Come on guys: give the Pope a break!

Yesterday the BBC was lamenting the fact that the Pope in Britain had failed to give a clear “I’m sorry” apology for the abuse scandal, such as (apparently) he gave in Ireland.  I heard part of his speech.  He said he was deeply sorry, and that he was shamed and humiliated.  That seems to me a much more sincere and comprehensive apology than a simple “I’m sorry”.
But of course an apology is only the first step.  The Church needs to understand why these dreadful events happened, and how to prevent them.  We are not dealing here with a mere handful of cases, but with endemic abuse across many dioceses in many countries, and over several decades.  While there may have been no organised cover-up, there seems to have been little appetite in the Church for reporting offenders to the civil authorities, as ought to have been done.
As for the “Why?”, it seems to me self-evident.  It comes down to priestly celibacy.  The Book of Common Prayer commends marriage “for the avoidance of fornication”.  This is a doctrine which the Catholic Church should contemplate with care.
That said, I have been saddened by the outburst of aggressive atheism and secularism which has greeted the Pope’s visit.
I have a high regard for Professor Richard Dawkins.  I once met him briefly in Brussels.  I have read most of his books.  I stand in awe of his erudition, his clarity and comprehension, his capacity for communication.  But I am disturbed by the strident and shrill tone he adopts against people of faith.  Science should by all means defend itself against myth and superstition, but if (as I sincerely believe) science is broadly right, then it will win the argument against religious creation myths – indeed it has already done so amongst most educated people, including many Christians.   But Dawkins should play the ball, not the man.  He would achieve more with a more measured approach.
I imagine many Christians today feel under threat.  The newspaper headlines about Christmas/Winterval, about the exclusion of faith groups from the public space and civic programmes, about the banning of Christian symbols, have become almost clichés.  Indeed I see a kind of parallel with smokers, who are also persecuted, and forced to indulge their habit out in the rain.  I am neither a member of any organised religion (though I feel a cultural affinity with the Church of England), nor am I a smoker.  But as an MEP I represent a great number of Christians, and smokers, and they have rights too.  At least they have a right to respect for their views.  We don’t have to agree with them, but we must recognise their right to disagree with us.
I am also alarmed by the attacks on faith schools.  On almost every measure, faith schools typically deliver better result than non-faith schools.  To seek to close down our best schools on ideological grounds is simply perverse, given the parlous state of British education.  (But please note: I exclude from this analysis those faith schools that draw on a single ethnic or linguistic demographic.  Such schools may be divisive.  Pupils from such backgrounds especially need a broad engagement with British culture and British values.  They are unlikely to get that in a madrassa).
So please, Professor Dawkins, a little more respect, a little more dignity, and the common courtesy which a visiting Head of State is entitled to expect.

An earlier draft of this piece contained the phrase “systemically pædophile”.  This seems to have caused some offence to a number of Catholics, which was not my intention, and I regret it.   As a courtesy to those Catholics, I have revised the article, removing the offending words.  All I meant was that, sadly, child sexual abuse has been extensive and widespread in the Catholic Church.  That is a matter of public record and cannot be disputed.  I hope that Catholics will also note that I defended the Pope’s apology, argued forcefully in favour of faith schools, and lamented the strident atheism of Professor Dawkins.

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33 Responses to Come on guys: give the Pope a break!

  1. If Prof Dawkins ever becomes a Catholic, he is going to have to learn to be more tolerant.

  2. Annette Dunn says:

    Thankyou for your comments Roger as an MEP,
    I had already written to the Pope at Easter with my comments about child abuse but also with information that could help prevention in the future in the training of priests.
    I was confirmed catholic in 2001 after being Cof E since 1968 and I take very seriously what has happened within the Church and how we should all take responsiblity within our roles as Mothers, Parents, Councillors,childrens liturgy and those in education and Church too.
    I had watched Cofton Park from my flat yesterday
    as tickets were sold out at the Parish Church and was pleased the Popes visit closed with such an auspiscous occassion and heard from members of other Church faiths who were amazed.
    The work begins NOW within the Churches, the way forward, the truth and the Life of a Child is vitally important.
    Regards and thanks from Cllr Annette R Dunn 19-03-1955

  3. Francis says:

    “Systematically paedophile”? What on earth are you talking about? Catholic priests are no more likely to be child abusers than Anglican vicars or Jewish rabbis:

    If the bile directed at the RCC has taught us anything, it’s that even soi-disant enlightened sceptics and tolerant liberals can whip up a good, old-fashioned moral panic.

  4. Geoff M says:

    Who listens to Dawkins anyway?
    His opinion is not worth any more than anyone else’s opinion, his permanent infestation of Channel 4 notwithstanding.

  5. Dexter says:

    As a man considering my vocation to the priesthood, may I tell you that your suppositions about the causes of paedophilia are nonsense.

    There is no evidence whatsoever that celibacy causes paedophilia. Paedophiles are most commonly found preying on children within their own families. By far the most ‘typical’ paedophile is a married man who not only has children but also has access to a wife or partner with whom he is capable of pursuing natural heterosexual intercourse.

    The fact that you point to celibate priesthood as a causative factor for paedophiliac tendencies is patent, absolute and offensive slander. You are a disgrace to the office that you hold. I am ashamed to be part of the same political party as you.

  6. Clothilde Simon says:

    You are talking nonsense with your “systemically pædophile” phrase. See for more comments.

  7. A.Ward says:

    The Catholic church is -institutionally- an aider and abettor of paedophiles.
    Its leader deserves no respect whatsoever.

    • M. Grech says:

      @ A.Ward: The Catholic Church is institutionally, as you say it, the greatest force for good in the whole world. From time to time evil does prevail in some of its members; but that does not mean that the church is not institutionally good.

  8. Pingback: Roger Helmer – Is He For Real? | International Crimefighting at its very best

  9. anton borg says:

    Your deeply offensive claim that the Church is “sytemically paedophile” is a gross insult to the hundreds of thousands of clergy and nuns who have worked, sometimes at considerable personal risk to themselves, for the good of their communities.
    The vast majority of sexual offences against minors are committed by family members of the abused.
    Using the “logic” which would appear to underpin your attack on the Church, you should follow it up with a claim that families worldwide are “systemically paedophile”.
    For myself, I think you should have the grace to print a formal apology on your blog.
    ps; I was brought up in a deeply Catholic country; none of my family or friends was ever sexually abused by a priest.

  10. Stephen says:

    Around 4% of our population are psychopaths – not merely the minority serial killer type, but the white collar psychopath type, the snakes in suits type, the hidden predator. So our society is therefore systemically psychopathic, and paedophilic. We just don’t know they are there. They are often well hidden – the best place for such a psychopath to hide is in a job where he is assumed to have some sort of holiness or inherent goodness – teachers, doctors, nurses, and clergy. So why are we surprised that the clergy of the Catholic Church – and the other less headline-prone religions – have problems with paedophiles? It’s not that the Catholic Church breeds evil; it’s that the Catholic Church’s inherent GOOD (likewise with any similar vocation or denomination) is a disguise that is used by those who wish to prey on others unobserved.

    And it really has nothing to do with celibacy – the married Protestant clergy, married teachers, etc. have this problems as well.

    So no, Catholicism is not systemically paedophile. To say that is to completely miss the point of the lesson we should learn. We should be alerted to the dangers of the wolves in sheeps’ clothing, not be pointing fingers at the admittedly ignorant and stupid and perhaps even corrupt clergy who covered up these crimes. “There but for the grace of God go I.” The Catholic Church has learned a bitter lesson – it has allowed OUR society’s wolves in.

  11. Dave Evans says:

    I completely agree regarding the issue of celibacy. ‘God’ made man and woman to procreate, and it works. Humans exist only because a: we do procreate and b: it’s an inbuilt function based on physical need (certainly that drive is there for men). If you provide no means of relieving that physical imperative, the only routes are sinful in the eyes of the church. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. The rest of civilisation might perhaps be a good deal more forgiving of the foibles of the Multionational Corporation of Christ if it allowed priests (male AND female priests if that ever happens) to have normal sexual relations, marry and raise families. It’s what God would have wanted when he made us, er, out of ribs and things.

  12. Luckily Professor Dawkins has I think a lot more sense than to consider intellectual adherence to Vatican fairy tales.

  13. Tiggy says:

    “Systemically paedophile” You recon. Well then so are families and society as a whole, as the rates are higher than in the Church.
    You are clearly deluded!

  14. Systematic in the modern Church- since the Second Vatican Council, there has been a crisis of vocations- the number of perverts and pederasts as a proportion of those ordained went up as they, unnaturally enough, still wanted to be ordained. I am all in favour of married priests on the orthodox model- but that would not be the result if it was to be permitted now. It would open the way to all the liberal trends which are destroying the Anglican Church. And for sure women’s ordination is not possible- it would disrupt any ecumenical relationship with the Orthodox and besides is alien to Scripture, tradition and the constant teaching of ecclesiastical authority.

  15. Mike says:

    “It comes down to priestly celibacy. The Book of Common Prayer commends marriage “for the avoidance of fornication”. ”

    So, C of E vicars have never committed fornication or adultery, hmm? Or abused children? According to your logic, anyone not sexually active must be a potential child-abuser. I suppose if you take your cue from a contemporary society that sees sexual activity as essential and the supreme act of self-definition, you would think that.

    “I imagine many Christians today feel under threat.” Yes, and is it any surprise when our elected representatives turn on us with offensive allegations tarring everyone with the same brush as a miniscule minority?

    You condemn myths and superstitions. Seems like you’re not above creating a few of your own.

    Yours, a disgusted Conservative voter

  16. John Shuster says:

    This isn’t about the pope or Catholicism. It is about an institution that has enabled and covered up sex crimes against children. This is about bringing predators and their sponsors to justice and protecting the innocence and vulnerability of children. This is all the more henious because it has been perpetrated and concealed by religious leaders who are supposed to the first and last bastion for truth and justice.

  17. John Shuster says:

    The celibacy requirement in the priesthood attracts idealists, homosexuals and those who abuse children. Most of the idealists are gone.

  18. Jenny says:

    MEP Helmer, Pedophiles aren’t molesting children because they are denied sexual relations with adults, they are sick, twisted people who prey upon children. So called, “priests” who have molested altar boys and other boys, are homosexual pedophiles who have been attracted to the access to young boys through positions of trust in the priesthood. In the US, where I live, while homosexuals are only 2% of the population, they account for more than 30% of pedophiles. I’m offended that someone in your position would seek to provide cover for these pedophile priests, by blaming the tenet of celibacy for Catholic priests, for the deviant acts of pedophiles. A better expenditure of your energies would be to tackle the homosexual pedophiles demand in the UK that the age of consent be lowered. “Actiists” like Peter Tatchell actually try and get away with claiming that lowering the age of consent will lead to less instances of molestation, but what that actually means, is it will legalize pedophiles ability to victimize our children. If I were you, I’d consider your personal bigotry towards Catholics, and deal with it. Your bigotry is actually harmful and provides excuses for child predators to hide behind.

  19. Thanks to everyone for these comments — both pro and anti. I do not have detailed statistics to support the proposition that Paedophilia is no more common in the Catholic Church than in other churches. But certainly in terms of reported cases, and payouts to victims, the Catholic Church seems to head the list. Besides, it is no defence to say “Priests are no worse than the populaton at large”. They set themselves up as followers of their faith and their task is to promote Christian morality, so we have higher expectations of them. I am the first to agree that the great majority of priests and nuns are good people, but the fact remains that (A) The Church showed great reluctance to report offenders to the civil authority; (B) The Church made a practice of simply moving offending priests to new dioceses or new parishes, where they continued to pose a threat to children; (C) There are credible reports that the Church used pay-offs to victims to buy their silence. I really am sorry that some people seem to be offended by my comments, but maybe they should focus their anger on the child abusers, not on commentators who seek to deal with the subject in a measured and responsible way.

  20. Stephen says:

    An interesting argument from insurance, which indicates that it’s no more prevalent in the Catholic Church:

    Yes, the Church stuffed up big time. And by the sounds of things, many bishops are still doing so.

  21. How mealy-mouthed can you get. The earlier version of the post was just that, not a draft which by definition would have been unpublished. And you may regret the offence caused by the earlier version, but you haven’t retracted or apologised for it. I shouldn’t have expected better – you’re a politician, after all, and you were elected off the back of a party list system – but I did. I’ll know better in future.

    • I haven’t retracted or apologised because I believe that the substance of what I said was indisputable. But I was happy to change a phrase which seemed to give offence, and to distract readers from the message. So let’s be clear — I regret any offence, but I do not apologise or retract the substance.

  22. Colin says:

    If you had discovered 25 years ago that your own brother was sexually abusing one of his children would you have reported it to the police? In all probability you would not have, for a variety of well-intentioned reasons – you may have been concerned not only for the victim of abuse but also that your brother got ‘treatment’; you may have been concerned about the harm done to your brother’s family if it became a criminal matter, thinking that to criminalise him did not help the victim or the wider family.

    25 years ago little was said about child sexual abuse. The Church dealt with abuse as an ‘internal’ matter just as other institutions and families did. Now we recognise that this was not the right way to deal with it. Even a single instance of abuse within the Church is abhorrent, but so too is the abuse within other institutions and within families. Now that the Catholic Church has clearly got its act in order, will you be turning your attention to the other areas where sexual abuse has been and still is widely perpetrated. Or will you continue to use the Catholic Church as a convenient whipping boy so you can cop out of addressing a much wider and equally serious problem?

  23. Crack says:

    This isn’t about the pope or Catholicism. It is about an institution that has enabled and covered up sex crimes against children. This is about bringing predators and their sponsors to justice and protecting the innocence and vulnerability of children. This is all the more henious because it has been perpetrated and concealed by religious leaders who are supposed to the first and last bastion for truth and justice.

  24. Aloysius says:

    Mr Helmer, you write that “child sexual abuse has been extensive and widespread in the Catholic Church”. Any case of child abuse is a terrible sin and a dreadful crime, that must not be covered up or left unpunished. Any assertion about its prevalence within an individual, group, family, or institution needs however to based on reasonable evidence. So here’s a fact: worldwide, fewer than one Catholic priest in 4,000 has been accused (let alone convicted) of child abuse. I am unclear as to how the 0.00025% that works out to can reasonably be described as either “extensive” or “widespread”. A very, very tiny number of very, very rotten apples. It will do no good trying to protect children simply giving the impression that the Catholic Church is a dangerous place for children: it isn’t. At some times, in some places, some priests have done terrible things. That’s now ruthlessly monitored. Can we say the same about family life?

  25. Ludolphus says:

    I have just posted your “afterword” on the Holy Smoke blog.

    Thank you for altering your article and removing the “systemic paedophile” term. It was not really every meaningful anyway.

  26. shane says:

    In Ireland, less than 3% of all abuse in society was perpetrated by priests (Sexual Abuse and Violence Report in Ireland, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, 2002). When you consider that paedophiles tend to concentrate in professions where they have easy access to children (and in Ireland, the Church had a near monopoly on childcare) that’s not hugely disproportionate. In New York, over 7% of school teachers have been accused of child abuse.

  27. Of your revision of your earlier draft you state: “All I meant was that, sadly, child sexual abuse has been extensive and widespread in the Catholic Church. That is a matter of public record and cannot be disputed.”

    This is utter nonsense.

    A report entitled “The Nature and Scope of the Problem of the Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests and Deacons in the United States (1950-2002)” authored by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, was commissioned by the Conference of Catholic Bishops of the United States of America. Allegations of “widespread” sexual abuse are based on misrepresentation of the core findings of this reoport.

    What are the facts? 10,667 individuals made allegations against 4,392 priests, approximately 4% of the total of 109,694 priests active in the USA in the period under study. The allegations covered a range of things including instances of what can be regarded as lesser abuse: being induced into taking part in talk of a sexual nature; being shown pornographic material, and; being fondled either inside or outside of clothing. In fact there were 3,553 allegations of being fondled outside of clothing and 3,981 of being touched under their clothing.

    More serious allegations involved: being coerced into mutual masturbation; oral sex, and; rape or attempted rape. Of this latter, most serious allegation, 990 boys made allegations and 213 girls, that is a total of 1,203 allegations over a period of just over 50 years. Bearing in mind that crimes involving sexual deviancy usual involve repeat offences, and hence it being likely that not each individual allegation of these sexual assaults will involve a separate priest, we can say that the figures represent a frequency of two serious sexual assaults being alleged against Catholic priests per month over the whole of the United States of America throughout the period of the study. And remember these were allegations, they were by no means all true.

    At the very most, just under 1% of the priest population over that time period were involved in allegations. Reprehensible and regrettable though that be, it hardly amounts to “widespread paedophilia in the Catholic Church”. After all in the United States over the same period a higher proportion of parents and public school teachers had similar allegations made against them.

    But you don’t read about that in the press.

  28. Boycat says:

    “The Book of Common Prayer commends marriage “for the avoidance of fornication”. This is a doctrine which the Catholic Church should contemplate with care.”

    As for marriage as a remedy against fornication the Book of Common Prayer is an anti-Catholic tract in any case and would attack clerical celibacy because Martin Luther and the rest of the reformers didn’t want priests, monks or nuns. Just read the 39 Articles contained therein to see how anti-Catholic is is.

  29. Pingback: MEP Roger Helmer « What Tories Really Think

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