Psychologizing Ireland’s Confrontation with the Vatican over Child Abuse

Ireland has long allowed itself to be a bit of a theocracy, ruled in part from afar by the Vatican. Why a country would allow its social policy to be so thoroughly controlled by a distant clique of elderly (mostly white) men, supposedly celibate but obsessed with sex, is beyond me, but it happened.

But, and I am honestly surprised to discover this, it turns out Ireland had a line. A line the Vatican should not have crossed. And it took decades, it took an international outcry, and it took thousands of cases of abuse, but finally, finally Ireland is starting to say ‘no’ to child abuse veiled by religion.

The Vatican and the Catholic hierarchy have a long and cherished tradition of sexual abuse of children. Priests and other authority figures have for centuries cultivated situations in which they manipulated the religious faith of believers into trusting them with their children, and then sexually assaulted the children. The Church has been well aware of this at the highest levels, and instead of moving to stop the abuse, it has moved to shelter it. It has shuffled abusers around to prevent exposure, it has frustrated private and public investigations, and it has intimidated survivors into silence. This pattern of behavior makes it clear that this order of “celibate” men is intent on preserving the tradition of child sex abuse, because if the intention were otherwise, the actions would reflect as much. Child sex abuse seems to have been considered a bit of a privilege for those Church leaders who found themselves so inclined.

But the Church’s own rhetoric around sexual morality (for others, not priests) may have led to this confrontation with Ireland’s leadership. The Church’s hierarchy of family-less, supposedly non-sexual men also have a centuries-long tradition of dictating the sexual behavior of others. They have preached many strange things about sexuality, but a major message has been that of the primacy of the nuclear family.

Decades of “family” messaging have encouraged heavily Catholic cultures to idealize and worship the perfect family unit: father, mother and children. And children are the only reason to have sex- any sex that is absent the intent to procreate is sinful. So CHILDREN!!! are very important. This is supported by lots of cute pictures of Jesus hanging out with children and the frequent repetition of Bible verses discussing children. There are also lots of cultural messages in general about the importance of children, and, reflecting the general fear of sex, the need to protect children from any knowledge of sexuality to keep them on the pure, narrow, straight path to heterosexual marriage.

BOOM! CONFLICT! The Vatican cherishes the sexually repressed family unit and encourages the cult of sexually-innocent childhood, yet also cherishes its ingrained tradition of child sex abuse. After years of being barraged with overwhelming evidence of this contradiction, finally Irish society decided to take a stand. And they choose to stand against child abuse. Though this seems like an obvious conclusion to make and so basic that it hardly merits praise, it is actually much more commendable than you would think given their deeply-held tradition of respecting Catholic authority, even to the detriment of their own sovereignty as a nation. And generally speaking, sexual abuse of the weak by the strong is condoned by societies worldwide, and so a Prime Minister taking the time to publicly rebuke it and form real measures to combat it, as Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny recently did, is really a sight to behold.

From the New York Times:

“For the first time in Ireland, a report into child sexual abuse exposed an attempt by the Holy See to frustrate an inquiry into a sovereign, democratic republic as little as three years ago, not three decades ago,” Mr. Kenny said, referring to the Cloyne Report, which detailed abuse and cover-ups by church officials in southern Ireland through 2009.

…“The rape and torture of children were downplayed, or ‘managed,’ to uphold instead the primacy of the institution — its power, its standing and its reputation.” Instead of listening with humility to the heartbreaking evidence of “humiliation and betrayal,” he said, “the Vatican’s response was to parse and analyze it with the gimlet eye of a canon lawyer.”

Naturally, the Vatican and its vassals reacted grumpily to this attack on what they believe is their right and privilege. It withdrew its ambassador to Ireland and had the gumption to claim that the reports of sexual abuse were “unsubstantiated” and that Kenny’s concern with their abuse was “excessive”. There was concern that we are all forgetting about the true victims: the poor, so often wrongly accused priests.

[Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos] warned against “obsessive” pursuit of accused priests by bishops because of the damage it can do to the priests, whose souls, he said, were “at the center of the affair.”

Rarely is the right of powerful men to sexually abuse others challenged so publicly. It’s almost fun to watch the Vatican & co. squirm with indignation at this attack upon their sexual privileges. Thanks for that Ireland.

Read the entire, hilariously/depressingly-horrible official Vatican response to Kenny’s remarks and the Cloyne Report.

Read the Cloyne Report.


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