When Will We Be Civilized?
Rudolph H. Weingartner
In the recent New York Review of Books blog, Garry Wills gives four tough “assignments” to Pope Francis, that must be carried out if he is to succeed in eliminating sexual predation by members of the Catholic clergy.* I don’t think that he is optimistic about their implementation. The issue is hardly new. Discussion of priests molesting children goes back some decades; the practice, I would guess, goes back centuries. Discussion, moreover, has largely focused on responsible supervision of clerics in their interaction with children, with special emphasis, of course, on the removal and punishment of transgressors. Carrying out these two functions effectively are surely necessary conditions for the elimination of sexual predation but just as surely not sufficient. But the elimination of the priestly requirement of celibacy, which would take us closer to sufficiency, is not likely in the foreseeable future or even beyond it.
No command to maintain celibacy, to say the least, is a cause of sexual harassment and rape in the American armed forces. The increase in the last few years of such incidents is no doubt related both to the increased numbers of women who have entered the military and to the considerable broadening of the roles they there assume. But the fact that these crimes occur at all is rooted in the arrogance of the perpetrators that they can just take what they desire and in the abysmal failure of the the military establishment to deal with the issue—from being discreet recipients of complaints to conducting tactful investigations to meting out effective punishment when guilt has been determined.
Sexual harassment to the point of rape is clearly widespread on college campuses all around the country. The causes are similar to those in the military: arrogance and institutional failure to deal with the issue, from dubious agencies where complaints can be lodged to inadequate methods of investigation to punishment that mostly falls far short of serving as a deterrent.
We are more than a decade into the twenty-first century, and are speaking about the United States, a country that prides itself to be a leading member of the enlightened West. We have made great strides in the acceptance of homosexuals, even if we have not yet reached the open-mindedness of ancient Greece. And of course we have long professed to believe in the equality of men and women, looking down on those corners of the globe—in the Middle East and Africa in particular—where women are treated as inferior to men.
And yet, in three large spheres of our own world we are only beginning to learn to cope with a serious aspect of the reality of the inequality of men and women, not to mention to implement adequately our professions of love for our children. Ongoing discussions make it clear that the will to do the right thing is at best half-hearted and that a country rife with investigative know-how and sophisticated policing and judicial institutions is unable to deal with widespread criminal behavior. When, indeed, will we become civilized?