like this:

    “X many priests have been convicted in open court of the molestation of Y many children and adolescents. A further Z priests were not indicted, being dead or obviously senile by the time they were accused. This situation was greatly worsened by a policy of not only not reporting abuse to the civil authorities, but of returning abusive priests to parish duties.”

    Note I had to use letters because these numbers are NOT given in the report. Instead we’re given a long passage on false memory formation, surely already dealt with when they discussed priests never charged or acquitted.

    As well as the Facebook critics, the Catholic League also needs to focus a little more on the facts they don’t much care for.


    7 Sep 14 at 5:24 pm

  3. Agreed that any organization which gives people access to a vulnerable population will have members who prey on that population.

    But does punishing 80 year old men for things they are alleged to have done 50 years ago do anything to prevent such actions now?

    There are good reasons why we have statute of limitation laws.


    7 Sep 14 at 5:45 pm

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