The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there...
Blogged by James Preece on 30th March 2010
I wanted to draw your attention to a series of posts on the Dolphinarium blog. Red Maria has been shedding a bit of light on historical attitudes to paedophilia.
Let's be clear: Neither Maria or myself are seeking here to justify the actions of Bishops who covered up for abusive priests. It is however important to understand the context of their actions at a time when many "progressive" thinkers were suggesting quite openly that maybe paedophilia wasn't so bad after all.
Exibit A: Daniel Cohn-Bendit MEP
Cohn-Bendit is a member of the European Parliament and is currently co-president of the European Greens–European Free Alliance. In 1975 he wrote a book "The Big Madness" about child education in which he wrote:
Later he added: 'It has happened to me several times that a few children opened the flies of my trousers and started to stroke me. I reacted differently each time according to the circumstances, but their desire confronted me with problems. I asked them: "Why don't you play with each other, why have you chosen me and not other children?" But when they insisted on it, I then stroked them. For that reason I was accused of perverted behaviour.'
I can't help thinking that if the Pope had written that in 1975 then there would be serious preassure from the press. An MEP for a trendy Green party wrote it? No problem.
Cohn-Bendit recently defended himself saying:
It was written in an autobiographical way and wasn't scientific - it was a literary exaggeration.'
But he added: 'I admit that what I wrote is unacceptable nowadays.
I wonder if the Irish Bishops could get away with that... "what we did was acceptable back then..."
Exibit B: 1987 Green Party Policy
At a national conference in 1985 the Greens in North Rhine-Westphalia were calling for the legalisation of "nonviolent sexuality" between children and adults. Their 1987 policy included:
"When young people have the desire for older peers outside the family, prevented either because their homosexuality is not accepted by their parents, or because they have paedophile inclinations, be it for other reasons, they must be given the opportunity to do so."
If the Bishops Conference of England and Wales had called for such a thing in 1987 we would now be hearing about it in the media every day, but we don't hear so much about how any Bishop who removed a paedophile priest from office would be going against the latest progressive ideas of the time.
Exhibit C: Paedophile Information Exchange
In the Catholic Herald Mary Kenny writes:
I remember a point in the later 1970s when there was a pro-paedophile "liberation" lobby. It was called the Paedophile Information Exchange and it argued publicly for the lifting of the prohibitions (or "prejudices") against paedophiles. Mary Whitehouse, that doughty campaigner against pornography, took up the cudgels against the PIE - as is described in her autobiography, A Most Dangerous Woman - and was laughed at by liberals for her "reactionary" attitudes.
In 1978, I was living in Bloomsbury in central London when the PIE held a rally in one of the local meeting halls once so beloved of Bertrand Russell and the Bloomsbury Group. Members of the PIE had affiliated themselves to the National Council for Civil Liberties and some in the NCCL supported their cause.
The National Council for Civil Liberties still exists under the name Liberty and it's a fair bet that some of the people who supported PIE in 1978 are still knocking around, probably now bashing the Church for failing to stop the very thing those people once supported.
Bishops who covered for Paedophile Priests were wrong, wrong, wrong. No doubt about it. We as a Church need to be open about what happened, what mistakes were made and who made them. As Pope Benedict said, the Church needs "a frank and complete acknowledgment of the weaknesses of her ministers"
But we also need to be realistic about different attitudes in the past because it's not hard to see why a Bishop might hesistate to remove a man from the Priesthood for doing something that members of the National Council for Civil Liberties support. Especially when he's got a psychiatrist sending him reports telling him that the guy is cured.
Bishops should have known better, but they didn't. If we are going to have a media witchunt against everybody who was saying stupid things in the seventies, let's not forget the trendy progressives who were campaigning the legalise that which the Bishops are now criticised for not condemning.
Oh, and let's not forget to thank Maria for her fantastic research on this subject.