The Pope, the Church, and skepticism

By Phil Plait | April 14, 2010 12:44 pm

Introduction

This is a bit of a long post. As such, I’ve broken it up into sections, to help me corral my thoughts, and make it more likely people will actually read what I’ve written before leaving comments.

Yes, that’s a hint. I’ve spent quite some time wrestling with these issues the past two days, and I’m interested in rebuttals as well as supporting arguments. I urge people to comment, but please read what I’ve written first, and please keep it civil.

So.

By now you’ve probably heard that the Pope is in trouble. A letter written and signed by him seems to indicate that he was complicit in, at the very least, holding up discussion on what to do with an Oakland priest who was a pedophile. That’s pretty awful, even more so when considering that it took him four years to get around to even writing this letter after he was informed of the trouble, and during that time the priest was still working with children. At worst, it looks very much like Ratzinger, at the time a Cardinal, may have actively stalled the Church’s actions against the priest.

Let me be as clear as I can here: if Pope Ratzinger in any way stalled or prevented an investigation, Church-based or otherwise, into any aspect of child molestation by priests, then he needs to be indicted and brought to trial; an international tribunal into all this is also necessary and should be demanded by every living human on the planet. Obviously, a very thorough and major investigation of the Catholic Church’s practices about this needs to be held. It is a rock solid fact that there are a lot of priests who have molested children, and it’s clear that the Church has engaged in diversionary tactics ever since this became public (like the abhorrent Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone who says homosexuality lies at the heart of this scandal).

The skeptic community has been up in arms about this, as one would expect, since organized religion is a major target of skeptical thinkers. There have been rumors and misinformation about all this, including a dumb article (one of Rupert Murdoch’s papers, natch) that said that Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchins — both noted skeptics and atheists — were going to try to arrest the Pope if he visited England. This has been debunked by Dawkins himself.

But the idea of Dawkins swooping in to arrest the Pope got a lot of people fired up, notably in the skeptic community. A lot of folks have sounded off about what the skeptic community should do about this as individuals, as organized groups, and as a whole.

But the ideas being tossed around, to me, are a bit confused. The bottom line is, what role does the skeptic movement, such as it is, have in all this?

It depends on which part of this issue you mean. First there’s the Pope’s behavior. Then there’s the Church’s behavior, and then why the Church did the things it did. Finally, there’s the issue of the skeptics’ behavior.

Here are my thoughts.

1) The Pope

This is actually pretty cut and dried.

I agree in part with Rebecca Watson’s premise that the Pope needs to be called before justice. However, I do in fact care who does it and why; more on that below. But the important thing is that there is a fair trial and justice is served.

Basically, it seems that the Pope was putting the Church before the children, children who were being sexually molested. That is so abhorrent that words fail.

However, I don’t know if this is specifically a skeptical issue. It’s more a human issue, and a criminal issue. If the Pope had said that the Bible says it’s OK to molest children, then yeah, critical thinking and skepticism come into play. But if he was trying to protect the Church and was breaking laws (moral or civil) to do it, then see my comment above re: resignation and indictment. That’s something anyone should understand, whether or not they are a skeptic.

Skepticism deals with issues of the paranormal, issues with faith, issues where scientific evidence can be used to test a claim. In this case, I don’t see skeptics needing to be involved more than any other interest group.

2) The Church

This in many ways mirrors what I said about the Pope. As an institution, it was trying to protect itself, and sacrificed a lot of children’s lives to do it. If this is the case — and it seems very likely — then again the perpetrators need to be hauled in front of a tribunal, and, if found guilty, they get to find out first hand how child molesters are treated in prison.

3) The Church’s behavior

Here’s where things get interesting to me. In this country for sure, religion gets a free pass that a lot of other institutions don’t enjoy. They live tax free. They can say all manners of bizarre things, and people just blow it off, saying that personal beliefs are sacred. And religion can get all kinds of tangled up in politics, and again it gets a pass because it’s faith-based.

If the Catholic Church covers up, stalls investigations, moves priests around, and does other reprehensible acts to save itself, that’s one thing. But if it then says the Bible commands them to do it, or uses the religious authority people invest in it to let things slide, or says that the Pope is infallible and therefore what he did must be right, then yes, absolutely, 100%, skeptics need to jump in and cry "foul!"

But that raises the question: how should this be handled by skeptics?

4) The Skeptic Response

It is no stretch at all to say that skeptics in general and atheists in particular don’t enjoy a positive reputation outside of their respective groups. More people would rather see a gay President than an atheist one, and there are many polls that show atheists to be the least trusted demographic in the United States.

So skeptics are already at a disadvantage before they even open their mouths. Worse, a lot of Catholics are bound to be very uncomfortable right about now, and possibly more than a little defensive. Imagine that you’ve believed fervently in an institution all your life, and then you found out that it is rotten from within, even at the very highest level. You’d be disenfranchised, terribly distraught, and not, perhaps, in the best frame of mind.

This is the absolute worst position a person can be in if you’re trying to convince them of something. Clearly, tactics will be needed. A ham-fisted attack on religion and the Pope will probably not make you any friends, no matter how evil a deed they’ve done.

I have seen claims thrown around that it shouldn’t matter who leads the attack, because clearly moral religious people will rally behind you. That is monumentally naive. If skeptics and atheists jump in, that will be seen as an attack from the outside, when at the very best Catholics will want to see this handled by their own.

Put yourself in their shoes. Let me make up a scenario: imagine rock-solid evidence came up that Randi had embezzled the Million Dollars, and a few days later — after all the discussion and arguments and self-immolation that would occur on the blogs and fora and the media about it — Sylvia Browne said she would be leading the charge to see him brought to trial. Tell me honestly: would you rally behind her?

Honestly?

So charging in with guns blazing is not a good idea. In her post about this, Rebecca said that skeptics jumping in cannot hurt the movement. But I think they can, if this is not done carefully and with tact.

Specifically, she said:

So is this effort going to somehow hurt the “skeptical movement?” You may notice that I use the quotation marks here, because I can’t bring myself to seriously consider a movement supposedly based on the defense of rationality that would turn its back on children who are raped by men they trust because those men claim a supernatural being gives them power, wisdom, and the keys to eternal life with a direct line to God’s ear.

I want to parse her argument carefully here. To be clear, the question isn’t whether to act at all or not; I don’t think anyone is advocating sitting back and letting the Church and Pope get away with these horrid crimes. The question is, is this a skeptic issue in the first place?

The answer, to me, is: yes, it’s a skeptic issue if the Church uses a supernatural defense. Sure, it enjoys the power bestowed on it as a faith-based entity, and I have little doubt it was the corruption of that power that allowed the rape culture to exist. That is surely something for skeptics to take on. But we have to separate out arguments based on that versus secular criminal actions the Church has undertaken, and what the skeptics should do about it. And all the while the skeptics have to tread very carefully indeed if they don’t want to tick off the rest of the world.

As Rebecca points out, if the Church is relying on blind faith, acceptance of authority, and diversion of blame (like Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone did) then those are absolutely within the skeptic realm, and something we should be talking about.

And to my point about cooperation, I also agree with Rebecca that the religious people themselves need to step up, especially leaders in the Catholic movement, and condemn what the Church has done (her calling out Bill Donohue was especially wonderful). Of course Donohue never will; he has been so vicious and so antireality for so long that he will knee jerk against any bad mouthing of the Church. And he in fact has, attacking the New York Times and defending the Pope. Shocker, I know.

But that’s my point. People will not rally behind skeptics or atheists simply because they are doing the right thing. Quite the opposite. People will attack the skeptics. And even if there is iron-clad evidence of the Pope’s wrongdoings as well as the Church’s, Catholics will not just suddenly see the light and stand beside skeptics. We know this is true from endless studies of how people behave, how they change their minds, and how defensive they get when their core beliefs are attacked. See my point about Randi and Sylvia Browne again, and search your feelings carefully about it.

Skepticism’s role in this is very delicate and very important, so we must be mindful of how we do it. If not for our own reputation, then for our ultimate goal of getting everyone to understand the real issues here. That’s what skepticism is all about, but I sometimes think a lot of skeptics forget that big picture.

And there are most definitely ways of going about this that will deeply tarnish the reputation of skeptics. I don’t think PZ Myers’ comments, for example, are helpful. They may foment (some of) the troops, but no Catholic of any stripe seeing that statement will suddenly realize the folly of their ways. Quite the opposite I’d imagine, as I pointed out above.

How we say things matters. You can argue that Catholics all over the world should be rising up and taking action — and in fact should have been all along, years ago — and obviously a strong case can be made that the culture and nature of the priesthood in Catholicism enables child molestation. But inflammatory and hyperbolic rhetoric won’t help, and is in reality contrary to the cause.

I’ll note that there are some 75 million Catholics in the U.S., a huge number. They outweigh atheists (and skeptics) by a fair margin. Ticking them off, insulting them, saying "I told you so" is not going to help, and in fact will hurt in the longer run. I would think this is patently obvious.

Conclusion

The one thing skeptics pride themselves on is the use of rationality and reason when making a case, yet it seems to me that quite a few are letting their emotions and prejudices get the best of them. If you perceive Catholicism as the enemy, then so be it. But when faced with overwhelming numbers against you, sometimes a head-on assault isn’t the best idea. I’m angry over this, damned angry, and heartbroken over the lives destroyed by it. But anger is a place to start, something from which we can draw energy and motivation, but we must not let it take over.

We don’t always need warriors. Sometimes we need diplomats.

My point, after all this, isn’t too hard to grasp: if the Pope did what he has been alleged to do, then he needs to be brought to justice. The Church itself looks to have been complicit in hushing up this scandal for years, decades. They too need to face criminal justice. And as skeptics, we need to be vocal about the methods employed by the Church, where those methods can be analyzed using critical thinking and the arsenal skeptics employ. But just attacking them because they are a religion is the wrong reason to do it, and attacking them with abandon, with insults, and with vitriol will not help.

Those 75 million American Catholics should be outraged by all this. If you think skeptics and atheists can bring down the Church’s administration and authority by alienating that population — a quarter of the people in the U.S. — then you are not applying skeptical methods at all.

All of us need to be standing up to the horrors the Church has perpetrated, just as we would if any organization did such a thing. And where skepticism applies, we should apply it, but we should have a care when doing so. If the ultimate goal is to change the hearts and minds of people, then we need to be human and humane.

I would say that’s critical.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Piece of mind, Religion, Skepticism

Comments (290)

  1. timebinder

    The role of skeptics is to build a robot we can send back in time to kill Ratzinger’s mother before she gives birth.

  2. Michelle R

    @Timebinder: There’s no reason to kill her. Do not be violent, do not give death sentences.

    Just lead her to another man. That’ll change the genes of her future offspring.

    (Before it’s conceived, of course)

  3. Robert E

    The Pope, as an acting head of state, is unlikely to be prosecuted for anything.
    They keep digging the hole deeper though, focusing on diversionary tactics rather than addressing the problem.

  4. James H.

    Ok comment one cracked me up…
    As far as bringing the Pope to justice, is that even possible given he is considered to be a head of state?

  5. Kees

    I take a pessimist (apathetic?) stance here. I don’t think anything will happen to the pope or the church. In that light it is irrelevant what the skeptics movement does. As you say, if we go into this guns blazing we will certainly alienate more people. But under my assumption of no change we could take the diplomatic approach and still get nothing.

    ‘Tis a war of attrition that we fight.

  6. I think I was taking just the sort of approach you advocate when I wrote about this recently:

    http://www.penmachine.com/2010/03/crime-sin-and-authority

    There are Catholics (even priests and bishops) who are taking, and have taken, this calamity seriously. Their Church has often stymied them, but now they are, perhaps, in a position to effect reforms within their organization, and to expose and punish those within it who abetted the crimes.

    People like us who are outside the Church, whether in any way religious or not, should encourage and help them to do so, whatever we think of their beliefs otherwise.

  7. Tom

    Start with one fact in mind: The Catholic Church does not condone child molesting. This is the rule, both of faith and of rules of behavior of the clergy. The fact that clergy have been molesting children and the fact that clergy have covered up this behavior steps outside the beliefs, the dogma and the rules of the Catholic Church. It is wrong, both by Catholic standards and by human standards.

    Simply put, the perpetrators of these acts must be brought to justice. But threats of violence (“they get to find out first hand how child molesters are treated in prison”) are not helpful nor are they moving the issue forward.

    This issue is too emotionally charged. It’s one reason I despise TV and movie plots that deal with child molesting. It’s all too easy to jump into the angry mob and forget due process. Innocent people get hurt that way.

    The Skeptics’ role in this: Dig to find the truth. Do not sentence anyone until the truth is known. Be objective and leave the emotionally charged anger out of it.

  8. Elmar_M

    The question for me is: What is PROPORTIONATE action in this regard.
    I beg to put this into relation with other religions, e.g. the Islam where its leaders actively and publicly call for marriage of under age girls and even the killing of women and men that dont comply with their rules. These are not just a hand full of cases either, but millions of cases all over the world.
    Seeing the outrage against the pope and catholic church at the moment, I cant help but wonder what would be the proportionate actions against the afforementioned other religious leaders and their followers.
    Yet, things are rather quiet about these things right now.
    Yes, what is happening in the catholic church is tragic and certainly deserves out disgust. However, given the general situation in the world, I think it is a rather minor event in comparison, simply blown out of proportion by certain people with other interests.
    The truth is that the catholic church, like the christian religion in general is dying anyway, at least in Europe, but even in the US, the christians are dying out (low birth rate). The latinos are only delaying the inevitable. There are much more dangerous religions on the rise. Islam is growing. They are growing at an almost exponential rate. We should be focusing our attention on the bigger threat.
    I am an atheist and a sceptic. I dont like religion in general. Therefore I have a lot of enemies. So I choose my battles carefully.
    The catholic church is not even a worthy adversary anymore.

  9. I don’t see this as a skeptic issue at all. Everyone should find this to be horrible. In speaking out against it, I wouldn’t even bring up my own personal feelings about religion because religion in no way justifies this particular injustice (it justifies other horrors, but not this one). Spot on, Phil.

  10. Bill Roberts

    #4 — ask Manuel Noriega and Saddam Hussein about that. Of course, the Pope does have the advantage of being white.

  11. Kees

    #9 and the advantage of being the pope.

  12. Gary

    If the Pope’s feet are held to the fire (metaphorically) he will just say the Devil made him do it. He just had a moment of weakness but is now sincerely sorry and repentant and has done penance and god has kindly forgiven him, as all ‘true’ Catholics should also do. He is the Teflon Pope, untouchable, unaccountable.

  13. Sparky

    The last time we brought the head of a state to justice, we started a war that has lasted for most of the past decade. The Vatican is pretty small though; I think we could take it within a day. Our problem would be the counter Assault from their Catholic allies. I’m not even going to touch on what will happen when the Saints go marching in.

  14. You make a good case for restraint.

    You also may have come up with the most plausible way for Sylvia Browne to end up with the Million Dollar Challenge money. Although she would look for it next to a quiet river or something similarly silly. Of course, most plausible does not even come close to probable. And I apologize for the use of words not in the Sylvia Browne lexicon.

    I guess this means we should not expect you to write a post suggesting that Catholics start a Draft PZ for Pope movement. ;-)

  15. Kai

    Thank you, Phil!

    A very thoughtful response, and it helped me clear my thoughts on the issue. I was a bit concerned my stance was cowardly, and I am relieved to see you explain it back to me: The action against the pope and the catholic church is not primarily a skeptical, but a legal and moral issue.

    Here in Germany the Catholic Church is getting a major mauling over this skandal, and they uttered some incredibly inane replies. But never did anyone try to justify the molestations with respect to the supernatural believe system and elevated status the church is based on – and which skeptics should confront steadily.

    In short: I fully agree with you. And thank you again for taking the time to carefully prepare the post. It helps.

    Kai

  16. Daniel

    Wonderfull article Phil.

  17. Ismael

    If skeptics went back in time, the past-skeptics would be so skeptical of your time travellor that they would lock him up (because time travel into the past isn’t provable at this point in historical science!). Your whole ‘skeptical movement’ is so flawed, it makes me want to puke. More so than a religion of idiots filled with pedophiles.

  18. Jeff in Tucson

    It’s not like the Catholic Church has a 1000+ year history of abusing and manipulating people, and serving only their own goals or anything…if that were the case, then many Christians would have left that organization to form their own Christian organizations. Oh, wait…

  19. Andy Beaton

    The role of skeptics is to build a robot we can send back in time to kill Ratzinger’s mother before she gives birth.

    Would it not be better from a cosmic justice pov to give her a box of condoms?

  20. Lawrence

    The Church needs to be held accountable for the decades of covering up the molestation of thousands of children (male & female). They should not be held above the law & need to be required to turn over all information they have on any internal investigations that they’ve conducted – and actively assist law enforcement in investigating current cases.

    To view this whole affair with nothing more than abject disgust – especially in light of the Church sitting in judgement of many moral issues today, is mandatory.

  21. DigitalAxis

    I agree with Phil’s basic point: We should be outraged as citizens of a country (and, for the most part, a world) that holds child molestation abhorrent, not as skeptics who don’t believe in religion anyway. The hypocrisy and violation of human rights is the real issue.

    It would be nice if an international court could go after the Pope in his capacity as head of a religious organization, but as others have said here and elsewhere, he’s a sitting head of state. We could go after the priest in Oakland, but the church could probably just move him to a different country. And considering the sizable influence the Pope has over here, I doubt we’d cut off diplomatic relations with the Vatican City to avoid that happening. That’s where things potentially get ugly, and that’s where Catholics ultimately are going to have to sort this out.

    And as Phil said, if Dawkins and Hitchens go after the Pope, Catholics can ignore the larger issue in favor of “Oh, well they’ve always hated the Pope”. If Catholics go after the Pope, that becomes a lot harder to ignore.

    @9 Bill Roberts:
    How about Solbodan Milosevic (whose name I have just massacred)? He was white.

  22. Stuart van Onselen

    Shorter Elmar_M: Leave the Catholics alone! Look there! Muslims!!!11!

  23. XMark

    I’m wondering…. what would happen, if, hypothetically, the Pope were to be found guilty of a murder? What kind of procedures would there be to bring him to justice?

  24. Gus Snarp

    I’m very curious about this whole head of state nonsense. The Catholic Church is a strange institution: a religion that operates under the same tax free rules in most every country on earth, a state unto itself, an entity that employs people of all nationalities and sends them to work all over the world, but quibbles about how much authority its infallible and unquestionable leader actually has over them. Really, what I would like to see from all of this is a shakeup of the way the Catholic Church is recognized by other nations. How are foreign governments and their employees treated in the U.S.? Is the church treated the same way? Should it get the best of two worlds? (obviously not, but I would just love to see the legal wrangling). And of course, as a state the Holy See is a strange entity. Certainly not a democracy, in fact it seems most similar to me to the Soviet political system.

  25. Stuart van Onselen

    Butthurt troll Ismail is butthurt

  26. I remember when Phil wrote about science, those were halcyon days indeed! Now, not so much.

    The Pope is a head of state. He will never be brought to trial… regardless if it is richly deserved or the wet dream of a liberal anti religious blogger.

  27. thetentman

    So do you really think that people who believe in Santa Claus for adults will even believe this. I don’t think they will. They only believe or cherry pick what they want and what makes them feel good. No they will think they are being persecuted.

  28. Leon

    Good stuff you wrote, Phil. While I don’t know just what would be the best strategy for us to follow, I think you hit the nail on the head that using it as a chance to attack the Catholic Church would be counterproductive. It’s too bad too, since as an ex-Catholic I have a strong urge to use any opportunity to criticize the Church.

    Ismael, did someone hit you with a stupid stick today? You find one potential contradiction in a movement you don’t like, and use that to condemn it as worse than an organization that methodically encourages and enables child molestation while claiming Ultimate Moral Authority as the sole arbiter of truth? You have some serious priority issues.

  29. Brian Schlosser

    Prosecute the pope? Who has the authority? Would it be the UN? The ICC? And if he ignores the indictment, how do we get him? Invade the Vatican? I doubt the Italian government is going to allow that. As abhorent as it is, Benny is untouchable, from a legal sense. The only thing we can do is put as much pressure on the local governments to prosecute the offenders and the cover-upers. Maybe a RICO case? That, at least, would cause the upper church hierarchy to think twice. Maybe

  30. Tezcatlipoca

    Good article Phil.

    @16 Ismael

    How does one measure levels of nausea? Is there some commonly accepted scale or is this just something subjective that you have come up with? Much like that, “your whole ‘skeptical movement’ is so flawed,” bit of baseless assertation. Evidence please? That’s all it would take for the past skeptics to accept time-travelling future skeptics. Evidence. Not faith, not assertations, just evidence.

    @21 Exactly!

    As for going in to Vatican City to get Ratzinger…rumours of WMD’s should suffice… ;)

    One small quibble with the 75 million figure you used. I wonder how many are people who may have been baptised by the RCC but have since went in other directions?

  31. Sundance

    Okay, lots of people have said that this is a human rights/justice issue, not a skepticism issue, and I agree. But I think there are a couple of points that should be mentioned;

    a) Non-atheists often ask how you can have morals if you don’t believe in a higher power. Associating skepticism with a campaign to correct injustices (which basically everyone in society agrees are injustices) – if it’s done correctly – could help dispell the impression that religion has a monopoly on morality.

    b) Skepticism is about reality. If skeptics are involved in a campaign to prosecute religious leaders like Ratzinger it should be clear that their/our involvement is all about fair treatment based on evidence. The message that the wider community takes away should be “skeptics/atheists think religious leaders should be treated the same as everyone else” (i.e. no free pass for religion, like what Phil mentioned in point3) NOT “skeptics/atheists want to persecute religious leaders”.

    c) Skeptics tend to think differently about the world than religious people. We tend to be critical, and persuaded by evidence, whereas non-skeptics tend to be persuaded by feelings, arguments from authority, etc. So the arguments that persuade skeptics and the messages skeptics take away from their experiences are different from those for non-skeptics. So if you want to find out how skeptics and their behaviour (in response to any issue, not just the one we’re discussing here) will be viewed by the wider community, DON’T ASK A SKEPTIC, ask an advertising campaign manager or a publicity consultant or someone who knows what makes non-skeptics tick. Otherwise we’re only ever going to be preaching to the converted, and very likely alienating everyone else.

  32. Vaccination Dalek

    While I think that it is important to consider skepticism as a virtue that we can apply to religious thought, I think that Dawkins and Hitchens are approaching this issue more from one of basic human rights, in the same way that one must protest loudly against honor killings or religiously motivated violence over cartoons. Just as Muslim governments ignored or were complicit in these actions, so to are the governments of various Catholic states ignoring or deliberately neglecting the needs of these children because of the very real political power of the Catholic church. Being unconcerned with public office and the opinions of the religious community as a whole (newspapers have subscribers, television has viewers, etc) lets the New Atheists be a little bit more crass, but I think they feel it justified in this case, since ever other news organization wouldn’t dare.

    Frankly, I think they need it, since it is obvious that the Catholic community is either reluctant or unable to police its leaders, and is more interested in sending there children to schools and churches to get a religious indoctrination than to have them in a location that is safe. Catholics who read Dawkins may be angry at him, but perhaps they will in turn be less likely to see their priests as a perfect one stop scoutmaster/teacher/holy man, and notice when he takes an unhealthy interest in their children.

  33. John

    Yes the Pope should be accountable. I find it quite ironic that the likes of Roman Polanski gets a free pass due to his artistic flair. Everyone who molests children needs to be held accountable.

  34. jcm

    Speaking of blame, Jews are now being targeted:
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/apr/11/catholic-bishop-blames-jews

    I long see the perpetators pay for their crimes. However, I don’t think these pedophile will ever have their day in court.

    In religious terms, the actions of the RCC (R0man Catholic Church) are antithetical since it claims have the last word on morality. The institution rather let the children suffer than tarnishing its image as a hub for humanity, morality, honesty. It is for this reason that I have left the church.

  35. Kust0r

    As many others said before me, te Pope is an absolute monarch of his realm, a tiny country with powers in inverse proportion of the geographical extension. My layman’s opinion is that the Pope is untouchable inside and outside his throne. A trial is impossible, we have just to accept this.
    I agree with pepole who said that those deprecable facts are always appened in the past, and I’ve to admit, as italian citizen, that probabily this scandal will gradually fade out in the next weeks (at least in italy, country of corruption and ipocricy). There are many arguments that will be shouted (abortion, omophoby, etc) by priests and big prelates. Otherwise, Church is more like an “state istitution”, it was, it is and it alwais be, so nothing can virtually damage its power towards pepole’s judgement (at least in my country).

  36. 0 1 1 2 3 5 8

    Yeah, but this goes far beyond any religion, if someone commits a crime, he and everyone covering him should be punished

  37. Marco

    I am Italian, and Catholic too. Some comments:
    i. not even the bigotest of the bigots can even think to find a justification in the Gospels or in the Old Testament, so that this is not a faith issue, please check Matthew 18,7
    ii. what you call “Church” should be called the Hyerarchy. They are not the “Chiesa”, that is the Italian word for church, deriving directly from the Greek “Ecclesia” or the assembly. What the hyerarchy is doing is a very human activity, they are trying to hide the trash under the carpet, on the wrong idea they will save their power in this way
    iii. not a single Italian Catholic (but the usual bigots) is accepting the Hyerarchy position (Cardinal Bertone and the like)
    iv. what the vast majority of Christians (this is not a Catholic only issue) and of not-Christian wants is to have the pedofiles thrown in jail after a fair trial (every human being has the right to a fair trial, even THEM). In the meantime, ANY indicted cleric should be cloistered by the Hyerarchy
    v. @timebinder: your idea is nice, but wrong: if Benedict XV is here, this means that your robot failed, doesn’t it?
    Sorry for the lenght of my post.

  38. Great post Phil.

    My opinion is that this should be a criminal investigation first and foremost. If, however, the Church starts using supernatural reasons as to why this priest committed this atrocious act (and the Pope consequently covering it up), skeptics will naturally combat that. But going on the offensive simply because a religious figure committed a crime will win skeptics (and atheists alike) no friends. (Pretty much what you said.)

    Pressure from society as a whole — from all groups and backgrounds, religious or otherwise — should be enough to make sure justice is served for the innocent kids who were subject to the abuse. If this doesn’t happen, it’s not a failing by skeptics, it’s a failing of modern society.

  39. Jeff

    I’m afraid that status quo of anything will not ever be changed. So when it comes to status quos in life, can’t touch that ; don’t even think about it.

  40. Ismael

    Comments 24, 27, and last but not least, 29:

    You write the evidence. I’ll sit back, coddle my multiple-realities.

    Thanks for all the attention guys. That’s all that I want. Muahahahahahahahahahaha!

  41. K

    There is NOTHING a church member can do, no amount of evil, that they will actually be punished for, the end. Period.
    This is the same church that burned people at the stake. Hello? That’s murder. Torture, murder, rape, what HASN’T the church done? Has it ever had to be accountable? Nope. You claim religion, you walk.
    http://blogs.ocweekly.com/navelgazing/gimme-that-oc-religion/former-tbn-pastor-steve-galihe/

  42. The Man Version

    Nice one, Phil!

    But now I have to wonder where all this skepticism-defining was when we were all bitching about Prop 8?

  43. I totally agree Phil – in fact, in discussing this with non-skeptics (not necessarily religious people, just not specifically skeptical) I’ve found myself mitigating and sidestepping, by saying things like:

    “This isn’t even anything to do with belief in God, or not; it’s about an organisation which appears to have been covering up the rape of children, and anyone should be able to see that that’s criminal”

    By openly putting the belief aspect aside, I think that turns the conversation into a ‘is this wrong, or not?’ without the us-versus-them that would otherwise occur.

    To be fair to him, even Dawkins himself made the same kind of point – comparing the case to one where a school governor finds out about a paedophile teacher and does nothing.

    As skeptics, I think we need to put the ‘no-God’ aside for the greater good of bringing child rapists and those who have helped harbour them to justice.

    Marsh

  44. David

    If instead of the Vatican and the pope as head of state you were dealing with any other country and head of government all hell would be breaking loose. Bank accounts would be frozen, embassies closed and trade sanctions would be in place.

  45. Cap'n Kirk

    All of this seems odd to me. A crime has been committed. There shouldn’t be any need for discussion. If these priests were committing murders, the police would arrest them, they would go on trial, and go to prison. It wouldn’t matter what the Church said. These cardinals would be in jail for obstruction of justice. How is it that charges were not pressed against these priests? Every one can think whatever they want, believe whatever they want but we are supposed to be living by the same laws.

  46. Thank you for your rational viewpoint.

    I agree wholeheartedly. It seems entirely unlikely that this issue can be swept under the rug anymore. And it will not need skeptics intervention to keep it on the radar. The media is going to enjoy their full measure of this scandal.

    The desire of skeptics to dance and sing in the righteousness of their position will only undermine their position in the long run. To use it as a battle cry will certainly rally the irrational behind the immoral.

    The Randi illustration is an excellent one.

  47. Raiko

    I hear you, Phil, but it leaves one question open – and I mean this just as seriously as you mean your post: WHO is gonna do it, if not the skeptics?

    I mean it, seriously – everyone is angry, even the Catholics, but would they *dare* to drag the pope in front of a court where he belongs? Can you really see apologetics raising up and getting the lawyers together? Other religions maybe..? Studied theologians? Small-town priests? Protestants? Angelicals? It at least doesn’t seem like any group I can think of is willing to take action – least of all your preferred one: The Catholic congregations themselves.

    It seems to me there’s no one there *except* atheists and skeptics who would really go through with treating the Catholic church like any other organization, therefore correctly, therefore not putting it on a special soap box, therefore getting it sued. That is precisely because somehow raping children for a living doesn’t produce nearly enough outrage by all those peopel who, as you correctly say, really *should* be outraged. At least that’s the impression that arrives over here. Maybe it’s precisely because the RCC has been stinging our rational minds so much already that we, in particular, are outraged enough to seriously consider dragging the pope to court.

    There’s no question that everyone in the world *should* be outraged, especially for people like you and me. But are they? Are they willing to do what must be done and bring this gigantic case to justice?

    I fear if we don’t do it, nobody will, and if nobody does, that’s the LEAST acceptable solution.

  48. I’m glad people are speaking out on this issue. I’d just like to add though that i feel its more important to speak to reason than it is to worry about “winning friends” – I know Phil didn’t expressly say that but others have said it in their comments that the “soft” response is a good measure. – And i agreee. I just don’t want it “soft” out of the concept of winning friends as it should be out of speaking the truth and speaking to reason. Winning friends should be peripheral to that ;)

  49. David

    very well put Phil. Couldn’t agree more.

  50. hbdesiato

    > At worst, it looks very much like Ratzinger, at the time a Cardinal, may have
    > actively stalled the Church’s actions against the priest.
    >

    Um… well that’s certainly a generous and tolerant “worst”. I’d say your petticoat is showing.

  51. Let’s take religion out of this for a moment, if we can…

    Suppose that it was a huge multinational corporation, “J.C.International, Inc.” whose president was found to have concealed / delayed information on / whatever, such behavior from members of the board. How would/should it be handled?

    What if it were the governor of your state, or the mayor of your city? — Not that I, who lives in New York State, near the city of White Plains, would know anything about that, of course. :-)

    Why should the fact that it’s the Roman Catholic Church, and its leader, the Pope, make a difference in the how? Yes, people’s feelings may be different, but if the facts are the same, shouldn’t it be handled the same?

  52. I think that is a valid point being made here. It is easy to dismiss criticism from “them” and the skeptic/atheist movement could drive people to rally with the Church.

    Ever debate someone on environmental issues and try to cite something from Greenpeace? Not a good idea. If you have a science journal citation, you don’t get the same level of hostility (of course, it doesn’t always convince them either).

    It’s not that skeptics should ignore the issue…that would be awful. We can engage the issue as concerned citizens. I am a skeptic, but not just a skeptic. I am a scientist/actor/teacher/athlete/intellectual/magician/animal lover/gay rights activist/ and a bunch of other things. It’s not just the skeptic part of me that is pissed so why should I present it that way in public?

    On a more obscure note, I would add Hudson Austin to the list of government leaders that have been deposed by the U.S. military in my lifetime (and I was on the island when they announced the verdict in the Maurice Bishop murder trial so this one is a little more personal to me!)

    With all that said, I was raised Catholic by my mother. I was an altar boy. Never did any priest act in any way that could be construed as inappropriate toward me. There were rumors that one of the priests while I was growing up had a gay lover in a neighboring town. Obviously, the use of the word rumors means I do not know whether or not it was true.

  53. Warren

    Phil, I think you hit the nail on the head when you stated the following:
    “However, I don’t know if this is specifically a skeptical issue. It’s more a human issue, and a criminal issue.”

    This issue no longer falls under the realm of Skepticism, or even Religion for that matter as far as I’m concerned. It’s a crime, and should be treated as such.

    I also believe this should apply to who “leads the charge” as it has been put. It shouldn’t matter who “leads the charge” whether they are skeptic, religious, or otherwise. What should be important is that someone DOES in fact lead the charge, rather then allowing this to fall into obscurity with no action taken.

    For Catholics to try and say this is something that should be handled internally is, to me, ridiculous. You don’t get to hold your own internal tribunal for crimes such as this. I should also mention though the other end of the spectrum, for a skeptic to try and use this as an opportunity to “attack” or otherwise use this to further any skeptic agenda they may have (please note, I’m not implying that you or any other noted skeptics would do so, it’s simply an example) would be equally wrong.

    But to say a skeptic shouldn’t lead the charge because it may ruffle some feathers is potentially dropping the ball on something that needs to be done. If no one else chooses to take on the task, what does it matter if some people may cry foul becuase the person calling for justice is a skeptic. It’s simply the right thing to do, and I for one (and yes, I acknowledge that I may be a minority in this regard) couldn’t care less if skeptics as a whole get a bad rap for it. It is regrettable, but sometimes the price one pays for maintaining Integrity and Conviction.

    I guess what I’m saying is, the end result should be that justice is served in this case. Who does it is unimportant, simply that it gets done.

  54. Graham Thomas

    Tom said:

    “Start with one fact in mind: The Catholic Church does not condone child molesting. This is the rule, both of faith and of rules of behavior of the clergy. The fact that clergy have been molesting children and the fact that clergy have covered up this behavior steps outside the beliefs, the dogma and the rules of the Catholic Church. It is wrong, both by Catholic standards and by human standards.”

    Wrong. The catholic church DOES condone child RAPE. In several cases clergy were merely moved to other places to rape again. None of the rapists were brought to justice by those higher up in the clergy. The catholic church would rather hide rapists in its ranks than see an end to those rapes and any justice for its victims.

  55. Elmar_M

    @21, I never said to leave the catholics allone. But, I said that the current outrage is disproportional.
    I for my part am much more upset about the killing and molestations in the name of islam. Why? Because islam is more dangerous. In contrast to the catholic church it is growing in numbers and in dangerousnes. But, I guess we are so used to that, that we dont even see it anymore. Pretty much every religion on this planet has countless crimes to take responsibility for. The catholic church is not an exception. It is the rule!
    Oh, btw, the protestants were not any better than the catholics. They too participated in witch hunts and stuff like that.
    So dont get me wrong, I am for going after these catholics, but I see bigger and growing problems elsewhere.
    I am sorry if you have a problem with me keeping an eye on the big picture.

  56. Miko

    Ken B.: “What if it were the governor of your state, or the mayor of your city?”

    Good question, especially since it isn’t hypothetical.

    Phil writes: “if Pope Ratzinger in any way stalled or prevented an investigation, Church-based or otherwise, into any aspect of child molestation by priests, then he needs to be indicted and brought to trial”

    The political analogue is:

    President Obama has stalled and prevented an investigation into acts of torture, murder, and false incarceration at Gitmo, arguing that we instead need to “look forward.” Therefore, he needs to be indicted and brought to trial.

    As horrible as child molestation is, the kind of things the U.S. has been doing at Gitmo are worse. I certainly agree that the Pope should be arrested, but why is it that we haven’t been hearing more of a call to arrest Obama (and Bush & co. too, of course)?

  57. Amber

    You make a repeated distinction between skeptics and Christians in this post that I don’t think is as cut and dry and you make it out to be. As both a scientist and a Christian, I believe that one realm doesn’t have the right to commandeer the other; this is why I don’t like it when people try to use religious arguments on scientific issues like evolution or the big bang. Similarly, I don’t think that the scientific community has any right to interfere with organized religion. That doesn’t mean I condone what has happened in the Catholic church. However, my objection to their behavior has nothing to do with my skepticism and everything to do with my morality as a human being. There needn’t be a “skeptics” response, only a human one, as this is not a scientific issue but rather a religious or philosophical one.

    I think the first comment to this post says it all. It’s almost as if you purport that skeptics are naturally without religion, and therefore without corruption. And then skeptics come in and threaten violent scenarios without reason or compassion. As Einstein said, “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.” Whether you ascribe to an organized philosophy or not, at least show some common decency, lest you sink to the level of those you criticize.

  58. BJN

    As an atheist who went to Catholic kindergarten and elementary school, I’m confident that change in a highly structured and tradition-bound organization will only take place from within. Embarrassment will speed up the reform, but we’re talking about the Catholic Church here folks. They only recently got around to apologizing to Galileo about that whole embarrassing Earth-centric cosmology thing. And the church has been moving in a conservative, reactionary, anti-secular direction for that last few decades.

    As a skeptic, I don’t want to be part of a “movement”. There’s group of angry, self-congratulatory, adolescent-minded folks with whom I don’t want to be identified with. PZ’s one of them. He’s brilliant and funny, but he’s also hostile and culturally tone-deaf. I’m skeptical of skeptics who think that ranting is civil discourse. Leave that mindset to Rush, Glen, and Sarah. Being angry is usually at odds with being reasonable. And someone speaking in anger is extremely easy to dismiss. In fact it’s easy to paint the angry outsider as prejudiced and closed-minded.

  59. The sun will die before Catholics bring their own Pope and Church to justice. There has been plenty of time for them to do the right thing, and it seems that parishioners just want the scandal to go away. Skeptics, Atheists, Agnostics, Humanists, Christians, Muslims, Parents, and any other group that cares about protecting children from predatory priests must lead the call for justice regardless of how the Catholics feel about it. I really couldn’t care less if the Catholics get upset that I, as an atheist/skeptic call their Pope to justice. Let them get upset. They are not people I want to befriend if they cannot stand up for what is right regardless of their affiliation with the offending organization.

  60. Guy Mac

    One core factor in all of this is, I think, that people who are put in ultimate moral authority of other people will abuse that privilege. As skeptics, we should help Catholics come to that realization. (But) I don’t see how they could continue to support the Church if they did.

  61. Well thought entry. Of course, I think, the assumption we all make is that the pope and the church are getting special treatment because they are the pope and the church. There is, clearly I would say, a double standard in play here; any other organization and its leaders would have been in trial by now. My thoughts are that the double standard itself is something that skeptics ARE equipped to handle. We can, and should, ask the question: Why is the pope/church getting preferential treatment? We can, and we should, advocate that they be treated the same as anyone else would. I believe that to be an outcome of basic logic and critical thinking.

    You are right to point out that we shouldn’t attack solely because it is religion; but it seems to me that on the other side there are people that advocate complete indifference (by the movement or organizations, not individuals) precisely because it is religion (out of fear of being connected with the atheist movement perhaps?). That would be wrong too.

    I think there is nothing wrong with organized skepticism denouncing the double standard and pointing out that it is contrary to critical thinking. I don’t think skeptics are equipped to try the case; that’s what attorneys do. I don’t think skepticism can handle the moral question either; moral philosophy steps in. But skepticism IS equipped to handle the double standard question, and in my opinion it should. Some folks want to make this discussion about moral and legal issues, and then proclaim that those are not within the sphere of skepticism, thus this is not a skeptical issue. I find that to be a bit of a Red Herring, of course skepticism can’t handle legal issues, no one claims that. But denouncing the double standard is neither a moral nor a legal issue; it’s a logical one.

    Clearly this is not a clear cut case, otherwise we would have all agreed already. And I understand the need to keep us focused on the core issues that we deal with. But does that mean we can’t spare a bit of attention for something that is more like……..fringe skepticism? Should we be so focused on the core, that anything that is not testable by science must automatically be ignored? I find that idea suffocating.

  62. Calli Arcale

    1) I agree in part with Rebecca Watson’s premise that the Pope needs to be called before justice . . . However, I don’t know if this is specifically a skeptical issue. It’s more a human issue, and a criminal issue.

    I agree with you that this is not a skeptical issue but rather a human and criminal issue. Skepticism doesn’t tell us right from wrong. We decide that for ourselves, and build civilizations which codify that into law. Skepticism is about discerning truth from falsehood (or truth from unproven), not right from wrong; it can help us decide whether or not something is lawful, but it cannot determine whether the law should be what it is. Thus, this is a human issue, a criminal issue.

    But though it is very human to want to see justice done, we should tread carefully in saying that the Pope needs to be called before justice. Rarely in life is something so simple that a judge can decide and make everything right. This is an exceedingly complex situation. Is he culpable? I am quite convinced that he is. Can he be called before a court? That’s not so clear. Should he? That’s even less clear. The Pope is not just an ordinary person. He’s a head of state, and you don’t demand the extradition of a foreign head of state. Especially one who lives in a legal limboland like the Vatican. Which jurisdiction should try him? What extradition treaties should be invoked? If he were an ordinary citizen, it would be relatively simple, but as a head of state, it is more complex. Kim Jong Il is guilty of far worse, yet nobody calls him before a criminal court. Sometimes, heads of state do get put before courts, but these are either domestic courts, or they are war tribunals, which means they happen at the end of a war of conquest.

    No. If the Pope is to go before a court, it should not be one that skeptics would run. It should be a court of his own “government” — the Vatican. A church court. While this chafes a bit, it only chafes because the Vatican is such a strange diplomatic entity — and because we all know perfectly well that the Vatican tends to be lenient. The best outcome would be for them to change their stance and make an example of him. But I’m not sure they can, legally, do that. Their own laws make it difficult to charge a Pope with anything, and it would probably require a schism in the clergy. Perhaps that is overdue. Perhaps not. But if the Pope comes to trial, it will not be pretty. Thus, I cannot be so enthusiastic about saying that it should happen.

    2) If this is the case — and it seems very likely — then again the perpetrators need to be hauled in front of a tribunal, and, if found guilty, they get to find out first hand how child molesters are treated in prison.

    Unlike the Pope, lesser clerics probably *can* be extradited and put in front of a criminal court. The question is how aggressively anyone wants to pursue them if the Vatican doesn’t cooperate. And it has consciously protected such clerics from prosecution; there are occasions where it has reassigned such clerics to countries which lack extradition treaties with the country where the offense was committed. It’s hard to find a legal remedy for that, and the Vatican is certainly not the only entity to exploit that sort of shelter. Still, I think it should be attempted. If nothing else, it puts diplomatic pressure on the Vatican. The publicity is probably the only thing that will get them to start remedying the actual problem, rather than just sweeping it under the rug.

    3) If the Catholic Church covers up, stalls investigations, moves priests around, and does other reprehensible acts to save itself, that’s one thing. But if it then says the Bible commands them to do it, or uses the religious authority people invest in it to let things slide, or says that the Pope is infallible and therefore what he did must be right, then yes, absolutely, 100%, skeptics need to jump in and cry “foul!”

    I don’t think skeptics need to wait for the Church to say the Bible commanded them to evade prosecution or conceal fugitives from justice. Just evading prosecution and concealing fugitives from justice ought to be enough. Skeptics are people too, and people have a right — nay, a *responsibility* — to speak up when they witness injustices. You can speak up *as an atheist* when they start tying the Bible to it, but that’s shaky ground. If you wait until then, it will appear that your only concern is theism, when the real concern is the abhorrent abuse of children. And then there’s the question of skepticism, which is not actually synonymous with atheism….

    4) The answer, to me, is: yes, it’s a skeptic issue if the Church uses a supernatural defense.

    It’s a skeptic issue well before that. You quote Rebecca saying “children who are raped by men they trust because those men claim a supernatural being gives them power, wisdom, and the keys to eternal life with a direct line to God’s ear”. The key isn’t the Church’s defense. The key is the rapists’ justification, and the thing which gave the rapists their opportunity: the belief that they hold a special relationship with God. It’s in the same class as when a secular teacher abuses a student, or when a doctor abuses a patient. But it’s worse, because if you believe that only the Catholic Church has the ability to save you from eternal damnation, then how can you possibly refuse what that church’s earthly authority is saying? And if the Church isn’t friendly to accusers, then you’d have to take them on too, and how can you do that when you know excommunication could be your fate?

    The latest problem is the Church covering this stuff up. But the problem starts much earlier, with people convinced that the Church holds the key to their salvation, and that they therefore do not dare question it. *That* is what skeptics should speak out against, and that is available for criticism even before the Church goes and finds some sort of Biblical justification for the butt-covering.

    We don’t always need warriors. Sometimes we need diplomats.

    This I absolutely and totally agree with.

    By the way, it isn’t just atheists who will be seen as outsiders attacking the church. I’m not an atheist. I’m a Protestant, and a Lutheran at that. Arguably, that makes me *worse*, as my faith was actually founded explicitly on rejection of the Catholic Church, specifically, and the Papacy in particular. If I criticize the Church for its abyssmal handling of this, I also may be dismissed as “anti-Catholic”. (One cardinal has already compared such criticism to anti-semitism, a claim which Jon Stewart neatly dismantled.)

    My conclusion:

    Calling for the prosecution of the Pope is pointless. However, it is worthwhile to charge specific priests and cardinals, even if they move to where they cannot be prosecuted. If nothing else, it sends a message that if the Church wishes to operate in certain countries, it must police itself. And it is *absolutely* worthwhile to point out the disproportionate power that priests have over their congregations because of their spiritual power. We don’t let teachers or doctors get away with this kind of crap. We shouldn’t let priests get away with it either. Indeed, priests should be held to an even higher standard, yet they are not. Skeptics can point out that rather significant disparity, and should. Believes and unbelievers, we’re all on the same side when it comes to protecting children. That’s the common ground we can all work from.

  63. Shaun Fletcher

    Phil,
    “We don’t always need warriors. Sometimes we need diplomats.”

    But sometimes, not often but sometimes, we DO need warriors. This is one of those times. And sometimes we need multi-pronged assaults. Someone has to be the one to be prepared to say the unsayable so that the subject is in the public arena. Even you are now prepared to talk of the pope being held criminally liable, and yet sound like Mr reasonable. Prior to last week noone would raise that particular flag, now everyone is discussing it because of who?

    Fine, let Richard and Christopher do the dirty work and take the knocks for it. They dont care if religious people like them. Such action is not for everyone and if everyone took that approach it would be disastrous. You can come along and be the good cop and get to be friends with the nice religious people while you quietly dismantled their house of cards around them. Just try to remember that without the work of those nasty new-atheists noone would even be bothering to discuss it with you.

    Or do you persist in thinking that eventually the catholic masses will hold their church to account without someone throwing the verbal bombs? They wont, because they never did. Everyone has known for decades that things were rotten, but the response from the faithful has ranged from flat denial to slithering justification. Sure PZ is a rude bugger. Way ruder than I would be. But if nothing else he is making it so that those like Richard who are polite but scathing cannot be painted as extremists by those who want no criticism at all.

    I think you are yourself being dragged kicking and screaming into the realisation that things are SO bad with this particular church that the nice way wont work any more. Why are you kicking?

    Finally why is this a matter for the catholics anyway? There is no catholic law, there is a secular law which applies to all and these people broke it. Deal with them like any other criminals. Who cares what the people in their pews think about it? They are the ones who let it go on under their noses all these years, I think their feelings should be the last thing on our minds.

  64. Daffy

    Given the history of the Catholic church (and Western religion in general) the only surprise is that anyone is surprised.

    I will say this in (extremely mild) defense of the Catholic church…at least they no longer torture and kill people who criticize them. May other religions learn from that example.

  65. MoonShark

    I’ll note that there are some 75 million Catholics in the U.S., a huge number. They outweigh atheists (and skeptics) by a fair margin. Ticking them off, insulting them, saying “I told you so” is not going to help, and in fact will hurt in the longer run. [...] when faced with overwhelming numbers against you, sometimes a head-on assault isn’t the best idea

    But this problem with Catholicism and rape is a worldwide issue, Phil. There enormous numbers of people in China, India, Russia etc. who are not Christian in any manner. Maybe skeptics should be recruiting their help? That larger alliance can oppose the Pope and his church for their abuses and coverups… and skeptics can still use their skill of cutting through the BS if any supernatural excuses are made. Groups don’t have to agree on every issue to ally for the specific causes where they do.

  66. Pretty much what I have been attempting to say for the past three days on Twitter. But… sometimes when you only get 140 characters… life give you the high hard one.

  67. “…or says that the Pope is infallible and therefore what he did must be right….”

    No.

    Papal Infallibility applies only to:
    official statements (definitions, and so forth),
    made by a sitting pope,
    on matters of faith and morals.

    In general, Roman Catholic theologians regard this as having happened only two or three times in two thousand years.

    To bring it into play here, the Pope would have to make an official statement, and it would have to be made now, not twenty years ago, and it would have to be something like a general statement to the effect that child rape is not a sin — which isn’t going to happen, if only because, dammit, neither the Pope nor the RC Church believes any such thing.

    The real problem here is a legal one; the Pope is a sitting head of state, and it is virtually impossible to bring a sitting foreign head of state to trial on anything short of genocide, while it is also a practical impossibility for a Pope to resign even if he wants to.

  68. Paul C

    This is a very thoughtful and measured article. And I fully agree with your conclusions.

    However, it should be noted that this is the Roman Catholic Church that is at fault here. There are many churches of other denominations that also condemn the actions of these priests and actively have policies that are designed to protect children. For example, in the UK, all churches must comply with child protection law, to the same level as schools, youth clubs etc.

    So don’t tar all churches with the brush that should be used for Roman Catholic Church. Just as all the priests who are condemning this (if any) shouldn’t be also tarred.

  69. I don’t think PZ Myers’ comments, for example, are helpful.

    I, for one, support you.

  70. Rob

    Like Daffy said, there should be no surprise here. Certainly Trey Parker and Matt Stone alluded in their own way that the corruption went all the way to the top. It is a morally bankrupt institution existing on the fragile blind faith of a dwindling number of people. We haven’t even begun to hear of the inevitable cases of child abuse from South America, or Africa where Catholicism is expanding.

  71. I agree with some of this, but as an ex American Catholic, I would not call the pope the equivalent to James Randi. I can’t recall anyone I knew, caring about the pope and I belonged to some rather large churches.

    The skeptical movement is so under the radar for your average religious member and there are many, including catholic priests who actually believe the Vatican now operates under satan, and I’m not making that up.

    I agree though, this is not a skeptical community issue. I am not claiming a victory for the non existence of god and the invalidity of any bible being its word, based on organized holy men molesting and raping children, while their leader covered for them.

    However, the internet religious communities are mostly made up of extremists and more or less apologists. These people have endured countless pages of contradicting evidence and an unquantifiable amount of rational arguments. They aren’t really reachable and shouldn’t be worried about.

    The ones who are curious and questioning their religions validity, may run across an offensive article here or there, but it’s also somewhat inspiring to see people just bash away at religion without fear. Some atheist skeptics just preach to the choir, others try to reach out and steer people towards rational thinking. I think both are invaluable and provide a very different service.

  72. William

    The catholic church does not sanction this type of wrong doing but is the pope not considered the Catholic Church himself and the most holiest of the holy. If the pope is guilty then the catholic church is guilty as the pope and the church are one and the same. The holiest of holy men are rotten to the core this means that the church is also rotten to the core, and yet they get public money from tax breaks and their books are closed.

  73. “We don’t always need warriors. Sometimes we need diplomats.” This is why you’re my fave blogger, Phil!

    This post makes oodles of sense. Skeptics can be (and are) rightly horrified at all this, as are most of humanity, regardless of their faith, but now is not the time to be doing a sort of i-told-you-so type thing.

    Hear, hear!

  74. Peter

    Ismael, try reading a book, they are your friends not your enemy.
    It is not dangerous to understand and know things.

  75. Papabear

    I do believe in God, but I gave up on organized religion along time ago. I am also completely fascinated with science, and really have a hard time understanding why so many religious people reject science and rational thought. Science helps us understands the world around us. How is that a bad thing?

    I was raised Catholic and if pressed to identify a religion I usually just respond Catholic because it’s easier. I haven’t been a practicing Catholic in 15 years or so (although I will occasionally do some charity stuff with Catholic organizations). Still, I often find myself defending Catholicism to other Christians because of misunderstandings they have about Catholicism. There is no way to defend how the Church has handled this. None. They didn’t handle it well 20 years ago and there attempts to defend how the situation(s) was handled is almost more insulting. While I rebelled in a sense against all organized religion it is still makes me very sad, but mostly angry, to see that this has been allowed to happen.

  76. Jim Shaver

    Phil, I think your measured, thoughtful approach to this issue is rational, even commendable. One comment, regarding this statement:

    “More people would rather see a gay President than an atheist one, and there are many polls that show atheists to be the least trusted demographic in the United States.”

    I’m certain you didn’t intend it, but that statement implies that there may be something wrong with being gay, particularly that it’s worse than being an atheist, when you and I both know that neither classification deserves any of the prejudices that it unfortunately endures today.

    I wonder if there’s a better example, such as, “More people would rather see a convicted felon as President than an atheist as President.” (I don’t know whether any surveys would or do bare out this comparison, but my point is that committing a felony is clearly more wrong and harmful to society than practicing a naturalistic world-view and philosophy.)

  77. Good post, Phil. Just a correction: you seem to misunderstand my point as advocating that all skeptics rush in with guns blazing — I don’t. I appreciate that there is no singular way we should all act, and am quite happy to see a variety of approaches taken in this case as in any other. My post was a reaction to being told that I had no right to support the campaign to bring the Pope to justice because my particular actions will hurt the “skeptical movement.” I’ve seen a lot of whining but not a lot of evidence to support that claim.

  78. Craig

    Elmar_M: “even in the US, the christians are dying out (low birth rate).”

    I laughed at this.

  79. I’m confused. In what way has the newspaper article been ‘debunked’?

    No one who has given the article even a cursory once-over could come to the conclusion that ‘Dawkins intends to arrest the pope’

    The article on RD net says more or less exactly what the article says. Dawkins and Hitchens have approached legal experts to explore the possiblility of ‘legal action’ against the pope.

    I would expect skeptics to do a better job of reading before expressing an opinion or making a comment…

    Fortunately the rest of this article is well-thought-out and I agree with all of it.

    The only minor point I’d make is the analogy of JR and Sylvia Browne. It’s not a great analogy (obviously).

    While I doubt there would be any skeptic who could ‘rally behind’ Sylvia Browne, I’d be the first person to stand up and condem JR for embezzlement, and I suspect that most skeptics would be calling for a fair and just judgement and punshment for any crime committed by any leader of the skeptical community.

    When your comunity or group is based on reason and logic, it’s hard to create any plausible comparison to a faith or psuedoscicnce based group…

    I’ll give you a 9 out of ten…

  80. Grey Wolf

    My problem here is one of supreme hypocrisy from the “skeptic community” (assuming such thing exist – I’ve never heard of the community of people that don’t collect stamps). I somehow failed to see your post, Phil, blistering denouncing the United States President when it became obvious that it had willfully authorised torture of human beings, some which were known to be innocent. Since The United States President is, by far, a far more powerful and influential person on this day and age, where was your outrage?

    Let’s be clear: it wasn’t that Mr. Bush delayed investigation into torture (which he also did), he actually ordered the torture to be done.

    Clean up your own house before complaining about your neighbor’s, Phil.

    I am very much aware that this in no way excuses what the Ratzinger did; it is only pointing out that your “community” is claiming to hold the upper ground, and yet showing hypocrisy by not doing so consistently, and thus you cannot be taken seriously – unlike, say, Andrew Sullivan.

    Yours,

    Grey Wolf

  81. Also David

    Whether or not the pope is eventually arrested in any shape or form is largely irrelevant. What *is* important is that the issue is tested, everywhere that it can be. When you take this to a court of law you will find out exactly what restraints could be put upon him.

    It you be very awkward to have several nations recognize the legitimacy of claims that the pope conspired to conceal the abuse of children. To deal with something of this scale you can no longer talk about individual arrests and penalties but international pressure and global diplomacy.

    We don’t need warriors for the same reason that the US doesn’t invade North Korea. Sure we might “win” but the cost for doing so might be much higher than any concessions we gain.

    @75 and others who recommend other targets. While you have a valid point that there are other people in the world committing serious offences I fail to see why it means we *shouldn’t* investigate this one. You seem to imply that our resources are so finite that we must choose one target and then focus on that one exclusively.

    Regarding President Obama specifically I cannot see why he is particularly associate with the skeptics movement (although I’m Australian so I’m maybe missing something here). I also think that the abuse of children by Catholic (or other relgions, we get Anglican ones in Aus too) if an issue that effects everyone. We all have children, the issue is squarely in “our own house”.

  82. Swoopy

    Thank you Phil.

    You have stated the situation, as it stands on all sides very thoughtfully and clearly. I hope those outside the Skeptic community who have been expressing dismay at this rather public dust up, will take note and perhaps reconsider that our motives are worthwhile, if perhaps our style of discourse to this point may have been less so.

    The key phrase here that sums it up is: “How we say things matters.”

  83. MoonShark

    Rebecca’s original post (the one mentioned in the article) actually reminded me of a sentiment from a very adamant gay friend (and atheist to boot) about speaking up. That is, roughly, that loud gay-rights activism doesn’t win any friends with homophobes, but it does make the world safer for people of all orientations by shifting the perspective of what is fair and just.

    So I think it’s time for Catholics to put their morals to good use. The line has been drawn. They either side with Donohue and Ratzinger or face up to the fact that the majority of the world doesn’t believe their specific and peculiar tradition of nonsense and misbegotten authority. Maybe a few will realize that instead of donating to a palace and hoping some of it goes to feed the poor, they could help feed the poor directly.

    As a skeptic, I’m willing to be hated if my speaking up makes the world safer for one kid, let alone tens of thousands. I’m pretty sure Phil too wants to spread the idea of “Eternal Vigilance”. Because as long as the Vatican shrine to opulence stands, Catholics sure aren’t practicing it, and any indignance at having it pointed out only condemns them further.

  84. t-storm

    At #9. I thought the same thing. But when a good portion of the armies that wouold be taking him to justice are in fact Catholic it would lead to wide spread dissent, mutiny, and possibly civil war(s).

    I remember back in 2002 or so when this first cropped up and it broke my heart. I grew up Catholic, I will always consider myself one but it’d be the same way that a lot of Jews will always be Jews and haven’t been to Synagogue (sp?) in years and eat bacon cheeseburgers.

    I was never molested and was an altar boy. I do think that we had a priest who was transferred (went to the navy) and it was kind of hush hush.

    Overall, I’ve never liked this guy as Pope. The possible Nazi connections and now this.

    I guess my big question would be is what organization shits on its future members more than this one has in the past? Maybe they didn’t expect the enlightenment that’s happened in the past 30 to 40 yrs.

    Overall, bleah.

  85. Phil – correct me if I’m wrong, but summing up your position, it sounds to me like you’re saying that skeptics and atheists ought not declare their support for bringing the pope to justice, regardless of their position.

    I think this is misguided. I think it is cynical. I think it’s the same as saying, “ooh, we ought to keep our mouths shut, lest our very presence upset the fragile, meek Catholics.” And therefore I think it’s insulting and demeaning to these religious people.

    I’d like to think that there are plenty of magnanimous, secular-minded Catholics out there who would stand alongside us. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe I’m naive, maybe it’s wishful thinking.

    But where do we draw the line? Phil, every time you dis Deepak Chopra, somebody surely gets angry. But obviously you find that acceptable. At what point do you stop kowtowing to irrational prejudices and just state your case?

  86. Utakata

    This is a wonderfully written article, Mr. BA. And you have made some valid points. But I have to regretfully decline and disagree with you.

    Yes..skeptics/athiest leading the charge to prosecute the Pope will peeve a lot of Catholics off, but it’s still the right thing to do no matter who does it. And let’s be honest, if our movement is already hurt from the positions we take as you have pointed out…we may not have much more to lose in the long term by doing this.

    Though for what’s it worth, Chistopher Hitchens did state in a MSNBC interview that the lawyers that him and Prof. Dawkins are working with are Christians. Source:

    http://richarddawkins.net/articles/5434

    So it may not entirely be so lopsided in favor of one movement at war with another that’s shot itself in the legs. I know the media and others will try to spin this otherwise. But too bad.

    As for myself, as a skeptic, there no sacrid cows. And there is really no nice way of bursting those sacrid cows. So this is really part of the course…forcing organzations to give acount for their claims and actions, regardless who it peeves off.

    And on a final note, no…the Vatican is not claiming that priest molesting children is something God told them to do. But the Vatican does have strange and unusaul doctrines on priests’ celibacy that must be strictly followed that may have dangerously contributed to the abuse. This is the stuff that needs to come out. Legal action is a good place to start on this.

    Edit: Good one on you, Rebecca Watson @ #76! :)

  87. Very good post.

    Thank you for not only the call to think critically, but be mindful of how we speak to each other.

  88. Carefully written analysis, Phil. It is very tricky to not upset religious people. The most benign message will make religious people resort to violence, as evidenced by this “Don’t believe in God? You are not alone” billboard vandalized this week in Florida. It appears somebody tied their truck to the back of it and tried to pull it down.
    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/jaxfreethought/attachments/folder/2097368540/item/491748543/view

    We may not be alone but we are definitely outnumbered and strategically disadvantaged, especially where I live. It has made me an unabashed misanthrope, but I understand most other skeptics do not want that label. Good luck to you all in avoiding it.

  89. JM François

    Phil, you are asking how critical thinking can help making an opinion on the Catholic church’s recent problems.

    A skeptical mindset can certainly help assessing the truth or falsehold of some verifiable statements asserted by church officials, such as:
    - “many [studies] have shown, I have recently been told, that there is a relationship between homosexuality and paedophilia”
    - a Catholic priest is less likely to be a paedophile than somebody else.

  90. TheInquisitor

    This is an issue which concerns skeptics and atheists. Here’s why.

    It’s not about their supernatural claims, it’s about the idea that a religious organisation shouldn’t be criticised. That is an idea that is semi-unconsciously held and is the subtext behind the fact that this organisation has been allowed to get away with this for so long.

    This is about questioning the unspoken assumption that religion has special rights to not be criticised. That is what the skeptics and atheists have been doing all along. If you think us putting our name to this cause is going to just be a detriment to the cause, then that applies to ANY cause. The extension of that argument is that nothing we do will have any positive effect and indeed just make things worse. And that is bollocks.

  91. I’m confused about what this is meant to mean. Because I label myself a skeptic, if I agree with your position above does that then mean I shouldn’t Tweet about the Pope? Comment about it on Facebook? I am mostly followed by other skeptics in both places, so if I link to Pope stories, does that count as a skeptic getting (wrongly) involved in this issue? Does it mean I shouldn’t write about it on Skepchick like I do any other issue? I recently wrote about a Pepsi Max advert, and before that a review of the movie Kick-Ass. Neither of those things have anything to do with these rigid definitions of skepticism, so I am at a loss to understand how people-who-are-outraged-by-the-pope-but-are-also-skeptics are meant to react to a situation that is making headlines daily. Should we be ignoring it? Not writing about it? Not publicly debating, agreeing or disagreeing with the various opinions and positions being mooted around us? Are we only meant to react to things that fall within the skeptical remit?

    I’m not going to curb my behaviour or opinions just because I also happen to be a skeptic. I am Tracy King first, a human second, a skeptic third along with ‘a woman’, ‘a business person’, ‘a geek’, ‘a gamer’, ‘a cat owner’ and all the other priorities I have. When I state an opinion I do so as Tracy. I don’t do as as a skeptic. I am not defined by the label and neither are my opinions or actions. If I get scared by a horror movie and can’t sleep, I’m still a skeptic.

    I am about to write a Skepchick post about UK politics. This also has nothing to do with ‘skepticism’ by the rigidly defined rules I’m apparently meant to play by, but I couldn’t care less. One of the main issues historically with skepticism is the obsession with fringe subjects like the paranormal that have almost no effect on, or interest from, the general public. This is why skepticism itself was seen as fringe. That is changing and I genuinely believe that’s because skeptics are talking about all sorts of issues, not just psychics and dowsers.

    I’ve kept well out of the online debates on this issue because I don’t think they’ve been handled with much grace (lots of mud-slinging), so this is probably the most I’ll say anywhere on the issue.

  92. ad

    In case anyone is actually interested in the true story, rather than Phil’s concocted fairy-tale retelling, try here: http://www.bishop-accountability.org/news2010/03_04/2010_04_10_Lawler_JournalistsAbandon.htm

  93. 24601

    I feel sorry for Mr. Phil Donahue, the host of a tv talk show back in the 80s, because the name of Mr. Bill Donohue is so close in spelling and pronunciation that I tend to think of Mr. Phil each time I read about Mr. Bill.

    As for how we skeptics are supposed to react to this issue, react as a person, as a human being, but not as a skeptic since it doesn’t really involve skepticism at this point.

  94. I hate to say it, but Phil’s position strikes me as a cynical one. Rather than encouraging people to tell the truth as they see it, Phil’s recommendations come from a desire to capitalize from this scandal. If Randi stole the million dollars, I would not link arms with Sylvia Browne, but I would join other skeptics in criticizing him.

    There’s no reason to keep quiet or to tone down the rhetoric in order to respect the feelings of people who remain loyal to an organization that rapes their kids.

  95. Elmar_M

    Elmar_M: “even in the US, the christians are dying out (low birth rate).”

    I laughed at this
    Birthrate in the US is below 2.1. That means it is below the self sustainable rate. The biggest reason why it is even so high is because of the hispanics that are currently streaming into the US. Once they have been living in the US for a generation or so, their birthrate too will fall below a rate that will sustain the population. The other group that is growing pretty rapidly in the US right now are the muslims.
    Btw, us atheists are the ones with the lowest reproduction rate of all. Way below self sustaining. We will- unfortunately- die out even before the christians do. Darn…
    You dont believe me? Read it up on Wikipedia.
    Anyway, who care about the christians going away? I am worrying more about those that are coming.
    Anyway, my point was that the catholic church is a dead horse. You can keep beating it, but it does not change anything for the better or for the worse.
    It is just hillarious how hard people on this board are trying to contradict someone for the sake of contradiction.
    I am on the side of the sceptics, heck I am a sceptic myself (and an atheist). So I dont get the animousity towards me.

  96. Colin Mackay

    How quickly we degenerate, you purport to defend the judiciary “But the important thing is that there is a fair trial and justice is served.” yet suggest extra judicial barbarianism as part of the punishment “they get to find out first hand how child molesters are treated in prison” Unbelievable!

  97. Put yourself in their shoes. Let me make up a scenario: imagine rock-solid evidence came up that Randi had embezzled the Million Dollars, and a few days later — after all the discussion and arguments and self-immolation that would occur on the blogs and fora and the media about it — Sylvia Browne said she would be leading the charge to see him brought to trial. Tell me honestly: would you rally behind her?

    No, I would not rally behind her. But if there were rock-solid, independent lines of evidence against Randi, I would also not defend Randi, but agree with her that he needed to face a court of justice. Remember when Randi made those unfortunate comments about global warming? Remember how many people spoke up to him, telling him he was wrong? Sometimes rather harshly? That’s what skepticism should be like. Nobody is sacred.

    And that is why skeptics should speak up about the Pope. The Pope is no more special than anyone else. The Catholic Church is no more special than any other organization. This is the message we need to get across, and there doesn’t appear to be a gentle way to do it.

    And sometimes being right and being vocal about it is just more important than being popular. If massive, institutional cover-up of child abuse by trusted authority figures isn’t one of those times, I don’t know what is.

  98. Thomas Siefert

    @Jim Shaver
    Phil does not imply that gay is wrong, but that other people think it is.

  99. Thomas Siefert

    @ Grey Wolf
    Did you even read the post before commenting?

    It is exactly the opposite of a “blistering attack” and Phil has spoken out against the Bush administration torture on several occassions.

  100. Kimpatsu

    “Put yourself in their shoes. Let me make up a scenario: imagine rock-solid evidence came up that Randi had embezzled the Million Dollars, and a few days later — after all the discussion and arguments and self-immolation that would occur on the blogs and fora and the media about it — Sylvia Browne said she would be leading the charge to see him brought to trial. Tell me honestly: would you rally behind her?”
    I think this is monumentally off-target, Phil. The point about Sylvia Browne is that she is already a proven liar, so in the scenario you envisage, it would be one dishonest person leading a charge against another dishonest person. You need to try finding an exemplar using an honest, non-deluded “psychic” or woo-woo to call out Randi. Let me know when you find one.

  101. Miguel Picanco

    I’m on board with Phil on this one – this is a job for humanists, not skeptics even though such groups often share members. There comes a time when conflating groups just for the sake of sheer numbers just translates into a confusion of mission.

  102. Shaun Fletcher

    “Btw, us atheists are the ones with the lowest reproduction rate of all. Way below self sustaining. We will- unfortunately- die out even before the christians do. Darn…”

    If atheism was a genetic trait then this would certainly be true. It is not however, it is much more like a ‘Meme’ and seems to be replicating itself with great success right now.

  103. Grey Wolf

    @Thomas:

    I did indeed read. Phil agrees on the substance if not the tone of the “skeptic community” – and so he is equally guilty of their hypocrisy. Now, if he has really actively complained and posted about US torture, then I will admit I am wrong, but as a long term reader, I do not remember any such post – certainly not in the same detail as this one. A search of the archives doesn’t bring anything up, either (searching for “torture”).

    Dawkin’s shrill denunciations have long been little better than the tea party antics, and Phil has a point denouncing their tone. But by not addressing that the skeptic community seems to be engaging in pick-and-choose what they incense about, they don’t realise that those that have an axe to grind, loose the ethical high ground by default. They cannot be trusted anymore to be impartial; how can they, since they will only concentrate in certain organisations?

    Grey Wolf

  104. cameron

    It seems to me, Phil, that this post was all about tactics, and how we should tread carefully lest we alienate the religious. It’s a nice theory, but it assumes that the religious are going to listen to us if we play nice. They aren’t. The apologists aren’t going to welcome us into their fold, or adjust their stance on these matters, if we just take the correct, conciliatory tone. To put it another way, we aren’t going to make friends among the religious no matter what we do. So why be nice? Why tread softly?

    We have a choice: pussyfoot around the issue and be ignored outright, or yell in outrage and keep the fire burning under the pope’s throne. The opinions of the apologists shouldn’t even come into it.

  105. I could be wrong, but isn’t the Pope not considered “infallible” until… well, he *becomes* Pope? Up to that point he’s more or less a regular Joe, so to speak, and capable of human error. His cloak of infallibillity is only bestowed after he’s installed in office. If these events occured before then, I don’t know if it’s fair to go on about the “infallible” bit, since he technically wasn’t at the time.

    Just thought that needed saying.

  106. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    Well, this argument sucks big time.

    But just attacking them because they are a religion is the wrong reason to do it, and attacking them with abandon, with insults, and with vitriol will not help.

    “Attacking them”, or in lay words commenting, with abandon is a must. Because that is what a moral person should do.

    That it will be claimed to be done as insults and vitriol is a given, see the post’s claims.

    And it will certainly be both permissible and, yes moral, to add the skeptic angle on the crimes. (Say, is celibate really correlated to being pedophile?) And on religions morally corrupt stance on society and science facts.

    hurt the movement … Catholics in the U.S.

    This isn’t about the movement or the society of US (isn’t this a science and skeptics blog, btw?), but about moral responsibility and personal choice. We are past skepticism here. “The movement” (which movement?) will likely not comment on the pope.

    Catholics will not just suddenly see the light and stand beside skeptics. We know this is true from endless studies of how people behave, how they change their minds, and how defensive they get when their core beliefs are attacked.

    Bigots and homophobes will not just suddenly see the light and stand beside women and homosexuals. We know this is true because it didn’t happen.

    Until suffragettes and gays provoked the status quo by standing up and telling the truth, as moral and forthright individuals. Then the society at large stood up beside them.

    But this isn’t about skepticism, this is about the children and about the justice system. Why wouldn’t the society stand up for their children and for justice?

    Even if there happen to be an element of skepticism in some individuals argument for why we should do this.

  107. Trebuchet

    @104 Mark: The Pope isn’t even considered generally infallible once he is Pope. Only when he specifically speaks “Ex Cathedra” on matters of faith or morals. Apparently since papal infallibility was formally defined in 1870, it has been invoked only once, in 1950.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Papal_infallibility

    ETA: Great post, Phil. Except for the part about seeing how child molesters are treated in prison which was a bit much.

  108. Thanny

    Well, let’s knock Godwin out with the first punch.

    Substitute “Nazis” and “Hitler” for “Catholic Church” and “Ratzinger”, then “mass murder of Jews” for “child molestation”.

    Now consider how appropriate it is for outsiders to hang back and let the group police itself. Let’s wait for the Nazi party members to reel Hitler in. You honestly think they’re going to get behind us if we take a stand? What, you want to start a war here?

    Sure, the analogy is very heavy at one end, but it fits completely. The one thing we can be absolutely certain of is that the Catholics cannot police their own institution. This is the very root of the problem.

    So I think any suggestion that we hold our tongues at this point is nothing short of appeasement. We must be Winston Churchill here, not Neville Chamberlain.

  109. TC

    If we’re going to send a robot back in time to kill someone, make it Abraham. Of course, we may find ourselves in the present embroiled in worldwide violent clashes between Zoroastrians, Greco-Roman Polytheists, and Elvis-worshippers.

  110. Bill

    @Thanny, #107:

    >So I think any suggestion that we hold our tongues at this point is nothing short of appeasement. We must be Winston Churchill here, not Neville Chamberlain.

    But Phil is absolutely NOT advocating holding tongues. He’s very clear about saying that we MUST speak out on moral, legal and humanitarian grounds.

    The question is whether we should speak out as skeptics and make this a skeptical issue. My own opinion is that Phil’s right – we shouldn’t make this a skeptical issue unless and until the Church starts using supernatural rationalizations for its actions, or throws bad science into the mix (see the Church’s recent attempts to ‘scientifically’ link pedophilia with homosexuality, for example).

    You may have a different opinion regarding whether this is a skeptical issue or not. But please don’t accuse Phil of wanting to retreat and hold his tongue, or complacently wait for the Church to police itself, when his post quite clearly says otherwise.

  111. Wow, 107 comments.

    I think Phil is right here, that as charged as this issue is, it’s not one that will be one by stridency. One of the many things I have learned in my tenure on this planet is that calling people monsters will very rarely get them over to your side. Thus is it with the Catholics.

    Your everyday John, Paul, Luke and Mark on the street will not – repeat NOT – side with people who base their arguments as attacks on faith. Odds are, they’re not going to side against the Church for any reason whatsoever. The best we’re likely to get is grudging indifference, except from the more fervent supporters.

    As much fun as it is to point and laugh at how morally corrupt an institution is that is allegedly a moral role model, this can only be won – if “won” is even the right word – as a legal and criminal battle. If you’re going to argue that the men involved should be brought to trial, it is imperative that you not base your argument on the Catholic catechism or your disbelief in God or anything beyond the realm of this world. If the men are to be brought to trial, it is only – ONLY – because they are suspected of having raped children.

    And if the Catholic Church itself is to be tried as an institution, it should be only because they allowed it to happen, the same as if it were employees of Wal-Mart or Congress that had systematically abused children with the tacit consent of their bosses.

    Attack this as a matter of religion versus skepticism and everyone loses. Attack it as a matter of law, and we have a chance.

  112. din

    Is that a report he wrote in 1975 ? god help scientists if we force them today to follow the principles / practices that used in 1975.

    Would this letter be wrong in 2010 ? darn right it would be, but its not written in 2010

    Would this letter be wrong in 1975 ? Depends on the contexts, but you would think so

    This could be the next climategate … an individual letter being used to slam the entire movement. Except that in climategate the emails were more recent ( i dont think they were 35 years old), and people pointed out that u needed to read the emails in the contexts that its written.

    And why some climategate emails could be read to give a misleading view, the general idea of the people behind them were still good.

    Personally, I would be asking if the pope would write such a letter today – given what we now know about why adults molest children ?

    And I would asking the lawyers, can u put a person on trail / jail for a letter written 35 years ago ?

    all reports of child molestation need to go to the cops, and they should investigate. if found guilty, the people then face punishment. From my understanding, thats the 2010 practices the church now follows.

    but lets ignore current reality, its the pope after all.

  113. dWhisper

    To my knowledge, the “sit down and shut up” strategy has never fared well across history. That’s not to say that yell and offend will work either, but the very idea of trying to quiet one portion of the mass seems to run counter to everything skeptics push for.

    Discourse is never been a pretty process. Fights are as common as civility. It’s what gives rise to Rush, Fox News, Howard Stern, Dailykos… and even the likes of PZ and Dawkins. There is no truth that is important that it can be won by undermining who and what we are.

    We should be outraged, and it’s only natural that how we express it will vary based on who we are. PZ gets vitriolic, and shares that on his blog. He gets angry. Phil gets insightful. Rebecca gets more Rebecca. Will any of these responses win over those outside of the flock? Maybe, maybe not.

    I think more will answer than you think. No, the vast majority will not, but also look at the growth of “none” in the realm of belief. Is that all because of PZ? Of course not, but some certainly is. It’s not all because of any one thing, but because we, as skeptics and/or atheists, are just as varied in our personality and composure as all other segments of society, and that is a strength. We will offend, we will alienate, and we will anger even more. Most will probably distrust us just because of who we are, and shutting up is not the answer for that, nor has it ever been.

    The worst part of all of this is that it isn’t as if this is the first deplorable thing the Catholic church has done. I think it is one of the greatest forces of evil in the world, wrecking nothing but harm in its wake. They’re willing to cut charities just to fight against equal rights. They promote the spread of AIDS and overpopulation, dooming tens of thousands each year because every sperm is sacred. They rape children, destroying their lives. They funnel billions away from the needy to buy their palaces and fancy clothes.

    And if these things don’t outrage us to the point of yelling, I have to question all of us…

  114. MadScientist

    I’ll have to side with Rebecca. This is an issue for skeptics because people seem to be swallowing the church’s lame excuses. Who, aside from the victims and family and friends of the victims, would say that the church officials are full of crap? (OK, OK, and their lawyers and … But all that aside, What did the Romans ever do for us?) This stuff about calling for the pope’s arrest seems to be a political stunt though, but it does bring up the issue of who is ultimately accountable for all the church’s evils and how do sovereign states enforce their laws on an institution which claims to be god’s own. I see no reason why all skeptics should leave the work to others, and claims of “harming the cause” etc. all sounds like a mile-wide yellow streak to me. I agree with Cameron #103

    “Imagine that you’ve believed fervently in an institution all your life, and then you found out that it is rotten from within, even at the very highest level.”

    I challenge anyone to point out a period in history in which the catholic church was not an institution rotten to the core. People are brought up believing nonsense and perhaps being fed revisionist history. It is difficult to read history and not conclude that the church on the whole has always been a force for evil.

    @James H. #4: Not only a head of state, but the official representative of a deity no less! Historically some issues would be resolved by holding the pope for ransom. Perhaps we should dust off the old medieval book of politics to deal with a pre-medieval institution?

    @Tom #6: You’re being a sophist. The highest rank of church officials are condoning rape and protecting the rapists from the law and you have the gall to say that the “church” doesn’t condone rape because on paper they say they don’t? Well, “on paper” is an assumption – but please *do* provide the relevant documentation to support your assertion. You may be imagining far more than you think.

  115. Greg

    I don’t see how this is a skeptic issue. Yes, the the people involved should be brought to justice, that I agree with. But it seems to me more like skeptics are seeing an opportunity to say that the church is hypocritical, faith is false, etc… I don’t see how skeptics wouldn’t be seen as opportunist. Do you have the same reaction when school teachers molest kids? Some of them are still employed thanks to teachers unions.

  116. I am a practicing Catholic and I do not reject any criticism of our church because those who allowed abuse deserve it and criminal prosecution. Donahue does not speak for me and certainly pedophilia is not related to homosexuality. The history of abuse goes back to the time when the church ran roughshod over communities. Many of these old cases cannot be documented or prosecuted because of time and no doubt, there have been some false claims. Our parish has very strict guidelines for protecting children. I am not uncomfortable to hear criticism because it has brought about changes that protect all children. I know of many good priests who were equally horrified by the actions of church leadership. I obviously get something that you seem to acquire equally from your atheism and I do not consider your choice wrong. Just to clarify your point : “… And religion can get all kinds of tangled up in politics, and again it gets a pass because it’s faith-based.” is not accurate. Churches are not allowed to participate in political campaigns/ endorse political candidates in order to maintain their tax-exempt status.

  117. delphi_ote

    For what it’s worth, people from the church have gotten involved:

    http://www.kwtx.com/news/headlines/90879324.html?ref=324

  118. Mary

    You obviously put a lot of thought into your posting for today, Phil, and make many good and reasoned points.
    I watched the Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone video. Wow, besides being offensive and arrogant, he uses remarkably vaque statements–
    Many psychologists and psychiatrists…….
    But many others…
    I have been told recently…….
    This is the truth, I read it in a document….
    Although he did not present his arguments well, he certainly was heard loud and clear.

  119. Gary Ansorge

    Phil has made the point that confrontation between non-believers(skeptical atheists) and people who manage their lives from a hierarchal, top down authoritative structure is, to put it lightly, tricky.

    Humans are among the only critters on this planet that are aware that, someday, they will die. What is amazing is that we still keep on trucking. Part of that intractable survival mechanism derives from our ability to fervently believe we’re special, that someone, somewhere will make all this existence sensible.

    Assaulting that belief is bound to elicit a stubborn, angry response.

    As a skeptical MOVEMENT, anger is not our friend. As skeptical INDIVIDUALS, anger may motivate us to constructive action.

    I think the Pope must be held accountable for his actions however, I think the demand for that accountability must come from those who have sustained the injury, those children and their parents who were wronged by the Church. IF the Church refuses to repent, they will suffer the ultimate injury; a mass exodus from the fold as millions, perhaps tens of millions, of people turn to another religion for their surcease.

    I expect Islam will prove a winner in this arena. I don’t know about Muslims in other areas of the world but I DO know that Saudi Arabs revere their children, so much so that males don’t even chastise their children. Discipline is left to the mothers. Mohammed taught that women were to be respected and held in high regard. Humans oft fail to attend to the highest principles of their philosophies. That is not a failure of the philosophy. It’s just what humans do. The same applies to the miscreant priests who abused their very special privilege and all those who sought to cover up those misdeeds. Every Catholic is likely aware that something bad is going on in their Church. We don’t need to assault them and force them to close ranks. What we need to do is make them aware we’re watching to see how they deal with this problem and offer our support for whatever they decide to do. If they do nothing, they’ll have only themselves to blame when they face their God. I doubt HE will be as forgiving as was Ratzinger.

    Remember, you can still spend eternity in purgatory.

    Gary 7

  120. Very well said. What I strongly believe, however, it is not the Catholics the ones that have to stand up against the pope and pedophile priests. . . it’s the honest priests themselves the ones who must demand more of the institution they represent.

    As a dentist, I stand up against dentists that take advantage of patients or do not offer “Quality” treatment. I stand up against dentists that make false claims to insurance companies. For the same reasons, “honest priests” should stand up against their sick, criminal, rapist, pedophile colleagues.

  121. Old Rockin' Dave

    I freely admit that I haven’t read all the posts so if I repeat what someone else said, apologies.
    I can’t argue with Phil’s basic point. The basic mess belongs to the Church and the Church should clean it up. If people who have always had issues with the Church start to pile on, some rather gleefully, the expected reaction will be a circling of the wagons – “I can critcize my sister but you’d better keep your mouth shut about her.”
    What seems to be missing from the discussion, here, in the media and elsewhere, is the actions of the cardinals and bishops here and in the other affected countries.
    Why should these men have requested advice from then-Cardinal Ratzinger? These princes of the Church are all grown men, experienced at dealing with the world and surely not ignorant of the criminal nature of the alleged acts. Their contacts with Ratzinger should simply have been advisory: a crime was reported to us and we are going to report it to the authorities, here’s a heads-up before the stuff hits the blades. No one should have to mention to them such terms as “accessory after the fact” or “misprision of a felony”; they should have been long familiar with those concepts. Had they gone public, their position would have been unassailable: they would not tolerate such actions nor those who commit them and would root them out whenever they became aware of them. Any retaliation against them from Rome would be far more damaging to the Church than getting rid of the bad apples in a public way. Let them not hide behind a following orders defense. I say let the criminal justice system prosecute any actions still within the statute of limitations and let civil suits be brought wherever possible. As for the Pope, let us see if there is a justice system in the Vatican that can sanction him, and if not, let’s send the Papal nuncio home on the red-eye.

  122. Dr. Plait’s very well thought out, documented and communicated points are right on the mark, however, as an avowed skeptic and Atheist I find that I am strongly compelled to make the following point.
    With a substantial tip o’ the hat to the late great contemporary philosopher George Carlin, no one can deny the responsibility that “organized religion” must assume in a vast majority of the historical bloodshed that has contaminated the soil of Spaceship Earth since homo sapiens, devoid of reason and logic and finding no answers otherwise, unceremoniously and with fractured unanimity decided to bestow nature’s bounty into the purview of an imaginary omnipresent ethereal being.
    It seems that each “major” religion has its own particular slant on codes of conduct and behavior; one man’s faith is another man’s torture and vice versa. Who are we to judge, you may ask? We are those consigned to share existence with the very emissaries of a great and mighty Oz who steal the innocence from those who are the MOST innocent through homosexual proclivities that are only heard of behind prison bars, and yet, imprisoned THEY ARE NOT. With wild abandon do these “Holy” men perch, preach and pilfer at will, without punishment or consequence. I, for one, refuse the entreaties of patience for, “only God can judge in his time and the guilty will be punished.” Is a lifetime of therapy in ANY way pennance for the misdeeds of those who had betrayed the trust of so many? Does anyone notice the hesitation or grimaces on the faces of the Altarboys whenever they are called upon to perform their rituals in church? Does anyone remember the good old days of, “Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll?” Those days were preferrable to Sex, Sacristy and Catholicism.
    The religious right has FAR too much influence in society and political policy and THAT is why the space program has stalled over the past decade. Trapped in low Earth orbit with the moon a teasing and enticing stones throw away. Has anyone asked Christopher Reeve his opinion on stem cell research? Oh, right…we can’t. He had died waiting. In that arena, abortion is, simply put, RECYCLING for the greater good, even if only the wealthy upper 1% could afford it.
    TAX “Organized Religion” and tell them that their opinion/guidance is no longer desired or appreciated.
    The “Burning Bush” was a gas leak.
    The parting of the Red Sea was a meteorological phenomenon.
    The Ten Commandments were guidelines to curtail Shepherds from seeking the pleasures of the flesh with other women and purloining someone else’s properties, et al.
    The Bible is the result of the indulgence of desert flora and/or fauna (if hairless young men are desirable today, camels and goats didn’t stand a chance), and, I don’t want to spoil it for anybody but, Jesus comes back in the end and don’t be surprised if he doesn’t resemble a grunge musician. Living in a desert for 30 years without a hat? Don’t think it was a tan, people! Of course, this is assuming that Jesus ever existed at all and DON’T EVEN GET ME STARTED ON THE SHROUD OF TURIN!
    In this humble writer’s opinion, religion is the most dangerous invention ever conceived by humankind.
    Thank you (all) for your time.

  123. I think both you and Rebecca make valid points. I can absolutely see both sides of the debate. On the one hand how can anyone not be enraged by the Church’s actions and not want to pour their passion and resources into fighting such atrocities. On the other hand perceptions and perceived motivations of the skeptical community could very well cause defensiveness to override common sense.

    I AM a skeptic, but I’m NOT an atheist, so I suppose PZ Myers, and others, wouldn’t actually consider me a skeptic. But truth be told I don’t really give a flying fig. Anyone who thinks they are skeptical on all issues, all of the time, is guilty of the same self deception for which they are attacking others. And that is the problem with PZ Myers comments, he is attacking the wrong people. Instead of starting off with THEY IS SOOO STUPID. Everyone would be better served by pointing out, and bringing to light the atrocities of the men involved and institutional policy at work, versus an attack on believers.

    Ultimately it is a social issue that needs to be fought with every tool in our arsenal, and as Phil pointed out, diplomacy can be a very effective weapon.

    @Phil I was very happily surprised by your post. I have often thought you have a wonderful message in terms of the importance of vaccinations. But I think you occasionally illicit the same type defensive reaction from “anti-vaxers”.

  124. Steve of Oregon

    Let us not forget this is not anything new by the Catholic Church. There have been hundreds of cases of priest molestation in US, and there are probably even more that have been utterly covered up by the RCC. They do have lots of power and will exercise it. That is why there really hasn’t been anything done about it. Over the past 15 years I can remember multiple cases here in Oregon about the very same issue. But I dont really think justice was served. I do know that the archdioceses of Oregon or whatever almost or did go bankrupt because they had to pay out millions in settlements to victims. But I dont recall anyone going to a criminal trial.
    I was raised Catholic, but I strongly disagree with just about all their practices so I no longer consider myself a Catholic. It is possible skeptics/atheists to have morals. Its just BS to say they can’t. I think more skeptics and atheists probably have more morals than most Catholics and other christians. My experiences with people of faith is that they are often hypocrites and pick what they want to believe and create some round about way of justifying it all. That being said, this should be purely a HUMAN issue. Molestation is frowned upon by anyone except the perpetrators themselves. I would like the ICC to go after the Pope and other leaders in their hierarchy. But sadly they will not be brought to justice unless there is an overwhelming cry from within the RCC and there is indisputable evidence. But I doubt this will happen because the RCC is too much of a “good ‘ole boys club” that has accrued too much power over the centuries. I do advocate that anyone that will speak out against this, but do not attack the beliefs of the Church. Instead attack those who are guilty. I seriously doubt theyll use supernatural claims to exemplify anyone–that doesnt work anymore. And being educated and raised in a Catholic environment, thats not really what the mainstream Catholics do, maybe the extreme fundamentalists though.
    But what is most frustrating about this is the blind faith of those in the RCC. And the total hypocrisy of it all. The most prominent institution that deems what morality is, in itself is immoral. But their followers fail to see this somehow?
    Just my two cents, and props to Phil for a well written article.

  125. John

    I believe Phil is correct. I haven’t really read or heard anything that makes this very sad situation a “skeptic issue”. People did crimal things to children, they should stand trial for that. Others — and the Pope seems to be one these people according to the reports — seems to be, at the very least, negligent in their duties to police and protect the people they were supposed to look after. Is it the fact that they are part of religious organization that makes it a “skeptic issue” for some people?

    After reading the linked articles and comments there seems to be quite a few people who seem more intrested in using an “us against them” approach in dealing with / expressing their outrage in this situation. As if they activate their special “skeptic powers”, this evil will be undone. At the risk of trivializing this situation — the following parody sort of poped into my head as I was reading…

    “In 2010, a crack intellectual unit wanted to send a Pope to prison for a crime he probably did commit. They live in the Internet Underground. These people survive as soliders-of-fortune. If you have problem. If no one else can help, and you can find their URLs, maybe you can hire the ‘S-Team’.”

    I guess it ultimatily comes down to whether you think the institution is to blame, or the the individuals are to blame. Personally, I come down a little more on the individuals-are-to-blame side, but that is just me. That should not be seen as defense of the Insitution — just a basic recogniztion that you can’t put an institution in jail.

    If someone wants to use this oppertunity to bring down the “Institution”, that is their choice, and more power to you, just be careful not accidently end up exploiting the victims in the name of furthering the “Skeptic Movement”.

  126. @#116/Old Rockin’ Dave, let me summarize the comments for you: they all have an atheist ‘s view on this matter.:-)

  127. JohnW

    First, get the facts completely right so there is no quibbling over side issues. What you’ve presented here aren’t the facts as I understand them.

    -The Oakland priest was convicted of child molestation, given a light sentence, and then, only after he was released and on probation, did Ratzy write this letter as they tried to decide what to do with him.
    -According to Hitchens on CNN [sorry, it was MSNBC], he and Dawkins do want to arrest the Pope. Wouldn’t that be funny!
    -On what exact charges would you try the Pope? Criminal conspiracy? RICO, maybe? Think about that – apart from the Head of State issue. If you believe in the separation of church and state, legally isn’t the Pope just the boss of some child molesters?

    I’m almost afraid to read about what these wierdos were doing in Ireland, or at the deaf-mute school, or in Germany. I don’t see how anyone could remain a Catholic given all of this, over so many years. I don’t think skeptics can point this out effectively to anyone who wouldn’t already be figuring it out for themselves.

  128. Chief

    I would love the top brass in the church to take of their blinders but seeing how things have gone in the past with them, they may take them off but only to put on larger blinders. They have too much power and money in their pockets to want to change.

  129. I agree with Phil, but only in the sense that I really don’t care whether you qualify this as a *insert generic label here* issue, or not. I am a skeptic, an atheist, and a naturalist, but once you strip away all of those rather uninformative labels, I am really just a human being like everyone else on the planet.

    And as a human being, I cannot, in good conscience, stand by silently while, yes, most of the world criticizes the Catholic Church in rather hushed tones, but then effectively leaves them to get on with further covering up for their crimes against humanity.

    As has been said by numerous people now, can you in all seriousness imagine the same reaction if this had been perpetrated, not by a religious organization — although, to be fair, I agree with John Wilkins who said that it isn’t the Catholic Church, per se, but those who represent and control it (i.e. it is a mistake to blame an entity because it allows those who really deserve blame to hide behind it) — but by the department of education, or some other government body, or if it had been done by a commercial organization?

    I can’t imagine another organization as large and influential as the Catholic Church that would elicit the kind of semi-muted, almost respectful, reaction to mass child rape and then a conspiracy to cover it up. Yes, child rape happens in all organizations, but it is generally not encouraged (which is the only way to view the reaction) and then systematically covered up for decades with the help of hundreds, if not thousands, of people, including the leaders of the organization.

    So, as a member of the human race who also happens to be a skeptic, I’m going to continue making an unholy fuss until justice is done.

  130. Astrofiend

    114. Gary Ansorge Says:
    April 14th, 2010 at 6:21 pm

    “Humans oft fail to attend to the highest principles of their philosophies. That is not a failure of the philosophy. It’s just what humans do.”

    That, it seems to me, is the basis of all religions, and the basis for all hatred against all religions.

    Well put.

  131. mike bukhart

    Look I am mad about this and I want the Church to reform in the way it deals with this. How ever it seems to me that some of the skeptics and athests are hopeing the Church dose’t reform many of the coments proves it .Hitchens and Dakens have an ax to grind and thats all .and I want to say that those who are useing this to bash the Church are no better then the preists that did this .You don’t care about the victims all you want ammuntion to use because you hate the Church . If you did care you would be phusing for reform not telling Catholics to leave the Church .ps go ahead blast me I’m not going to read it

  132. David D.

    From bishop-accountability.org/news2010/03_04/2010_04_10_Lawler_JournalistsAbandon.htm:
    Now the key questions:

    • Was Cardinal Ratzinger responding to the complaints of priestly pedophilia? No. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which the future Pontiff headed, did not have jurisdiction for pedophile priests until 2001. The cardinal was weighing a request for laicization of Kiesle.

    • Had Oakland’s Bishop John Cummins sought to laicize Kiesle as punishment for his misconduct? No. Kiesle himself asked to be released from the priesthood. The bishop supported the wayward priest’s application.

    • Was the request for laicization denied? No. Eventually, in 1987, the Vatican approved Kiesle’s dismissal from the priesthood.

    • Did Kiesle abuse children again before he was laicized? To the best of our knowledge, No. The next complaints against him arose in 2002: 15 years after he was dismissed from the priesthood.

    • Did Cardinal Ratzinger’s reluctance to make a quick decision mean that Kiesle remained in active ministry? No. Bishop Cummins had the authority to suspend the predator-priest, and in fact he had placed him on an extended leave of absence long before the application for laicization was entered.

    • Would quicker laicization have protected children in California? No. Cardinal Ratzinger did not have the power to put Kiesle behind bars. If Kiesle had been defrocked in 1985 instead of 1987, he would have remained at large, thanks to a light sentence from the California courts. As things stood, he remained at large. He was not engaged in parish ministry and had no special access to children.

    • Did the Vatican cover up evidence of Kiesle’s predatory behavior? No. The civil courts of California destroyed that evidence after the priest completed a sentence of probation– before the case ever reached Rome.

    So to review: This was not a case in which a bishop wanted to discipline his priest and the Vatican official demurred. This was not a case in which a priest remained active in ministry, and the Vatican did nothing to protect the children under his pastoral care. This was not a case in which the Vatican covered up evidence of a priest’s misconduct. This was a case in which a priest asked to be released from his vows, and the Vatican– which had been flooded by such requests throughout the 1970s — wanted to consider all such cases carefully. In short, if you’re looking for evidence of a sex-abuse crisis in the Catholic Church, this case is irrelevant.

    BA is not always known for getting the facts straight.

  133. How ever it seems to me that some of the skeptics and athests (sic) are hopeing (sic) the Church dose’t (sic) reform many of the coments (sic) proves it .

    Citation needed.

    Hitchens and Dakens (sic) have an ax to grind and thats all

    Of course, because they couldn’t possibly be morally horrified by mass child rape and the systematic conspiracy to cover it all up, could they? I mean, after all, they’re atheists, right?

    I want to say that those who are useing (sic) this to bash the Church are no better then the preists that did this .

    You can’t possibly be serious? Criticizing an inanimate entity is the same as raping children and then threatening them to make sure that nobody finds out about it?

    ps go ahead blast me I’m not going to read it

    Coward.

  134. Tom

    Phil, I fail to see what this post has to do with science.

    I have to agree with mike @122. This subject is more of an excuse to bash Catholics than it is about healing the pain caused by these priests.

    btw – There are a significant number of Catholics that are NOT anti-science as Pope Benedict seems to be. An excellent example of a pro-science priest is Rev. George Coyne.

  135. Mark Hansen

    mike burkhart, firstly, it is good to see that you are using a bit more punctuation. It really does make your posts a lot easier to read and to determine what you are saying.
    Secondly, where does Phil say that Catholics should abandon their church/faith? He says that they should have the pope held accountable for his actions or inactions. Is this not what you would want? What Phil is asking for is what you are asking for; i.e. reform. Other people may be asking people to abandon the church; your anger should be directed at them.
    Thirdly, your “I don’t care what you say, I won’t read it” attitude is hardly likely to get you any support from anybody. It’s basically a childish tantrum. Take a few deep breaths, have a walk about, clear your mind and then look again. You might be surprised what you see then.

  136. MoonShark

    Wow, great comments so far, folks. Opinionated, but as far as I’ve read, no real injuries (in the sticks & stones sense). The general lack of physical threats, nazi references, and bad absurdity is well above my cynical expectations of the internet masses.

    Kudos especially to those Skepchicks. They’re good. I’m a dude, but where do I sign up? Guess I could start by reading the blog, eh?

    The great thing about vocal skeptics is that we’re hard to marginalize. The fact that we don’t often have a lot in common except a thirst for knowledge and evidence means that the more of us that speak up, the harder we are to suppress. Timid skeptics get bullied easily; be skeptical of unfounded reservations too!

    But what’s even better than words? Actions. If this Pope guy ever plans a visit, write your congresscritters and let them know that we don’t want our soil being host to an international pedophelia cartel. Even better, support your favorite skeptic/humanist/freethinker/atheist/rational inquiry organization.

    Catholics: Seriously, get off the sinking ship. Also, our side has cookies :D

  137. MoonShark

    Oops, I started typing that last post before seeing mike bukhart.

    You don’t care about the victims all you want ammuntion to use because you hate the Church

    Um, first step might be to STOP the abuse, and THEN help the victims. You can’t repair a house while it’s still on fire. A lot of the victims probably don’t want to come forward (like many didn’t for decades), so until we find out the true extent of the coverups, we don’t even really know how many victims there are.

  138. Guilherme

    Let’s compare to a situation where the church is not involved – It is like u work in a company and u leave ur kid on the child care while u work. Then a director is given noticed that one guy in the child care is molesting children there. FOUR years later he writes a note saying that the shit shouldn’t go to the vent or the company would have serious problems because of that.. few years later the director is “blessed by God” and takeover the company’s presidency. Let me be clear with this. For Christians EVERYTHING that happens in the church is the word of God.. so if RATzinger is the Pope is because God agreed he would represent Him on Earth better than anyone else. This is not my opinion, this is their religion. So this is an Atheist/skeptic powerful argument to make the case that either God is not good (not saying He doesn’t exist) or that the institution where the Pope belongs to is not in agreement with the word of God.. make ur choice… PS: I don’t believe in God, but agree that Atheism is a religion as well.

  139. I appreciate what you do, Phil. I appreciate your demeanor, your style, your humor, and your thoughtfulness.

    A great deal of this post, however, simply made me sad.

    I’ve heard an awful lot about the need for diplomacy among Skeptics in the past few weeks, but it seems rarely applied within the movement that suddenly finds it so valuable. If the skeptical movement is to be one in which individuals like me, those of us that fall to the vitriolic edge of the bell curve, are to be condescended to and degraded I’ll gladly drop the label. I’d prefer, of course, to be valued for my talents the same way I value the milder talents of others and leave the presumption of ethical hierarchy to more formal and dogmatic organizations.

    You’re right in stating that diplomats are sometimes needed more than warriors, but perhaps “insulting [us], saying ‘I told you so’ is not going to help, and in fact will hurt in the longer run. I would think this is patently obvious.”

  140. sorrykb

    As a few commentors have already pointed out, many “rank and file” Catholics *are* outraged at the failure of the Pope and the Catholic Church hierarchy to deal with abusive priests, and at the fact that the hierarchy are apparently more concerned about protecting the reputation of the Pope than they are about protecting children. This is, as you said, a *human* issue, and something on which I suspect most Catholics and skeptics would agree. We don’t need to approach this issue as skeptics, but simply as human beings with reason and conscience.
    The problem, of course, is the rigid Church hierarchy, and how they can be called to account before the law.

  141. Don Gisselbeck

    Good post. There is no way the pope will be prosecuted, we don’t even prosecute the $10.000 an hour men who commit mass murder with conspiracy for profit, we give them huge bonuses instead.

  142. Franco

    I agree with most of what Phil said here, but with one amendment:

    There has been proof of the Church’s institutionally condoned abuse of children for decades. But never has the information been so widely and openly discussed. Why not?

    I think it’s because of the rise in open skepticism. No one wanted to talk about it because it was a an unpopular topic and it was covered under the unspoken “Don’t Criticize Religion” rule. But then along come the the New Atheists and the corresponding grassroots movement of outspoken skepticism. Skeptics didn’t recognize that unspoken rule and dragged the whole dirty little mess out into the open where it became impossible to ignore.

    I think that’s the skeptical role in this instance: the vanguard. Skeptics are accustomed to broaching the forbidden subjects and asking the unpopular questions. And now that we’ve done that I think in this case (I repeat: not always, but in this case), the skeptical community should hang back and let the issue be carried forward by society at large. Because let’s be honest, we don’t have the best reputation and the inevitable and instinctive anti-skeptic knee-jerk will only distract from the focus of the issue. To avoid that, I would suggest that when speaking out about these crimes, we should be wearing our Outraged Citizen Hat, not our Scarlet A.

  143. @#124. Damian ,
    I’d rather be a coward than a bully.

  144. Kim Jennings
  145. Cobey

    Very well said Phil. I admire your cool head under such an easy opportunity to lash out.

  146. Rob

    Thanks to the BA for a well-thought out response to these issues. It is a pity that there are a few factual errors in the description of the allegations against the Pope (such as that Kiesle was not working with children at the time and had actually been prosecuted for his crimes by this point), but the main point of the post is well worth noting.

    My own view on this, as a practising Catholic, is that this concentration on the Pope, with allegations that have (at least, so far) proven to be mud-slinging rather than reality-based, is diverting attention from the actual issues facing the church.

  147. Shane

    A very carefully worded and wise response from Mr. Plait. If skeptics wish to improve our standing, visibility or sympathy this is not an issue to go on about religion in general. While many Catholics may be very angry with the church, this is not a forum to insult all the other things we as skeptics or atheists find silly. This is a forum to add our solidarity with law abiding humans. In the future, solidarity with others on the criminal issues may improve our profile with them. As reasonable people, people who see reason and truth as the highest priority, we should be smart enough to understand the issues, the social situation, and use it to our advantage. We endeavor to bring reason to the masses, this would be impossible if we ignore the situation’s reality, and use it for our own personal agenda. Protecting criminal behavior is unlawful, unjust and harmful to all of humanity. We should stand with humanity, as a whole, and not make this a belief issue. If we are truly smarter, more knowledgeable, and see truth as the ultimate goal, we should be smart enough to use wise strategy for our goals. IMHO, this is our best quality, and our guiding rudder. Biting ones tongue is hard, but it is wise, in pursuit of justice and truth.

    /rant :)

  148. What follows is the letter I wrote to the Bishop at the Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford and sent snail mail on 4-13-2010.
    =================================================

    Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford
    Attn: Mr. Henry J. Mantel
    134 Farmington Ave.
    Hartford, CT 06105-3784

    Dear Sir;

    First, I need to relate a story. Years ago I was put in the position some of your leadership has been in. Approximately 15 years ago a 10 year old little girl that lived next door to us came to us for help because her stepdad was molesting her and her mother refused to believe her and punished her for “saying such lies”. It took me a few minutes to come to grips with the horror of what she was telling us. But I immediately picked up the phone and called the police. There was no doubt in my mind what the correct action to take was. The step dad was arrested and confessed to his crime.

    You will have to forgive me for my unfamiliarity with catholic dogma or terminology since I am not a catholic. I am an American, a husband and a parent.

    The actions of the catholic church and your fellow leadership in opposition to the House Bill 5473 is alarming to me. You will have to forgive me for my unfamiliarity with catholic dogma or terminology since I am not a catholic. I am an American, a husband and a parent that has a lot of concern about the double standards afforded religious institutions over the average citizen; especially in this particular scenario.
    I am extremely confused and concerned as to why would any sane person oppose this bill? What could be the negative side effects of such a bill?

    I think I understand that your faith and religion believe these matters to be handled by god’s law and is to be in the domain of your church.

    I have to believe that you forgot that your church operates in the United States of America. The United States is a secular nation with secular laws. Religion and religious laws do not trump the state or the constitution. You have to understand that the state has a compelling interest here being that we are talking about the safety of children.

    But let’s set all that aside for a moment. What I cannot grasp is that any human being would ever oppose a bill that provides no safe haven for any individual or group that participated in the rape and torture of children or that offers safe haven to those that did such heinous and vile acts.

    Your concern that your diocese may go bankrupt like others have as a result of this law really makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up. There is only one logical reason that I can conclude as to why any person would oppose such a bill. That would be because they have knowledge that such events have happened, could be exposed and result in a punishment that is undesirable to an offender.

    You tell me. What is the average ordinary person to think when you make this type of stand?

    I am a person that believes actions speak louder than words. In particular, the catholic church, has shown through action, a complete lack of regard for the safety of children and the law. The number and frequency of incidents that have occurred globally stand as solid evidence to a systemic problem with your church.

    This concern over trial lawyers is absolutely ludicrous. The only way trial lawyers could have such a field day with this particular type of lawsuit is if it actually was based on factual evidence. The trial lawyers you must be referring to would never blindly pursue such cases unless they had reason to believe they had a very good chance of winning.

    You must be aware that law suits are never cheap and that a tremendous amount of money is spent by both sides in discovery, depositions, expert witnesses and additional resources. No lawyer worth a bean would invest all that time, money and resources without the reasonable expectation of winning. The only way they could have such an expectation is if the facts of the case gave them that expectation.

    I humbly ask that you reverse your position on this bill. As a human being, as a leader of men, women, children and faith, as a person that is to lead by example a good and clean life; please reverse your decision, take a stand for justice and for what is right. Speak out against these horrors and the people that perpetuate evil against children.

    Surely, as a man of faith, you must believe that there can be no expiration date on evil?

    Real men stand up and face the music. Correct me if I am wrong, but wouldn’t facing the music here on earth be far less stressful and intimidating than facing it in heaven? I am just guessing here, you tell me.

    I would really like to understand, but your stance and those of your fellow leaders just completely baffles me.

    Sincerely,

    Prescott E. Small
    Concerned father, husband and citizen

  149. Then as I continued reading the responses of the religious defenders I was just flabbergasted. How can there be “intelligent people” in this country that still so reverently believe in this religious crap at the same time.

    My frustrations have been decades in the the making, I have always tried to be tolerant and fair, but that tolerance and fairness is hardly ever returned. Even people I work with consider friends still tell me they like me even though I am doomed to spend an eternity in hell. I get comments like it is unfortunate, you’re such a nice guy, but you will burn in hell..

    So now I am pretty much done with it. I think spending half of my life being fair and tolerant and not getting the same treatment is enough. It is time to call a spade a spade and religion stupid.
    —————————————————————————————————————-
    Why Belief and faith in a Religion or a God is Stupid

    I am intolerant of stupidity and religion is a symptom of stupidity.

    I will explain. You see stupidity is a choice as opposed to ignorance which is curable.

    Every single one of us is born ignorant, lives ignorant and dies ignorant.

    I firmly feel that one of life’s goals has to be that a person becomes a little less ignorant every day that they live, and be willing change their views on a subject if presented with facts. For me this is an absolute core value that I do in fact practice every day.

    There are many reasons that we as human beings have a reasonable and logical reason to look at blind faith and religious belief as being an intentional choice to accept stupidity. One needs only to barely crack a history book to understand. The horrors of the Nazi’s are amateurish and only pale in comparison to the horrors of the holy.

    When you start to deal with people that have religious belief and faith you are starting out with a person that has made a conscious choice of accepting something as fact without any shred of evidence. They will and have intentionally chosen to ignore facts that are contrary to their world view. They choose to believe something that cannot be proved, and will even embrace falsified evidence and rumor as fact in order to support their faith and belief.

    At the risk of sounding hostile, which I am not trying to do here, a logical person can very simply conclude that a person that chooses blind faith over fact has made a conscious decision to abandon ignorance for stupidity.

    Is that mean and cruel? No, it is harsh, as the truth often can be. But in reality I think it is sad that these people are being exploited by people perpetuating these falsehoods for their own personal gain. Some actually believe they are doing the will of a magical being for the good of mankind.

    The majority of these people are victims themselves, they have chosen stupidity because it has been such an accepted, and endorsed practice. It is just as illogical and unbelievable, but in all reality it is very simply stated that they do it to others because it was done to them. They are in fact practicing a dark side version of the golden rule.

    I believe people of reason and logic should show some compassion and some patience as well when dealing with these people of faith and religion, but within limits. You see, I have received death threats because I do not believe in their false gods or prophets. I received one where a christian wanted to kill my wife and I then take our children so they could be placed in a christian school. This was long before I wrote as I do now, in fact it is what started me on this path.

    It is a well documented fact that the people that have chosen religion over reason have a long and brutal history of violence against those that do not share their religion or stupidity. People that kill in the name of a god have got to be the most stupid people on the planet.

    What is really amazing to me is that blind faith and belief in the magical being is considered a virtue and a sign of good character to choose stupidity over fact is considered a sign of intelligence.

    There are many other reasons that people perpetuate this endless cycle of stupidity. There is wealth and power, there is privilege and status and for some there is a level of blind trust and access that allows them to get what they desire most, which in some cases is sexual interaction with children.

    Whatever the prey is, the predator, be it an eagle, lion, shark, criminal or pedophile they will always go where the hunting is good and the risk to their own well being is the least. They will seek maximum reward for the least cost. That is not just human nature; that is nature and how nature has operated since the first predator evolved.

    As a human being I am tolerant of ignorance, for we are all ignorant. Being an atheist is merely a logical decision after the examination evidence and facts.

    I will continue to stand my ground, fighting tooth and nail against stupidity, for it is dangerous; extremely dangerous. Uncountable millions have been murdered and victimized because of it. That is a fact that cannot be ignored nor forgotten.

    The incidents that have recently come to light in the catholic church are just a drop in the ocean of pain and suffering they caused over the last two millennia. It just cannot be tolerated any longer in a world like we live in today.

    I find it so unfortunate that it has taken the rape and torture of hundreds, if not thousands of children to finally get religious people to start waking up to the holy horrors perpetuated by the religious leaders who are systematically tolerated and given safe haven to do it again by their religious leadership.

  150. @#124. Damian ,
    I’d rather be a coward than a bully.

    That’s a very interesting philosophical statement, Mary, but of what relevance is it to this discussion?

    That you chose to accuse me of being a bully because I called mike bukhart a coward for making the astonishingly ignorant and morally blind and repulsive claim that people who criticize the Catholic Church are no better than child rapists, and then, instead of defending those accusations, saying that he won’t read any responses, is disappointing.

    As I don’t know you it would be wrong to see your comment as anything more than an unfortunate mistake on your part. But I can only hope that it isn’t indicative of the kind of moral blindness that Mike Bukhart’s comment clearly represents. At the very least, I would expect someone to understand that one of those comments is, if not totally justified, at least understandable, while the other is a disgraceful slander.

  151. Revyloution

    Im taking bets.

    Which institution will be the first to disappear in mediocrity, Scientology or the Catholic Church?

    Most would bet on the Scientologists because the Catholics have so many damned followers and a huge chunk of cash. Im thinking the Thetan bashers have a good chance of outlasting Catholicism. They have celebrities (the new royalty of our age) as well as a hip image (compared to Catholicism).

    If Scientology can weather their current storm and pick up a few more celebrity endorsements, they very well might survive to see the demise of Catholicism, which is racing towards the bottom. And when they finally hit that bottom, ill be there to hand them a shovel.

    Catholicisms wealth and huge membership will be difficult to dismantle. Scientology is small peanuts when compared to them. If Scientology can’t shake off Anonymous, they might not survive to the next decade. The Catholic Church can survive for a long time just on their accumulated assets, but are they still a church if they don’t have any followers?

    Either way, I think it’s very possible I will see the demise of both these rotten edifices in my lifetime. Im taking bets, who will be the first to go?

  152. I hate coming this late into the discussion, and apologize if I’m repeating anything someone else has said…

    It seems to me there’s a bit of confusion, even from Phil. Skepticism shouldn’t be a “movement” – it’s a standpoint, one that relies on firm evidence, regardless of topic. That means that skeptics have just as much right (if not more) of calling for appropriate actions.

    It also means we, as skeptics, follow the criteria we espouse closely. That means dealing with the issue itself, without conflating it with religion at large, or the eradication of the catholic church, or why atheism is a better answer, and so on. These are not the issue, and should not be riding on coattails into the discussion.

    Above all, the response should be as emotionless and rational as possible. Total fairness. Phil did a good job in dealing with the evidence so far from an objective standpoint. We need to determine how much is fact, and call for that from everyone involved. Once fact is established to a reasonable doubt, what then follows is what should be done about it.

    For instance, we can ask why the pope should be considered outside of some particular jurisdiction. Head of state? Sorry, there’s been several precedents that show this doesn’t apply to crimes of this nature. Moreover, any country so inclined can decide to revoke this privileged status, even arbitrarily – Hussein did not hang after a trial in his own country. Religious leader? I would think that would be the last defense allowable for crimes against children – religious leaders are the ones who should be promoting the toughest laws and sentences.

    It is, most certainly, a place for skeptics, and quite frankly it’s a skeptical, evidence-based standpoint that is going to be the only way to wade through the muck. It is not a place for anti-religion, though – we have to remember these are two different things. And we should feel perfectly comfortable with calling catholics at large to address this situation from within. Provided that they demonstrate *their* lack of bias in the matter. And we should feel comfortable holding their feet to the flames, *only* if they fail to address the situation adequately.

    Do I personally believe catholics will remedy this situation? No. But my belief should not affect what is reasonable and respectable to do. And if and when they fail, we have more reason to urge greater, outside action.

    Can the pope legally be arrested by setting foot in another country? It certainly seems to be supportable. My concern is that it should not be only skeptics that are calling for this, but that allowing ourselves to be cowed by the idea that it’s bad publicity or will be considered “typical antireligious tactics,” DOES NOT CHANGE THE LAW. We can certainly point out, with reason and calm arguments, why others should be at least considering the option (of arresting the pope.) But should that fail, being scared of how it’s interpreted is not an adequate reason to avoid calls for justice.

  153. MutantJedi

    It is the responsibility of every moral human being to criticize the institution of the Catholic church for its long long history of child sexual predation. If the atheistic community does not comment then its slogan “good without god” becomes hollow, even hypocritical.

    Splitting hairs to avoid hurt feelings or offense reminds me of one of my favorite stories from the New Testament, the story of the Good Samaritan. If “good” people like Catholic leaders and protestant leaders can walk by this issue without voicing their strong condemnation, each with their good reasons, then who will? And now Phil is suggesting that, while abhorrent, this is not an issue for skeptics to address? Who will be the Samaritan?

    Well… let’s split the hair. Let’s condemn the actions of the institution of the Catholic church, not as skeptics, but as atheists, who are good without a god.

  154. @#142. Damian, something to meditate on:

    “…There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known. “

  155. Ron 1

    @138. Franco Says:
    “There has been proof of the Church’s institutionally condoned abuse of children for decades. But never has the information been so widely and openly discussed. Why not?”

    This information HAS been widely and openly discussed for decades, albeit outside the US.

    In Canada, the Catholic church has been at the centre of many abuse cases (residential schools, boarding homes, churches) since the early 80′s. Many cases have gone before the courts and government hearings and Canada’s national media have been covering these stories in detail. Abuse by Catholic Church members has been a big deal for a long time. Outside of Canada, however, very few cared.

    Phil … very thoughtful blog entry and you’re right. Angry, loud skeptics are in danger of looking like, and having the credibility of, angry loud Catholics. Hold the church’s feet to the fire but do it civily and rationally.

  156. Rob

    Diplomacy has been used for centuries. Screw that noise.

  157. Brian K

    ‘They live tax free. They can say all manners of bizarre things, and people just blow it off, saying that personal beliefs are sacred. And religion can get all kinds of tangled up in politics, and again it gets a pass because it’s faith-based.’

    Just a quick note, that the quote above is misleading, and not entirely true. As a 501(c)(3) organization, churches (which, mind you, all of them are not) may lose their ‘tax-free’ status if:

    ‘A church or religious organization will be regarded as attempting to influence legislation if it contacts, or urges the public to contact, members or employees of a legisla­ tive body for the purpose of proposing, supporting, or opposing legislation, or if the organization advocates the adoption or rejection of legislation.’

    http://www.irs.gov/charities/churches/index.html (see page 5 of the first link).

    I’m not saying how stringently this is enforced, but 501(c)(3) churches do not get a free pass. And although you just said ‘pass,’ it was implied that it was free.

    And in my opinion, the issue at hand is huge, irrespective of skeptics…..

  158. The only reasonable thing to do is to organize and agitate against the tax exemption of the church. Ask your country, state, or community to tax the Catholic Church as a foreign (evil) corporation. A poorer church leads to a diminishing flock (of dupes).

  159. Menyambal

    Very well-written article. Phil. Thanks for saying what you did, and saying it so plainly and carefully. (Sorry that you are getting so many silly comments.)

    Skeptics should now to be careful to not believe everything they hear about this mess and the people in it.

    Atheists can later point to this outrage as an example of the harm that religion can do, to counter claims about the harms of atheism.

    Humans need to put a stop to the rape of children.

    So our actions here should be based on our humanity, not our skepticism and atheism. This isn’t about our other ongoing struggles with the Church and religion.

    This is about the Church itself failing colossally from within, and destroying the lives of the very children it pretends to help.

    This isn’t about us, it is about them.

    P.S. Phil, I re-read PZ’s article you linked to, and didn’t see it as being out of line with your admirable attitude.

  160. Brian

    Phil, if the Catholics won’t sort it out, and they won’t, as the pope is the pope. I was raised Catholic and all my family is at least nominally Catholic, some even devout, so I feel confident in that statement. If it upsets or gives the skeptical movement a bad name to do the right thing, then that’s better than not doing the right thing to be seen as good or reasonable types. How can the skeptical movement say it supports truth if it’s happy to play doggo to not upset the Catholics? I’d rather be hated by all religious than frame this issue.

  161. Na

    At first, when I heard of what Dawkin was doing, I was annoyed thinking it to be a bit reactionary. Then I remembered a recent personal incident: I’ve been the victim of online harassment, to the point where it needed reporting to the police (this included physical threats). They didn’t even take a statement, or copies of the harassing emails, or take me seriously for a minute (it being “so difficult” to find and prosecute the person. Yes, and if I was mugged would they have said the same thing despite no witnesses and me not being able to see the attacker?). I’m lucky that the person in question seems to have given up, but there were actually two different people harassing me at the time (coincidentally who knows, because the cops didn’t investigate either events). It annoys me that it seems left to me and a few other people involved to investigate it ourselves, or to try and deal with it on our own.

    This left me to think: what if I was one of these people abused, and if the cops weren’t doing anything or able to do anything (because they don’t know or whatever). In my case, I want someone to do something, and do it legally. Even if it’s not the cops, but someone able to sue or investigate the issue on my behalf (if I could afford a lawyer or a private detective I would have hired one).

    So how is Dawkin’s actions any different than trying to force the cops, the people involved, to do the right thing?

    In the end, although I’m still not sure I like the way it’s gone about, I like even less the people involved not to see justice or to not be prosecuted simply because of religious people being involved. They’re not above the law. We don’t expect Rabbis or Imams to be above the law. If someone commits a crime, they get prosecuted for it. And if we see a crime being committed, we report it. If no one is helping the people getting abused, especially the police, then we have a responsibility to ensure the law is upheld, no matter whether it appears to be a stunt, or whatever. (Although I totally agree with this: “But just attacking them because they are a religion is the wrong reason to do it, and attacking them with abandon, with insults, and with vitriol will not help. “)

    My initial reaction, after a few moments of thinking about the reasoning behind this, was completely naive. I am lucky that nothing bad has happened to me (so far), but the abused people aren’t so lucky. And I fully support whatever action can be done to see that they are given a lawful path to their own justice. Even if sociopolitically it may not be to everyone’s tastes. Yes, in a perfect world, I do care who does the arresting/prosecuting. But this is not a perfect world, and if I can experience complete distrust for my local police for not being interested in pursuing an actual crime, then I can understand why it may be necessary for other people to get involved in a much larger and more serious crime. And I don’t care whether the people getting involved are skeptics, Catholics themselves, or anyone else. The background doesn’t matter so much as their willingness to stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves.

    If you take the matter of religion out of it (or skepticism), and pretended as if this were a problem within a corporation, or a child care group, or anything else, then what have you got left? A crime which is like any other crime, and should be prosecuted. Move away from the larger scale of the issue, and just remember that the people abused might just feel less than supported and that the more people who do support them, the more likely they might see something change.

    (Anyone in Aus: there was a very good short clip on The Hungry Beast recently on this very topic)

    And now to read the comments, since all I’ve read is the actual blog post. So forgive me if I’ve missed some important part of the discussion.

  162. ad

    Yes, Na, you missed the bit that showed Phil’s post was based on misinformation.

  163. katwagner

    When i was working for my college newspaper, and I pretty much lived in the newsroom, someone told me it’s easy to be a good reporter. He said be skeptical and ask followup questions. Don’t take one person’s word at face value – find other people and ask lots of questions. The thing that’s stuck with me for such a long time is BE SKEPTICAL Because the truth is out there.

    But when some Catholics say the Pope is perfect and can do no wrong I get a really bad gut ache. All those kids hurting for so long, and the deaf boys tried to tell all kinds of authorities and no one would listen. We need to QUESTION AUTHORITY and be advocates for others.

  164. If you haven’t read it, I strenuously suggest anyone remotely interested in this topic, from the Churches involvement in covering things up and turning a blind-eye, to the psychology behind why the Clergy seems so prone to attract abusers, to the stories of the abused and abusers themselves, read the book “Gospel of Shame; Children, Sexual Abuse and the Catholic Church” by Elinor Burkett and Frank Bruni

  165. DigitalAxis

    Ok, so now we have two different versions of the facts. Phil’s original post, and the ones posted by ad and David D. (bishop-accountability.org/news2010/03_04/2010_04_10_Lawler_JournalistsAbandon.htm)
    Which one of those is right, if either?

    Ultimately, though, the bishop-accountability.org version of events mostly shoves blame onto the State of California for giving out a light sentence (prior to Ratzinger’s involvement in the case) and then the slow action of the church bureocracy, apart from (apparently) Bishop Cummings, who had “placed him on an extended leave of absence long before the application for laicization was entered”, which in turn was apparently long after initial complaints about Kiesel.

    That account still leaves open a few issues, like “Why didn’t the state of California give Kiesel a heavier sentence?” and “Why did the Church do nothing other than suspend Kiesel from active duty?” If Ratzinger’s own involvement was nothing more than pushing paperwork on “laicization” (which I presume means “leaving the clergy”, although the article seems to think it’s a common term) who WAS supposed to be in charge of criminal allegations against priests? And can the Catholic church be trusted to police itself now, given that it evidently failed spectacularly then? And what happened with California?

    Finally, I infer from Ratzinger’s deferment that the charges of pedophelia were not taken seriously enough to bump Kiesel’s request up enough to be dealt with. Or that bit of information was stored separately; I’m sure the system wasn’t computerized in 1985. Either way we still have a situation where Ratzinger ended up keeping a pedophile priest on the (suspended) rolls (temporarily). That shouldn’t have happened. There’s still something seriously wrong there, even if Ratzinger isn’t personally at fault.
    So, congratulations, you’ve dissociated the Pope from this scandal… except as leader, he should be in some way accountable.

  166. Pi-needles

    3) The Church’s behavior: Here’s where things get interesting to me. In this country for sure, religion gets a free pass that a lot of other institutions don’t enjoy. They live tax free. They can say all manners of bizarre things, and people just blow it off, saying that personal beliefs are sacred. And religion can get all kinds of tangled up in politics, and again it gets a pass because it’s faith-based.

    Not just that – although that’s bad enough.

    Religion can get away with breaking our usual laws.

    Can your everyday secular business hire or refuse to hire somebody just because of that person’s gender &/or sexual orientation?

    No – but a religion can & does get away with it. :-(

    Does a business that finds out an employee is a paedophile get to cover it up for the sake of that business’es reputation & NOT report it to the police or take any real action?

    No – but a religion can get away with it! :-(

    Can a normal person pay no tax and make no contribution to the nation’s economy?

    No – but a religion can get away with it. :-(

    Time to end the exemption of religion from the law methinks.

    If something is the law of the land whether that’s laws against sexual discrimination, laws about reporting child molesters or laws about paying tax then all people and organisations should have to abide by them. All people and organisations should be equal before the law. No if’s, no buts, no “my religion says its okay to be misogynist and homophobic so I don’t have to play by the usual rules!”

    If that means Catholics have to accept female and gay priests – good – tough for them but they can stick it. :P

    If that means children are that bit safer – all the better.

    That’s what I think skeptics should push for.

    BTW. Go Dawkins & Hitchens, good on em – I wish ‘em success in bringing the Pope to justice and congratulate them for having the audacity to try! If nothing else, maybe it will get a lot more people thinking.

    there are many polls that show atheists to be the least trusted demographic in the United States.

    Surely the least trusted demographic of all is *politicians* right? ;-)

    I would hope atheists rate ahead of used car sellers & real estate agents too … I mean come on! Surely!

    Isn’t it ironic (& sad) that the one group in society most committed to thinking clearly, sharply and honestly is the least trusted? Maybe, hopefully, that will change.

    Personally I’d trust an atheist over a priest anyday. ;-)

    PS. I haven’t read the comments yet so sorry if I’m making the same point(s) that others have already made. Just my initial response here.

  167. Kilroy

    Hang on a second . . . Is not Religion / Paedophilia / Criminal Justice all in rooms down the hall a bit.
    This is A s t r o n o m y

    Kilroy_of_aus

  168. Albert J. Hoch

    “The Church itself looks to have been complicit in hushing up this scandal for years, decades.” Decades? How about centuries? Many seem to speak of this malfeasance as if its restricted to the twentieth century or even more recent. Pedophilia is not new nor is corruption in churches.

  169. DigitalAxis

    @155 Brian:

    I don’t think Phil was trying to say Skeptics can’t be outraged for reasons consistent with our innate skepticism and love of humanity, I think he’s saying it’s counterproductive to say “I’m outraged because I’m a Skeptic”. That broad and sweeping term would turn away all the potential allies who dislike Skepticism because it (broadly speaking) hates Religion.

    @161 Kilroy:

    That’s Phil’s day job. As his secret alter ego, he fights crime.

  170. Pi-needles

    @28. Brian Schlosser Says:

    Prosecute the pope? Who has the authority? Would it be the UN? The ICC? And if he ignores the indictment, how do we get him? Invade the Vatican? I doubt the Italian government is going to allow that. As abhorent as it is, Benny is untouchable, from a legal sense.

    May I suggest we use the tactics the Israeli’s used to get Adolf Eichman & Mordecai Vanunu to get Pope Ratzi then put him on trial at the Hague? ;-)

    (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eichman#Capture & http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vanunu#Disclosure.2C_abduction_and_publication )

    (Of course, a “honeypot” trap may not quite be the best option here … ;-) )

  171. Jeffersonian

    Prosecute the pope? Absurd. What good is a kangaroo court? It does nothing. Why would the pope attend such a court? What about all the cardinals, etc who are the real culprits?

    There was a time when leaders viewed the pope as head of heads of state and wanted his compliance, but damn, we’re wayyy past that! It’s a useless, defunct office. The best thing is just to not allow anybody from Vatican City entrance to any other country, and call out all Catholics as being scumbags (they’re all complicit in and supportive of this) and call it good. Just no longer accept the passport and isolate them to their evil little patch of stonework to be viewed as a derelict zoo.

    It’s not like this is news! It’s freaking sick and the Catholics themselves had plenty of chance to change things and DID NOTHING. One little 10million-strong protest and it all could be changed. Heck, they’d even rewrite the bible again for that, let alone allow priests to marry. But no. Complicit people in the biggest sheep herd on Earth.

    Don’t overcomplicate it, Phil. They’re a worldwide scourge of hate, superstition and corruption. One visit to Latin America gives an idea just how big , how ugly, how much they ruin a culture, and how much they would set us all back if given the chance. When we get past the Catholic Church, once and for all, we as a planet can cut loose our Medieval anchor that we keep dragging along with us. We can start by making political persona non grata of that hateful little gnome in the stupid KKK outfit.

    (btw, good writing , Phil)

  172. MoonShark

    I appreciate the efforts of people like David D. (#130) to point out the minute details of Ratzinger & Kiesle story. Perhaps there really isn’t enough evidence there to put Ratzinger on trial specifically for that. If one of the prosecutors that Dawkins or Hitchens spoke to pushes for a case on that connection alone, I’d want to see it go to a grand jury first.

    HOWEVER, this comparatively small story doesn’t significantly lessen the Pope’s role in the larger scandal against humanity. There seem to be many cases with far better evidence where the church moved the offending priests to faraway regions rather than immediately reporting the accusations to secular law enforcement. That’s beyond unacceptable, and I’d be stunned if somehow every single Vatican cardinal was not aware of the practice. It’s unethical to harbor pedophiles the same way it’s unethical to harbor terrorists. Both undermine the security and well-being of decent citizens.

    Like any accused, Ratzinger and other individuals deserve the most fair trials possible. But the people of the western world (particularly innocent children) also deserve justice for the abuses of miscreated authority and moral corruption of the Roman Catholic institution. And the charges of harboring pedophiles are only a start.

  173. Jeffersonian

    Think about it….they’re blaming Jews! How low does it have to get before it’s recognized for what it is?

    “Spineless bastards all
    Sir leads the troops
    jealous of youth
    same old jokes since 1902
    he does the military two-step
    down the nape of my neck”

  174. “And all the while the skeptics have to tread very carefully indeed if they don’t want to tick off the rest of the world.”

    Just like Rosa Parks should have been more careful, right? Ok, I wont pull the comparison to far, but when you are right, you are right, and while I can sympathize with the “careful method”, I dont care for the “hurt the cause” tone. We need rebels, we need people who wont compromise or tread tread carefully, AND we need the careful ones.

    Sure, abusing crackers will anger the catholics, and it probably doesnt convince anyone, but thats not the point, I ask Phil Plait the same thing he did: to see the bigger picture: If not now, when will it be ok to tell catholics that transubstantiation is bull? is it when we have carefully trodden them all into the realm of agnostic cultural catholics? How do you suppose we get get there without ever offending them?

    We wont. Religions like the Catholic church are specifically designed* to label offensive ANYTHING that may make its followers skeptical of its claims, this is why it still exists as a religion.

    Orwell famously wrote that “During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” In the context of the catholic church, telling the truth is an offensive act. And sure, you can try your best to tiptoe around Catholicism’s labyrinth of non-offensive statements to make a case against it, or you can choose to ignore that and just say it like it is. I prefer the latter. You are bound to piss someone off either way.

    *by that I mean culturally evolved, in the same sense the tigers teeth are “designed for killing”

  175. Marion Delgado

    Elmar:

    The attempt to revive the Middle Ages is noted, as is the bigotry, and the faux-secular Zionist-Fundie Axis Crusaderism. But I think you’re cheating: you just took Luther’s polemics against Jews and subbed in references to Islam.

  176. Angela Squires

    It would be foolish and arrogant for Skeptics to assume a prerogative of attack while a majority of the Christian world are appalled and quite capable of bringing the guilty to justice without us! When you are a minority and not popular it makes sense to keep a low profile while others do that which you also wish. The time for Skeptics to step up to the plate would be if the world opts to let these criminals and especially Ratzinger avoid punishment and victim compensation for their crimes. There is precedent unfortunately where tyrants have escaped justice for political expediency; however I don’t think this will be such a case. Let the Pope’s own hang him; they will do so because he has destroyed their cherished illusion of moral superiority; their punishment of him will be ignominy and excommunication, the world’s no less harsh. Our Skeptics role could be to comfort shocked believers as we all witness the self-destruction of the Roman Catholic Church. Then what happens?

  177. Zyaama

    Good post. I won’t even go into details, since I simply agree with most of it. People like PZ and Dawkins may disagree, but I’d like to ask them “Do you disagree because you are atheists, or because you are skeptics?”

    I consider myself both, and so far I see little in this whole affair that tickles the skeptic in me, while the atheist is busy tweeting and writing blog comments…

  178. Elmar_M

    Elmar:

    The attempt to revive the Middle Ages is noted, as is the bigotry, and the faux-secular Zionist-Fundie Axis Crusaderism. But I think you’re cheating: you just took Luther’s polemics against Jews and subbed in references to Islam.

    Ad Hominem.
    You dont like my facts? Bring facts to counter my argumentation and refrain from insults please.

  179. This article comes across as a gleeful attack from the outside – and I’m no catholic. At worst, what happened looks like an overly bureaucratic organisation failed to properly resolve a case quickly enough. That doesn’t sound particularly malicious to me, no matter the “OMG save the kids” retoric so helpfully strewn about. Did Kiesle’s delayed defrocking actually harm kids? It’s not quite clear what happened, but it doesn’t sound like it.

    One might ask why all of this needed to involve lengthy by-writing communications with rome when the local people seemed to have a much better grasp of what to do.

    On the other hand, blaming such a huge organisation for not promptly responding to each and every case – that’s just blaming water for being wet.

    Of course it’s fun to poke at a so-called moral beacon but there’s a big difference between making the wrong choice and having too many cases and simply not responding in a timely fashion. This article fails to make that distinction, and comes across as an opportunistic, unprincipled attack – something that might be acceptable from a person intimately involved with the case, but not from a so-called skeptic.

  180. Andrew

    If someone has broken a law which contravenes or infringes on the rights of an individual or a group of individuals, then the perpretrator should then be made to stand trial in a law court. Under which legal system would he be tried? In my own opinion, skepticism should not be the tool of judgement here. Skepticism
    is simply another belief system, which is subject to the same misunderstandings and prejudices of any organised religion.

  181. Wayne

    I haven’t read through the 170 comments left before mine, so if someone has pointed this out, my apologies for the repeat.

    If anyone out there thinks for even a split second that the Catholic Church is the only group guilty of covering up things like this, they are sadly mistaken. This is widespread and it is incredibly heartbreaking that church leaders decide to protect their institute instead of a child. Sickening is what it is.

  182. andyo

    Yep, the Sylvia Browne analogy is seriously flawed. In this scenario, Randi would be a thief and a fraud, but Browne already is both those things. It’s not like people rallying behind a skeptic (it shouldn’t matter anyway if it is a skeptic), it’s like people rallying behind a pedophile in prosecuting religious pedophile protectors.

  183. andyo

    But it is also a secularist’s cause, from another point of view.

    The reason is not because there are supernatural excuses. It is because it’s sooo freaking unthinkable for the vast majority of people, religious or irreligious, that the pope could be prosecuted. If one brings it up, most people will chuckle.

    Why is that? Why does this primate in a funny hat get such reverence from other similar primates? The very president of the U.S. went down for being complicit in bugging some hotel room, and another one almost did for enjoying consensual, lawful sex between two adults a little too much. Why is this guy so special? Were he some non-religious leader he’d already be out and universally disgraced for sure.

    And why are so many people defending the indefensible, inventing despicable excuses and derailing the discussion with “the church is not the only institution which abuses children” type of arguments? Nobody said it was. It’s completely irrelevant. It is known, and it needs to be investigated, and the perpetrators prosecuted.

    Well, the answer seems to me that it’s religion, and particularly the notions that it deserves unquestionable reverence, and that faith is a virtue. Who else but secularists are going to lead the charge against these corrosive and monumentally harmful fallacies?

  184. Helioprogenus

    If Phil wants a rational response, I think the best place to start is to strip the Church of their tax exempt status. It’s as simple as that. Hit those criminals in their pocketbook. In fact, no religion should be exempt from paying taxes, so this isn’t just a personal attack on Catholics, but on the whole religious framework of permissivity. For too long, they effect politics, economics, and human behavior to such a degree that they should be taxed by the government for their corporate-like business structure and operations.

    A reasoned response is great, but ultimately, a reasoned penalty is also required. If we all must struggle to pay taxes (it’s April 15th to my American compatriats…tax day), then we can’t let religion off the hook. It’s time irrationality…it’s time to pay the price for filling the compartmentalized brains of your believers.

  185. ad

    Wayne, what exactly is the example of “church leaders protecting their institute” that you are referring to? Phil’s erroneous facts show no such thing. The Pope is being charged with ‘defrocking’ a priest who had been, convicted, sentenced, and released by the judicial system. He did what was asked. Fir crissakes, i’m not even a Catholic, but can see the ludicrousness of this situation and the naked posturing by the likes of Phil and other notables.

  186. MarcusBailius

    I thought Phil’s article was a model of restraint, written with tact and diplomacy. It should be required reading for everyone interested in the issues here, whether the issue is the abuse of children by priests in the Catholic Church, or the alleged cover-up by the Catholic Church heirarchy including apparently Cardinal Ratzinger before he became pope.

    This is indeed an issue for all. Catholics in particular are going to find it very hard to deal with the ramifications; they will in many cases need support and understanding, not condemnation and especially not point-scoring.

    High-profile attempts by such as Christopher Hitchens to bring a case against the Pope won’t help, really. After some consideration among themselves, it may be that the outrage among Catholics themselves over this issue might achieve a better result. As it is, the outrage of Catholics is directed against Hitchens and inevitably Dawkins, and not against the Pope.

  187. #andyo

    It also fails in other respects, if Randi turned out to be a fraud, it wouldnt un-fraud the people he has spent a lifetime exposing as frauds. Also, I admire him because he has proven himself to be a man who is honest and doesnt accept fraud, if he himself turned out to be one, he’d be a hypocrite and I would think less of him, and i would rally behind a call for a fair trial, but I have a hard time believing that Browne would be the lone voice of reason in this scenario(or any other scenario I can think of).

    My respect for Randi goes deep, but it doesnt go beyond what he is and does. he may secretly be a flaming lunatic serial puppy-murderer for all I know, but I can only judge (and thus respect)him on the grounds of what I know he has done and said, and thus far, its been all good.

  188. I’ll start by saying that, IMO, any concerns about offending people’s beliefs are of very low priority, compared to the seriousness of this matter. ( I’m referring not to the one case in California, but to the child abuse which has been going on throughout the Catholic Church, especially in Ireland, for decades. )
    Someone once said, “We should respect another man’s religious beliefs – but only to the extent that we respect his belief that his wife is beautiful and his children smart.” In other words, we shouldn’t deliberately offend people’s religion, but nor should we bend over backwards not to. So if what I’m about to say offends a lot of Catholics – TOUGH!
    It seems to me that why the pervert priests got away with it for so long, and the Church’s cover-up, has a lot to do with the particular barmy beliefs of the Catholic Church – which makes it an issue on which sceptics and atheists ( for the record, I’m both ) should comment.
    Firstly, there is the Catholic idea of confession. They believe that their imaginary being in the sky will forgive you for any “sin”, however terrible, as long as you “repent your sins” – i.e. confess them to a priest ( which means to God, as the priest is supposed to be his representative ), and then perform an appropriate “penance” – which usually means nothing more than saying a few prayers. So if a pervert priest confessed his “sins”, say to his bishop, then in the eyes of the Church, he would be “absolved”, as long as he said 100 Hail Marys or some such garbage. So there would be no need, in their philosophy, for any punishment!
    Secondly, and absurdly, there is a very real way in which Catholic priests are above the law! As Phil told us some time ago on this site, the Catholic Church has a bizarre “hierarchy of sins”, whereby a whole load of sins are somehow considered worse then murder. One of these is “breaking the sanctity of the confessional”; if someone went to a priest and confessed to murder, then the priest would be forbidden by the Church to inform the police – and if he did so, he would be considered guilty of a worse “sin” than the murderer!!! Seriously, this is actually how these lunatics think!
    Now, in my country – and I would assume in others – there is a law which says that withholding of evidence of a serious crime is itself a crime. According to that law, the priest in the above example should be legally obliged to inform the police – yet for some unfathomable reason, Catholic priests are exempted from this law! So we have a case in which a religion is officially allowed to take precedence over the secular law of a nation. This is completely wrong!!!
    So perhaps this has a lot to do with the abuse cover-up. If a pervert priest confesses to his bishop, then not only is he considered to have been “absolved of his sins”, but the Church would be obliged, by its own rules, to deal with the matter internally, and not involve the police or any external authority.
    Such exemption of religion from the law does not belong in the modern world, and needs to be abolished immediately.

  189. Hugo

    168. BicycleRepairMan – Have you read my mind, very well put that is exactly what I was thinking when reading Phil’s post.

  190. Steve in Dublin

    Tezcatlipoca @ #29

    As for going in to Vatican City to get Ratzinger…rumours of WMD’s should suffice…

    No problem there. The Catholic Church is a WMD all by itself!

  191. Kazgut

    This is an issue of human decency. The fact that we are skeptics should never bar us from pursuing justice for victims of any crime (let alone child rape). If this were any other institution I would expect the skeptical community to be just as outraged, not because people’s naivety has been preyed upon by a religious instution, but because a terrible injustice has taken place. This is an issue that is testing our humanity, not our powers of observation and critical thinking. If we, even as skeptics, cannot stand up for the rights of children what good are we as human beings?

  192. Josh

    I haven’t read all the comments. Not enough time, unfortunately. I am a skeptic, but I am not an atheist. I know many would say those two go hand-in-hand, but I feel differently. Anyone who wants to debate, I’m game, but this blog is not the place.

    Now on to the main points. I was raised Catholic, and have nothing against the Catholic church as an ideal. That said, I am no longer Catholic, as I disagree with too much of their dogma, and their inability to discipline their own at times. I believe that any priest (bishop, cardinal, whatever) that has molested anyone, child or otherwise, should pay for their crimes, both here and in the afterlife. I believe they will pay in the afterlife, but that doesn’t mean they get a free pass here on earth.

    As for the Pope, what he did was abhorrent. But, having been raised Catholic, I know that it is drilled into anyone who is truly a believer that keeping the church alive is your main goal. I can understand his delaying tactics in light of that. It’s hard to get past a lifetime of indoctrination. That said, he should pay for something akin to “obstruction of justice”, possibly with an added dose of “enablement”. It seems obvious to me that he didn’t approve of what the priest in Oakland did, and he didn’t participate in it, but he should have done more to stop it. This has to be handled internationally, as many countries, especially in Europe, still wholeheartedly support the Catholic church even if they don’t necessarily worship.

    And as for #180, priests are exempted from the law, yes, but if they were to speak to police about what they heard/saw they would be excommunicated, but not prosecuted under US law. In a way, priests being exempted from this law almost makes sense, as it can be considered “diplomatic immunity” for “ambassadors” of the Vatican state, as the Roman Catholic church really is.

    That’s all I have to say, feel free to disagree.

  193. Rob

    Very good post by ‘Jack of Kent’ (the skeptic and legal blogger who did a lot of work for Simon Singh’s libel campaign, among other things) at http://jackofkent.blogspot.com/2010/04/shall-we-arrest-pope.html.

  194. The difference being that if Randi embezzled $1 million we wouldn’t need outsiders to condemn him and insist that he go to jail. Skeptics would be leading the charge.

    #6 – There’s lots of stuff that the church does or believes that isn’t in their religious books or official rules. They change over time to make their rules match what they’re already doing. Once there were 9 levels of Hell, then just Limbo, and now not even that. Even if the official rules condemn child molesting the truth is in what the the church does. Once upon a time it was wrong by Catholic church standards. Once upon a time it got the molester excommunicated at the very least. Today you’re given a bonus (a.k.a. payoff) and given a bunch of new children to molest. If you help give the bonuses and change of harem you don’t go to prison, you’re rewarded by making you Pope.

    #7 – I rather like the Islamic approach to what the priests and Pope have been doing. They’re left free, but only after having their hands cut off.

  195. Jim

    It is wise for skeptics to sometimes turn that skeptical eye on themselves, and nice to see it done here, to a degree.

  196. Ron1

    @177. ad Says: “Wayne, what exactly is the example of “church leaders protecting their institute” that you are referring to?”

    Well, how about Benedict’s own correspondence …

    “The future Pope Benedict XVI resisted pleas to defrock a U.S. priest with a record of sexually molesting children, citing concerns including “the good of the universal church,” according to a 1985 letter bearing his signature.

    The correspondence, obtained by The Associated Press, is the strongest challenge yet to the Vatican’s insistence that Benedict played no role in blocking the removal of pedophile priests during his years as head of the Catholic Church’s doctrinal watchdog office.”
    Gillian Flaccus, The Associated Press

    Or, how about this Canadian example …

    “More than a decade before police got wind that a priest had molested several altar boys in small towns in the Ottawa Valley, Vatican and Canadian church officials knew about the matter and discussed in a letter how to keep it secret.

    The letter, written in 1993, focused on protecting the church’s image by preventing the scandal from becoming public – the very essence of an international wave of allegations now battering the Roman Catholic clergy and the Vatican. ”

    The link to the letter is found embedded in the Globe and Mail story.
    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/vatican-canadian-church-officials-tried-to-keep-sex-scandal-secret/article1528471/

    How many other examples would you like?

  197. Milton C.

    It is wise for skeptics to sometimes turn that skeptical eye on themselves, and nice to see it done here, to a degree

    Agreed. We could use much more of that, in my opinion, before we run off the rails.

  198. Steve in Dublin

    I happened to read the “Journalists Abandon Standards to Attack the Pope” article that ‘ad’ linked to in post #90 before I read the NY Times article that I assume was one of Dr. Phil’s primary sources.

    When you read that “Journalists Abandon Standards…” article in isolation, it seems to make a lot of sense, and on the face of it, it looks like the Times and Phil are overreacting… but then when you read the NY Times article, it is evident that it was just as well researched. And then you see the “Journalists Abandon Standards…” article more for what it really is: apologetics.

    The facts presented in both articles are essentially the same. It is just the slant that’s different.

  199. Bryan D

    Just a random observation, but why do you continue to refer to him as ” Ratzinger”, that hasn’t been his name for a few years now.

    I mean, unless you still call Muhammad Ali, Cassius Clay. :)

  200. Garbledina

    Thank You, Phil, for this passionate, yet well-reasoned, post. As an atheist and a skeptic, I have been following this pretty closely. I am outraged and downright depressed about this situation, and I agree strongly that something ought to be done about it. I want to make it clear, though, that my outrage is just as vehement as it would be if something similar was going on in any secular organization. As much as I have never been a fan of the Catholic Church, I feel no glee at the situation they find themselves in; no “Gotcha!” sense of vindication. And yet, when I voice my disgust about this, my religious friends assume that it is coming from this anti-religiousness. This is exactly why I agree that skeptics need to tread lightly with this. We are a highly mistrusted minority, and people are likely to assume it is atheist zealotry that is making us attack the pope, et al. We know that this is horrible because we are human, and we are able to be outraged and outspoken not because we are anti-religion (even if we sometimes are), but because we see the religious aspect as being irrelevant, and so therefore have taken the scales from our eyes, so to speak.

    That being said, Rebecca’s post was honest and passionate, and although PZ can be abrasive, he fills an important role. I would amend your statement to: “We always need warriors AND diplomats.”

  201. When referring to his pre-Pope days the name Ratzinger is appropriate.
    Did his name legally change when he became Pope? Or is that just his Pope-name?
    Personally, I prefer Pope Palpatine.

  202. why do you continue to refer to him as ” Ratzinger”

    Spoken for myself, I dont recognize men dressing up in silly hats and giving themselves pompus circus titles. Ratzinger is his name, “pope benedict” is his catholic title.

  203. David D.

    …I dont recognize men dressing up in silly hats and giving themselves pompus circus titles.

    …says a guy(?) who refers to himself as “BicycleRepairMan.”

    Nice.

  204. George N

    I haven’t read all of the comments here but it seems to me that the inability of the RC Church to police itself demonstrates internal unbelief in its inherent claim to transcendence. This doubt is a component of reality or what some would call atheism.

  205. Old Rockin' Dave

    We also have seen the edifying spectacle of a senior Church official comparing the criticism of the Church in this case to the persecution of Jews.
    The only thing that the Church and pedophilia and the Church and anti-Semitism have in common is that when Church officials weren’t actively perpetrating either one, they did little or nothing about them.

  206. Garbledina

    @George N
    Are you saying that the problem with the church is that there are too many atheists in it? Maybe I’m reading you wrong, but that’s a pretty bizarre conclusion if I’m not.

  207. Mark M.

    As John Lennon once wrote “the Pope smokes dope very day”.
    What the “dope” is, is open to interpertation, but man he’s smokin it.

  208. CB

    Skeptics shouldn’t assume that where there is smoke there is fire. If ten people accuse a priest of child molestation, each case must be investigated on its own merits. It’s an obvious accusation to come up with, if one is inclined to make false accusations, because priests have a reputation of being pedophiles.

  209. You know those t-shirts that say, “Arrest me! I’m a [descriptor]!” People calling for the arrest of the Pope, or saying things like “religion can get away with breaking laws” probably think those t-shirts are grounds for indictment.

    A. Crimes are committed by individuals or institutions. Religions can’t break laws because they are neither. In the case of molestation, it’s a highly individual crime that it’s almost impossible to accuse an institution of unless they are actively promoting it. I sincerely doubt the Catholic Church has molestation written into its catechism, despite a hilarious Louis CK sketch to the contrary.

    B. People who are really heated about getting the Pope arrested, are forgetting a key ingredient: Charge. Yes, that’s right, to be arrested you have to be charged with a specific crime. Jack of Kent raises this issue in his blog. Ratzinger may liable in a tort if he wasn’t immune as a head of state, but he never committed an actual crime. Even the usual “aiding and abetting” doesn’t apply since it requires intentionally helping the criminal to commit a crime and accessory also carries a certain standard that must be supported by… wait for it… evidence. Perhaps, maybe, possibly, the Pope could potentially be guilty of a criminal act, but you need to get to the bottom of which criminal act, and provide evidence for said act before you can get your foot in the door for an arrest- even if he weren’t a head of state. I maintain that the Pope is no different from anyone else, and this extends to his rights under a fair justice system.

  210. Captn Tommy

    Religion is power. and as we all know from history power corrupts. the Roman Catholic Church is no exception.

    The first time this happened to the christian faith thier leader was killed by the corrupt power base.

    The second time some upstart monotheistic religion for the middle east incroached on their territory (religion) hence the Crusades. We still live with that result.

    Finally the big slap down… the protestants split away from the Church. 20 million dead later… about 1750 The new Idea of a secular non religious society raised its head.

    That’s just a basic history, you can argue the points, and there are other corruptions: Wall Street, Born agains, Bigots, but ANYONE who condones harming children for the good of ANYTHING, is a criminal, sins of the past included. I made a mistake doesn’t forgive you, neither does I was only following orders, corruption is corruption.

    I am a Roman Catholic, I like my parish, but I do not like my church… I have turned my back on it.

    1. For the good of ___Blank____ has always come back and bit who ever has said it.
    2. All other religions I have known of turn their pedeophiles over to the police instantly, and come to the injured child and family (I have asked). The bishops, cardinals, Pope who covered up these crimes retired or not should be fired, let go with out pension, banned and branded for what they are, and arrested… shunned. (I believe this of the Bankers who caused the 2008 collapse too) Then they spuld be charged with aiding and abetting the harm of children.

    There is no excuse… ever. They are as the Bible puts is acursed in the land, they are worse than the crime.

    God is Great, but men created religion. To save it self, the church must destroy itself. And It knows what I mean. Too many crimes, Too many lies, I turn and walk away in complete disintrest, kicking the dust from my feet.

    Captn Tommy

  211. Karl

    I haven’t read all the comments, so perhaps somebody mentioned this already. We could also point at Pope JP2 who snatched away Cardinal Law from Boston and moved him to Rome just as a legal investigation was started regarding his moving around and hiding molester priests.

  212. @Pi-needles

    “Can your everyday secular business hire or refuse to hire somebody just because of that person’s gender &/or sexual orientation?——No – but a religion can & does get away with it. :-(

    This is not actually true. You can legally discriminate based on gender if it is a BFOQ (Bona Fide Occupational Qualifications) The Church doesn’t not hire women, they don’t hire women as Priests. This isn’t an expemption that only applies to the church. For example a clothing manufacture is not legally obligated to hire women to model male clothes.

    “Does a business that finds out an employee is a paedophile get to cover it up for the sake of that business’es reputation & NOT report it to the police or take any real action?—-No – but a religion can get away with it! :-(

    Sadly this is also not true. Many Schools and business have been caught doing similar things, for the sake of reputation and/or to avoid litigation. No one should get a free pass, hopefully this will help change that.

    “Can a normal person pay no tax and make no contribution to the nation’s economy?—-No – but a religion can get away with it. :-(

    You can’t compare an institution to an individual. There are plenty of non religious non-profits with tax exemptions.

  213. Another Adam

    From a practical point of view the only thing skeptics can do is call for governments and other Christian churches to pressure the RCC to reform its practices. How priests are ordained and what to do with them when they have been found to abuse their authority have to be addressed. However, Phil is right in syaing the skeptical community will not be successful if they go in “guns blazing.” Start pressuring other countries to put pressure on the Vatican. Other religions should also pressure the RCC. In this case, the church has to be treated more like China with its dismal human rights record instead of an organization subject to the laws of any one nation.

  214. MoonShark

    @Milton C (#193): I see that You’re Not Helping post about the “ratchet of hate” as committing a slippery slope fallacy. That “ratcheting” mechanism doesn’t stick, because as this very discussion illuminates, skeptics ARE free to criticize each other. e.g. We all know damn well that PZ’s words are opinion, not gospel, and could be subject to revision, retractment, and/or apology. He’s done all of the above before.

    It is indeed sloppy to throw around terms like “appeaser” or “enabler” or “accomodationist” without merit. If your charge is to seek the truth, then these labels should be seen as a call to expound on the details, not give up or claim “Help, help, I’m being repressed!”. And in the case of PZ or (especially) Coyne, they’ve already spilled tons of ink (well, keystrokes) detailing exactly why they use such shorthand for people like Mooney & Kirshenbaum or Michael Ruse. They use the labels, in their own opinions at least, with full merit and reasoning. You don’t have to agree, but please consider the reasoning and intent.

    If you think these hardline atheists are honestly trying to shut down dialogue in any way, they I really don’t think you’re reading them carefully. I find it’s this “Stop being so offensive, you’re not helping!” attitude that takes a few strong opinions as representative of the nebulous diversity of all skeptics or mandating some harsher status quo, to be, ironically, “not helping”. This is one group that really, truly can’t be painted with such broad strokes. There really are tons of skeptics who aren’t comfortable putting their necks on the line to speak with vitriol toward what we all see as abominable, and that’s fine! But please, have the decency to recognize that uniform timidity would entirely cripple the fight against superstition and nonsense. A portion (and we can argue about exactly what portion) have to take risks.

    Fortunately, unlike in much of religious history, this skeptic battle is one that can (and should be) waged peacefully, with words. And that’s where I think the line should be drawn: promoting violence, or making statements with utter and perpetual refusal to modify, retract, or critically examine them. And aside from a handful of crazy comments (e.g. the “rusty knife” one), we haven’t seen either on these blogs — definitely not by the authors.

    “We” are not a cohesive group. And as long as we can settle on a baseline of integrity (nonviolence and openness to revision seem good to me), we may quite possibly be better for that.

  215. stompsfrogs

    elmar:
    “I beg to put this into relation with other religions, e.g. the Islam where its leaders actively and publicly call for marriage of under age girls and even the killing of women and men that dont comply with their rules. These are not just a hand full of cases either, but millions of cases all over the world.
    Seeing the outrage against the pope and catholic church at the moment, I cant help but wonder what would be the proportionate actions against the afforementioned other religious leaders and their followers.
    Yet, things are rather quiet about these things right now.

    Have you heard? There’s a war on. We completely overthrew the government of this country called Iraq? Handed its leader to his worst enemies and they hanged him? Remember?

    elmar:
    “I am an atheist and a sceptic.”

    Somehow, I doubt that. I call sockpuppet.

    BTW, very well-reasoned and cool-headed post, Phil. I think the only action that may be warranted is for people who care, to contact politicians so that our government can maybe try to initiate some trade sanctions or call for extradition of guilty parties. One of whom would be Ratty Ratzinger. This is a political nightmare because of religious apologists, but this mountain of solid evidence against the pope and the hierarchy of the catholic church… I mean, you gotta be a real wackaloon to get the pope’s back on this one. I don’t think this issue needs our help to go the right way.

    Captn Tommy:
    “The bishops, cardinals, Pope who covered up these crimes retired or not should be fired, let go with out pension, banned and branded for what they are, and arrested… shunned. (I believe this of the Bankers who caused the 2008 collapse too)”

    The bankers = molester clergy, the regulators = the pope.

  216. saltywar

    200+ comments, and I wonder if 3 people even read the linked article. We’re talking about someone who was convicted, sentenced, and served the full sentence for pedophilia, then asked to be removed from an organization.

    I’m not overly comfortable with the idea of organizations that work with children retaining the services of convicted pedophiles, but while doing so may be inadvisable, it’s a long, long way from being illegal.

  217. Wayne

    @ad (#191): “what exactly is the example of “church leaders protecting their institute” that you are referring to”

    I was referring to sweeping issues like this under the rug, ignoring them, whether it’s for a day or years. The man was left to work with children while the issue was under consideration and after four years, someone finally said “we should investigate this further”?!?

    I know from experience that this happens, despite whatever facts you may think are erroneous, and I’m sure that my case is not an isolated one.

  218. Milton C.

    Moonshark, it’s not the “big” bloggers who are the problem, in my opinion. It’s the people reading them….and then taking their words to heart. You rarely hear the bloggers talk about “appeasement” or “sleeping with the enemy,” but the comment threads- the masses taking their words to the streets – are often chock full of such language. As skeptics, we should view criticism as healthy (as you correctly stated), but too many people are seeing criticism as acceptance of the “enemy.” That’s what makes the ratchet stick…at least to me.

  219. MoonShark

    @Milton C: The figure I’ve heard for another site though is that for every commenter, there are 50 visitors who read and do NOT comment. I don’t know the ratio for ScienceBlogs or Discover, but I’d be very curious about that before making generalizations. Let’s see some evidence that this vitriol truly represents more than, say, 5% of skeptics. Might I suggest an online poll? ;)

  220. @ #154. Damian, if you would like a reply; open up the comment application on your blog.

  221. MoonShark

    @Milton C: I should add though, being a minority doesn’t mean those commenters who cross the “lines of integrity” I mentioned (nonviolence and openness to revision) should get away with it. The rest of us need to call them out. The “skeptic club” may be not be cohesive, it can still have a rough surface or boundary of sorts. Kind of like a nebula, or the 90% confidence interval used in drawing electron orbitals.

  222. Steve

    Re: 194 Neil

    ********************
    Firstly, there is the Catholic idea of confession. They believe that their imaginary being in the sky will forgive you for any “sin”, however terrible, as long as you “repent your sins” (…..) So there would be no need, in their philosophy, for any punishment!
    ********************

    Lots of misconstrued facts here. Forgiveness in confession is given when the sinner repents. Repenting is not simply telling a priest what you did. It’s an active process in the sinner’s life by which they recognize and strive to not only avoid repeating that sin but to purge the desire to commit that sin.

    Also, none of this is ever meant to take away any responsibility to suffer earthly punishments. No church that I’m aware of, certainly not the Catholic church, believes that Confession absolves a criminal of their crime on earth. No one teaches that they should not be punished civilly.

    ********************
    Secondly, and absurdly, there is a very real way in which Catholic priests are above the law! (…)One of these is “breaking the sanctity of the confessional”; if someone went to a priest and confessed to murder, then the priest would be forbidden by the Church to inform the police – and if he did so, he would be considered guilty of a worse “sin” than the murderer!!! Seriously, this is actually how these lunatics think!

    Now, in my country – and I would assume in others – there is a law which says that withholding of evidence of a serious crime is itself a crime. According to that law, the priest in the above example should be legally obliged to inform the police – yet for some unfathomable reason, Catholic priests are exempted from this law! So we have a case in which a religion is officially allowed to take precedence over the secular law of a nation. This is completely wrong!!!
    ********************
    More misconceptions.

    There are different levels of sin, but murder is in no way on the lower teir. The higher tier is “mortal sins” which by their nature condemn ones soul to hell unless forgiveness is contritely asked for. I’m personally not aware of breaking the confessional being in that level, but even if it were, it’s certainly not classified as worse than murder.

    Regarding your outrage at the sanctity of the confessional, the law of the United States, at least, allows for this exception in several cases. You may have heard of Doctor/Patient privilege and Attorney/Client privilege. Certainly in the case of a criminal confessing to their lawyer, you should feel even more angry because that lawyer then tries the prevent justice being done. surely that’s more offensive because the lawyer himself is actively opposing justice in a real court of law.

    While I also believe that it’s terrible that the Church hasn’t done all in its power to prevent abuse or to punish the abusers, I’d rather we get angry at them for good reasons and not just because we have an incorrect view of their workings.

    P.S. I’m not a Catholic. I was educated in Catholic schools for 14 years and raised in those beliefs very sincerely. I’m an atheist now.

  223. W

    Religion will go away, eventually. This will not happen overnight but the fact that we can have these opinions on an open forum and not be tortured and murdered as heretics is a testament to the progress that we have made. I’m not so sure the gentle caress of rationalism will covert many religious lifers, but in this age of science and reason and openly questioning anything… it is the youth that will take notice and (our) numbers will continue, gradually, to grow. I have forseen this. (hahah, little woo there) I’m not suggesting we punch people in the nose but the time for coddling has passed. That is my two cents. Good day sir! :)

  224. Check this link – This is an article from 2003. Why is this not being talked about more?

    http://writ.news.findlaw.com/hamilton/20030619.html

    The bishops responsible for the concealment of these crimes in America – and their diocese as organizations – should be prosecuted under the RICO statutes. If 2-6% of the mob were raping and torturing children, the FBI would be in a shooting war with them. If 2-6% of General Electric employees were raping and torturing children, there would be no more GE.

  225. Elmar_M

    Somehow, I doubt that. I call sockpuppet.

    Dude, I have been an avid follower of Phil Plait for quite some time now.
    I think you are so eager to spitt arround poison that you are not even seeing who your enemy and who your friend is.

    Have you heard? There’s a war on. We completely overthrew the government of this country called Iraq? Handed its leader to his worst enemies and they hanged him? Remember?

    Actually, the war in Iraq had very little to do with ANYTHING that I said. In fact it had almost nothing to do with Islam. Also, the removal of Saddam gave way to more radical islamic movements there. If what you said was the goal, it was a failure.

  226. Unfortunately, the pope is the head of state of a foreign country, and he enjoys not only the adoration of a billion or so toadying followers, but the protections and privileges afforded any head of state. You can’t just arrest him.

    Self-respecting Catholics can leave the church, however. Stripped of its power base, the church will turn brown, wither, and eventually die. Every Catholic that continues to be a member of the Roman Catholic Church aids and abets the child abuse, and implicitly supports the actions of the pope. I’m not saying they should give up religion (although that’s a great idea), but they should give up that church. Join a different denomination, or form a new Catholic church, appoint a new Pope, and toss the old hierarchy to the curb.

    There is an opportunity right now for some clear-thinking leader in the Catholic church to clean house and make himself and the followers that come with him look very good.

  227. The fact that he is a religious leader is completely irrelevant to this question.

    Would another country’s leader who commented the same crime be brought to trial? If the answer is yes, then absolutely the answer must be yes to the question of arresting the Pope.

  228. Philip Jr.

    Don’t know if anyone’s posted it already, but You’re Not Helping has chipped in on Phil’s points in more of an uber-generalized manner. While I don’t agree with all of them, I think they’ve got a very relevant point to make….just like Phil.

    http://yourenothelping.wordpress.com/2010/04/15/on-conflating-restraint-with-appeasement-and-the-ratchet-of-hate/

  229. Philip Jr.

    Bah, Milton C., you beat me to the punch. Consider my previous post a bump, then.

  230. Eric Pepke

    Cool! 235 replies, and I still get to mention the first time the fact that skeptics were very much involved with respect to the allegations of abuse at the McMartin preschool, and with the surrounding issues that grew around it. Nothing at all stated as a reason for skeptics not to become involved was considered important then.

    So what’s different now? Has the world become Nu-Perfect while I wasn’t looking?

  231. Szwagier

    I haven’t read all 236 comments because I suspect that there’s an awful lot of barracking going on for one side or the other. Probably mostly one side, if I know anything about atheist scientists, who generally come across, I’m afraid to say, as fanatical and foamy-bearded as Old Testament prophets.

    This is, in fact, absolutely nothing to do with non-belief in a god or belief in a god, and, equally, absolutely everything to do with power relationships between human individuals. To put it bluntly, catholics bugger children and atheists bugger children and so do individuals, I’d hazard a guess, with any other belief system you care to name. Bringing religion and faith into it is completely missing the point.

    A lot of the sceptic (I’m British and so my spelling rules tell me) argument says, stripping away the flowery phrases, that religion, and specifically the Roman Catholic religion, is the cause of this. I haven’t seen any incontrovertible evidence of that; and I’m willing to bet that the reason I haven’t seen any such evidence is that there isn’t any. I say again, religion is irrelevant. It’s about power.

    To use some bar psychology, it should be reasonably clear that adults who rape children have issues with power and responsibility. I have no idea how you hard scientists can put that into your equations – you can’t, of course, not yet – but until you start addressing those issues of power and responsibility rather than aiming at the straw man of religion you’re not going to help anybody – victim recipient or, yes, victim (in some sense I can’t quite explain right now) perpetrator.

    In this particular argument, there’s nothing to be gained and everything to be lost by focusing on the perpetrators’ organisation rather than them themselves. The covering for them that has gone on is still, I would argue, a function of power (and obviously the Roman Catholic Church is very powerful) rather than a function of the beliefs of the religion/belief system itself.

    I can’t say any more that would be any use at the moment, but if a bit of background would be helpful, I’m a scientist, and an atheist (‘sceptic’ is for wishy-washies) and I’ve been living in one of the most conservatively Catholic countries on the planet – Poland – for the last 15 years, so (argument from authority) I’d like to think I have some idea of what makes the opposition tick. At least in part.

  232. Szwagier

    Sorry, me again, very soon after. Not spamming, I just noticed something specific I want to take issue with.

    @Evolving Squid

    “Self-respecting Catholics can leave the church, however.”

    No, they can’t. Not as far as the church is concerned. Even excommunication only makes you a bad Catholic rather than an ex-Catholic. Once you’ve been pressganged into that fold there’s no escaping it from the Master’s point of view.

    And if you were baptised as a child and grew up in it then you have even less chance of escaping. You can renounce the ceremonies, you can renounce the creed, you can even renounce the belief in a deity, but those years of training at a very young age have left their mark on you and there’s no escaping that. Not even, if recent research is to be believed, amnesia. You forget the facts, you don’t forget the emotions so easily, especially if they’re negative (and if you’re brought up in the Catholic church, they’re negative).

    There is not, yet, any hard/rigorous scientific way of explaining this, but if you (not just you, Evolving Squid, but all of you sceptics) really want to battle this child abuse (regardless of whether that’s your ultimate aim or not) you are going to have to deal with ‘soft’ science concepts.

    And, my personal opinion, a little more humility and empathy wouldn’t go amiss.

  233. Old Rockin' Dave

    Steve, in post #229, says: “Certainly in the case of a criminal confessing to their lawyer, you should feel even more angry because that lawyer then tries the prevent justice being done. surely that’s more offensive because the lawyer himself is actively opposing justice in a real court of law. ”
    In theory, at least, if an attorney knows for a fact that a client is guilty then s/he must advise a guilty plea under the ethical rules for attorneys in the US. I don’t know how often this happens in practice. Certainly, lawyers do say, “I don’t want to know if you did it.” They have other ways to get around this if they choose. But the rule does exist.
    (I don’t want to start a legal debate around this. I know there are other pleas and all kinds of exceptions.)

  234. …says a guy(?) who refers to himself as “BicycleRepairMan.”
    Nice.

    Haha, well I suppose you got me there. The difference is that I know its a joke and he doesnt.

  235. itskurtins

    So it has been said that we (as in all of us) have a collective memory that lasts about 6 months. So it was more then six months ago that the Panzer Pope apologized to the Irish people for the depredations committed against their children, and how long has it been since he apologized to the Austrian people for acts of rape committed against their children. Oh but may be he wasn’t pope yet. Yes and this is not the first time we have had an incident here like this. Didn’t we just discover the rape of hundreds of children in a school for the deff, and the priest was let go . Sent to another position, and then their was the one who organized AMBLA. Does any one remember what that stood for? and the fate of that one person when he got to prison.Hey go check out this movie: Short Eyes. Its an education.

  236. I love it when you talk astronomy Phil.

    Having said that, there are a lot of things I would like to complain about, such as assumptions that all true skeptics must be atheists, and so on, but I really just wanted to utter a word of caution on double standards.

    I recently was talking to someone about this issue. After this individual’s scathing lambasting of the pope and catholicism all because of this one issue, the subject eventually drifted to film. (I’m a filmmaker, that happens sometimes. Long story short, he told me that he planned to see “The Ghost Writer”. My jaw just about hit the floor. Here’s this man with so much hate for the pope, and in almost the same breath he states he wants to go see a movie that was directed by infamous pedophile Roman Polanski! I was blown away. And more to my astonishment, when I called him on it, he defended his views with an argument along the lines of “it’s not like my money goes directly into his pockets, and it’s a good film!” Apparently it’s okay to bash pedophiles if they’re in a religion, but not if they make great films. Sigh…

  237. Craig M

    “At worst, it looks very much like Ratzinger, at the time a Cardinal, may have actively stalled the Church’s actions against the priest.”

    Phil: I strongly suspect that you meant to write “At best” there.

  238. Szwagier

    @somecallmejim

    “infamous pedophile Roman Polanski”.

    If you’re referring to the ‘rape’ case, then you’re way out of line. If you’re not, I’d like to know the basis for your “infamous paedophile” description.

  239. Impudent Infidel

    Pope covering up child rapes affecting a few hundreds or thousands: international uproar. Pope telling people in the middle of an Aids epidemic that condoms actually spread HIV, contributing directly to the deaths of MILLIONS a year and destroying the lives of millions more: barely a ripple.

    Our moral priorities seem to have gone strange at some point. This scandal is a horrible thing, but it barely registers on the scale of what the church does every day.

  240. Yes, I am in fact referring to the case of the 13 year old he sodomized before pleading guilty and then fleeing the US to avoid extradition. This is the same guy who agreed to pay a cash settlement to said victim, and has yet to pay it off, despite making a small fortune in international films.

    Let me put this mildly, even if that 13 year old was crawling all over him begging him for sex, his participation (which he admitted to, by the way) makes him a degenerate in my book, and those who support him aren’t that far behind, in my opinion.

    But my point is, as it was on my last post, that if you’re going to persecute the Pope, don’t do so on your way to a Polanski film fest. Personally, I’m not Catholic, so I don’t really care one way or another from a religious perspective. From a human perspective, anyone who is a pedophile, or anyone who defends, supports, or enables a pedophile is guilty of great injustice, be they the pope, a director, or someone you’ll never know of.

  241. Simon Phillips

    Sceptics, and any rational folks should be angry at the abuse that the leaders of the catholic church have tried to cover up, or ignored, so that other children were then raped.
    Any nasty comments by sceptics designated by others vitriolic, miss the point. Children were raped. Anger and nasty comments are an appropriate reaction to such behaviour. The catholic church masquerades as a force for good and harbours sexual predators that have harmed innocent kids. This must be stopped.
    The pope is part of the cover up, and he should shoulder some of that responsibility. If that means that he has to be made accountable for his part in the whole nasty affair, so be it.
    PZ Myers is not the villain here. The hierarchy of a cult that hides child rapists is.

  242. Jon

    I did not see in the 5 seconds I glanced at the previous 236 posts the following psychological evaluation of priests that are sexual predators: http://www.americamagazine.org/content/article.cfm?article_id=1676

    This is a dicey subject for most, but if you have the guts to explore all points of view as skeptics, imagine this; anyone wishing to be a priest has to (impossibly) just forget about their sexuality. Now, if you’re another human being like I am, this is basically totally impossible. What happens if you try and try, just push it away for longer and longer times, is that it doesn’t go away at all. All that goes away is any method of properly ‘dealing’ with it. That’s all. You could end up expressing those feelings at any time, probably when no peers are around, and all that leaves is..

    This all seems like an obvious consequence to getting humans to follow an ideal too against their very nature.

  243. The fact that he is a religious leader is completely irrelevant to this question.

    Would another country’s leader who commented the same crime be brought to trial? If the answer is yes, then absolutely the answer must be yes to the question of arresting the Pope.

    But the answer is “no” for the most part. No country has extraterritorial authority to storm into another country and arrest their leader. That the US has done so a few times doesn’t make it legal.

    No, they can’t. Not as far as the church is concerned. Even excommunication only makes you a bad Catholic rather than an ex-Catholic. Once you’ve been pressganged into that fold there’s no escaping it from the Master’s point of view.

    Who cares what the Church is concerned with? You leave, you stop sending them money, stop attending their masses and get all of your religious smoke and mirrors from clergy not associated with the Roman Catholic Church. It doesn’t matter if the Pope still thinks you’re on the rolls, it matters what you DO.

    It’s a childish cop-out to say “the catholic church won’t recognize that I’m not catholic so I guess I can’t leave.” Bollocks. Catholics have to “man-up” and stand up to the Church hierarchy. It’s not the 11th century anymore. I stand by the statement: Self-respecting Catholics should be leaving the Church. If they’re not, for whatever reason, then they are supporting the Pope, supporting the hierarchy, supporting institutionalized boy-buggering and are absolutely part of the problem.

    Apparently it’s okay to bash pedophiles if they’re in a religion, but not if they make great films.

    You cannot equate RP’s single action 40 years ago with centuries of institutionally-back abuse of thousands of children and supported by the mandarins of that institution until they were finally outed a few weeks ago.

    And since RP is caught and about to face punishment, unlike the Church…

    In any case, I don’t watch Polanski films.

  244. Rape is a rape is a rape is a rape

  245. Timmy

    I wrote an awesome and insightful post, then my PC crashed, so I will summarize…

    Do not condemn the church for the wrongdoings of its hierarchy. Would you condemn every US citizen for invading Iraq?

    Do not condemn the church for it’s past wrongdoings. Would you condemn someone because their great grandfather owned slaves?

    The current Pope will be the last of the pre-Vatican II, old school people. The church will soon change and will no longer believe they can sweep their problems out of sight. It will get better.

    Finally, Wolfram Alpha says there are 40,906 clergymen in the US and the national sex offender registry says there are over 704,000 registered offenders. Do the math fellow skeptics. There are freaks everywhere, and they are in no greater proportion among priests. The way the Church treats priests who abuse children is the problem, not the institution. There are still plenty of good, pious men in the Church. And some of them teach science and logic.

  246. Ken

    Phil,

    For an educated guy you can really make a fool of yourself when you venture off your area of expertise. Consider:

    The pedophile priest was prosecuted in a civil court BEFORE then Cardinal Ratzinger (spelling?) produced any documentation of his involvement.

    The “pope” ultimately responsible for the disposition of that preist was guy then-Cardinal Ratzinger worked for–NOT Ratzinger.

    But its Ratzinger you “skpetics” are focused upon rather than the guy (another pope) that had the final authority. So far, I’ve read not a word about that guy’s involvment.

    And, likewise nothing about civil/criminal statutes & how they’re implemented. If you think that priest needed to be removed from the church’s organizational structure, then you [by default] are disagreeing with the sufficiency of the civil/criminal judicial system’s handling of the case — effectively deeming that insufficient. THAT is a prime area of focus warranting attention…but not a word is mentioned.

    Furthermore, as an avowed atheist, what you’re really saying is that you disagree with how a religious organization handled an official of that organization following his prosecution in civil court. It seems kinda odd for an aethist to be critiquing the inner workings of a religious organization’s internal administrative system.

    There’s more substantive issues here….but not to belabor the point….

    In other words, you’re focusing on superficial aspects of a case and in the process omitting major facts and decision makers, effectively creating a problem where none exists while neglecting the real problemS entirely.

    Its not “atheists” that people don’t trust, its such ham-handed superficial & flat out wrong analysis from outspoken atheists that give them all a bad name.

  247. Stu

    Do not condemn the church for the wrongdoings of its hierarchy.

    Define “church”. Higher-ups that knew about this and covered it up? Yes. As an institution that values itself above law and life? Yes. The rank and file that supports that institution? In the end, yes.

    Would you condemn every US citizen for invading Iraq?

    Good analogy. Higher-ups in the government that knew the reasons were bogus and lied? Yes. A system of government and media that allows this to happen? Yes. The voters that support this institution and even more directly than in the case of the church, the people in it? In the end, yes.

  248. Stu

    Ken, you’re full of it. At the time, Ratzinger was Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith:

    “The Congregation is best known for its authority over the teaching of Church doctrine, but it also has jurisdiction over other matters, including cases involving the seal of the confessional, clerical sexual misconduct and other matters, in its function as what amounts to a court.”

    Sounds to me he’s exactly the one we should be going after.

    Besides, with the amount and frequency of these cases, I doubt the pope at the time had time to review them all. (Almost joking).

    Note the letter is signed by Ratzinger, not the pope.

  249. Craig

    The Catholic church has big institutional problems that lead to the raping of boys and atheists are supposed to leave this issue for others? The structure of religious institutions is the problem. It isn’t just that they say things that aren’t true, its that they have managed to secure for themselves immunity from serious criticism. I have no doubt that many religious people are so in love with their church that they are extremely fragile right now. But that is the problem! Atheists should not be alone in criticizing the pope and they won’t hurt themselves by doing so.

  250. JT

    @Timmy:
    “Do not condemn the church for the wrongdoings of its hierarchy. Would you condemn every US citizen for invading Iraq?”

    Every citizen, no. The government as a whole, yes.

    “Do not condemn the church for it’s past wrongdoings. Would you condemn someone because their great grandfather owned slaves?”

    Sorry, but that is just so wrongheaded that it smacks of deceitfulness. We aren’t talking about what the priests great grandfathers did, we are talking about what THEY did.

    “The current Pope will be the last of the pre-Vatican II, old school people. The church will soon change and will no longer believe they can sweep their problems out of sight. It will get better.”

    Does that make the children less raped?

    “Finally, Wolfram Alpha says there are 40,906 clergymen in the US and the national sex offender registry says there are over 704,000 registered offenders. Do the math fellow skeptics.”

    I would, but you’ve given no relevant “math” to do.

    “There are freaks everywhere, and they are in no greater proportion among priests. The way the Church treats priests who abuse children is the problem, not the institution.”

    I’m sorry, what? It wasn’t the “institution” merely the people in it? I’m sorry but the people in an institution ARE the institution. Likewise, the members of a religion ARE the religion and the hierarchy of the Catholic church IS the Catholic church.

    “There are still plenty of good, pious men in the Church. And some of them teach science and logic.”

    Right, there are plenty of good people in the church. There are also plenty of child rapists who have been systematically not only tolerated but aided by the church in their quest to rape children. The existence of the former does not excuse the latter.

  251. chaos_engineer

    If skeptics went back in time, the past-skeptics would be so skeptical of your time travellor that they would lock him up (because time travel into the past isn’t provable at this point in historical science!).

    Not quite. You’re right that we’d assume that he was lying or crazy. Up until now, everybody who’s claimed to be a time traveler has been a lying or crazy and it’s reasonable to assume that this pattern will hold in the future. But we’d only lock him up if there was evidence that he was trying to commit fraud, or if he was crazy enough to be a danger to himself or others.

    An intelligent time traveler would anticipate this and be prepared. The best way to do it would be to bring back an almanac of daily weather reports. Even the crabbiest skeptic would be convinced after a sufficient number of accurate predictions. (Weather is the best thing to predict. Stuff like stock market predictions wouldn’t necessarily work; if the predictions were made public then that could change the future and invalidate the prediction.)

    Your whole ’skeptical movement’ is so flawed, it makes me want to puke.

    That’s not a very nice thing to say.

    Anyway, do you believe everybody who claims to be a time traveler? If not, then I think you have more in common with skeptics than you’d like to admit!

    As to the Pope: Remember that half our DNA comes from sperm cells, and there are so many of them that the tiniest jostle could change which sperm cell fertilizes a given egg. So any act of time travel is going to have a ripple effect on human history. Stopping the Pope from being born in 1927 would probably retroactively eliminate almost every one of us, and there’s no guarantee that the alternate timeline would be any better than this one.

    So count me as a solid “No!” vote for using time travel against the Pope. Why we can’t just put him in jail, like we do with all the other crimelords?

  252. ianam

    PZ Myers is not the villain here. The hierarchy of a cult that hides child rapists is.

    Indeed. But PZ Myers has posted a response … to a strawman version of Phil’s excellent piece.

  253. Renshia

    Greetings Phil,
    To me this one line sums up most of your article. “I don’t see skeptics needing to be involved more than any other interest group.”

    I understand you applied some qualifications to that statement and I get it. I do think that there is an important point you are missing.
    The need for a very vocal out cry of the skeptical community is simply this, to show the world it is okay too. We are the leaders in dissembling the power of bronze age thinking. There are many Catholics that hold complete respect and give difference to the mother church. They need to be shown it is okay to dissent. They need to see that the wrath of god is non-existent in the face of defiance. This is what will ultimately bring down religion. We need to flaunt this hypocrisy so every one can see. Once we dis-empower religious beliefs we will see the true end of this delusional thinking. If you in anyway care about your fellow man, how can you think any different?

    Sometimes the truth is hard. It is not our duty to befriend every believer to present a rational perspective.
    Every mockery of god is a nail in his coffin. So what, if some are offended, so what, if all of them are. Those who can think will, those who choose to die in there ignorance, so be it.
    It is our business to be involved. The perpetuation of the species demands it. We need to dis-empower religion, before it destroys humanity. With everything we are as a species we need to end this thinking. Our survival depends on it.
    You may think I am being melodramatic but, Look around in the middle east, nuclear weapons will shortly be in the hands of religious fanatics. Look at the USA, some of those weapons already are. Were in big trouble here. Maybe were already to late.
    I am not saying that it will solve all our problems, the loss of a huge divisive force would be a positive step forward. We need to speak out loudly. We need to de-fang the dragon, so to speak.

  254. Steve #229:
    While I may be wrong about the Catholic definition of “repenting”, I don’t believe that I’m wrong about the hierarchy of sins. What I’m referring to specifically is some Vatican document, which was made public a couple of years ago, after being kept secret for centuries. Phil posted about it at the time, with references. ( Would you like to remind us, Phil? ) This apparently listed “sins” in categories of seriousness, defined by the rank of clergy which can grant “absolution” for each sin. e.g. a bishop or above can grant absolution for murder, but there are a whole list of sins, for which absolution can only be granted by the Pope himself. One of these is “breaking the sanctity of the confessional” – and that’s what I mean by saying it’s considered worse than murder.
    Another sin in this highest level, unbelievably, is “desecrating a eucharist” – which is simply too absurd for words!!!!! You may remember that it was P. Z. Myers’ ridiculing of this idiotic notion which led to Catholics actually making death threats against him.
    Your comparison with doctor/patient confidentiality isn’t entirely valid. I’m not sure about the US, but in my country, during an investigation into a serious crime, e.g. murder, it’s possible for the police to obtain a warrant from a judge, which requires a doctor to break that confidentiality. As far as I know, they can’t do the same for a priest.

  255. Evolving Squid #250:
    While I agree with your sentiment that people should stand up to the Church, the fact remains that, in the philosophy of the Catholic Church, it is not possible for a person to leave. They claim that once a person has been baptised as a Catholic, then they are a Catholic, for life. While you and I, and every rational person, know that this is absurd, it’s probably hammered into them to such a degree that they go through life believing it.
    Regarding the Catholic attitude to baptism, I suggest you read the truly horrible story of Edgardo Mortara, which Richard Dawkins relates in Chapter 10 of The God Delusion. Versions of the story can also be found on the web; just Google his name.
    Regarding the Catholic Church’s indoctrination of its followers; I’ve previously told the story of someone I knew many years ago. He had been brought up as a Catholic, and sent to a strict Catholic school in the 1960′s, where children were literally beaten into submission, but had rejected it in his teens and become an atheist. Yet in his late 20′s, he still used to “cross himself”, whenever a clergyman said the “blessing”. He had been so brainwashed with it as a child, that he had been literally turned into a human Pavlov dog.

  256. Carlie

    I don’t think it’s specifically a skeptic or anti-religion issue. However, I take issue that skeptic groups becoming involved is bad for their reputation. On the contrary, it is a really good chance to improve the reputation of atheists and skeptics if they do exactly what Phil is counseling against, and be as loud, vociferous, vehement, you name it, as possible in condemning the Pope and the Catholic church.

    I don’t care if a few Catholics try and circle the wagons. Instead, this is a golden opportunity to highlight the difference between religion and everything else, and that morality isn’t found just in the church (or in this case, in the church at all).

    Phil says “People will not rally behind skeptics or atheists simply because they are doing the right thing. Quite the opposite. People will attack the skeptics. And even if there is iron-clad evidence of the Pope’s wrongdoings as well as the Church’s, Catholics will not just suddenly see the light and stand beside skeptics.”

    IT DOESN’T MATTER. What matters is that it will be crystal-clear who is on the side of the children and justice, and who is not. It ought to shame those fence-sitting Catholics into hearing the rape apologetics emanating from their own mouths and be horrified by it. The worst thing possible that skeptic and atheists groups could do right now is be silent, or accommodating, or acquiescent, because that would make us no better than the pope with regard to this, and you can bet that Catholics would turn right around and skewer us with that the minute the whole episode is dealt with. “Well, where were you when this was happening? Where were your complaints about his conduct? Why didn’t you call for him to be brought to justice with every bit of energy you had?”

    The only thing that could look bad for skeptics is to not be vocal enough in condemning the actions of the Catholic church in this. This is as clear of an issue as there could be. There is no biblical interpretation, no cultural sensitivity, no room for moral argument. What was done by the church hierarchy, including the pope, is wrong, everyone who looks at it knows that it is wrong, and anyone who doesn’t say that clearly and forcefully is complicit in covering it up and sweeping it under the carpet as no big deal.

  257. I find it unsettling that skeptics cannot separate the abuse from the religion. I wonder if you think that abuse does not exists outside the context of religious organizations? My intentional choice of belief also includes the acceptance for others to follow their own path. In fact, I do not find their choice stupid because it contradicts with mine. We are meant to follow our own logic and that does not make one more or less evil, or good. Our behaviors/actions define our lives. Any person, who harms another is deviant (at the least) and those who hide it are equally guilty of criminal actions. Their behavior is not related to religion, hair color, or the day of the week. Those who do and practice good, are so, without regard to religion or atheism.

  258. MoonShark

    Mary Stack (265) said:

    I find it unsettling that skeptics cannot separate the abuse from the religion. I wonder if you think that abuse does not exists outside the context of religious organizations?

    Of course not; there are cases of pedophile teachers being covered up by their superintendents. Any any critic of the church here should have plenty of condemnation left to direct toward the teachers & supervisors as well. It’s not exclusive at all! Why would it be?

    There are some important differences though.
    1. Scope. The RCC is international. They can move a pedo priest from Germany to the northern Yukon to dodge the law or nosy reporters. A public school district is localized; they can’t as easily shuffle a teacher to another country.
    2. Openness. Public schools are ultimately owned by the people, who pay taxes & levies, elect a school board, etc. If there’s wide corruption, there is still legal recourse in bringing legislative reform from above. The RCC hierarchy doesn’t quite work that way; members have quite nearly zero recourse for a corrupt Pope, if the Cardinals are pleased with him.
    3. Authority. Schools again derive authority from the people via government. The church of course claims authority straight from the creator of the universe! And if the “big kahuna” says that a pedo priest just “needs a bit of treatment” rather than arrest, well, how do you argue with that? They stacked the deck so their hand would always have the trump.

    And so on. The institutional barriers to corruption are potentially orders of magnitude lower in the church, and with its international standing it’s a far bigger problem. Say you’re being attacked by both a weasel and a crocodile; given limited resources, which one is it most prudent to deal with first? I think that’s how a lot of skeptics feel about this situation; the RCC is the greater cancer on society. But that doesn’t mean any other abuses of power will perpetually go without justice; they’re next.

    (Edited #2 to make more sense)

  259. MoonShark

    For you apologists, let me phrase it this way: The only legitimate worry I can think of NOT to go full steam on trials/tribunals is concern for the innocent priests and bishops (of which I hope there are very, very many). But that’s actually an argument for pushing forward! We can’t actually know for certain who has been unfairly tarnished and who has been complicit in the coverup without a lot more investigations and trials. Speculation and moving the goalposts only make it more difficult.

    I’m gonna bold this because I think it’s genuinely important:
    Making excuses is an obstruction of justice, both for the victims AND the innocent who want to clear their names expediently.

    If we were doing things right, there would be a grand jury of sorts convened right now to determine whether there’s enough evidence to put Benedict on trial. Well actually no, it should have happened ages ago with previous Popes, but for the sake of justice (on all sides), sooner is better.

    Of course it’s critical that all trials be as fair as possible, and there will certainly be difficulties finding fair jurors for the pontiff, but IMHO there’s no reason to put artificial delays on top of inherent ones.

  260. Na

    @ad, 166

    Or perhaps I was commenting on the issue in general, as there have been other cases of abuse outside of the one discussed in the post. (You know, the fact that the US isn’t the only country in the world to have reports of abuse) I’m assuming that’s what you’re referring to, because ‘you’ve missed the misinformation’ isn’t really all that specific.

  261. Andrew

    Nnnnno. It is a skeptical issue because, among other reasons, religion is a cult! It has enslaved minds! Are cults not a “skeptical issue?” Whether an issue contains supernatural elements or not is completely irrelevant. Obviously this isn’t a clear cut proof of what I’m trying to say, but you kinda get the idea.

    Your example with Sylvia Brown and Randi is a nice try, except for the fact it’s completely ridiculous. Why would she take legal action against him for spending the money he promised he wouldn’t spend. Is it illegal for him to go and spend the money? Was some sort of legal contract written?

    PZ’s comments aren’t necessarily meant to be “helpful”, largely because hes addressing like minded people. PZ rants, everyone else rants too. Fun is had by all. If PZ were speaking through a diffeerent medium (i.e. not his BLOG) then it’s entirely possible if not plausbile he would speak in a different tone and with different words.

  262. mikee

    I think Phil makes perfect sense and it’s interesting the PZ Myers has criticised him, when their arguments are largly similar. No-one is saying don’t go after the church for it’s cover ups. But do we need to go after them as skeptics or as moral human beings? I don’t condemn the abuse of children or the concealment of these crimes because I am a skeptic but because I consider myself to be a moral and ethical human being. Those complicit in these crimes need to be brought to justice but doing it under the banner of skepticism just confuses the issue. I think many Catholics are appalled by these revelations, but we only hear from the idiots like Bertone and Donahue.

  263. Simon Phelps

    “Skepticism’s role in this is very delicate and very important, so we must be mindful of how we do it. If not for our own reputation, then for our ultimate goal of getting everyone to understand the real issues here. That’s what skepticism is all about, but I sometimes think a lot of skeptics forget that big picture. ”

    Skepticism isn’t delicate. It is important because it is a weapon against dangerously erroneous beliefs and arrogant cults supported by magic sky fairy myths. We need to be forthright in our condemnation of religiously aided rape. No pussyfooting and no respect should be shown to catholics that rally to their rapist aiding hierarchy.

    “And there are most definitely ways of going about this that will deeply tarnish the reputation of skeptics. I don’t think PZ Myers’ comments, for example, are helpful. They may foment (some of) the troops, but no Catholic of any stripe seeing that statement will suddenly realize the folly of their ways. Quite the opposite I’d imagine, as I pointed out above. ”

    Phil, that is the most cowardly thing that I read from you. You’re worrying about how Myers forthright comments will affect our reputation, when you should be thinking about the woo woo hierarchy that helped the rapist priests to get away from justice and remain within the catholic clergy.
    Myers is not the villain, these rapist priest are. Lets have no pussyfooting around these evil men. It is our duty as skeptics to expose the catholic church for the greedy corrupt and nasty organisation that it is. If you are a skeptic and a scientist then the catholic church is your enemy and needs to be spoken of without respect for its imagined status.
    We need more outspoken criticism of woo woo organisations by skeptics, not less. If you are worried that believers will get upset by that then you are no better than the creationist that recently threw a strop over his stupid myths being called for what they really are.

  264. mikekoz68

    You’re losing it, Phil. Skeptics have to lead the charge because noone else will! You are right about one (only one!) thing here and that is they should police it within like we would if Randi stole the money, but they won’t. We may be the most disliked group but doing the right thing is the right thing to do

  265. Pi-needles

    Quoting from PZ Myers blog :

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2010/04/as_long_as_im_criticizing_my_a.php

    “It’s fine that Phil wants no part of this particular effort. Not every fight can be everyone’s fight. But I think the best position, the strongest position, the noblest stance, is to declare that no institution, whether it is the Catholic Church or the USA or the Girl Scouts, can declare itself exempt from the common rules that regulate human conduct in our culture, and even if we are overwhelmed by the opposition, we must at the very least speak out against the abuse of power…and that includes the privileges that religion has demanded for itself.”

    &

    “Phil gets his modifiers wrong. We always need warriors, and we always need diplomats. Both have to be engaged. This is a conflict that has spurred a strong response by the “warrior” element of the skeptical community, but please note: every step of the way, what is being proposed is principled legal action. Not trial by combat. Not rampaging berserkers charging the Popemobile. Lawyers looking into justifiable legal options to address a great wrong being committed by a fabulously rich and arrogant organization.”

    & also

    “We’re outnumbered? [ & PZ could've added unpopular too here - ed.] Crap, so what else is new, and when did we decide that what is proper and true will be decided by popular vote?”

    Sorry BA, but I have to say I agree with PZ Myers here.

    Finally:

    “I have no illusions that the Pope will actually be perp-walked back onto an airplane and sent away from England.”

    Me neither but FSM it’d be great to see if it happened & is fun to imagine. ;-)

    Should even the Pope be above the law & un-arrestable? Methinks not.

  266. Michael Kingsford Gray

    All apologists, supporters & voluntary members of the RCC should be tried for aiding & abetting a terrorist organisation.
    Especially those who have donated money.

  267. NeverTheTwain

    Sorry, Phil,

    I disagree with you on this one. Ratz’s own letter pretty bluntly states that the internal protection of pedophile priests was all about the outward protection of the church. And why does the church have to be protected? Because the church claims to represent and speak for God, and little oopsies like child molesters in the priesthood might make people go Hmmmmm…

    Worse, folks like Ratz can easily convince themselves that because the church is a chunk of God, well, protecting it at any cost is just peachy.

    Either way, what lies at the core of the lying and covering-up? Belief in God. Which is surely a fair, if not primary, target for skeptical inquiry, debate…and scorn.

  268. shonny

    In every confrontation there are weaselling wimps, and Waffly Phil seems to fit that category to a ‘t’.
    When fighting with words you don’t look at the number against you (to cite Ibsen: “The minority is always right”); just because a large number of people are deluded doesn’t make it more right.

    The time for polite and subdued criticism of religion is over. And it is clear that the more assertive and confrontational approach is winning more approval than the old apologist one.
    So blow it, we are here to eradicate the inane superstitious evil that is religion, and supplant it with reason and knowledge!

  269. Ron 1

    Jeez, after reading both PZ’s and Phil’s blogs (re RCC )and the associated comments on both sites I’m beginning to wonder if the skeptical community is no better than the wingnut religious and conspiracy communities in terms of many of our supporter’s irrational, rigid and emotional public thinking.

    For example, instead of a rational comment outlining a clear argument or counter-argument, we get something like @274. Micheal Kingsford Gray’s comment full of vitriol and labels. I understand the intent but the comment is just stupid and totally unrealistic — stream of consciousness perhaps? – and he’s not alone.

    Point is, we’re supposed to be different.

  270. Barbara

    I agree with Phil. About both major parts of his post.

    Some of the anti Catholic Church rants I’ve read recently remind me of a relative who periodically lashes out with vicious tirades against any member of our extended family who fails to live up to her high standards. Though she’s usually right about the content of her criticism, no human with a shred of self respect could possibly comply with commands delivered that way. The rare times I’ve tried to explain that her method doesn’t work, she assumes I’m disagreeing with her about the content — that I’m somehow trying to justify stealing, for example.

    Method and content — different things. Goals and means — different. Screwing up the method can mean we don’t accomplish the goal.

    We can do two things at once: prosecute the pedophiles and those covering up the problem, and firmly and calmly provide an alternative to the irrationality that contributed to the problem. What formerly devout Catholic would walk into company of the people posting about these events as gleefully as many of the more conspicuous skeptics?

    Don’t compromise. Don’t water down the message. Do realize outsiders can’t possibly be more effective at disillusioning people with the RCC hierarchy than this pedophile scandal is being on its own.

  271. I completely agree with Phil that everyone involved in the terrible abuses of the Catholic church should be brought to justice via the legal system. Every compassionate human on the planet should be able to support this effort.

    What I find discouraging is that skeptics and rational thinkers are abusing logical fallacies to attack each other. Unfortunately, many people who disagree with Phil’s other points are creating ridiculous straw men rather than logically addressing his arguments. They are conflating thoughtful discourse about how to effectively support prosecution with abetting child rapists. Irrational in-fighting fosters neither critical thinking among skeptics nor is it likely to confer societal tolerance for skepticism. It also brings the Catholic criminals no closer to justice.

  272. It has been interesting to read every post on this thread and enlightening, as I am not an atheist. Is it a goal to destroy religion? Why? Ultimately, my desire is to protect all children and I don’t care if they are religious, atheistic or agnostic. I can’t help but see the parallel in the mentality that my church exercised when they took criminal measures to protect the church over children and the thought process that puts a said goal above all others. The problem with the destroy/save at all cost mentality, is that the protection of children is no longer the priority.

  273. @250 Evolving Squid:

    In response to my post, you said:

    “You cannot equate RP’s single action 40 years ago with centuries of institutionally-back abuse of thousands of children and supported by the mandarins of that institution until they were finally outed a few weeks ago.”

    Wait, since when are we blaming this one pope for all the problems the catholic church has ever had? Are you a white American? If so, would you appreciate it if you went to court for a parking ticket and got the death penalty because your ancestors took slaves, sometimes beating them or killing them?

    Or let me put it another way. Let’s say I get a job as CEO of some business. A few years down the road it turns out that the second CEO before me committed fraud. Do I get punished for his crime?

    If you’ve got some anger issue with the Catholic church, that’s cool. I’m not totally in love with em myself. But we are NOT talking about the entire church. We’re talking about one man, Pope Ratzinger. And so far, the only thing Pope Ratzinger may have done was maybe not have helped the authorities find a pedophile. Yes, it’s still atrocious, but that’s one case. Again I say, if you’re going to condemn the Pope, you have to act fairly across the spectrum.

  274. Na

    @269, Andrew,

    Actually I think you’ll find that the million is in a trust fund and can only legally be used to pay out on the Challenge. (Among other things, the donated funds that make up the million were donated with the *explicit* aim of being used *only* for the Challenge) You can easily read this info at the FAQ on the Challenge page of the JREF’s site. If Randi were to use the money for his own purposes (ie. anything *other* than the Challenge payout), then yes, Brown and every other person in the world would have reason to call him out on it.

    @271, Simon Phelps

    “Myers is not the villain, these rapist priest are. ”

    I think perhaps Phil’s point is that by adding religion to the argument, it takes away focus from the actual issue of making sure there is justice. Myers may appeal to some people, but by associating the issue with religion and atheism, it distracts others from the very important task of fixing the issue, as they expend more energy on arguing about religion and atheism than they do on making noise on behalf of the victims, creating stronger laws, prosecuting people, or understanding the behaviours of those who offend. Myers becomes a target, instead of the criminals or those who protect them. Instead, Phil suggests we make it about the criminal actions, and not about whether or not religion (or Catholicism in this case) should be in existence at all. He’s suggesting that we treat the issue like the organisation involved was a big international conglomerate corporation, or a government one, or a school, or whatever: that is, to treat it equally with other secular organisations no matter what the organisation’s particular philosophy may be. There are perfectly fine teachers out there, just as there are ones who abuse their power and responsibilities. As it is with any religious organisation, there are some good and some bad. And as @279 puts it, arguing over the role of religion in society gets us no closer to providing justice to those who deserve it, even if the case involves a religious organisation.

  275. The Catholic Church is an organisation founded on supernatural beliefs, and it is these beliefs that allow them to think that their organisation is above the law, that it is more important than people. I cannot see how this makes it anything other than a valid target for skeptics.

    I think this issue reveals the problem at the heart of the skeptical movement, at least the part of the movement that insists in avoiding the issue of religion. Dawkins is right, religion is the biggest evil in the world, and skeptics _must_ tackle it, or risk being apologists.

  276. @Cronan you say “The Catholic Church is an organization founded on supernatural beliefs, and it is these beliefs that allow them to think that their organization is above the law, that it is more important than people.”

    What are you basing that critical analysis on? The dearth of individuals, institutions and governments that support their own power base over the wealth fare of the people? Because secular people and groups never think they are above the law based on whatever justification they can devise?

  277. ejdalise

    Reading the comment “it’s a skeptic issue if the Church uses a supernatural defense” gets me wondering as to what it means.

    The Church is based, exists, and operates on belief of the supernatural. Any statement it makes, any action it takes, whether explicitly so or not, is based and is supported by the underlying belief in the supernatural. Yes, the church is composed of individual human beings, and yes they may err, but their rallying point is clear; a belief in the supernatural.

    I object to a definition of skepticism aimed at limiting the application of skeptical thought. Some of us (or at least me) maintain there should be nothing outside the scope of skeptical examination, involvement, and comment.

    Phis is right when he says this is a subject requiring a response from all humans as humans, but I think he’s wrong in cautioning the removal of the skeptic badge prior to raising one’s horrified voice on this issue. For you can be both, a skeptic and a human, and Phil’s fear of how skeptics might be viewed is misplaced.

    “Skepticism’s role in this is very delicate and very important, so we must be mindful of how we do it” (referring to speaking out) . . . this statement exemplifies all I see wrong with the so-called skeptical movement. “Skepticism” does not respond and comment on these egregious acts, and associated church behavior. Skepticism is not an entity, but a way of life. It’s the critical examination of everything we experience to further understanding of the world around us.

    It’s individuals who stand up and raise their voices, and I know no individuals better qualified to examine, evaluate, and respond to not only this matter, but a wide spectrum of the human experience, than those who apply reason and rationality to examination and improvement of the human condition.

  278. John Wilson

    Let me begin by stating clearly that I am a recovering victim of adolescent sexual abuse. Not that the hands of a priest from the Church of Rome but at the hands of my father.

    Let me also state that I’m a practising Christian, Anglican branch.

    If Benedict is guilty of covering up sexual abuse of children by priests of The Roman Catholic Church and has a snowflake of honour he must resign. To do otherwise would nullify his oath as the self proclaimed Vicar of Christ. Certainly he must know from a single sentence in the Gospels that Jesus would not have been amused. (“Suffer the little children to come unto me”, a radical statement in it’s time as children were on the bottom rungs of society. Not the bottom bottom, that was occupied by women in Hebrew culture at that time.)

    It does not matter if he did this while he was a Cardinal, a Diocesan Bishop of what he rank was.

    Concern for the institution over the needs of those it ministers to is simply not a part of any oath he’s ever taken.

    (There’s a bishop or two who need to resign too, incidentally.)

    All that said there is some understanding needed from the attack dogs who have lined up on this one. It’s a simple reality that pedophiles (and true pedophiles are rare) will be attracted to certain professions such as teaching, nursing, the priesthood, medicine and a long list of “helping” professions where they will end up in positions of trust around children.

    What seems now to be inexusable is that one or two instances I can understand institutional panic about these reported situations. I may even be able to forgive them. What is coming to light now is a institution more concerned with itself than the children it is ministering to and have taken oaths to protect than it is with the victims. Strikes me that Jesus would not be amused.

    If there was no better learning tool the history of the Residential Schools in Canada should have taught the Church of Rome the futility of trying to cover something up after the offense has been brought in to the light. And of all the Churches in Canada who were appointed to run these schools the Catholic Church fought against settlement the hardest.

    On skeptics and the role they may play here. There is nothing that says anyone has to take what the Church of Rome has to say at face value ever. Or any other faith organization whether the skeptic agrees with the beliefs and values of that organization or not. In this case there is plenty to be skeptical about.

    I am and I’m not at all silent about it. I must add that I agree with the sentiments in the last three paragraphs of #288 above wholeheartedly.

    Regardless of anything else the improvemnt of the human condition is the primary concern of all human beings. Those of us who come at the world from a position of faith or those of no faith or those of a dedication to principals of science and the scientific method.

  279. call me Roy

    I guess that thing about Pope infallability is a fairy tale? Gee, I guess the next big church will say that human don’t have a sex drive so it will demand that it’s leaders cannot marry.

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