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May 20, 2009

Our Father, which art in heaven ...

Reading the Times today and they are reviewing, along with many other media outlets, the report from the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse. It's a sign of openness that the entire report is now published online, which is a good thing. It's not fun reading but even a brief scan is informative. Though, it is depressing that:

"The report’s publication had been delayed for several years after the Christian Brothers religious community sued successfully in 2004 to withhold from the report the names of all its members, dead or alive."

Society, on the assumption of inherent respect for these men because of their religious order, entrusted to their care some of the most marginalized and vulnerable members of society. A meaningful number of these men (along with laypeople and including a small number of women and others who worked in these institutions run by the priests) completely breached this trust. It also seems as though some of the children were "loaned" to outsiders for day trips where the children were abused. One wonders at the nature of these transactions. Were the children pimped by priests? The report notes that it was the orphans and kids without families or who had no other home to go to who were most at risk for all forms of abuse. After all, to whom were they going to complain?

You name the form of abuse, these institutions run by the Catholic Church seem to have perfected it over many decades and across many countries. Has the same thing happened in religious institutions run by other faiths? Or at least, has it happened as widely and apparently as systemically? The answer seems to be no, so one must wonder why the Roman Catholic church in particular has fostered so many abusers. In my view enforced celibacy must be part of the answer. It goes against the nature of men and if all that happened was that priests became sexually neutered and cared for their congregations and did charitable work for their communities, it would be wonderful. Unfortunately it seems that a meaningful number of men so "hobbled" by their faith became violent child rapists. Men whose identities their organizing body has successfully suppressed.

I do feel genuinely sorry for the many, many members of the Church who never participated in the abuse. As individuals, none of this was their fault. But the institution itself must be accountable and platitudes from the Pope don't cut it. One appropriate penalty would be for the Church to lose its tax exempt status. This alone would have a very powerful negative impact on the institution and the monies raised could be used to fund education, health care and other tasks carried out by the church, but in a secular manner.

One might also argue that any educational or other institution administered by Catholic priests, especially those involved in the care of minors, should be subject to a very high degree of independent supervision and regular audit to prevent further abuses taking place because clearly in many of these cases, self-governance failed. These are  sorts of punishment we mete out to banks that breach our trust, or to Members of Parliament who make dodgy expense claims. We make them pay a price, we deprive them of prior liberty, we audit and inspect and manage. There should be no exceptions for religious organizations.



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