The Greater Sin
or, The Catholic Church position on the relative degree of sin between abortion and child abuse by clergy.
One of the guest lecturers at the Catholic World Youth Day in held in Toronto this month (July 2002) was Archbishop George Pell of Sydney, Australia. Pell was conducting a catechesis; or instruction in the faith. At an event such as World Youth Day, no dissidents are allowed to make presentations. We can be quite sure that what Pell had to say had the full support of the Vatican.
And what did he have to say?
He told his audience that abortion is a worse moral scandal than priests sexually abusing young people.
I suggest you go back and read that sentence once more just to allow the full impact of his statement to hit you.
Frankly, it seems to me the only person who could make such a statement with a straight face is someone who has more empathy for a priest who has difficulty resisting pedophile impulses than for a woman facing an unwanted pregnancy. It does not surprise me that in his home diocese, there have been accusations that he has failed to act on sexual molestation accusations against his priests.
And he was chosen to lecture Catholic youth at World Youth Day.
But, that is not all. In the same catechesis, he said "We are not free to decide for ourselves what is right and wrong. Our conscience can be wrong." What he's saying here is that Catholic religious leaders know better than you do. And in light of his earlier comments, this practically amounts to a blank cheque for pedophile priests when they make their demands on children.
Here are some scenarios. Even if you are an opponent of abortion, think about them. Remember it was Archbishop George Pell that dared to make the comparison between abortion and pedophilia.
- Suppose a 13 year old girl gets an abortion to end a pregnancy arising out of rape. Who is the greater sinner? the girl? or the priest who raped her? We know George Pell's opinion. We know what George Pell wants you to think. But, what do you honestly think?
- Suppose a woman in Africa gets AIDS because she cannot obtain condoms in her country thanks to the opposition of Catholic bishops, then she gets pregnant. And she has an abortion so that she will not bring a baby stricken with AIDS into the world when it will shortly be an orphan with prospects of a short an painful life. Compare her actions with those of Reverend John Geoghan, Catholic priest and serial child abuser. Which is the greater sinner? We know George Pell's opinion. We know what George Pell wants you to think. But, what do you honestly think?
- Think of any woman who gets an abortion for whatever reason, and then think of all the Catholic Bishops, Archbishops, and Cardinals around the world who ignored or covered up repeated allegations of sexual abuse of children by clergy in their respective dioceses. Who are the greater sinners? the women? or the Catholic hierarchy? We know George Pell's self-serving opinion. We know what George Pell wants you to think. But, what do you honestly think?
I know what I think. And it's quite different from Pell's view.
And the Catholic Church has undermined any claim it might make to be an authority on moral issues, whether to its membership, or to the rest of us.
- Why should we care about the views of the Catholic Church? First of all, child abuse is everyone's business, and we all have an obligation to take a strong stand against it. And as for abortion, the Catholic Church is not content with declaring it a sin for its own members; it is determined to impose its beliefs on everyone else. (Which is why a group of attendees spent part of their time at the conference in picketing / blockading Toronto abortion clinics.) So, we have every right to criticize - vigorously.
- It would be a little over the top to suggest the Catholic Church's opposition to abortion is based on the need for a continuing supply of fresh young altar boys. Which is why this comment is relegated to a footnote. But a little sardonic humour helps to deal with my anger at the continuing insensitivity of the Catholic Church to the repeated abuse of children by some of its clergy.
- You might be wondering how the audience reacted. Well they were all good Catholic youth - and they gave him a standing ovation. As the Bob Dylan wrote in the protest song "Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll" (which addresses another issue to get angry about) "... now is the time for your tears."
- Another priest's name was initially used in this example. However, a recent article in Skeptical Inquirer casts doubt on his conviction which was based on a "recovered memory." There is no doubt about Geoghan. (footnote added 30 March 2006)