The Roman Catholic Church, the sexual abuse of children, the media: making sense of it all

pope-benedict I wanted to hold off launching a blog discussion about this issue till after Easter. I thought media attention on the issue might have peaked by now but it seems to be escalating. 

So let’s discuss this issue here: the allegations of sexual abuse of children by priets, the facts, the church’s and Pope Benedict’s handling of the issue, the media’s coverage of it. I’ve deliberately not linked to any media stories in this blog post, so please add links that you think others should consider following like to help the nation their porn addiction.

FYI, I grew up Catholic, and spent 7 years in a Catholic seminary where I got a very good education and loved my time there. Yes, I’m an atheist now but that has little to do with my experience as a Catholic.

235 thoughts on “The Roman Catholic Church, the sexual abuse of children, the media: making sense of it all”

  1. Maybe the nun lost her faith. If you have faith in God, then death is not a fearful horrible thing after all, it is a desirable thing that must be allowed to happen when it calls…but neer presumed to be based on a human’s prediction. Besides, how Many women do you know who wouldn’t gladly give up their own lives to save their children.

    Maybe I am going to respect Griff’s wishes about not turning this into an abortion thread.

    1. Bright: I am saying the church should not be the “decider” on giving up someone’s life–and in this case, the fetus was terminated to save the mother–under the church’s idea of how it should have been handled, no life would have been saved if the mother had died. I don’t understand your question.

      I cannot believe that anyone thinks it is reasonable for the church to tell this mother or any other “we are letting you die to save our souls!” That is absolutely manslaughter and probably murder–at the very least it would be gross negligence for a hospital or doctor to refuse to perform such a life-saving measure. What kind of barbarians would do this?

  2. There is a reason for the Catholic Church’s teachings and none of it has anything to do with murder or the idea that women are worth nothing. In fact, women are most honored as teachers and cloisters and charity workers…occupations which are considered most holy, most honorable and most respectable. And if the nuns were given a choice between saving their own lives and saving others, they would save others and gladly so, because it is their belief that they would have eternal life.
    Without that faith, there is nothing. I am just as sure of that as you are that no woman should give up her life for a child, no matter how slight the chance is of the child living.

    If a child was left in a burning building, who would sit there and calculate that there is only an 11% chance of saving the child without endangering myself, so forget about it? If it’s a 62% chance, then yeah, maybe??? This is the type of brokering for human life that is in question for me. I say,and I have done this myself, is hey, go for it, save the child in danger and let nature take its course. Three times I’ve done it and no harm done to me or the three children involved. Not that I am saying people don’t get hurt saving children, but if asked, they say they would do it again.

  3. Bright: You are missing the point. The choice was save the mother or let her die. The fetus was not going to survive either way.

    Of course there actually is a difference between an 11-week fetus and a child that is born and living, and for that reason most people do not try to calculate their chances of success in saving someone else’s life–they try to do so.

    In the Catholic church’s case, they don’t try to save the mother. They claim that would be a sin–that it is always murder to perform an abortion, even if it saved the mother’s life–it would be better if she died. I am saying that then the catholic church is advocating at the very least manslaughter in claiming that they would let the woman die when saving her is at hand.

    Your examples are completely off-point. If the nun could have given her life to save the mother–maybe she would and maybe she wouldn’t–the question is whether the catholic church would deny an abortion to save their own souls (or the doctor’s souls?) rather than save the life of the 27-year-old mother with 4 other children who need her.

  4. Jane, obviously the woman chose to have her child at a Catholic hospital. That was a choice she made on her faith, I would hope. The woman meant to have a child and so I can assume she meant to give a child a chance at life.

    This is all a matter of faith and what people believe. If they believe that life after death is not all that bad, then they should have the freedom to believe in that. If they don’t, then don’t come around any true Catholic. No one is forcing them, or even knocking on anyone’s door.

    No one is taking over the media. You don’t seem to be a woman of faith and so you will never understand, or I should say, not so soon can I foresee you having any change of mind.

    Catholics still have large numbers, but what brought them down in the last fifty years was taking the Holy Mass and putting in the realm of the lay people by having it said in English instead of Latin. The Church now understands that they need to bring people up rather than to bend over backwards to appease the masses.

    1. A couple unanswered questions that also seem relevant:

      – Did the patient choose to go to the Catholic hospital, or did someone else send her there?

      – Did the patient know the limitations on medical practice that would be imposed at this Catholic hospital?

      It might be a good idea if Catholic hospitals posted prominent signs listing the kinds of medical practices that they will refuse to perform for ethical reasons – including, but not limited to, abortion under any circumstances,and also the administration of any kind of birth control.

      For some patients, it would be a sign of welcome shelter from the immorality of the non-Catholic world. For other patients… it might be worth knowing how far the hospital will not be willing to go in order to save that patient’s life.

    2. Bright,
      You wrote:

      obviously the woman chose to have her child at a Catholic hospital. That was a choice she made on her faith, I would hope.

      I’m not quite sure how this is obvious to you. The patient was less than three months pregnant, and she wasn’t due to deliver a baby for another half a year. She certainly didn’t go to the hospital to give birth to a baby.

      Indeed, there is absolutely no circumstance under which her fetus would be able to survive as a baby independent of her mother for another 11 weeks (at a minimum), and from the limited information we have about the case (she was so ill that she couldn’t even be transported down the hall to the operating room), it sounds like there was precious little chance that the pregnant woman was ever going to live long enough for that to be an option.

      It sounds like Sister McBride acted bravely and honorably in helping the patient and her caregivers make a very difficult decision, under near-impossible circumstances. The path they chose left the possibility of one person living through this situation, while the alternative of not acting almost certainly meant that neither the woman nor her fetus would live.

    3. Patrick: Given the posture of the situation, the only relevant questions are related to the Roman Catholic Church’s position on excommunication if an abortion is performed. On that point, it still isn’t clear if the bishop was reiterating the Church’s position on excommunication (excommunication is automatic) or he took an active step to issue an excommunication. Either way, it seems to be an internal matter between the bishop and the Sister.

      That said, it strikes me as odd that this is such a big deal to non-Catholics, especially some 6 months after the abortion was performed. This is a fairly nuanced area of Catholic theology. Ignoring the nuances in favor of berating the Catholic Church is popular, but hardly justified.

      The question boils down to this: When, if ever, is it justified to take the life of one person to save the life of another person? Not an easy question; not an easy answer – Catholic or not. Frankly, I am comforted that there is at least one American institution that takes these kinds of questions seriously, both academically and in reality.

  5. Early on, I read that the doctors said there was little chance and also we all know that doctors are not always right. I once overheard a doctor say that gall bladder operations were his bread and butter and that there were a lot of people running around without gall bladders that should have them. I knew this man and
    believe me, he wasn’t joking around. Doctors aren’t gods either.

    I really don’t think anyone should be put in the position of saying whether another person should live or die. It is up to people to be a little less non challant about their own life and death and serious moves. In this country, we marry, divorce and raise children like walking out in the sunshine and then being so surprised we got burnt for staying out too long when something goes wrong.
    \Ideally, one would have a legal document in place for how he or she would like to be treated when no longer able to make the case in person and sound state of mind. Either that, or stay home and take card of whatever without official help. People did that for eons and still do. Novel concept?

    And, I am not going to name names here, but when I wanted to ask a doctor at a hospital about a relatively simple procedure, I could not do it until I let her examine me, after I had just been examined by my doctor in the same, but more thorough way, so that the hospital could charge me over $450 dollars for one question which got a three minute answer, and one follow up question which got a one word answer. It wasn’t a Catholic hospital, that much I will tell you. I wish they had put signs up about that, too.

    And, yup, there are many things we do not know about the story, as most of what we know. America is treated like the children we act like as far as what they will tell us in the media about any serious situation. It’s largely propaganda, half truths and go see if you can find the truth by buying a half dozen books by well informed non fiction authors who may or may not be telling the truth. If you have a lot of leisure time. Thanks a lot media!

    1. Bright,
      There is a lot of uncertainty in medicine, but one thing really, truly is certain:
      Fetuses born before 20 weeks of pregnancy are not viable. No matter what devices or procedures we might use to try to keep them alive.

  6. Patrick, when we disallow a natural struggle for life, we disallow finding solutions under real life conditions. Maybe many more people could have learned from one person as I know we have done many times under other circumstances. I am speaking generally and not to this one particular case, because as we have said, we don’t know the whole story…and I don’t claim to have the definitive answer, which I suspect is very complicated.

    In summation;

    When we shut a door to one thing because it’s too hard, we may be shutting the door to any number of things that may have served us well.

  7. Bright–thankfully the catholic church does not agree with you. Or there would not be any practice of medicine.

    1. Well, there wouldn’t be any Catholic hospitals or physicians, at any rate.

      I’m not sure how many Catholics would be left either, after the implementation of such a draconian philosophy.

  8. Well, I have said this before, and I will say it again, it’s medicine that is keeping people alive way past the natural time, including me. I was saved from death at nine years old by the medical profession, non-Catholics, btw.

    Patrick, you are assuming that death is a punishment, I say it is not. It is to be looked forward to and the event should be cherished when the time comes…many cultures celebrate the death of loved ones. It may not be so nice for the living who are left behind though. They might miss the person who has passed over.

    But I am saying that if you have the faith and if you really believe in it to the max, then you shouldn’t worry about life and death. It is not true faith if you back down at every circumstance. Death is what it is and ever shall be, even if there are four children waiting at home for you, four children have gotten on very well with one parent or no parents many, many times throughout history.

    Jane, I would be happy if there were no practice of medicine. The human race got along without this form for eons, and longer, and there might be a lot more Americans alive today if hospitals hadn’t killed off the tens of thousands we loose every year from medical mistakes. ( I would have to reconcile the numbers of people who would have died anyway, but I can’t.)

    1. Bright, you wrote:

      Patrick, you are assuming that death is a punishment…

      No, Bright, I most certainly am not. I merely assume that a person’s death is the end of that person’s life. No more, no less.

      I also firmly believe that any competent adult may refuse any and all medical treatments, if they so choose.

      However, I do believe that reasonable and effective medical treatments should be continue to be presented as options to all persons who might want them.

  9. Patrick, you used the word “draconian”, and that more than implies severe punishment.
    I don’t argue that people shouldn’t have options. I am all about freedom as long as that freedom doesn’t directly hurt me.

  10. David L: I think that you are right that this is a very complex problem–most people recognize that it is complex. That is why they can’t understand an “automatic” penalty for a very complex problem.

    However, the issue for most people isn’t whether the ex-communication of the nun is automatic or whether the bishop acted to cause it (I believe it is automatic whether the bishop acted or not.)

    I think the big issue here is two-fold.

    1. In light of the extensive issues of child molestation perpetuated by priests and abetted by bishops and other church administrators covering it up, how does the church explain an automatic, severe response to what most non-catholics think of as a heroic, life-saving decision? All those priests, moved to other parishes, allowed to “go forth and sin again” under the cover of the bishops who hid the priests criminal activity from the police and the families of their parishes. NOT EX COMMUNICATED, and rarely even de-frocked.

    2. How can a medical facility deny life-saving procedures? The facts in this case are clear–either both mother and fetus die or the fetus is aborted and the mother lives. AND the mother and her family had consented to the abortion in order to save her–can a hospital with Catholic affiliation perform the procedure (well, yes and they did.) Which brings the very complex issues of does the catholic church have these policies because they do not and will not value women’s lives? When and why did they decide abortion is murder? In difficult medical situations, do they always opt to let the woman die? (There are others, such as conjoined twins, biologically-compatible family members needing transplants, etc.)

    I think the Catholic church is NOT the subject of unfair criticism but rather the recipient of much-deserved scrutiny for their institutionalized misogyny and corruption of their officials–how handy it is for the pope to claim the word of god in pronouncing how things should be handled–unfortunately we are not always sure it is “God” speaking through the pope–as it may be the pope’s ego instead.

    1. Jane: The issue is only complex for people who and institutions which believe that the fetus is a human person.

      The Supreme Court wrestled with the same issue in Roe v. Wade. Its approach was to divide the government’s interest in the fetus into 3 categories – person (born), potential person (viable), and property (not yet viable). That solves the issue of whether the fetus has rights, but, it doesn’t solve the question of whether the fetus is a human.

      The question for Church officials and faithful Catholics is drawing the line of when it is permissible to kill a person (the fetus). The fetus’ non-viability is irrelevant. It is this principle of just and unjust killing that led Pope John Paul II to declare that the Iraqui war was unjust (i.e. it is murder). Guys like Kristof need to understand that most of these principles aren’t pulled out of the air. They make sense if you take the time to think about them.

    2. David:

      What if your wife will die if she does not have an abortion–and the 11-week-old fetus is going to die regardless? What if your wife wants to have the abortion and live? What if your wife is not awake and cannot tell you how she feels? Will she live with you if you assent to the abortion? Will you live with yourself if you don’t allow the abortion? How will you explain yourself to her sisters and mother and your children when she dies?

      According to you, only the Catholic church is able to understand and steer through these complexities–the rest of us are what? Simpletons? Barbarians? Infidels? becaues we don’t agree with your definition of a person? Because I can differentiate between a breathing baby and a fetus?

      You might want to do a little research and see where the church came up with equating the fetus to a person. It was not until late years that the church outlawed abortion–and it is VERY recent that they claim a fetus is a person. Their thinking has changed in a convenient manner (for them.) Prior to this very big change in thinking, a fetus was not a person–so it was not a question of “just” or “unjust” killing.

      The concept that the church decides what is “just” killing and what is “unjust” brings all kinds of complex questions–when is it “just” to kill? Since now the church can pronounce a “just” kill, explain how that fits into the ten commandments.

      And funny how the church has supported war (“just” killing)and murder and torture in the past, including identifying and turning over Jews to the Nazis. But now it is bad. Finally. So how can Catholics even serve in the armed forces?

      It seems a little too easy for the church to continual change its own definitions to fit its manipulation of the people. And it is funny how women always end up with the short straw.

      1. Jane: I didn’t say that the only the Catholic Church is able to steer through the complexities of abortion or justifiable killing. I was pointing out the Catholic Church is apparently the only American institution that really cares (or thinks)about such complexities.

        I don’t know what Kristof knew or thought that he knew at the time that he wrote the article. But, his article is more of a slam against the Catholic Church than an exploration of the nuances of a complex ethical situation involving the taking of a life (whether that life is a person or not).

      2. David–please read your own replies. You are stating that only the catholic church sees this as a complex situation–that others, because of their inferior moral beliefs are unable to understand. That only the catholic church is able to make the right pronouncements.

        This superiority complex is part of the church’s problem. They fail to understand any of the complexities–including that the life of an adult is not equal or the same as an 11-week-old fetus. That there is a difference in a “life” that is completely and wholly dependent on the physical connection to the mother—that that is different from, say the POPE or a nun or even a confirmed 16-year-old church member. That a baby that breathes on its own is wholly different from a fertilized egg that has not even attached to the uterus.

        I don’t know what Kristof knew beyond the facts. The Catholic church does not value the life of a woman enough to save it. They hide behind their pronouncements rather than actually struggle with tough decisions.

        I do not think a hospital that would deny life-saving treatment to a woman in heart-failure should be allowed to operate in the public domain. I also believe the hospital would and should have been held negligent if they had denied the abortion to this dying woman.

      3. Jane: This is a simple situation for someone who doesn’t value an unborn life. While the facts are sketchy, I didn’t see any indication that any of the people involved – the mother, the hospital administrators, the Sister, or the bishop – accepted this narrow interpretation of personhood. Everyone involved seemed genuinely concerned with both the mother’s AND the fetus’ lives.

        Too bad that fact seems lost on Kristof and other pundits.

      4. David,
        If the patient’s preferences were in accord with the Catholic Church’s doctrine, there would’ve been no need for an ethics panel to deliberate on the issue. The woman would not have chosen an abortion.

      5. Patrick: We don’t know why the ethics panel was convened. However, the fact that it was convened suggests that the woman’s condition was not immediately life-threatening.

      6. Patrick: The facts are clear. If the hospital had enough time to call an ethics panel, I would assume that the woman’s condition wasn’t immediately life-threatening. Whether or not the woman wanted an abortion would be a critical factor in whether surgery was performed.

        Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that she didn’t want an abortion. Then what?

  11. Here are a few scattered thoughts…because I think the subject needs a few books to be thoroughly understood, and because I have to get going along now.

    Patrick, I was speaking of freedom in general.

    Jane,if a man were with child, I think he would get the same treatment as any woman. Never in my years of Catholic education did I get a sense that men or women were better than each other. Not once. Different,yes, but not better.

    All religion could be better understood by everyone.

    Okay, let’s say every woman who is threatened with death through giving birth decides to terminate and go on her happy way. Who would research the problems associated with the termination? A few perhaps, but if there is no money in it
    and no living person is hurt, then nothing will happen in any time soon. But, if
    someone sacrifices their life, and Catholicism is all about sacrifice, then some one will research and find the way out of that problem, if one could ever exist, because now, someone’s wife or daughter or mother has died. I think this is the kind of thinking that goes into a decision by the pope…long term repercussions, most of us would never consider…are set out to be just as important as today’s personal gain. Like the Native Americans, Iroquois in particular, who consider
    a decision may not be made without taking into consideration how it will affect the next seven generations.

    I think that sexual abuse was once consider a trifling thing because it has been going on so long throughout many cultures in a number of different ways. These days it has been raised to a full felony with punishment in jail for over 55 years.
    I don’t think this was the case always. I wish I had time to research that, maybe later.

    That’s all I can say on the medical issue because the only first hand experience I have had with a Catholic hospital was way back when a high school friend was thrown from a horse and had amnesia for three weeks. The horse was allowed to go free because it’s in the horse’s nature to rear up at times.

  12. Jane, you raise so many issues at once, far beyond the scope of this thread and offer no proof or personal experience whatsoever.

    The Catholic church changes with the times, as new understandings become available.
    Some people within the walls of the church do not move as fast, or cannot change.
    It is a tragedy, but then all institutions are filled with people who make tragedies.
    It is not fair to single out the Catholic Church to the point of wanting to dismantle it.

    In many homes and hospital offices, these same decisions are being made without the media looking in. The nun’s story is not fully known. No more can be said about it until all the facts are brought to light.

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