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Religion is largely to blame for Catholic Church sex abuse scandal

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We have learned something new and disturbing about France: The Roman Catholic Church has likely abused more than 300,000 French kids since 1950. That’s an average of one child every two hours for 70 years.

That’s a staggering rate of abuse, only possible when a lot of bad actors have a lot of possible victims — and when there’s an institution willing to cover up their crimes. History has taught us that only one human invention tends to cook up this cauldron of toxic factors: religion.

Religious indoctrination includes teaching children that church officials are morally superior and directly connected to the divine. This is combined with religious dogma that stigmatizes human sexuality and demonizes homosexuality in particular, casting shame on any kids who even mention the topic beyond married opposite-sex couples making babies. This dangerous miseducation allows abusers to manipulate their victims into staying quiet, or even blaming themselves for the abuse, while parents are lulled into a false sense of security because they, too, tend to view clergy as inherently trustworthy.

Add to this the total lack of transparency that religious institutions have long felt entitled to, incentivizing church leaders to bury or ignore problems to save the church’s reputation and its bottom line until they know the abuse cannot be denied.  At that point they switch their response from “This isn’t a problem” to “This was a problem a long time ago and it’s been fixed,” restoring parishioners’ trust in the church and renewing the cycle of abuse. It’s no wonder that so many abusers have been attracted to the cloth.

Sexual abuse happens in other institutions and religious denominations, but not at this scale, for this long, or with such impunity. All of those exacerbated factors trace directly back to the church’s pipeline to its fictional father. The clergy claim to wield God’s authority on Earth, and to rebel against that authority or accuse them of wrongdoing is to risk your eternal soul.

Clergy child sex abuse is not a uniquely Catholic problem, but the Catholic Church has proven to be remarkably unwilling to change its ways, even after its institutional cover-ups become public knowledge over and over again. The Church is complicit in the abuse, and it’s not going to fix itself anytime soon.

After this week’s report about clergy abuse in France, it might be tempting to try to blame French Catholic leaders in particular. But this is not just a French issue. We’ve seen similar reports out of Brazil, Germany, Ireland, Australia and more. If there’s a Catholic parish near you, this is likely a local problem. And there’s no shortage of Catholic churches in the United States: Take a look at just three examples of how many Catholic churches there are in urban areas.

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The Roman Catholic Church’s rampant abuse is so widespread that it has inspired multiple songs from the veritable Australian genius Tim Minchin — including a lovely ballad urging Cardinal George Pell to return home to testify about church abuse under his watch, and a delightful smackdown of the papacy that harmonizes run-on expletives with a symphony orchestra.

Secular authorities should continue to investigate this rampant, industrial-scale child abuse, and to charge predatory priests when possible. But meanwhile, the fresh supply of victims needs to be stopped. Responsible parents cannot trust the Catholic Church to protect their children. No one should give a dime to the Church, since that would be funding its obstructionism or paying its legal fees for fighting survivors or even enabling the hiding of money that survivors are entitled to, as Cardinal Timothy Dolan reportedly did as archbishop in Milwaukee. It’s time to quit the Catholic Church.

To slightly mangle a Minchin quote from his Pope Song, if you find an article attacking the Catholic Church’s history on child sex abuse more offensive than the Church’s conduct itself, then “you are just as morally misguided as that motherloving power-hungry, self-aggrandized bigot in that stupid funky hat.”

Photo via Shutterstock by Daniel Jedzura

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