Sunday, December 28, 2008

When did the Catholic Pedophile Priest Problem begin?

(updated two times, see below)

I've been meaning to do this post for a while so here goes...

By now, most folks who own a TV or subscribe to a newspaper know about the Catholic Pedophile Priest Scandal. Even the Catholic Church's own numbers from the scandal are shocking:

  • 4,392 US clerics accused of abuse from 1950-2002:
  • About 4% of the 109,694 priests serving in the U.S. during those 52 years were charged with abuse.
  • Over $1 billion in settlements to victims of these priests.

The likelihood is that these numbers are a dramatic UNDERCOUNT of the actual problem. John Walsh reports that more reliable estimates peg the number of pedophile Catholic priests in the U.S. at closer to 10,000.

Okay but here's my question: When did the problem of pedophile priests begin in the Catholic Church?

We know from accounts of survivors and confessions by priests of cases that go back as far back as the memories of anyone living today (basically to the start of the 20th century). The statute of limitations is such that once an accused priest has died, the pending cases against him are dropped (which limits our ability to know about cases going back further in time). But surely the problem didn't magically start 80 years ago. Rather it seems more likely that this has been going on for a long long long time.

Those who know they can get away with a crime are more likely to commit one aren't they (power corrupts and all that)? So it seems likely that when the Catholic Church ruled all of Europe, taxed people through indulgences, and routinely tortured and burned people at the stake (particularly women) -- that sexual abuse was likely widespread too. When the church is the law and above the law at the same time, wouldn't abuse have been rampant -- even worse than today? And if the person abused is more likely to become an abuser, isn't it likely that the cycle of abuse in the church has been going on for over a thousand years? Literally.

So what's changed is NOT that the church suddenly developed a pedophile priest problem overnight (or even in the last 80 years). Rather, what HAS changed is that the rights of victims and the rights of children have become more advanced in the last 50 years -- allowing a problem that has always been there in the church to finally come to light.

The craziest thing to me in all the reporting on the pedophile priest problem is NOT ONCE have I ever heard a reporter ask the question as to when the problem began. It would seem in fact that any common sense guess as to the origins of the problem would trace it back to a time when the church first gained the power to commit abuse and get away with it -- which would trace it back at least a thousand years and even as far back as 1700 years ago.

Update #1:  Melinda Henneberger, on the March 19, 2010 Real Time with Bill Maher (Episode 177) on HBO said two things that support the assertions in this post.  Henneberger, a practicing Catholic, is the editor-in-chief of and was the Rome bureau chief for The New York Times.  She said: 1.) that 'Catholic priests don't view sex with boys as actual sex' -- just as some American politicians don't view oral sex as actual sex.  2.) 'that it has always been thus'; namely that the Catholic Church has had a problem of priests molesting boys for its entire history.  I found both of those details shocking, but Henneberger presented the information in a nonchalant -- everybody already knows this -- sort of way. Wow.

Update #2:  So now we have confirmation that Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict) was aware that a pedophile priest would be returned to pastoral work and did nothing to stop it.  "Pope Was Told Pedophile Priest Would Get Post: Informed as Cardinal Document Trail Shows Benedict Got Copy of Church Memo." March 25, 2010.  "The priest was later convicted of molesting boys in another parish."   If you drive the get away car in a bank robbery, you go to jail because you are an accessory to the crime.  So too, Pope Benedict, by not preventing a known pedophile priest from being transferred to another parish where he would strike again, should go to jail. 

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Is Prozac causing all of these stock market bubbles?

Way back in March of 2000, ran a story titled, "Is Prozac Driving Wall Street?" It included the following nugget which now seems prescient:

Randolph Nesse, author (with George Williams) of Why We Get Sick: The New Science of Darwinian Medicine, estimates that about 20 million Americans are on antidepressants. And at least some people who take these drugs "become far less cautious than they were before, worrying too little about real dangers. This is exactly the mind-set of many current investors." If indeed "investor caution is being inhibited by psychotropic drugs," a Wall Street bubble "could grow larger than usual" before popping "with potentially catastrophic economic and political consequences."

Prozac and other anti-depressant use became widespread starting in the early 1990s. In fact, according to the Washington Post, the use of such drugs by all adults has nearly tripled in the last decade (nearly 1 in 10 adults in one one of them). And the massive rise in antidepressant use also corresponds with the ending of one recession (1992) and three subsequent enormous stock market bubbles and busts (internet, telecom, and housing).

But while the correlation is dramatic, causation is difficult if not impossible to prove. I think a more likely explanation for all the stock market bubbles is that corporate power has grown so dramatically over the last 30 years that passing effective regulation became impossible. With the corporate titans, left to self-police, it became inevitable that we'd see a massive game of financial musical chairs as they pumped all of the wealth out of one sector of the economy after another (they basically sucked all of the wealth out of retirement funds, real estate, and the public treasury over the last 10 years).

But here's my point -- I believe it is precisely the rise in corporate power -- that is causing the rise in anti-depressant use (not the other way around). It is precisely the way that corporate power tears down communities and families and dehumanizes our world that plunges so many people into anomie and despair. So for example, when Wal-Mart comes into a town and destroys all of the small retail businesses and the middle class jobs and community that went with them -- and forces people to work at low wages so we can all buy cheap Chinese-made imported goods -- that has GOT to cause an increase in depression in a town. Now multiply that by thousands of sectors of the economy that have been overwhelmed by corporate power over the last decade or two and you have the depression epidemic we have now.

Look, I'm not saying that depression isn't a real medical condition. I believe it is and I want people who experience depression to find healing. If that's in the form of a pill, great. But, do 1 in 10 Americans suffer from this medical condition and has the rate of this rare medical condition suddenly trippled over the past ten years? I think not. My point is that -- IF indeed the leading cause depression is not some unexplainable medical phenomenon but rather the very real suffering caused by the very awful corporations who have come to dominate our lives -- THEN we've got a huge problem on our hands. Because under ordinary (pre-Prozac) circumstances the rise in human suffering might cause people to ask the question -- "Hey how come everyone is so miserable?" And we might reach for collective solutions that work to change the conditions in which we all live. Instead, the problem is now INDIVIDUALIZED AND MEDICALIZED -- "individuals have medical problems it's not society's fault" -- and through massive prescription drug use, we may be silencing the very canaries in the coal mines we need to save our society from further ruin.

Just some food for thought ya'll.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Will the last capitalist to leave please turn out the lights?

In the space of just 8 years, George Bush managed to destroy the entire capitalist system. Think about it -- AIG bankrupt, Lehman Brothers bankrupt, General Motors bankrupt, the entire banking system -- frozen or bankrupt, the housing industry -- in complete freefall. We often think of capitalism as this permanent, timeless, immovable force. And yet after just 8 years of George Bush, or rather, after 8 years of this experiment in almost complete Chicago School neoliberal economic policy with no regulation, minimal taxes, and no oversight -- the entire capitalist system is on the verge of collapse (and indeed would have collapsed if the federal government hadn't stepped in to take over). That's kind of incredible don't you think? Capitalism is in fact a very fragile system -- all it takes to kill it is to leave the wrong guy in charge for 8 years. It makes you wonder if perhaps communism might have survived if only Gorbachev hadn't decided to just say fuck it and sell out to the west.

Look, as Milton Friedman himself would probably say if he were still alive, capitalism was a great idea in theory, it just didn't work that well in practice.

All these years, lefties have been starting nonprofits and running NGOs and publishing journals full of revolutionary ideas that went nowhere -- when all they really needed to do to bring down the capitalist system was to let Republicans run all 3 branches of government for a few years.

So a couple lessons to draw from all of this. First, those who crowed about how the downfall of communism proved the virtues of capitalism can shove it up their ass. Capitalism would fellatiate itself to death if it wasn't for the occasional checks and balances provided by lefties (and indeed capitalism itself apparently has to be completely taken over by a massive federal intervention every 50 to 75 years or else it would not exist).

Second, if we can suddenly find a trillion here or a trillion there to bail out banks, investment banks, insurance companies, the auto industry, and the housing industry -- then we can sure as heck provide a trillion here and a trillion there for universal single payer health insurance, universal college education, social security, clean air, clean water, and decent roads, bridges, hospitals and schools.

Finally, before the Republicans run off to hunker down in the Hoover Institution to come up with a blueprint for how to once again unite Wall Street and broke ass conservative rural voters in another unholy alliance to take over the country and rob the treasury again -- before they lawyer up and grant each other pardons and send their surrogates out to the cable TV networks to preach the virtues of bipartisan cooperation -- before all that -- it'd be really nice if Republicans just stopped for a minute and gave us all an apology. An apology for being asleep at the wheel during 9/11. An apology for sending over 4,000 American men and women to their deaths in Iraq. An apology for completely blowing the federal surplus on tax breaks for people who own private jets. An apology for bankrupting the auto industry and killing the financial services industry, and bankrupting the treasury. Because before we can even talk about working together for the good of the country -- it'd be nice, really nice for Republican to take responsibility for COMPLETELY FUCKING UP EVERYTHING THEY'VE TOUCHED FOR THE PAST 8 YEARS.

A brother can dream right?