When political discourse turns to pedophilia — which it should never, ever do — it helps to separate fiction from non-fiction.
The fictional narrative, widely disseminated by QAnon-addled propagandists, is that the Democratic Party is a vast conspiracy of ravenous child abusers, who just barely managed to cover up Hillary Clinton’s bloodthirsty coven in the basement of a D.C. pizza parlor.
The non-fiction narrative — profusely-documented but with a much lower profile — is that both the priesthood of the Catholic Church and the ministries of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) have indulged and protected a stunningly large number of child molesters, and allowed them to enjoy long and predatory careers within their respective churches.
In the last few weeks, these two stories flew somewhat under the radar, but both are worth looking at, not so much for the staggering hypocrisy of its characters — hypocrisy fatigue has long since rendered us numb — as for its legal and political implications, which have yet to play out.
The more widely-circulated of the two stories was the brutal report from the SBC’s own third-party investigation into alleged sexual abuse by its own ministers. Over at least twenty years, hundreds of parishioners had reported abuse at every level of the ministry, from top leadership to youth pastors, while the SBC either turned a blind eye, or actively worked to discredit the accusers.
The investigation was commissioned by the SBC in the wake of a damning 2019 article, which reported on the nearly 400 preachers who had been convicted of sex crimes. Many of these felons have continued to work within the church, moving on to other congregations that were not informed of their new pastor’s criminal past.
At the instigation of SBC’s lawyers — who are rightly concerned about the litigation-rich environment their clients have conjured — the SBC was backed into hiring a third party to assess the allegations and what they might mean.
Among the findings, big surprise, was that "survivors and others who reported abuse were ignored, disbelieved, or discredited.”
In other words, the victims suffered twice — first from the abusive acts themselves, then from the shunning and shaming of the people they turned to for help. Blaming the victim is a tried-and-true tactic these days, whether that victim was raped by a minister in church, or shredded by an active shooter in school.
The report further revealed that the SBC had, for several years, been keeping its own secret list of apparent abusers, yet took no action against them. Again, big surprise. Cover-ups always take on a life of their own, and they tend to unravel at the first sign of real scrutiny — leaving heartbreak, yes, but also litigation in its wake.
Activist Christa Brown, now 61, who was herself abused in her church at age 16, put it in perspective:
[Being a preacher in the church is] a perfect profession for a con artist. All he has to do is talk a good talk and convince people he’d been called by God, and bingo he gets to be a Southern Baptist minister. Then he can infiltrate the entirety of the SBC, move from church to church, from state to state, go to bigger churches and more prominent churches, where he has more influence and power...
And with that influence and power come more and younger prey. The real pedophiles, the non-fictional ones, see churches as “soft targets,” where children are taught to trust and obey their pastoral leaders. This, of course, makes it easy — literally child’s play — to violate that trust and terrorize those children into silence. The emotional trauma stays with the victims the rest of their lives.
Which brings us to the other, similar story, the one about the Catholic Church, whose history of pedophilia goes back far longer, and whose recent legal problems surely represent but a fraction of the criminal predation swept under the rug by its hierarchy over the last dozen centuries.
As the Church continues to grapple with the worldwide deluge of lawsuits arising from institutionalized sexual abuse, it is the State of California that is now bringing the wrath of God, so to speak, down on it.
State legislators looked at the entire pedophile-priest scandal, so richly documented over the last two decades, and decided that too many victims had been cheated by time. They’d been abused by their priests in the past — often in the distant past — and the statute of limitations had unfairly excluded both their testimony and any chance at restitution.
So the legislature passed a new law giving victims a three-year window, within which they can file civil lawsuits against the Church, regardless of when the abuse occurred. That window expires at the end of this year, and it has yielded a bumper crop of new abuse claims.
Appellate courts have already upheld the legality of such claims, which leaves the Church no choice but to take its case to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Yes, that Supreme Court. The one that recently reinvented itself as an arch-conservative Catholic tribunal, a quasi-subsidiary of Opus Dei. The one that now effectively runs America.
That very Supreme Court is being asked to rule on the constitutionality of a California law that would cost the Catholic Church untold billions in damages. Any bets on who wins that ruling?
The interesting part will be the majority opinion, and how the Court tries to spin pedophilia in the context of organized religion. Do they just ignore the overwhelming evidence of the priesthood’s criminal behavior? Do they sidestep the torment and subsequent sliming of the victims? Do they dance around the Church hierarchy’s efforts to downplay, buy off, and otherwise cover up for pastoral predators?
Maybe they’ll trot out some QAnon-ish version of both-siderism, declaring that “the left” is somehow equally to blame for the “epidemic” of pedophilia that seems to exist only on the right. Maybe “Pizzagate” will be cited. Maybe non-fiction will be ruled inadmissible.
However these two stories play out, it’s worth remembering that it’s the church officials who are implicated, not their parishioners.
Which does not excuse the parishioners. They have been, in many ways, complicit in their own victimhood. They’ve passively accepted a culture of willful gullibility, where grifters and predators are allowed, even encouraged, to flourish.
A church that would tolerate monsters preying on its young would surely tolerate any amount of chicanery, as long as it comes wrapped in the trappings of religion.
From there, it’s but a small step to the vapid propaganda of a Tucker Carlson, or the world-class predations of a Donald Trump. A step both these organized religions have long since taken.