The Scandals: a Show of Schizophrenia?

Public Shock over the Abuse Cases Belies a Taste for Sexual License

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HREF="">( "The abuse of the young is a grave symptom of a crisis affecting not only the Church but society as a whole. It is a deep-seated crisis of sexual morality, even of human relationships, and its prime victims are the family and the young."

This was part of John Paul II's message last Tuesday to the U.S. cardinals, called to Rome to work out solutions to the problem of sexual abuses by priests.

Bishops and commentators have contended that one of the factors contributing to sexual abuses is the general climate of hedonism so prevalent today. Others attack this argument, seeing it as an attempt to shift the blame away from the clergy and bishops.

The Pope in his remarks was careful not to minimize the evil of the abuses, calling them "an appalling sin in the eyes of God." John Paul II also made clear a need for purification in the Church and that abuse of the young is incompatible with the priesthood or religious life.

At the same time, the Pope raised the theme of a crisis in sexual morality. This isn't some theory of social determinism, or a denial of responsibility for choices made. What he is saying is that it is not easy living in an environment that seeks to break all restrictions and taboos on sexual conduct. Priests, and all Church members, are brought up in, and have to live in, a society very hostile to Christian morality on sexual matters.

Pornography ban overturned

Just as matters in the Church rose to a head last week the U.S. Supreme Court struck down some provisions of a federal law that sought to place restrictions on child pornography distributed via computer.

The Child Pornography Prevention Act of 1996 "prohibits speech that records no crime and creates no victims by its production," wrote Justice Anthony M. Kennedy in the 6-3 court decision, the New York Times reported April 17.

Commenting on the decision, Attorney General John Ashcroft said it would make prosecuting child pornography "immeasurably more difficult." The law had sought to impose penalties on those who made or possessed images that merely looked like child pornography, including pictures of adults purporting to be minors and images created by computers that are virtually indistinguishable from real children.

The Supreme Court "failed children and left them vulnerable to sexual predators," said Jan LaRue, senior director of Legal Studies for Family Research Council in a press release.

Concern was also expressed by Juan Miguel Petit, U.N. special rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, and Abid Hussain, special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression.

In a press release the two U.N. officials stated: "Any image portraying children as sexual objects is extremely harmful to all children. We are trying desperately to convey the message that sexual exploitation of children is wrong, but the legitimization of the right to enjoy visual fantasies of this nature compromises the efforts of all involved in the struggle to protect children."

Robert Bork, former federal appeals court judge and U.S. solicitor general, wrote about the issue April 23 in the Wall Street Journal. "It would seem merely common sense to think that graphic depictions of children in sexual acts would likely result in some action by pedophiles," Bork stated. "The court finesses that problem with the statement that its 'precedents establish ... that speech within the rights of adults to hear may not be silenced completely in an attempt to shield children from it.'"

Bork continued: "All that is protected is the right of the individual to satisfy his desires, no matter how base, without regard to the rights of others or the health of the society." By taking this approach "the court severely handicaps the community's efforts to retain a morally and aesthetically satisfying environment," he concluded.

Child sex defended

Many have also been disturbed by news about the forthcoming publication of Judith Levine's book, "Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children From Sex." According to an ABC report April 5, the book argues that efforts to protect children from sex can do more harm than good. The text has a foreword by Clinton-era Surgeon General Dr. Joycelyn Elders.

"Harmful to Minors" argues that sex is a part of growing up for children and teen-agers, and that not all sexual encounters with adults are necessarily traumatic for minors. Levine advocates following the Dutch laws on sexual consent. In 1990 the Dutch Parliament made sex legal between adults and children as young as 12, so long as there is mutual consent.

Levine's book "is part of a larger movement within academia to promote 'free sexual expression of children,'" the Washington Times warned April 19. The newspaper goes on to outline numerous academic studies published recently that champion children's "sexual rights."

Ideas such as Levine's disturb Claire Reeves. The president and founder of Mothers Against Sexual Abuse warns that intellectual defenses of pedophilia are "a huge concern" because they can function as "a green light" to would-be child molesters.

Such talk disturbs Claire Reeves. The president and founder of Mothers Against Sexual Abuse warns that intellectual defenses of pedophilia are "a huge concern" because they can function as "a green light" to would-be child molesters.

Support for Levine also arose in the New York Times, which published a "friendly" review of her book, says Robert H. Knight, director of the Culture and Family Institute. Writing in the Washington Times on April 24, Knight observed that the New York Times article contrasts the "angry" reaction by critics of Levine "against a cool, reasoned pro-pedophile position."

Other examples of cultural contradictions abound. Take some of the newspapers that condemned the Church for the abuses by priests against male teen-agers. Previously these same papers editorialized against the Boy Scouts for wanting to exclude declared homosexuals from leadership positions. Following a Supreme Court ruling in their favor, the Scouts have faced a campaign by pressure groups seeking to penalize them financially for their policy on homosexuals.

Another example is the pornography industry. A study cited April 24 by the Times newspaper of London pegged the industry's 1998 annual revenue at $10 billion to $14 billion, in the United States alone. And that's considered a low estimate. That would mean people in America spend more on pornography than on all the performing arts combined, the Times noted.

Society's schizophrenic attitude toward sex is evident in the mass media. Films, music, publications, videos and television commonly exalt sex and portray ever more explicit images. Courts defend this under the legal aegis of free speech. Yet in some magical way all this is supposed to have no detrimental effect on how people act.

The Church's crisis on sexual abuse is part of a wider problem. As society scrutinizes the Church's attempts to stamp out clerical abuses, it might do well to review its own treatment of sexual relations.