Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of things that cause sin! Such things must come, but woe to the one through whom they come! (Matthew 18:6-7)
Skimming the headlines is a terrible way to grasp an issue, but we all do it. If you have skimmed the international section over the past week, you have perhaps seen headlines in the following vein:
U.N. Panel Criticizes the Vatican Over Sexual Abuse—The New York Times
Vatican defends sex abuse record to U.N. panel—Washington Post
U.N. Panel Criticizes Vatican Over Child Abuse Scandals—Wall Street Journal
And that’s not even getting into Slate’s critique that “when Catholic doctrine comes into conflict with human rights, it is the U.N.'s job to prioritize human rights;” a curious statement, given the particularly important influence the Catholic intellectual tradition had on the writing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as outlined in Harvard professor Mary Ann Glendon's book, A World Made New.
Now, let me say from the get-go: Child abuse is evil in one of its most base forms. To sexually abuse a child is absolutely wrong in all cases and individuals who do so should refer to the above words of St. Matthew. I have nothing but scorn and disgust—and, yes, prayers—for the souls for those who took advantage of their positions of authority, be it to sexually abuse children and teens, or to cover up for those who committed such crimes.
At the conclusion of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, I am glad to see such luminaries of human rights as Ghana, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the Russian Federation, Ethiopia, and Malaysia stand up with their fellow committee members to condemn the Vatican on how it has handled the sexual abuse cases. Yet, the problem with rhetoric is that it can often be used to obscure reality as easily as it can be used to shed light on the hidden evils of men. While appearing to do the latter, I am concerned that the U.N. instead does the former.
As the John Jay College of Criminal Justice (the definitive US study on the Catholic sexual abuse crisis) reported in 2004, “The bulk of cases occurred decades ago. The increased frequency of abuse in the 1960s and 1970s was consistent with the patterns of increased deviance of society during that time.” That’s not an excuse, but it does place a reference frame on the story: The molestation, for the most part of young men in their teens and early 20s, occurred primarily between 30-50 years ago.
While clearly not particularly pro-Catholic, even the Huffington Post must admit:
The Catholic Church may be the safest place for children. Whatever its past record, the Catholic Church in the U.S. has made unparalleled strides in educating their flock about child sexual abuse and ensuring that children are safe in Catholic environments. Over the past 10 years, Catholic parishes have trained more than 2.1 million clergy, employees, and volunteers about how to create safe environments and prevent child sexual abuse. More than 5.2 million children have also been taught to protect themselves, and churches have run criminal background checks on more than 2 million volunteers, employees, educators, clerics and seminarians.
Yet for the U.N., training up parishioners, the religious, and even the children in what makes a safe environment and ensuring that environment through criminal background checks is not sufficient. As someone who has undergone three background checks in three different dioceses, as well as 9 hours of safe environment classes, and in turn taught students from age 7 to age 16 how to be safe—all before the age of 23—I have seen first hand how encompassing this initiative has been. Rules like “never be alone with a child,” “if an adult ever makes you uncomfortable, immediately come find an adult,” “if you ever suspect abuse, you must report it,” are ingrained into my head, along with the abuse crisis hotline numbers for the Diocese of Orange in Florida.
What more would the UN have the Church do? Review the aspects of the Code of Canon Law that “are not in conformity with the provisions of the Convention, in particular those relating to children’s rights to be protected against discrimination, violence and all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse.” The words of this statement inspire acquiescence: No one can disagree that children must be protected in this way.
The problem arises when we delve deeper into the means suggested to achieve this goal. Rather than delve into all the idiosyncrasies contained in the report, I will direct you to the analysis that John Goerke provided at Juicy Ecumenism. In summary, the U.N. insists that the Vatican reverse Church teachings on abortion, contraception, the family structure, homosexuality, and normative gender identity; because obviously the way to limit sexual abuse is to ensure that sexual identity is instilled early, indistinctly, and divorced from biological consequences by killing any other children who may arise from the abuse. Anne Hendershott over at Crisis Magazine asks the logical question: “the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child is now lobbying the Catholic Church for the ‘Right of the Child’ to enjoy access to unrestricted sexual behavior. Isn’t this exactly how a small percentage of Catholic clergy got in trouble to begin with?”
Her concern is mine as well. Rape is hard enough to convince people of—look at how many women have been patronizingly told they were “asking for it” or how many men are told “men can’t be raped by women.” By normalizing sexual activity in children, the U.N. will greatly disadvantage children, rather than protect them.
But, I suspect, along with Claudia Rosett in the WSJ that “this treaty has less to do with children” for all the document references to them “than with political power plays, and a fitting reform at the Vatican would be to walk away from it.” That is the disturbance that underlies all this talk of rights and protection: The U.N. has asked the Vatican to reject the Church’s moral position in favor of the popular and progressive opinion espoused by the Committee on the Rights of the Child. This arrogation is rhetorically-clothed in language meant to appeal to the sympathies of cultural custom, while obscuring the means (abortion, contraception, erosion of sexual and gender norms, abolition of anonymous baby drops) and the nature of the end (unrestricted sexual license for children).
The sexual abuse of children is evil. How dare the U.N. employ the pain and suffering of victims, along with the cultural affinity and mores for protecting the innocent, in its political machinations.