American Madness

Intelligent Criticism in the Service of a Better Nation

An Allegory

Posted by Jason Ihle | 2 Comments

Cross posted at

Imagine there exists a company that runs athletic centers all around the world. It’s a massive company with influence on fitness throughout the United States and Europe as well as many other countries. Each center runs special fitness programs for children. It’s inexpensive, even free in most places, surviving largely on donations. It’s a great way for children to feel a part of something, give them something to do after school and on the weekends that is good for their bodies and their emotional development. It gives them the chance to interact in a positive way with other children from different neighborhoods.

A news story breaks that at your local chapter of this athletic company the man running the children’s program has been accused by several people of sexually abuse. As the news spreads around the country, other victims start to come forward stating that they too were abused in the children’s program at their local chapter. Middle-aged adults begin coming forward stating that it happened to them many years in the past. You see where I’m going with this, right?

Additional news stories break in European countries of the same kind of thing involving the same company. Further investigation reveals that in many cases, the immediate supervisor of the head of the children’s program was made aware of the sexual abuse. In most of those cases, the supervisor reported it to the general manager, who passed it on to the area director and it’s possible (probable even) that news traveled all the way to the CEO and Board of Directors. In each case, from the top down, the decision was made 1)not to fire the employees engaging in child sexual rape and abuse, 2)not report the crime to the authorities and 3)to keep the scandal under wraps for fear that the bad press would ruin the organization.

In other words, the top management in the company made a decision that the PR of the company was more important than protecting the children. What do you think would be the public reaction to such a story? How would people treat this company? Would people continue to 1)send their children to these programs and 2)go to the centers themselves? Would people continue to donate money to this organization? Would criminal charges be brought against these top managers for failing to report the crime of child sexual abuse and for being complicit in the abuse itself?

Obviously I’ve created a bit of a thought experiment to parallel the rampant, systemic sex abuse that’s been going on (quite possibly for many centuries) in the Catholic Church.

While there is some evidence that church attendance will decline, especially among young Catholics, and that donations will slow, it seems very unlikely that the Church will take a major hit from this. Let’s not even discuss the possibility that high-ranking bishops, cardinals or The Holy Father Himself, Pope Nazi I, will ever be charged as criminals.

Incredibly, the many people around the world will continue to play an active role in supporting the Church. But the real problem is the vast majority who will play a passive role in support of the Catholic Church. These are the people who aren’t strongly involved in the Church, who don’t go to weekly mass and who rarely, if ever, donate. These are the people who propagate the Church by baptizing their children, forcing their children through the rigors of Holy Communion and Confirmation, who decide, in spite of these heinous crimes, to get married in the Church.

In fairness the athletic center analogy is not perfect for one crucial reason. I freely admit that I don’t know what it feels like to have a personal connection to the Church, or any church for that matter. I can’t speak to the deep convictions a devout Catholic has toward the faith. Surely this creates a very different relationship to the Catholic Church as an organization than people would have toward an athletic center. It’s this deeply felt connection that makes it so difficult for people to renounce the organization, despite the revelation that it’s one which has allowed child sexual abuse to thrive for decades (or more).

Andrew Sullivan has a compelling thesis for why sex abuse scandals among religious organizations seem unique to the Catholic Church and why the celibacy law must be eliminated.


2 Responses to “An Allegory”

  1. Covington
    May 5th, 2010 @

    Obviously you have never bathed in the waters of faith. Additionally your analogy is somewhat off; it would be better, I think, if you compared the US public school system to the Catholic Church. As it is you posit a consumerist response to an organization that does not really offer a product and whose entire existence precedes consumerist thinking. In the comparison to the public school system we can see that, yes, people pull out their kids, the product offering is amorphous, and the relationship between “purchaser” and “seller” is equally confused. (One can even view home-schoolers as educational Puritans.) Finally, the levels of mismanagement, incompetence, and, even, hostility are comparable; centralizing control in DC/Rome leads to teaching to the test/catechism, further levels of bureaucracy, and on and on it goes.

  2. Jason
    May 6th, 2010 @

    If you really think the Catholic Church isn’t selling something and that its members aren’t buying, I’d say you’re mistaken.

    But I take your point that’s it’s not a consumer model, of course.

    My point was to illustrate that in another situation where the people are not tied by religious faith to the organization, the matter is quite clear – keep your kids away from those disgusting abusers! But in the case of The Church many people are conflicted at best.

Leave a Reply

  • Trust us

    As with Anna Karina, we prefer to remember the U.S.A as she was in the 1960s.
  • Archives

  • RSS Matt Friedlander’s Tumblr Feed

  • RSS Josh Friedlander’s Twitter Feed