The Pope, the Church, and skepticism
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.
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