As most people are probably aware, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles recently made a deal to settle with over 500 people who were allegedly abused by the clergy. The settlement amounts to a $660 million payout. 40% of this will, of course, go to the lawyers. While the settlement makes a strong statement, the Catholic church has been rather tepid in its apologies. This situation raises many issues.
It is very tempting to see this abuse as yet more evidence against the correctness of religion. After all, the abuse was committed by clergy and they are representatives of the church. Therefore, it might be concluded, the religious beliefs held by these men must be flawed or false.
While the abusers are no doubt bad men, their actions do not have any relevance to the truth or falsity of the religious beliefs in question. This is because the moral character of those who profess a belief has no bearing on the truth or falsity of that belief. To see this is the case, consider Adolph Hitler. Hitler was a vegetarian and was opposed to smoking. He was also an evil man. It does not follow from this that his views on vegetarianism and smoking are false. In fact, not smoking and avoiding meat are both excellent ideas from a health standpoint. As such, the Catholic beliefs cannot be rejected simply because some Catholics are very bad. Of course, if it could be shown that their belief system had a role in their actions, then the beliefs could be attacked on those grounds.
When a person does wrong, they should be held accountable for their wrongdoings and they should make amends. Although the abuse of children is a crime, the settlement seems to mean that those involved in the abuse will not be charged with any crimes. This seems to be an injustice. The church has also been rather tepid in its statements about the horrible things that were done. That is simply unacceptable-especially from a church that prides itself on moral goodness and the importance of confession.
The church also, horribly, took action to conceal this abuse and seems to have done little or nothing to combat it. This is appalling and shows that the institution is in need of serious reform. I am reminded of the Protestant Reformation that arose from the moral decay of the church. Perhaps there will be a similar, albeit smaller, reaction this current round of moral failings.
As noted above, the lawyers are pocketing 40% of the settlement. While this is no doubt standard practice, this rather annoys me. While the lawyers should be paid for the work they do, it seems wrong for them to get a cut of the settlement. After all, they were not harmed and hence do not have a moral claim to make more money simply because the deeds were so awful that the compensation is so large. It could be argued that they earned their cut by driving up the settlement and hence deserve more-but then this raises the matter of justice. If the settlement is so high not because it is right, but because the lawyers did all they could to maximize their profits, then the justice of the situation is tainted.
This situation makes me rather sad. Although I’m not Catholic myself, many of my friends and family are Catholics. When I think that they could have been abused, I become rather angry. When I think of the people who were abused, I feel a deep sense of outrage. Priests are supposed to be people that you can trust and look up to. They should not be people that you need to fear. I do hope the church can redeem itself. If the leaders are willing and able to take the proper moral position, make the hard decisions and take the difficult actions to make things right, then redemption is possible. I do hope they are up to the task.