The next round of excuse-making for rapist coddlers

By Amanda Marcotte
Tuesday, March 30, 2010 21:45 EDT
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I want to stop posting on this Catholic child rape scandal, I really do. But the flagrant blame-shifting and rape apologism from devoted Catholic pundits who can’t imagine not having a church to justify their seething fear of female sexuality just keeps on keeping on. I shouldn’t have even opened up Douthat’s apology for the rapist-shielding church, which I knew was going to be an attempt to get some kind of “moderate” defense into the mainstream media so that the central problems of the Catholic church—namely their patriarchal, authoritarian values system that Douthat loves so much—would go untouched. I get the strong impression from Douthat and lackey Bill Donohue that if this means the rapes continue, then they will be okay with that price, even if Douthat shakes his head with disappointment.

Douthat’s defense is more troubling than Donohue’s stampede of denial, because Douthat knows well how to play the “both sides” card while actually only blaming liberals. Who apparently forced a bunch of right wing asshats in the Catholic church to rape children and to participate in the cover-up. They can’t help themselves! The liberals made them do it!

In reality, the scandal implicates left and right alike. The permissive sexual culture that prevailed everywhere, seminaries included, during the silly season of the ’70s deserves a share of the blame, as does that era’s overemphasis on therapy. (Again and again, bishops relied on psychiatrists rather than common sense in deciding how to handle abusive clerics.) But it was the church’s conservative instincts — the insistence on institutional loyalty, obedience and the absolute authority of clerics — that allowed the abuse to spread unpunished.

In other words, it was liberal values that caused the rapes, but conservative accounting errors.

Of all the bullshit that Douthat spreads around, blaming rape on a “permissive sexual culture” may be the biggest honking lie he’s ever told. Like Atrios noted, it demonstrates that Douthat, like his other patriarchal brethren, rejects the idea that consent is a relevant aspect of sexuality. When your religion is one where a man raping a small child and a consenting couple of adults making love with a condom are basically the same, then it’s a quick jump to this sort of bullshit. And let’s face it—Douthat, Donohue and the Catholic hierarchy reserve far more of their energy condemning the latter than the former. For instance, Douthat is using this scandal to insinuate that if it weren’t for legal condoms, the children would go unraped.

His argument in fact is 100% backwards. Bill Donohue has been all over the TV telling a lot of lies and trying to confuse the issue. But in trying to promote one of his pet theories—basically that we should blame the parents and not the rapists or the people who covered up for them—he’s inadvertently tipping his hat to a historical reality. And that is that in the 50s and 60s, pressing charges for rape was a much scarier deal, because it simply wasn’t treated as a serious crime in near the same way it is now. Child sexual abuse was particularly buried. In fact, Donohue is still trying to minimize the sexual assault of children like it was the 1950s.

Regarding sexual abuse, “kissing,” and “non-contact including voyeurism” (e.g., what it labels as “inappropriate sexual talk”) make the grade as constituting sexual abuse. Moreover, one-third of the cases involved “inappropriate fondling and contact.” None of this is defensible, but none of it qualifies as rape. Rape, on the other hand, constituted 12 percent of the cases.

Attitudes like this disgust your average person now, and it’s not because conservatives collectively decided that rape and sexual abuse were wrong and should be stopped. No, the people responsible, the people who have made it possible for these victims to speak out, are the very people that Douthat and Donohue sneer at as encouraging a “permissive” sexual culture with our birth control and abortions.

Yep, the feminists. If you’re comfortable speaking out against child rape, thank a feminist.

It was feminists, after all, who decided that a better standard of sexual morality wasn’t “does it fit the arbitrary rules laid down by our god that just so happen to reinforce male dominance over women”. It was feminists who decided that pleasure, consent, and real world harm were better standards. Moreover, it was feminists who pointed out that a system of male domination over women and children encouraged rape. The fact that we went from a culture that was hush-hush about child rape to one where school children are instructed to tell on any adult who touches them inappropriately is because feminists spoke out about rape. And then they saw the connection between rape of women and rape of children. And they insisted that children be taught to respect their own health and well-being over the patriarchal pecking order that child rapists like these priests exploit. Without feminism, you have prevailing attitudes like Donohue’s, where protecting male authority is so important that you squabble with rape victims over how raped they should feel.

But Douthat just blamed the very people who were brave enough to speak up about rape in the first place for causing rape. I suppose we’re expected to just be grateful he’s conceded that it is a major crime, though I don’t really know how far he’s gone. He suggests “common sense” would tell you how to deal with rapist priests if it weren’t for the culture of therapy, but under a strict patriarchy, “common sense” tells people to shut up and blame themselves for being such easy targets. So, fuck you, Douthat.

The one silver lining in this whole sordid affair is that we’re really learning how many people, when given the choice between really condemning a culture that supports child rape and sticking by their misogynist dogma, will pick the latter every time. And get rewarded with a column in the NY Times for it!

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
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