Radio Freethinker

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The Evil of Secular Society

Posted by Ethan Clow on January 2, 2011

Recently the Pope made a bold statement that childhood sexual abuse by the Catholic Church was partly the fault of a secular society that considers sexual abuse a non-absolute evil. This was discussed in episode 95 of Radio Freethinker.

Pope Benedict XVI discussed with Vatican officials the church’s culpability in its child sex-abuse scandal, but he also blamed a secular society, which he claimed that the mistreatment of children was common.

He stressed that the scandal must be seen in a broader social context, in which child pornography is considered normal by society and drug use and sexual tourism are on the rise.

The Pope is basically saying that the Catholic Church failed to protect those children who were sexually abused; but society was so secular and godless that everyone was failing to protect children…so you can’t really blame the Catholic Church.

He is quoted as saying that “as recently as the 1970s, pedophilia wasn’t considered an absolute evil but rather part of a spectrum of behaviours that people refused to judge in the name of tolerance and relativism.”

He also suggests that secular society views child pornography as normal and references the rise of drug use and sex tourism. Since those are reasonable testable claims, let’s explore them for a bit.

Does secular society consider child pornography as “normal?”

I’m not sure to what specifically he’s referring to when he says “secular society” but let’s assume for a moment he’s talking about the scientific community and secular laws.

A quick review of Wikipedia indicates that child pornography is taken very seriously by law enforcement across the world:

“Ninety-four of 187 Interpol member states had laws specifically addressing child pornography as of 2008 … both distribution and possession are now criminal offenses in almost all Western countries. A wide movement is working to globalize the criminalization of child pornography, including major international organisations such as the United Nations and the European Commission. ” – link to source

Further, a review of child pornography seems to indicate it is illegal because by nature it involves the exploitation and abuse of children for sexual purposes. What does science have to say about sexual abuse of children and pedophilia?

The ICD-10 (International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems 10th Revision (ICD-10)defines pedophilia as “a sexual preference for children, boys or girls or both, usually of prepubertal or early pubertal age.” According to the ICD, which is a coding of diseases and signs, symptoms, abnormal findings, complaints, social circumstances and external causes of injury or diseases, as classified by the World Health Organization, pedophilia is a disease that needs to be addressed by health professionals.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 4th edition Text Revision (DSM-IV-TR) outlines specific criteria for use in the diagnosis of this disorder. These include the presence of sexually arousing fantasies, behaviours or urges that involve some kind of sexual activity with a prepubescent child (age 13 or younger, though puberty may vary) for six months or more, and that the subject has acted on these urges or suffers from distress as a result of having these feelings. The DSM is the document mental health professionals use to diagnosis mental disorders.

It looks like both in terms of law enforcement and science, pedophilia and child pornography are taken very seriously. Law enforcement has well defined rules and regulations to monitor sexual abuse and makes considerable effort to prevent it. Science appears to have classified sexual abuse as a disorder and clearly do not consider it “normal.”

But the Pope also implied that secular society is far too morally relativistic when it comes to sexual abuse of minors. It’s true that the DSM and the ICD don’t describe child sexual abuse as evil or morally bankrupt.

But what is important to remember about these documents? They are not moral guidelines. They are scientific parameters defining mental and medical states. You will never find words like “evil” and “moral” in these documents because they’re not making moral judgements on medical and mental states.

The ICD will never describe cancer as an “evil” disease or likewise, medical breakthroughs as “miracles.”

The pope condemns a relativistic view of pedophilia, yet the Catholic church’s previous policy was to put the offenders into therapy and not hand them over to law enforcement. He seems to be blaming secular society for something while glossing over that under his watch, the Catholic Church did the same thing. We should also keep in mind that Cardinal Ratzinger was Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the sexual abuse of minors by priests was his responsibility to investigate.

Another issue that Ratzinger raises is the notion that sexual abuse is more common in today’s “secular” society. A simply look at most statistics relating to sexual abuse do show there are far more cases of child sexual abuse being reported in recent years than ever before. Does that mean there is more abuse going on now or that abuses weren’t being reported in the past?

Let’s consider the notion that there isn’t more sexual abuse taking place, but rather its getting reported and prosecuted more often. If this is true we should see the laws getting progressively more encompassing over the years in preventing child abuse and punishing its behaviour.

According to Victims of Violence, a Canadian charity that works to protect and help victims of abuse. Prior to 1988, laws governing child sexual abuse did not reflect the reality of the situation. Some of the problems were as follows:

1. Gender bias – many offences were only applicable to female victims and male offenders.

2. Limited range of sexual activity – many offences only covered vaginal intercourse

3. Requirements of previous chaste character – girls who had some previous (consensual) sexual experiences were not considered “of chaste character” and were not protected.

4. Time restrictions – the offence had to be prosecuted within a year of the offence. Many victims take many years to gather up the courage to report their victimization.

The laws have been since updated and according to Victims of Violence:

” A study of the effects of the changes made to the law governing child sexual abuse in 1988 was done in 1992. It found that more and more cases were being reported. More charges were being laid due to the fact that the law now covers more forms of abuse. More cases involving younger victims were being prosecuted, and younger victims were being allowed to testify in court. More cases involving male victims were being reported because the gender specific crimes were eliminated. And higher conviction rates imply that the changes are successful.” – link to source

In addition, there are now laws on child sexual abuse that are enforced world-wide. The United Nations passed the Convention on the Rights of the Child, an international treaty that legally obliges states to protect children’s rights. Articles 34 and 35 of the CRC require states to protect children from all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse. This includes outlawing the coercion of a child to perform sexual activity, the prostitution of children, and the exploitation of children in creating pornography. States are also required to prevent the abduction, sale, or trafficking of children.  As of November 2008, 193 countries are bound by the CRC,  including every member of the United Nations except the United States and Somalia.

We live in an age of unparallel secularization and concurrently we see some of the most widespread laws on child sexual abuse ever recorded.

In conclusion, and my humble opinion, the Pope is making a demonstrably false argument. He is trying to pass blame for his organizations obscene failure to prevent horrific crimes on children onto society at large. What is all the more insulting is that he, Ratzinger, was in a position to change the Catholic Church’s policy on dealing with sexual abuse of minors. If he did indeed feel that the Church was adopting a relativistic stance on sexual abuse, why didn’t he do anything to stop it? For him to blame society when he personally was partly responsible for the church’s policy is extremely hypocritical.


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