Some clarifications and further thoughts on new atheism and the Church

I’ve gotten some good pushback on my new atheist post, and probably – quite likely even – my thoughts on the matter were not quite clear enough going in to craft as cogent a piece as I would have liked.

To be clear: the victims of sexual abuse in these cases are indeed victims of horrible crimes which have lasting and detrimental effects. There is simply no two ways about this. Critics of the Church, however, have used these victims as opportunities to go after the Church and, more recently, the current pope in an effort to dismantle the Church and, if they’re lucky, see some heads roll from high shoulders. I find this use of the victims and of their suffering to be appalling. I find the disregard for fact and the rush to judgment in the press against the pope in these cases offensive and childish. Far worse than any of this, of course, were the initial crimes and subsequent cover-ups of those crimes. The rest pales in comparison.

I believe the pope does have a responsibility to do far more to clean up this mess, whether or not it was a mess of his or others’ making. Yes, he has done more than any other pope in history to combat sexual abuse and the cover-ups of abuse. Yes, he is essentially the only one in Jason Berry’s incredible investigative report into the Legion of Christ and the horrifying Fr. Marcial Maciel, who ends up looking at all good by the end. And yes, I believe Benedict (and Ratzinger when he was a Cardinal) did not bear responsibility for many of the things leveled at him in recent press reports.

Nevertheless, I think Benedict owes it to the victims and to Catholics and non-Catholics alike to come out and speak from the heart – to sidestep these shabby interlocutors and offer up a sincere apology and an explanation, and to make more information about the history of abuse available. However much I believe he is on the right side in all of this, I think he can and should do more.

 

In the comments to my new atheist post, Switters writes:

The catholic church abuses children. New atheists exploit the victims to pursue a political vendetta against the church. ED now sees the church (and particularly, the pope) as the new victims (of the unfair attacks from the new atheists). ED exploits the new victims to damage the new atheists. Is the only difference here that ED cares about the catholic church (and the pope) and the new atheists do not care about the abuse victims. Am I missing something?

First of all, I do not see the Church as a victim in all of this. I see the pope as unfairly targeted by the press and by the new atheists and certain bloggers on the left, but that does not make him a ‘victim’. It is quite hard to believe that a man as powerful as the pope could be described as such. I do find these attacks to be bad journalism, and worse still a distraction from actual justice, but I don’t see the Church or its leaders as victims.

Whether I am using the victims of sexual abuse to attack the new atheists is a more difficult thing to say. I can see how the charge could be leveled. I suppose I can only say that the new atheists are the ones out there saying that the very teaching of Catholicism is worse than actual sexual abuse. I have never said a word against atheism. Nor did atheism even really cross my mind, or politics for that matter, when I set out to defend the pope against his accusers. It really isn’t a political or theological debate is it? Who is responsible for what? What lies at the bloody, beating heart of the matter? What is fact and what is fiction?

These are a detective’s questions, or a reporter’s – not a theologian’s or a new atheist’s or a politician’s.

And in that sense, I am a little sorry I ever wrote the damn post, because going after the new atheists was never really my intent. I would like to see the truth emerge, and I would like the press to act its age. I could care less what silly things Richard Dawkins may have to say.

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18 thoughts on “Some clarifications and further thoughts on new atheism and the Church

  1. Should it look likely that the Pope would be arrested if he entered britain, that would be the end of just about all state visits by any leader to this country and any other with similar legal facilities – and Tony Blair’s status would become very interesting.

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  2. I don’t think you should feel bad about stating your opinions- they evolve and that’s sort of what blogging is ideal for recording. It’s not like you’re wrong about Dawkins et al; I guess I’m just not as incensed about them because, in the end, cooler heads will absolutely prevail. If the world was guided by Sullivan’s outrage, we’d be pretty screwed.

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  3. E.D. –

    I recognize that I’m being a little overly touchy and defensive here… But as an athiest-leaning agnostic, I must say I am having a hard time taking these posts seriously. It seems that atheism is always a throw away, especially on the right, as explanations for all kinds of moral decay and evil – including child abuse and pornography, despite the fact that there is no connection between those two things. I am a great lover of most of your posts, but don’t remember you ever taking folks to task on this. But now that the Church seems to be having real issues with the problem, atheists should just keep their mouths shut, or at least be required not to have accusations that go to far?

    I certainly agree that Catholicism itself does not inherently lead to abusing children. But after decades of hearing that people who believe what I do are responsible for all heinous sex crimes without ever being challenged, your anger at atheists (or the Sullivans of the world) for being critical of the Church is making me raise a skeptical eyebrow.

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    • @RTod, Of course Catholicism does not lead to child rape. I’m sure that nobody knows what causes it. There are only theories.

      One theory propounded by the Vatican recently, by an official I can’t take the trouble to look up right now, in Chile, was that homosexuality causes child rape. Yes, that’s right. Homosexuals, according to this Cardinal, are proven by psychologists and psychiatrists, to have a propensity for child rape.

      Now, for ED Kein to take up that banner, and to combine it with the “new atheists” to arrive at “homosexual new atheists” as sowing discord for the Church, at the victims expense, etc etc. Next, someone can come up with an explanation that drug addiction causes it. Then, lefitist politics. Then, we’d finally arrive a Allen Ginsburg’s famous “Commie-Jew-Junkie.” They’re the ones we need to fight against, not the Pope, who, really, “comes out looking good.”

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        • @E.D. Kain, @E.D. Kain, Good one! Call me stupid, i.e., “poor reading skills.” Does that make you feel any better?

          What about your reading skills? You can read that Ratzinger sat on the Maciel case for eight years before condemning him to a life of prayer and penitence and conclude that Ratzinger comes out “looking good.” You can read that Maciel’s victims applied to Ratzinger for justice, as head of today’s Holy Inquisition, and got nothing for six years and then, two years later, got their rapist condemned to live out his life in the Vatican “in penitence and prayer” and conclude that the Pope is “unfairly targeted.”

          Why don’t you correct my reading of this?

          On a visit to Chile, Bertone, dubbed the Deputy Pope, also said Pope Benedict would soon take more surprising initiatives regarding the sex abuse scandal but did not elaborate.

          “Many psychologists and psychiatrists have shown that there is no link between celibacy and pedophilia but many others have shown, I have recently been told, that there is a relationship between homosexuality and pedophilia,” he told a news conference in Santiago. Reuters

          What other facts are relevant here to you in the case of Maciel, so that you can say that some shadowy “new atheists” are taking unfair advantage of your Pope?

          Help me improve my reading skills, master!

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        • @E.D. Kain, Here’s the point: Ratzinger covered up for child rapists, as shown by the same NCR piece you refer to. That is, he sat on Maciel’s case for eight years before doing anything at all. When he finally got around to doing something, it was a slap on the wrist in anyone’s book considering that Maciel had raped “more than twenty and less than a hundred” boys.

          You want to change the subject to something called the “new atheism,” which doesn’t even exist in the first place. The effect of your so-called analysis would be that people begin to debate the “new atheism” instead of Maciel’s crimes.

          Why is this different from the “Pope’s deputy” blaming homosexuality for child rape? The effect has been to get people to debate the causes of child rape, etc etc. That’s just a transparent red herring. It changes the subject from the lies and cover-ups that the Church is responsible for. It’s just a sillier version of your learned “new atheist” charge. They both change the subject and thereby continue to protect the Church from facing up to its culture of child rape.

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    • @RTod, I am not saying atheists should keep their traps shut in the least. I’ve never said anyone should keep their traps shut. I’ve simply said we should determine the facts and not insert so much of our own prejudices in to the case and rush to judgment – let alone plan preposterous things like arresting the pope.

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      • @E.D. Kain, No, you’re not doing something as low-class as telling people to shut up. You’re much more high-class about it: you impugn the motives of critics by calling them “new atheists” and expect your references to philosophy to scare people off.

        In Mexico, the Church hierarchy did exactly the same thing as you do—for years—with respect to the Maciel case and others. That is, critics were just anti-Catholic warmongers taking advantage of the victims of abuse, etc etc. So it isn’t all that hard for me to see through your attempts at dragging red herrings across the trail since I’ve observed this for years here.

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  4. Yes, he has done more than any other pope in history to combat sexual abuse and the cover-ups of abuse. Yes, he is essentially the only one in Jason Berry’s incredible investigative report into the Legion of Christ and the horrifying Fr. Marcial Maciel, who ends up looking at all good by the end.

    “Ends up looking at all good” is not very high praise, considering the gallery of corrupt and shadowy Vatican officials, priests, upper-class prigs and morans.

    But did he come out “looking good?” Maybe to you, but you’ve got some ax to grind here. Imagine if Maciel had been a teacher at your kid’s school and Ratzinger had been the principal, who for years, dragged his feet on repeated denunciations of the teacher’s child-rape. In the end, when the shit really hit the fan and it was impossible to stonewall any more, the principal comes out and bans the child rapist teacher from teaching and sends him to a jurisdiction with no extradition agreement with the US. Would this guy be “looking good?”

    These are the only references to Ratzinger I can find in the NCR piece you cite:

    In 1998, eight ex-Legionaries filed a canon law case to prosecute him in then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s tribunal. …

    But in December 2004, with John Paul’s health deteriorating by the day, Ratzinger broke with Sodano and ordered a canon lawyer on his staff, Msgr. Charles Scicluna, to investigate. Two years later, as Benedict, he approved the order that Maciel abandon ministry for a “life of penitence and prayer.” Maciel had “more than 20 but less than 100 victims,” an unnamed Vatican official told NCR’s John Allen at the time.

    It took him six years to order an investigation and another two years to condemn him to a “life of penitance and prayer.” That would be foot-dragging even in High Latin. That would smack of complicity in the cover-up, as well, if we wern’t talking about the Pope. At the very least, it would be negligence and dereliction of duty to protect the weakest Catholics of all: children.

    I have no idea what you’re talking about as tne “new atheists.” The motives of those who want justice for the victims of Child Rape, Inc cannot be at all relevent to the discussion. That’s just a transparent red herring.

    Remember that the only reason we know anything at all about Maciel and the many, many other child-rapists protected by the Church for years is today’s openness of information.

    Maciel’s career of child rape began, according to the NCR article in the early ’50s, but probably earlier, since one doesn’t suddenly become a child rapist in one’s middle age. How many others were raped by other priests in the 1950s? In the 1940s? In the 1840s? In the centuries before that? Why is there any reason to think that this culture of child rape and protection of child rapists began in the late Twentieth Century? How much havoc has the Church wrought throughout the centuries with its odious sexual practices? Nobody ever talked about it before this but what if they had?

    It’s just silly to try and desqualify those demanding justice as “new atheists” with a nefarious agenda. All you’re trying to do is to rationalize your own personal beliefs. You’re in a state of cognitive dissonance. You may love the Catholic religion but now you can’t say why. Every time you try to explain, all you can come up with is that you love the rituals and the vows, etc etc. But that’s no good, is it? All that is clearly just superstition, even to non-new atheists. You need a more solid reason but that reason doesn’t exist. So, meanwhile, you try and desqualify critics with invented eptithets, like “new atheist” and paint it with learned references to one philosopher or another. Nobody’s being fooled here, apart from yourself.

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  5. While there are some who would like to destroy the RC church, there are even more people who would like to reform it. For example, the celibate clergy may have been a great idea at one time or another, but not recently. Opposition to things like riding on railroads and using birth control have divorced the church from its congregation. People expected a lot more out of Vatican II than folk guitar masses, and the church has, if anything, moved backwards since then.

    If this child molesting scandal can serve as a lever for reformers, I say good for them. If the church can’t be destroyed, it should at least be defanged. You shouldn’t let your distaste for atheism lead you to blindly defend present evil.

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