Child abuse, the Pope and organized skepticism…now what?
There is a literal fire storm going on on Twitter , and the catalyst I would say is Rebecca Watson’s entry about the pope, to which I linked here earlier today. Venerable names in skepticism are wondering out loud what the “movement’s” involvement with this issue should be? Should we actively seek the pope’s indictment? Should we just endorse it, without getting involved too much? Should we shrug our shoulders and say “that’s not my job“? Twitter may not be the best medium to discuss this issue; 140 charachters are too little for us to be able to have any meaningful discussion, so I decided to elaborate my position here.
So let us get the technicalities out of the way: this is a purely legal issue. The pope stands accused of covering up for child rapists. Some facts have made their way into the public sphere. As is the case with most things like this, many more very likely have not. Should the pope be held responsible? Probably. Is he guilty? I do not know! That is why we have a legal system, to sort these sort of things out. The question “Is the pope responsible and if yes to what extent?” is not a skeptical issue; nor is it an atheist issue. It is simply, purely a legal matter.
So from this point of view, skepticism, as a movement, has not much constructive to add to the discussion. The question then becomes, what, if any, should our involvement be? This is where it becomes a bit more of a personnal choice, and it is open to speculation. One can easily maintain that the religious beliefs is what induced the behavior, but one can just as easily maintain that greed and concern for the institution and it’s well being is what induced the behavior. Or one may come up with a host of other reasonable explanations. I do not think that enough evidence has come to light for us to pretend to know for sure what motivated the alleged misbehavior. So far, it seems that a concern about the church and the church’s reputation might be the front runner. If that were the case, what should organized skepticm’s involvement be?
I think the correct answer here is: whatever the individual skeptic feels is the right thing! This is not a skeptical issue, technically speaking, so it would be hard to argue what the movement’s response should be! On the other hand, we are all human beings, and we all have emotional responses, as we should, especially to cases so morally clear cut as child rape is. So from the human point of view, we should all feel that outrage and that desire to see whoever is responsible brought to justice. Except that we’re seeing what appears to be a lack of response in the eyes of daming evidence, and one can only wonder how much the fact that this is the pope we’re talking about has to do with anything. Is there a ridiculous double standard playing in front of our eyes? Possibly, which should make our skeptical minds get back in gear, because something that goes counter to critical thinking is, at least partially, within our area of expertise.
However, I do not agree with those that maintain that skepticism, including the skeptical organizations out there, ought to keep quiet about this issue. There is nothing wrong with a skeptical organization showing support for something they think is right, even something not within their area of expertise. For example, what would be wrong if the JREF endorsed the idea of legal action towards the pope? Sure they are not a moral authority, nor a legal one, but they have their own morals nevertheless. If these morals are offended by what has happened, what is the problem with them expressing that? Does that mean that CFI is bound by JREF’s actions? Of course not, JREF does not speak for all skeptics or for skepticism as a movement; JREF is allowed to maintain positions that may leave a sour note on some skeptic’s collective mouths.
In fact, I think that showing emotion, speaking up when issues such as these are involved are very important public relations tools. We want to break the public misconception that sketpics are cynical, cold, emotionless robots, right? Well then let us show some emotion; let us show that we have a highly evolved moral code; let us break the stereotype that we’re only against stuff by showing that we are for something that many other people can relate with. And let us, those of us to whom this issue is important enough to speak out, do so without being told “it’s not your job“.