John Jay College Report on Catholic Sex Abuse

Following up their earlier study, John Jay College has produced an analysis of the sex abuse scandal in the US. I think it is mostly quite a good analysis, though there are a few weakness and one or two unnecessarily controversial claims tied to those weaknesses.

  • To my mind, the most crucial section is this passage, which rejects the equation of abuse with homosexuality:

There has been widespread speculation that homosexual identity is linked to the sexual abuse of minors by priests, largely because of the high number of male victims identified in the Nature and Scope study. However, the clinical data do not support this finding. Treatment data show that priests who identified as homosexual, as well as those who participated in same-sex sexual behavior prior to ordination (regardless of sexual identity), were not significantly more likely to abuse minors than priests who identified as heterosexual.

This is an important recognition, since some representatives of the Church have tried to tie the abuse to homosexuality.

  • This NPR story discusses controversy surrounding the way that the “pedophilia” and “ephebophilia” are used, another problem with earlier attempts to articulate the causes of the abuse:

The researchers define pedophilia as abuse of anyone 10 or under, and by that definition, only 22 percent of the cases fall in that category. But McKiernan notes that the American Psychiatric Association puts the line at anyone under 14. “And in fact,” McKiernan says, “when you draw the line in the correct place, it turns out that 60 percent of the victims were aged 13 or younger. In other words, 60 percent of the victims were victims of pedophile abuse.”

However, I think this is a misreading: the study’s authors only take up the question of the victims’ ages in the portion of the study devoted to “psychological analysis,” where they consider diagnostic criteria alongside other possible causes like offenders’ own histories of physical and sexual abuse. There, they are very careful to distinguish various “specialist” offenders from “generalists” who abused victims of various ages. They don’t do this to mitigate the harm experienced by older victims, but in an attempt to understand the etiology of the abusers’ desires. This is why they adopt the traditional “pre-pubescent” standard over the more inclusive definition that uses the age of 14, which is primarily of use in criminal prosecution. The work the study’s authors do here is careful and the analysis appears to be data-driven and data-responsive: they use it to reject a DSM-style “paraphilia” analysis for many of the same reasons they reject the equation of abuse with “homosexuality”: the data just does not justify the conclusion. Continue reading John Jay College Report on Catholic Sex Abuse

Publicity Without Politics

Part 1: Forgiveness and the Problem of Irreversibility
Part 2: Forgiveness as a Manifestation of Divine Charity
Part 3: A Duty to Forgive?
Part 4: Prejudice as the Crystallization of Judgments
Part 5: Charity as a Flight from Politics
Part 6: Publicity without Politics

Following Nietzsche, Arendt speaks of the Christian publicity without politics as world-destruction and ultimately as ‘desertification’: “the withering away of everything between us, can also be described as the spread of the desert.” (Arendt “Introduction into Politics,” 201) As with the growing belief that the purpose of political action is the preservation of life rather than the practice of freedom, this limited government renders the public realm a veritable desert. On the one hand, the totalitarian temptation to marry matters of life and labor with the political subordinates freedom forever to the necessities of survival. On the other hand, the dangerous forces unleashed by warfare render political instability potentially cataclysmic for publicity as the risk of action become unpalatable. These twin attacks on the preconditions of politics threaten to destroy the world we share, about which we deliberate and for which we act. Continue reading Publicity Without Politics

Epistemic Institutional Design: The Abstract

My focus in this project is to look at various institutions that try to track the truth about moral value, of which the Roman Catholic Church is only one. The Catholic Church is certainly wrong about consensual adult homosexuality, but what’s interesting is that this error is the result of a method of moral inquiry that otherwise will often yields good results. So the question is: could the Catholic Church improve its normative evaluations without destroying its institutional identity? Like many people, I suspect that much of what enabled the Church to preserve its basic values for so long may also prevent it from adapting. In contrast, democratic states have enacted epistemic procedures that are highly responsive to new information, but seem to allow large, systemically risky errors to emerge quite often.

A couple of caveats to the project: I assume that all institutions have an epistemic component: they enact procedures aimed at “getting the right answer” to some or another question. Even though some institutions seek answers specifically to normative questions, any epistemic institution will do: epistemic procedures themselves have a normative component, insofar as there are better and worse ways of inquiring. I assume that there is a sufficient analogy between matters of fact and matters of value such that the methods of professional epistemologists can supply insights for ordinary moral knowers. That means that I’m assuming that there are distinct matters of value into which we can inquire, and that these matters are not exhausted by some set of physical facts.

My questions: what is it about the design of an epistemic institution that leads to error, and can these features be rooted out or mitigated? Put another way: is some kind of errancy or blindspot inevitable? Must the production of knowledge always coincide with the production of ignorance in more than just the trite sense that our attention cannot be both broad and focused?

Epistemic Institution Design Part Two: Pedophilia and Pathology

It’s been a few months since I promised a series of posts on the Catholic Church and epistemic institutional design, but I have been working on it. As the Pope marks the end of the aptly named “Year of the Priest” today, I thought I’d return to it.

In this post, I will show that the very same year that Ratzinger watched a priest he protected from prosecution for child rape finally get convicted of child rape, he wrote a letter invoking the “ordinary universal magisterium” (i.e. infallibility) to claim that homosexuals, which for him includes pedophiles who target boys as young as 11, ought to be treated by the pastorate rather than prosecuted.

Let’s turn to the treatment that he demands for homosexual persons, which as I will show comes with a claim to infallibility because it has the consensus of the bishops and is ratified by the infallibility of the Pope:

“We would heartily encourage programmes where these dangers are avoided. But we wish to make it clear that departure from the Church’s teaching, or silence about it, in an effort to provide pastoral care is neither caring nor pastoral. Only what is true can ultimately be pastoral.The neglect of the Church’s position prevents homosexual men and women from receiving the care they need and deserve.

An authentic pastoral programme will assist homosexual persons at all levels of the spiritual life: through the sacraments, and in particular through the frequent and sincere use of the sacrament of Reconciliation, through prayer, witness, counsel and individual care. In such a way, the entire Christian community can come to recognize its own call to assist its brothers and sisters, without deluding them or isolating them.”

Now, the 1986 letter is in part aimed at preserving the repudiation of ordinary homosexuality. (That’s the “deluding” horn of the dilemma.) However, the letter would apply equally well to what the Church has always thought of as homosexual “ephebophilia” rather than pedophilia, which is attraction to adolescent boys, defined as 11-and-above. This distinction is built into the Catholic doctrine of “the age of reason.” As Phillip Jenkins describes it, this failure to internalize the Church’s doctrine on reason is the source of the confusion:

The Chicago study also found that of the 2,200 priests, just one was a pedophile. Now, many people are confused about the distinction between a pedophile and a person guilty of sex with a minor. The difference is very significant. The phrase “pedophile priests” conjures up images of the worst violation of innocence, callous molesters like Father Porter who assault children 7 years old. “Pedophilia” is a psychiatric term meaning sexual interest in children below the age of puberty.

But the vast majority of clergy misconduct cases are nothing like this. The vast majority of instances involve priests who have been sexually active with a person below the age of sexual consent, often 16 or 17 years old, or even older. An act of this sort is wrong on multiple counts: It is probably criminal, and by common consent it is immoral and sinful; yet it does not have the utterly ruthless, exploitative character of child molestation. In almost all cases too, with the older teen-agers, there is an element of consent.

Of course, there’s a reason we’ve set age of consent laws higher than puberty, and there’s a reason statutory rape is still rape. Abusing one’s authority to take advantage of someone who cannot give informed consent actually is a problem. According to many Catholics, it’s specifically a homosexual problem:

Moreover, roughly 85% of all misconduct cases involve priests and boysSo there is also a very obvious homosexual issue at work….

Not so obvious to me, but this is why Ratzinger’s desire to prevent “isolating” such unfortunates has a troubling double meaning: for homosexuals, it means welcoming gay Catholics to participate so long as they acknowledge that homosexual activity is a sin. For pedophiles, it means preventing the intervention of temporal authority. Because the letter would apply equally well to what the Church thinks of as homosexual desire for adolescents, the criminalization of statutory rape threatens “isolation” from the “entire Christian community.” Many of the calls to prevent violence in the 1986 letter also have a double meaning: what sounds charitable and reasonable in ordinary homosexual situations takes on a new and troubling connotation when applied to pedophiles who do not wish to be subject to incarceration and punishment by secular authorities for their crimes. (Yet look at the Catholic Church’s response to Uganda’s proposed Anti-Homosexual Bill….)

Remember that Ratzinger wrote this letter the same year that Father H, the pedophile priest Ratzinger helped to protect from prosecution, was finally convicted of crimes he committed six years after Ratzinger’s office prescribed a course of therapy, and the priest was returned to pastoral work. Notice that Ratzinger does not recommend criminal prosecutions in this letter, despite the failure of therapy six years earlier in Father H’s case. We’ve since had confirmation that what Ratzinger wrote publicly in 1986 became, through his intervention, the official, though secret, policy for pedophilia in 2001:

Pope Benedict XVI faced claims last night that he had ‘obstructed justice’ after it emerged he issued an order ensuring the church’s investigations into child sex abuse claims be carried out in secret.

The order was made in a confidential letter, obtained by The Observer, which was sent to every Catholic bishop in May 2001.

It asserted the church’s right to hold its inquiries behind closed doors and keep the evidence confidential for up to 10 years after the victims reached adulthood. The letter was signed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who was elected as John Paul II’s successor last week.

Rather than treating the pastorate as a mandatory reporter, like teachers and doctors, Ratzinger’s secret letter demands that they preserve the anonymity of abusive priests and silence the victims on pain of excommunication.

All that remains is to demonstrate that the 1986 letter was meant to be infallible.

Contrary to popular belief, infallibility is not reserved only for rare moments of Ex Cathedra. In fact, the Pope frequently speaks in ways that are meant to be infallible, especially when issuing papal bulls. Ex Cathedra statements usually concern the metaphysics of Christian doctrine, but the Pope also speaks infallibly on other moral topics. Here’s how that works:

“an act of the ordinary papal Magisterium, in itself not infallible, witnesses to the infallibility of the teaching of a doctrine already possessed by the Church.”

The Pope then claims the right to speak infallibly and exercises that right on a semi-regular basis on matters of public political concern, so long as the new pronouncement “witnesses to the infallibility” of a previous pronouncement. It’s simple logic: start with infallible premises, use infallible inferences, and you’ll reach infallible conclusions. Two examples in the last twenty years include the reiteration that euthanasia is murder and the exclusivity of the priesthood to chaste men. (The latter may be irrelevant to the discussion at hand, but that irrelevance is hardly self-evident.)

What’s more, the Pope is not the only source of infallibility in the Catholic Chruch. There are times when the Bishops of the Church can create a consensus, either by gathering together in a doctrinal Council or by creating agreement through correspondence and drawing up statements of unanimous support. This is the “ordinary universal magisterium,” which is also infallible:

“The term ordinary universal Magisterium means an exercise of the Church’s teaching office where there is complete agreement, or fairly close to complete agreement, among the Catholic Bishops of the world that a particular doctrine is certainly true, but without a solemn definition.

[… T]he ordinary universal Magisterium is infallible. The fact that the bishops are ‘dispersed throughout the world’ (in the words of Vatican II) does not make any difference.”

In these times, too, the Church claims infallility for its pronouncements, which are ratified and signed by the Pope.

We wouldn’t normally expect pronouncements about the specific treatment of ‘homosexuals’ (i.e. pedophiles) to be a matter of infalliblility, except for Ratzinger’s 1986 letter:

[The Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith] wishes to ask the Bishops to be especially cautious of any programmes which may seek to pressure the Church to change her teaching, even while claiming not to do so. A careful examination of their public statements and the activities they promote reveals a studied ambiguity by which they attempt to mislead the pastors and the faithful. For example, they may present the teaching of the Magisterium, but only as if it were an optional source for the formation of one’s conscience. Its specific authority is not recognized. Some of these groups will use the word “Catholic” to describe either the organization or its intended members, yet they do not defend and promote the teaching of the Magisterium; indeed, they even openly attack it. While their members may claim a desire to conform their lives to the teaching of Jesus, in fact they abandon the teaching of his Church. This contradictory action should not have the support of the Bishops in any way.

Remember that Ratzinger letter was meant to supply specific recommendations based on the 1975 “Sexual Ethics” declaration, which claimed:

“At the present time there are those who, basing themselves on observations in the psychological order, have begun to judge indulgently, and even to excuse completely, homosexual relations between certain people. This they do in opposition to the constant teaching of the Magisterium and to the moral sense of the Christian people.”

When the Bishops in the 1975 declaration invoked the “constant teaching of the Magisterium,” they were not simply invoking the “ordinary magisterium,” which can be mistaken or fallible. They invoked the “ordinary universal magisterium,” which is infallible, even though Ratzinger did this before he took the office of Pope. Merely by representing the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, then Archbishop Ratzinger could not lay claim to infallibility for his recommendations, which though signed by the Pope would only constitute “ordinary Magisterium.” But by piggybacking on the “universal ordinary Magisterium” of the 1975 declaration, Ratzinger borrows their general claim to infallibility for his specific prescriptions. By invoking the ordinary universal magisterium, Ratzinger chastises all those who would question his words in that 1986 letter, either in the diagnosis or in the treatment.

So Ratzinger, in 1986, infallibly advocated the treatment of sexual abuse with a multipronged approach that addresses “all levels of spiritual life” as a substitute for temporal criminal investigations, which would only “isolate them.” This, then, is not simply a matter of eliminating bad apples: it is an institutional crisis in which the Church will be forced to choose between fundamental commitments. In my next post, I will try to lay out the choice confronting the Roman Catholic Church.

Epistemic Institutional Design and the Roman Catholic Church, Part One

The Catholic Church has been having a rough time of it lately. In a series of posts, I want to take up some of the implications of this trouble for epistemic institutional design, that is, for building institutions that ‘get it right.’

First, some background: what has previously been a primarily American problem of sexual abuse and coverups has come home to roost in Europe, including a case that involves the Pope. In 1980, the current Pope, then Archbishop Ratzinger, was involved in the reassignment of a priest who was suspected of forcing an 11 year old boy to have sex with him. The priest, “Father H,” was sent to therapy in Munich, and later reassigned to a small town where his pastoral duties allowed him to again engage in the sexual abuse of children, for which he was finally convicted in 1986. For his second known offense, the priest received a suspended sentence and a 4,000 DM fine. While the Pope denies awareness of the reassignment to pastoral service, he admits that he was aware of the first therapeutic rather than criminal response to Father H ‘s actions. At present, it’s not clear whether the investigating civil authority was aware of the first 1980 case or Father H’s therapy and reassignment.

Obviously, many are troubled by the possibility that the current Pope could be implicated in the sex abuse scandals. I know many older Catholics have been absolutely devastated that the Church hierarchy failed them in this way, and now feel that they’ve been betrayed and feel bereft of legitimate moral and spiritual guidance. Still others seem to glory in the Church’s failures, in part because the hierarchy has been exposed as sanctimonious. It’s worth noting that the US has long had a strong anti-Catholic streak, which erupts at times like these. In this sense, much of the acrimony is merely a pale shadow of the European wars of religion.

But as I said, I’m interested in the epistemic issues here, specifically, the impact of infallibility. In my view, infallibility is the fault line that runs through this entire controversy, and the Roman Catholic Church can’t respond adequately or appropriately to the problem without risking a fundamental doctrine.

There are three issues, which I will try to unpack: first, pedophilia and pathology; second, punishment and sovereignty; third, public relations and liability. In each case, I believe the Roman Catholic Church is committed to a distinct and problematic theory of investigation, inquiry, and institutional design that puts them at odds with the best practices of democratic criminal justice systems. This is due to the accretion of epistemic institutional improvements that the Catholic Church has refused to implement since the Protestant Reformation.

First, what constitutes pedophilia is different for the Catholic Church than for most countries. Children over the age of 11 are not considered victims in the same way that younger children would be, and attraction to adolescents, particularly adolescent boys, is treated as a particular brand of homosexual desire, called ephebophilia rather than pedophilia.

Second, the Catholic Church still thinks of itself as a distinct legal entity, and the Vatican forms a kind of cosmopolitan sovereign state, which reserves the right to deal with its priests according to canon law rather than criminal law. Within the Church, the emphasis on penance and reconciliation sometimes fails to achieve the ends that a more retributive criminal punishment system can manage, especially in the vindication of victims. Most nation states are willing to accept this challenge to their sovereignty in ordinary ‘white collar’ criminal matters, but this doesn’t apply in instances like child sexual abuse where deeply held moral intuitions diverge in outrage.

Third, there is the matter of the civil tort system, which can challenge national branches of the Catholic Church and win large sums of money when the Church bureaucracy is found to have been complicit in hiding crimes, and the threat that these scandals will undermine the Church’s moral authority with its congregants, who are also its funders through tithing.

As I’ve said, each of these specific institutional challenges is ultimately reducible to a Catholic refusal to adopt epistemic institutional reforms that would make it better able to align its theory of autonomy and consent with the common sense, to share criminal investigations with secular nation states, and to publicly investigate corruption and abuse using the full gamut of modern policing techniques. In each case, the Catholic Church is hamstrung by its theory of infallibility, which requires the institutions that constitute Catholicism to remain committed to both clearly doctrinal metaphysical matters (the assumption of Mary, or the nature of Christ, for instance) and a series of values and moral judgments that the rest of the world has continued to deliberate. This puts the Church at odds with both its parishioners and its own understanding of the role of public reason, by which moral judgments are understood as extending from God-given reason. In short, the Catholic Church faces what Jürgen Habermas called a legitimacy crisis, as a part of a series of other crises in its internal governance and external relations. In future posts, I will address the specific formulation of this crisis in its failure to review and amend its theory of autonomy and responsibility to raise the age of consent.

(Crossposted with a new collaborative blog I’m working on with Steve Maloney.)