Thursday, 8 April 2010

Where We Choose To Hide

For the last week I've been toying around on and off with the idea of writing something in response to Bill Donahue's latest catastrophically mendacious and cruel attempt to prove to the world that everything can be blamed on the gays by suggesting they are the villains at the heart of the latest round of abuse allegations rocking the Catholic Church.

It turns out, it's harder than I would have thought. Not because he's right, or even close to right (shorter Donahue: since many of the abused children were post-pubescent, it's homosexuality rather than paedophilia, hence the gays did it!!!) but because he's so wrong, so spitefully, hatefully at odds with reality in his attempts to claim that the most important issue in decades of systemic abuse deliberately which was concealed by those in authority is the sexual orientation of the abusers that it's damn near impossible to search through the multiple layers of sheer malignant insanity necessary to actually respond, as oppose to just screaming in confused fury.

Fortunately, Andrew Sullivan - himself both a Catholic and homosexual - is better at this than I am. It's a shame it's taken me a full week to find his article, but it's easily good enough to justify its slight tardiness. All of it is truly excellent, but there are a few paragraphs worth highlighting:
The church teaches first of all that all gay men are "objectively disordered:" deeply sick in their deepest soul and longing for love and intimacy. A young Catholic who finds out he's gay therefore simultaneously finds out that his church regards him as sick and inherently evil, for something he doesn't experience as a choice. That's a distorting and deeply, deeply damaging psychic wound. Young Catholic gay boys, tormented by this seemingly ineradicable sinfulness, often seek religious authority as a way to cope with the despair and loneliness their sexual orientation can create. (Trust me on this; it was my life). So this self-loathing kid both abstracts himself from sexual relationships with peers, idolizes those "normal" peers he sees as he reaches post-pubescence, and is simultaneously terrified by these desires and so seeks both solace and cover for not getting married by entering the priesthood.

None of this is conceivable without the shame and distortion of the closet, or the church's hideously misinformed and distorted view of homosexual orientation. And look at the age at which you are most likely to enter total sexual panic and arrest: exactly the age of the young teens these priests remain attracted to and abuse.

That's the age when the shame deepens into despair; that's when sexuality is arrested; that's where the psyche gets stunted. In some ways, I suspect, these molesters feel as if they are playing with equals - because emotionally they remain in the early teens. I'm not excusing this in any way; just trying to understand how such evil can be committed.

Sullivan is also right on the money when he points out how easily the situation could be reversed if one were to tell straight boys that their proclivities were wrong and evil and never to be acted on, and that marriage between opposite sexes was unacceptable. One need look no further than the studies showing abstinence-only sex education leads to higher rates of teen pregnancy to see that vilifying desire does not end it, it simply ends its chance of being acted upon in an open, healthy way.

Sullivan concludes:

I don't believe, in other words, that you can tackle this problem without seeing it as a symptom of a much deeper failure of the church to come to terms with sexuality, sexual orientation and the warping, psychologically distorting impact of compulsory celibacy in the priesthood.
This seems extremely plausible, which is not to say it seems particularly likely. It's especially difficult to imagine it happening as long as the Bill Donahue's of the world (he's leader of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, by the way, I ain't picking on him at random), for whom the "logic" seems to run roughly like this: those abused were generally sexually mature, the abusers were men, thus the abusers were gay, thus banning gays remains the answer. He can't recommend the Catholic Church doubles down in its attempts to stop child abusers (or teenager abusers, if the qualification is really needed), because it's kinda difficult to tell those people from anyone else. Looking for criminals is hard. Far easier to argue that all the people who are that sort of criminal are also something else, and then slap them around. It's the clerical equivalent of arguing there should be separate search methods for Arab plane passengers, because there are so few white terrorists out there.

I realise that isn't an exact analogy: if it gets even harder for homosexuals to enter the priesthood, they're not going to start recruiting straight men to do their abusing for them. On the other hand, though, the comparison uncovers what the real problem is in all of this. Donahue is screaming so loudly about the solution being stopping gays from getting into the system because he's desperate for us to believe there's a way to stop the crime from ever happening again. Now, when we're talking about suicidal terrorists taking a plane, that makes some sense. You can't punish them once their smoking corpse is lying alongside those of their innocent victims, after all. We catch these people before they commit their intended crime, or they don't get caught at all.

Donahue is hoping no-one notices the difference in this case. He wants everyone to concentrate on how the Church is going to stop abusers getting through the door because that way he doesn't have to discuss how the church should deal with abuse when they discover it's happened. Because the instant he's faced with that, the very moment he has to start talking about how the church has failed in this situation, rather than those individuals guilty of the abuse itself, he's got nothing. He blames the gays for the abuse, and the media for reporting the abuse, but ask him why church authorities covered all this up, and how it plans to change in the future, and he hasn't anything to say at all.

And that's - to steal an ending from Christopher Bird - how you know he's full of shit.

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