Saturday, 16 March 2013

Continuing Official Catholic Confusion on the Morality of Child Molestation, Rape and Pedophilia

A new Pope has just been elected and immediately, one of the very cardinals that took part in the election-process (the so-called Conclave) is on the news making a massive fool of himself, as well as illustrating that the complete confusion and ethical morass within the official Catholic institutional establishment has not become any less than before. I have from time to time commented just a little bit on the amazing stupidity and deepest immorality of central official institutions and representatives of the Catholic Church when it comes to its dealing with allegations of systematic sexual child abuse against their own clergy. I am therefore not very surprised at this latest piece of folly that is reported in my country's leading daily this morning (here):

In a BBC interview, the Arch Bishop of Durban, one Wilfrid Fox Napier, states that child molesters and rapists are not properly to be held criminally responsible for their actions. While I'm not at all surprised that a Catholic Cardinal and Arch Bishop holds and expresses such an opinion – even less so since he represents the South African wing of the Church, known since before for airing massively confused official statements on sexual morality – I do have a few things to say about the way in which he tries to support it.

Here is what he says on the matter, quoting from the BBC interview:
'Cardinal Napier referred to paedophilia as "a psychological condition, a disorder".
"What do you do with disorders? You've got to try and put them right.
"If I - as a normal being - choose to break the law, knowing that I'm breaking the law, then I think I need to be punished."
He said he knew at least two priests, who became paedophiles after themselves being abused as children.
"Now don't tell me that those people are criminally responsible like somebody who chooses to do something like that. I don't think you can really take the position and say that person deserves to be punished. He was himself damaged."'
 Let us break down the argument in steps. Adding some hidden premises that are apparently assumed by the good Arch Bishop, the most likely (and potential least faulty) version would look something like this. It is rather complicated and partly sophisticated, and therefore needs to be presented in separate bundles of deductions, where I have put the important conclusions in bold type:

1. Pedophilia is a psychological disorder
2. Psychological disorders are conditions and not actions
3. People cannot be properly held criminally responsible for anything else than those of their actions that break the law
4. People cannot be properly held criminally responsible for being pedophiles

5. Sexual child abuse is caused by pedophilia

6. If an action that breaks the law is caused by a psychological disorder for which he/she cannot properly be held criminally responsible, then the person who performs it does not know that he/she is thereby breaking the law
7. If a person performs an unlawful action without knowing that it is against the law, then he/she cannot properly be held criminally responsible for performing that action.
8. If a person performs an action as a result of pedophilia, then he/she cannot properly be held criminally responsible for performing that action
9. No one can properly be held criminally responsible for sexual child abuse.

10. If an action that breaks the law is caused by a psychological disorder for which he/she cannot properly be held criminally responsible, then the person who performs it has not chosen to perform it
11. If a person performs an unlawful action without choosing to do so, then he/she cannot properly be held criminally responsible for performing that action.
12. Same as 8
13 Same as 9

14. Therefore (by 4, 5, 9 and 13): No one can properly be held criminally responsible for sexual child abuse

It is quite easy to spot the gaps, as well as the sinister rhetorical tricks employed, in this argument. To begin with the latter, the basis of Mr. Napier's argument is the completely plausible claim that pedophilia is a psychological disorder and that the criminal law system should not punish people for  having disorders. On this, I presume, we may all agree – pedophilia is in this respect no different from, e.g. psychopathy or kleptomania or, for that matter, the flu, being taller than 2 metres or shortsightedness. The law holds people people responsible for what they do – possibly in combination with why they did it – not for what they are. This is trivia, which the dear Bishop tries to create an impression having bearing on whether or not we should be held responsible for our actions.

However, as soon as the first step in that direction is taken (premise 5), trouble begins. For, as a matter of fact, it is by no means obviously true that sexual child abuse is caused by pedophilia. The thing is, you see, that it is rather the case that to the extent that someone is a pedophile in the sense that makes it into a disorder this simply means that they are prone to sexually abuse children, and the only indicator of that is that they in fact do so. That is, if someone is a pedophile in the sense of a disorder, then this is partly constituted by having on at least some occasion sexually abused a child. Similar things hold for many other psychological conditions that may be held out as disorders, such as sadism. Now, you might object that we may imagine someone who harbours sexual desires directed at children, but does not act on them – at least not in the form of actual abuse (but, e.g. fantasy only) and that such a person should be called a pedophile. Sure, I'd say, we may very well do so, but in that case, premise 1 of the argument becomes implausible, since what makes it sensible to say that a pedophile suffers from a psychological disorder is that this person does not direct his/her actions properly on the basis of prudence or social, moral or legal norms. It may further be observed, that if we thus would weaken the concept of pedophilia, premises 6 and 10 would be severely weakened as well. So, if this argument is to work, we need to hold on to a strong concept of pedophilia, where it means simply tendency to sexually abuse children and that, of course, does not tell us that pedophilia causes sexual child abuse, merely that acts sexual child abuse is an indicator of the mentioned tendency – i.e. pedophilia. The cause of the actions of sexual child abuse is not revealed.

However, just as the weaker concept of pedophilia would make trouble for premises 6 and 10, we can now see that also the stronger would – besides invalidating premise 5 that is. For the tendency to sexually molest children when provided with a (from the perpetrator's point of view) fitting opportunity would not, it seems to me, provide any reason to believe that a person having such a tendency is either unable to understand or know that sexual child abuse is against the law, or incapable of choosing to sexually abuse children. On the contrary, this tendency whereby the person selects certain occasions to perform acts of sexual child abuse, in fact supports the notion of them both knowing very well that it is against the law and performing acts of reasoning to make decisions about when to try to get away with the unlawful act and when not to. In short neither the fact that your actions result from an urge, or that they result from a tendency in virtue of past actions, invalidates that you may properly be held legally responsible for them. This is perfectly consistent with accepting the claim that such a person is not to be properly held criminally responsible for said urge or tendency, but for his/her actions.

So, why is the dear bishop making such a flawed argument? One explanation is, of course, the he is himself confused. However, a much more charitable and less insulting explanation is that he is doing his best to do what catholic officials always seem to be doing when the topic of sexual child abuse by clergy is raised – namely to protect his peers and defend the way in which the Catholic Church has been handling these things – that is, shielding hard criminals from the criminal justice system and on many occasions providing them with the opportunity to go on destroying the lives of children and youngsters in their care.

To see how this fits Mr. Napier's line of argument, we can inspect some possible corollaries (sub-conclusions) of its alleged conclusion (14). If 14 is true, it follows:

15. No Catholic clergy can properly be held criminally responsible for sexual child abuse

And if we for a moment forget that, legally and morally, we should all report suspected unlawful acts to the proper authorities, so that they can be investigated and decided on according to due process, thereby protecting legal security and rule of law, it would also follow:

16. The Catholic Church or its representatives are under no obligation to report suspected cases of sexual child abuse by clergy

So, as usual it comes down to the usual thing: trying to get away with it.


  1. Like this, a very good and well-written)

  2. As a professor of philosophy, could you write something about the argument against determinism? I am keen to think that there is more to life than a load of random actions happening and our decisions all being pre-determined, but am yet to see anything which makes more sense when I read around the subject.

    1. Hi Edward! In fact this is an area so full of complexity that it it very hard to make good blog posts about it. To explain why, it is instructive to look at how we may conceive of these questions as important in the first place.

      The classic motivation is that determinism/indeterminism (or whatever 'in between theory' we may conceive of) would have something to say about our
      (a) capacity for free action ("free will"), and/or
      (b) capacity for moral responsibility or blameworthiness, and/or
      (c) moral wrongdoing ('ought' implies 'can', as Kant's famous oneliner goes).

      Usually the idea is that (a)-(c) require that we to some extent and in some sense are able to control our actions/behavior. D. can then be used as a reason to doubt that ability to control (since, on D., whatever I do, it would be perfectly determined by states of affairs before I was even born together with the true and complete laws of nature). However, I.D. doesn't seem to fare any better, since if there are no causal connections at all between anything, that would imply that I cannot cause what I do through my own decision-making, for instance.

      From there, the discussion can be taken in many directions, and my own inclination is actually to doubt the premise of what is often called "libertarianism" (about responsibility) - i.e. the idea that (a)-(c), or at least (b)-(c) require D to be false. It is rather obvious to me that when we try to resolve questions about capability of wrongdoing or responsibility, we assume that I.D. is false, but at the same time have ideas that some paths of causation may block (b)/(c), while others actually further them. That is, the relevant idea of what it means for a person to be in control is actually consistent with D. I would actually go even further and say (b)/(c) do not require (a) - that is "free will" - since the latter may very well require D to be false, or indeed be a conceptual impossibility (requiring D to be both false and true). My position implies that I have to accept some consequences famously pointed out by Peter Van Inwagen with regard to free will, for instance that, if D. is true, I may be responsible for or the agent of a wrongful action partly in virtue of there being a consistent counterfactual hypothetical sentence about what would have occurred had either the laws of nature been different or the past been different. Much more advanced reading and references on these subjects can be found here:
      (1) and here

    2. Why dont you seek god instead george?
      The bible talks about som actions that we are predestined towards. For example a preacher may be predestined to preach and jesus was predestined to be the messiah as prophesied.
      He did always those things that pleased the father, according to the bible.

      The bible also talks about choice as in: "choose you this day whom you will serve"
      He was talking about who we will serve: god or daimonion- a demon as one filosopher said.
      Yes, you might think your being godly when you study morality and philosophy but the bible warns us not to be taken captives by philosophy. So make your choice: serve the living god or daimonion...

  3. Catolic Church is trying to hide perpetrators by
    old story is hen or egg older. Pedophilia is a crime and criminals must be prosecuted.

  4. Molestation, raped and pedophile are a big crime person who are engaged in this doing should be put to jail. Many news and article saying that there are a lot of priest are engage or doing such cruelty works inside the church, church officials should investigate this and do further actions to stop this kind of immorality. missing child

    1. You should take a look at yourself first. Do you do things that lead to pedophelia?
      Probably not but do you do anything to prevent it, say knock on neighbours doors or just by doing good in everyday life?
      What about yourself.?
      You think about morality. Ok, but would you consider doing something that would actually make people listen to you?

  5. very nicely phrased. thanks for the summary. logic is poetry!