Friday, 23 November 2007

Paedophile priests

I was shocked to discover recently that my old school has featured in a sex-abuse scandal. The events happened ten years before I got there – but I did know many of the main characters who were still there in my time, and this has got me questioning my previous views of the priests who ran the place.

Personally I happily rejected the Catholic Church at the age of 15, but this was on a purely intellectual basis, not an emotional one. I just came to the conclusion that what they believed in was nonsense; dangerous and damaging nonsense. But nothing ever happened to me, or anybody that I knew, that suggested that the priests and brothers were abusers.

In fact I’ve argued with non-Catholic friends that it’s too easy and stereotypical to paint a picture of priests as an evil bunch of predatory abusers. I still don’t believe that paedophiles are necessarily driven to join the priesthood because it presents ‘easy pickings’. Let’s face it there are easier ways to get such opportunities than the seven years or so of studying and hardship that are involved in training for the priesthood. So although I don’t know the ‘stats, I imagine that there is no higher percentage of Catholic priests who are paedophiles than any other section of the population.

In my experience most of the priests were just well-intentioned individuals profoundly damaged and fucked up by their own beliefs. Let’s face it enforced celibacy fucks people up. Badly. This fucked-up-ness came out in ways that were generally more harmful to themselves than to others. So as a group they had more than their fair share of eccentrics, depressives and alcoholics.

In other-words I thought they were mad or sad, but not necessarily bad. But now I realise that was never the point.

What’s got to me is that whilst none of the priests I knew have actually been accused as abusers, they were still involved in the cover-up. In doing so they actually facilitated the abuse, and, in a nauseating and sanctimonious way, show more compassion to the abuser than the abused.

All close-knit groups protect their own: Freemasons, professional bodies, 1%er motorcycle clubs, the military, the police etc. But throw in religion and the authority and self-justification that goes with it, and you end up with a very powerful imperative to close ranks and deny everything, not just to protect each other but for ‘the greater good’.

That’s the real shocker for me; the moral gymnastics they must all have gone through to conceal and deny something so repugnant. Given the track record of the Catholic Church I should have expected no better. Diderot was right:

"Man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest."

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