Morality and religion

I have been trying to write something about the mass grave of discarded children in Ireland and Catholic society that allowed such mistreatment to continue for so long. The other Catholic topic that hit the wire recently is the trial of New jersey priest Terence McAlinden, accused of  molesting a boy while leading the diocese’s youth group.

The case in Ireland has been written about at great length by people much more skilled than I. Those are just on a single blog network. McAlindin’s case has been much less publicized, I guess because another child abusing priest is sadly not news any more.

What these two instances have in common, and have in common with cases around the world, is the total lack of moral outrage within the church. In both, the apologists are trying to deflect responsibility. Over in Ireland, the claim is about inconsistencies in media stories and blaming societal mores and the lack of public heath at the time. The author totally ignores or misrepresents the original research that brought the children’s fates to light.

In New Jersey, lawyers have come up with what has to be the the most ridiculous defence yet in an attempt to deflect responsibility away from the church hierarchy.

a lawyer for the Diocese of Trenton told the justices that the Rev. Terence McAlinden was not “on duty” — or serving in his capacity as a priest — when he allegedly molested Naples on trips to Delaware in the 1980s.

McAlinden, who once headed the diocese’s youth group, had introduced himself to Naples at a church-sponsored leadership retreat in Keyport. He’d heard his confession, included him in private Masses and discussed matters of spirituality with him.

Yet McAlinden wasn’t officially a priest when he took a teenage Naples to Delaware, the lawyer argued.

“How do we determine when a priest is and is not on duty?” one of the justices asked, according to a video of the session on the court’s website.

“Well,” replied the diocese lawyer, “you can determine a priest is not on duty when he is molesting a child, for example. … A priest abusing a child is absolutely contrary to the pursuit of his master’s business, to the work of a diocese.”

The statement — one prong of the diocese’s argument that it should not be held responsible for McAlinden’s alleged assaults — left Naples reeling.

As an atheist, I am constantly told by religious spokespeople that my secular humanism is is invalid because it does not come from God. Yet we have actions such as these in which church leaders are refusing to accept responsibility for those they entrust to spread their message. Instead the leaders chose to cover up and protect the abusers.

In this, they are really no different than most other groups, religious or secular. Religious groups are different, however, in that they claim to be the arbitrators of morality. For example, they were not the only church involved in the residential schools or orphanages in Canada who didn’t accept responsibility for abuses until the facts became widely publicized. A moral actor would recognize these actions as wrong and speak out against those actions. I see it as particularly immoral to be aware of abuse and not step forward voluntarily.

It is easy to focus on the Catholic Church as a target primarily because they have a worldwide presence and the Pope seeks to be primary arbiter for morality. It is obvious that a concept of morality based on something than protecting their hegemony is foreign to this organization, but most other christian sects also promote their own version of the truth. This truth may include the persecution of gays, the subjugation of women, and the abuse of children. It may include the suppression of beliefs that run counter to their own or the belief that fetuses deserve more rights than women.

I am not qualified to write about the moral basis or teachings of religions other than Christianity, but in many cases, the actions of adherents does not inspire much confidence in me that things are different.

For an in depth examination on secular morality and ethics, I recommend following Dan Finke at Camels with Hammers, a philosopher who ponders, writes, and teaches on this topic.

Anyone, even me, can decide on a moral course of action, but no one deserves to be considered an absolute authority simply because of their position.

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