Geoffrey Kirk agrees with Professor Richard Dawkins and asks for more sober and critical investigations of child abuse from the media

Happily I was spared the misfortune of a Roman Catholic upbringing (Anglicanism is a significantly less noxious strain of the virus). Being fondled by the Latin master in the Squash Court was a disagreeable sensation for a nine-year-old, a mixture of embarrassment and skin-crawling revulsion, but it was certainly not in the same league as being led to believe that I, or someone I knew, might go to everlasting fire. As soon as I could wriggle off his knee, I ran to tell my friends and we had a good laugh, our fellowship enhanced by the shared experience of the same sad paedophile. I do not believe that I, or they, suffered lasting, or even temporary damage from this disagreeable physical abuse of power. Given the Latin Master’s eventual suicide, maybe the damage was all on his side.’

Sober evaluation

I never thought that I would be in whole-hearted agreement with Richard Dawkins; but there is more: ‘The Roman Catholic Church has borne a heavy share of such retrospective opprobrium. For all sorts of reasons I dislike the Roman Catholic Church. But I dislike unfairness even more, and I can’t help wondering whether this one institution has been unfairly demonized over the issue, especially in Ireland and America… We should be aware of the remarkable power of the mind to concoct false memories, especially when abetted by unscrupulous therapists and mercenary lawyers. The psychologist Elizabeth Loftus has shown great courage, in the face of spiteful vested interests, in demonstrating how easy it is for people to concoct memories that are entirely false but which seem, to the victim, every bit as real as true memories. This is so counter-intuitive that juries are easily swayed by sincere but false testimony from witnesses.’

How the Voltaire-de-nos-jours reconciles these statements with seeking to arrest the Pope on his forth-coming visit to the United Kingdom on charges of ‘crimes against humanity’ is hard to say. But Dawkins has, in these two statements, raised the very major issues about the child abuse scandal which most press reporting has shamefully neglected.

The first is quite simply why the issue is so powerful and emotive in a society which has progressively accommodated itself to almost every other form of sexual deviancy.

The second is a question about the over-all statistics of ‘child abuse’. How much of it takes place? How many alleged cases are there – by comparison for example with the number of alleged cases of rape of adults? Is there a typical profile of likely offenders, and if so what is it? Do certain classes of persons (men, homosexuals, priests, schoolteachers, scout-masters, etc.) feature disproportionately in the statistics? In short, from whom should I seek to protect my nine year-old child? It is clearly not enough to claim, as many do, that even a single crime of this kind is too horrid to contemplate. There must be sober evaluation and assessment.

Character of the crime

The third set of questions is about the nomenclature of the offence. Clearly, like other crimes, there is a simple issue of degree. What precisely is meant by ‘abuse’? Der Spiegel recently gave lurid accounts of monks at a boys school in Bavaria forcing pupils to swallow live salamanders. If credible at all, how does this relate, on the scale of ‘abuse’ to the rape of a twelve-year-old girl or the buggery of an altar boy? It is clearly not enough to claim, as many do, that any offence against a child deserves the most draconian punishment and merits widespread social opprobrium.

Last, but not least for Christians, is the psychological profile of the crimes in question. Are they hard-wired in the brain of offenders or are they, like theft or murder, acts of the will which can be repented? The extent in the United Kingdom of the requirement for CRB checks on all those in any kind of contact with children suggests (or reinforces) a superstition that ‘once a child abuser, always a child abuser’. The failure to establish or respect a statute of limitations on such crimes has much the same effect.

Past scandals

The failure of the press to ask these salient questions and to provide what answers are currently available should come as no surprise. It will be clear to all, from the discrepancy between Richard Dawkins’ expressed opinions and proposed actions, that there is a mood abroad to ‘get’ the Catholic Church, whatever the evidence and whatever, statistically, may prove to be the case.

The collocation of Geoffrey Robertson, Christopher Hitchens and Hans Kung should surely have raised an eyebrow, even in the editorial offices of the New York Times. But the newshounds have been impervious to the scent of rodent. Even our own dear Ruth Gledhill has been selective, sensationalist and ill-informed. The collective hysteria about child abuse has united with atavistic protestant prejudices among Anglo-Saxon post-Christians to generate a feeding frenzy in which the rational and the charitable has been cast to the winds.

It is as if we had all forgotten the child abuse scandals of Cleveland (1987) and South Ronaldsay (1991) and what became of those cases. Google ‘Marietta Higgs’, ‘Geoffrey Wyatt’ and ‘Elizabeth Butler-Scloss’ and you will see just what I mean. ND