How to Win an Argument with a Catholic
by Marc Barnes
Filed under Scandal
In the delightfully crunchy world of debate, it seems apparent to me that the closer you are to the tactics of the Westboro Baptist Church, the closer you are to being entirely wrong. This is a concept towards which I have no doubt that my atheist friends will nod in earnest. After all, the level of intellectual destruction it takes to reduce one’s entire theology to the slogan “God Hates Fags” is embarrassing, to the point that the entire universe seems sadder for WBC’s very existence.
So it is odd—and I pretend with a passion that it is not simultaneously and sickeningly fascinating—that we sometimes see others joining forces with the WBC. What dark power could possibly exist on earth strong enough to bring about such a cosmic convergence? Why, The One Holy Roman Catholic Apostolic Church!
You see the Church—may She blossom, build more cathedrals, and continue being the world’s largest charity—has the remarkable habit of unifying friends and enemies alike. Thus we see record numbers of Anglicans and Lutherans becoming Catholic, incredibly improved relations with the Eastern Orthodox Church, and, in general, great strides towards Christian unity, while Evangelicals, Agnostics and New Agers all sit together on the sidelines with identically incensed “you-don’t-allow-birth-control?” expressions on their faces. The Wiccan and the Darwinist can set aside their mutual contempt for each other and smoke a few bowls over the Church’s position on abortion. It happens.
But my point is that these days, any argument with a Catholic can be neatly avoided—and often is by the Church's most vigilant opponents—by devolving to the Westboro Baptist Church’s self-proclaimed “air-tight, three word case against the Catholic Church”: priests rape boys.
This is a fact that we Catholics have come to terms with, to the point that we can judge how good our arguments are by how fast our opponent does The WBC and calls the Catholic Church “the most well-funded and organized pedophile group in the history of man.” Ten minutes? We should be clearer on our metaphysics. Thirty seconds? Catholicism ftw.
The problem is, as others have noted here before, this is a bad argument against the Church. Actually, it is not an argument at all. It is specifically the avoidance of any argument. But nevertheless:
If a man commits a crime as heinous and hideous as child molestation, he deserves all the mistrust and disgust thrown at him. If that man is in a position of care, as a priest is, that same man deserves all the more mistrust, excommunication, and punishment prescribed. But if a stereotype is to be applied to an entire group of men, it follows that that group of men must commit the act more than any one else.
To use a more benign example, if the stereotype that “women are great multitaskers!” is to be a sensible stereotype, women must be greater multitaskers than men. If men are equally good at multitasking, or better than women at multitasking, the stereotype is empty. All well and good, but apply that same logic to priests and watch the world flip out.
The truth is that child-molestation is not a Catholic problem. It is a problem of Western culture in general. As Newsweek pointed out in their 2011 article "Mean Men", “experts say there’s simply no data to support the claim [that the Church is “a refuge for pederasts”] at all...based on the surveys and studies conducted by different denominations over the past 30 years, experts who study child abuse say they see little reason to conclude that sexual abuse is mostly a Catholic issue. ‘We don’t see the Catholic Church as a hotbed of this or a place that has a bigger problem than anyone else,’ said Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.”
Dr. Thomas Plante, a Professor of Psychology and an Adjunct Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University School of Medicine, says “available research suggests that approximately two to five percent of priests have had a sexual experience with a minor” a percentage which “is lower than the general adult male population that is best estimated to be closer to eight percent.”
A child is more likely to be molested by his parents, his neighbors, or family friends than a priest, yet there exists no stereotype about these groups. According to the US Department of Education’s report on the issue, entitled Educator Sexual Misconduct: A Synthesis of Existing Literature, “the physical sexual abuse of students in schools is likely more than 100 times the abuse by [Catholic] priests.” Why, one wonders, in the ever-present debates over the pay of teachers, public school programs and the like, is there no brilliant, hip man who stands up and says, “Yes, but everything you’re saying is suspect because teachers rape children." Why is there no stereotype against public-school teachers?
First of all, because, unlike American public schools and the culture in general, the Catholic Church has made an unprecedented effort to destroy the evil culture of child molestation. If you’ve ever worked for the Catholic Church, you know of what I speak. It can be hell, going through the various training programs in place to completely rid the Church of child molestation. Ninety-four percent of the abuse incidents reported to the Catholic Church from 1950 through 2009 took place before 1990, and there’s a reason for it. Already having less of a problem than the general culture, the Catholic Church has done more than any other institution to get rid of the problem entirely. All of this meant staying in the media spotlight. We did not avoid evil, we fought it, and we let the world see, because we are held to a higher standard than the world. So the Church bore the brunt of the blame, and has ‘cleaned house’ tremendously, while the public-schools are rarely discussed, and are still a major problem. And this is good, because one abuse-case is one too many, and I don’t give a damn how embarrassed it makes Catholics, all this attention the Church has paid to the issue—if it’s what it takes to keep children safe, it’s worth it.
But I fear that the real reason there exists a completely baseless stereotype against priests is the same reason the WBC has a stereotype against priests: It’s easier to make up a stereotype and name-call than deal with the claims of the Catholic Church. If people who make this claim really do wish to do The WBC, let ‘em. It’s so obviously ridiculous that it can only ever mean a Catholic has won the argument.
So how to win an argument with a Catholic? Not through empty stereotypes. You win by arguing.
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