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Monday, 14 May 2012

The cover-ups that happen when sexual abuse scandals threaten your values

I have been brooding on two cover-ups of the sexual abuse of children that have been uncovered this week. The first is the reluctance of the English secular authorities to prosecute gangs involved in the abuse of girls; the second is the reluctance of Irish clerical authorities to prosecute or expose the priests who were involved in the abuse of (mostly) boys.
One point is that it's very rare to come across people who think that none of the religious or cultural aspects are relevant in either case. Probably a majority of people blame both cultures and regard all Catholic priests with suspicion as a result of the misdeeds of some, and all middle-aged Muslim men as potential predators. Hardly anyone blames neither – if you think one of the worrying things about the Rochdale cases is that they will be used to whip up sentiment against Muslims, you are very likely to see nothing wrong in blaming the Catholic church as a whole for the Irish scandals. Conversely, the people who try to defend the Catholic church in Ireland will tend to see the Rochdale cases as expressing something important about the culture behind them, and the religion too.
Much the same is true of cover-ups. Reliable observers have in both cases detected a reluctance to prosecute on the part of the authorities who should have done so. But the people who think political correctness is an absurd red herring in the Rochdale story will be happy to assume the worst of Vatican motives, and those who think the Catholic church is being persecuted will assume there was no good reason for any reluctance to prosecute in Rochdale, or Nottingham, or all of the other places where this might have been happening.
Yet there are large moral equivalences between these cases and that the same sort of reasoning must have gone into both cover-ups. In particular, the idea that scandal is harmful and something to be avoided isn't nearly as strange as journalists like to pretend. It isn't even entirely immoral. Read more...

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