Monday, November 28, 2022

Religion, Sexual Abuse, and Politics in Poland

In Poland, young people are turning away from the Catholic Church (NY Times). No surprise, I guess, but still important. One factor is the worldwide abuse scandal, which is tainting the Church in Poland just like everywhere else. Another is creeping secularization as Poland becomes more like western Europe. But part is national politics; the Church is closely allied with the ruling Law and Justice Party, and people opposed to Law and Justice see the Church as too enmeshed in politics. This seems to be a perpetual danger in modern times. Churches can either dive into politics and thereby alienate a large number of people, or try to stay aloof and end up looking weak and irrelevant.

Law and Justice head Jaroslaw Kaczynski is also doing his part to drive young people out of the church. He has a habit of doubling down when faced with any sort of criticism, and when he was attacked for doing nothing about the abuse scandal and being too close to abusers, he did this:

When Kaczynski and other senior officials presided over the opening of a new canal in September, they were joined by Slawoj Leszek Glodz, a disgraced archbishop who in March 2021 was punished by the Vatican for negligence “in cases of sexual abuse committed by certain clergy against minors” and barred from preaching in his previous diocese. 

I found this bit particularly interesting: 

A big factor in the Polish church’s failure to tackle sexual abuse, according to Professor Kobylinski, is the legacy of Communist rule, during which accusations of rape and molestation against priests were routinely dismissed as fabrications spread by secret police agents dedicated to atheism. To defend itself against the state, he added, the church developed a “culture of omertà,” or silence.

I have written about this before, my sense that in hushing up its sins the Church was doing what any organization that sees itself as fighting a great and important battle would do. This was doubly true in Poland. In the cause of fighting for humanity against Stalinism and Russian domination, the rape of altar boys was swept away as nothing but a distraction. 

Not any more. One of the defining themes of the post-modern world, it seems to me, is that most people don't believe in any cause enough to think it justifies covering up crimes against individual people. Even in actual wars, we demand investigation of all potential war crimes and punishment of responsible soldiers from our own side. 

We are not like this because we don't believe in anything, but because of what we believe in. The right of individuals to safety and happiness *is* our cause, the thing we believe in most deeply, the thing we are willing to fight for. In pursuit of that goal we are willing to smash churches and anything else that gets in the way. Sometimes it seems that we have descended into pettiness, more worried about microaggressions than macropolitics. But for individual people, individual crimes like sex abuse can loom much larger than who owns the factories. Caring about people sometimes means setting the big picture aside and delving into the details.

Whether this can really make for a productive politics is, I think, an open question.


David said...

Very well said, and, I think, right and fair.

The question of politics is, no surprise, to me an interesting one. Many mainstream liberals still believe in institutions as ways to protect the individual. If there's a war crime, they want to report it to the ICC in The Hague. If the CDC says mask, we'll mask.

To a certain extent, both (or all) sides respect institutional power when it does what they want. And if not, not. I remember when, a few years ago, there was a phase where "It's the law" was a favorite slogan of abortion-rights advocates.

Perhaps the key is that, while we no longer believe in institutions in themselves, as representatives of transcendent values, the vast majority of us have no desire to live without them (to the dismay and frustration of Liz Truss, Peter Thiel, antifa, the Boogaloo Bois, and the whole host of similarly loud but essentially boutique constituencies). But we mainly like institutions as tools for use. We don't revere them.

David said...

I'll do a multi-parter: Liberals' Trump-era love affair with the FBI--still fresh and exciting as it approaches its seventh year--is typical. I just remembered that "From Russia With Love" video where Trump and minions get arrested, and had to rewatch it for sheer pleasure. Good times. Love those letter jackets.

Of course, the right has ICE.

Maybe that's the answer about politics. In a decadent west where "causes" become a matter of personal brand, we pick up and drop institutions as they fit. (If you're in the mood for a horror flick tonight, the Catholic Church can still play the role of a--more or less ambiguous--hero. Tomorrow we can watch "Spotlight.") This safe decadence lacks a little olde tymey dignity, but for myself I'll take it over real politics like they have in . . . take your pick.

G. Verloren said...

"Whether this can really make for a productive politics is, I think, an open question."

If politics can't operate 'productively' without allowing powerful old men to rape children, maybe the problem is with politics.

szopeno said...

Not much to add, except I think that the process would inevitably happen even without the scandal.