Blame It on the ‘60s

May 18, 2011

According to the New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major papers, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops will be releasing a report later today that analyzes the causes for the increase in sexual abuse of pubescent and prepubescent minors that the Catholic Church experienced in recent decades.  The good news about the report is that it expressly avoids blaming gay priests, indicating that sexual orientation had no causal link to abuse of minors.  If boys were abused more often than girls, it’s principally because priests had more access to boys than girls.

But the most interesting finding of the report is that the “permissive culture” of the 1960s and 1970s was a significant factor in causing some clergy to engage in abuse.  Huh?  Does this mean that some priests listened to too many renditions of songs like “Love the One You’re With” or “Magic Man”?   This finding seems questionable at a number of different levels, besides its sheer implausibility. First, hundreds of millions of individuals had their characters formed during the 1960s and 1970s. Few of them had sex with minors. Moreover, isn’t the Church supposed to be an institution that emphasizes individual responsibility?  Putting the blame on a “permissive culture” seems to be a convenient way to avoid accepting and assigning responsibility.  Then again, for an institution that still teaches we are subject to temptations from the devil, perhaps we should not be too surprised.

The blame the “permissive culture” narrative, of course, dovetails nicely with the Church’s longstanding disapproval of the cultural and legal changes that began to take place in the 1960s, such as rock music, “revealing” clothing, sex outside of marriage, oral contraceptives, no-fault divorce and so forth: basically any conduct that suggested individual autonomy and a refusal to be bound by the chains of tradition. See, this is what happens when you stop listening to Holy Mother Church! Of course, priests were raping boys! What else could we expect in a culture where we allow spouses to dissolve a loveless marriage?

Interestingly, although I have not had an opportunity to see the actual report yet, there does not appear to be a cultural explanation for the Church’s determined efforts to cover-up the abuses—conduct nearly as reprehensible as the abuses themselves. Perhaps the Church hierarchy can blame this on the inspiration they received from Nixon.