Some clarifications and further thoughts on new atheism and the Church
I’ve gotten some good pushback on my new atheist post, and probably – quite likely even – my thoughts on the matter were not quite clear enough going in to craft as cogent a piece as I would have liked.
To be clear: the victims of sexual abuse in these cases are indeed victims of horrible crimes which have lasting and detrimental effects. There is simply no two ways about this. Critics of the Church, however, have used these victims as opportunities to go after the Church and, more recently, the current pope in an effort to dismantle the Church and, if they’re lucky, see some heads roll from high shoulders. I find this use of the victims and of their suffering to be appalling. I find the disregard for fact and the rush to judgment in the press against the pope in these cases offensive and childish. Far worse than any of this, of course, were the initial crimes and subsequent cover-ups of those crimes. The rest pales in comparison.
I believe the pope does have a responsibility to do far more to clean up this mess, whether or not it was a mess of his or others’ making. Yes, he has done more than any other pope in history to combat sexual abuse and the cover-ups of abuse. Yes, he is essentially the only one in Jason Berry’s incredible investigative report into the Legion of Christ and the horrifying Fr. Marcial Maciel, who ends up looking at all good by the end. And yes, I believe Benedict (and Ratzinger when he was a Cardinal) did not bear responsibility for many of the things leveled at him in recent press reports.
Nevertheless, I think Benedict owes it to the victims and to Catholics and non-Catholics alike to come out and speak from the heart – to sidestep these shabby interlocutors and offer up a sincere apology and an explanation, and to make more information about the history of abuse available. However much I believe he is on the right side in all of this, I think he can and should do more.
In the comments to my new atheist post, Switters writes:
The catholic church abuses children. New atheists exploit the victims to pursue a political vendetta against the church. ED now sees the church (and particularly, the pope) as the new victims (of the unfair attacks from the new atheists). ED exploits the new victims to damage the new atheists. Is the only difference here that ED cares about the catholic church (and the pope) and the new atheists do not care about the abuse victims. Am I missing something?
First of all, I do not see the Church as a victim in all of this. I see the pope as unfairly targeted by the press and by the new atheists and certain bloggers on the left, but that does not make him a ‘victim’. It is quite hard to believe that a man as powerful as the pope could be described as such. I do find these attacks to be bad journalism, and worse still a distraction from actual justice, but I don’t see the Church or its leaders as victims.
Whether I am using the victims of sexual abuse to attack the new atheists is a more difficult thing to say. I can see how the charge could be leveled. I suppose I can only say that the new atheists are the ones out there saying that the very teaching of Catholicism is worse than actual sexual abuse. I have never said a word against atheism. Nor did atheism even really cross my mind, or politics for that matter, when I set out to defend the pope against his accusers. It really isn’t a political or theological debate is it? Who is responsible for what? What lies at the bloody, beating heart of the matter? What is fact and what is fiction?
These are a detective’s questions, or a reporter’s – not a theologian’s or a new atheist’s or a politician’s.
And in that sense, I am a little sorry I ever wrote the damn post, because going after the new atheists was never really my intent. I would like to see the truth emerge, and I would like the press to act its age. I could care less what silly things Richard Dawkins may have to say.