In Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov one of the brothers, an atheist, Ivan– a 19C Russian Christopher Hitchens – argues with Alyosha, a Christian on the meaning of suffering. He asks Alyosha whether mankind’s redemption would be worth torturing to death one innocent child:
Imagine that you are creating a fabric of human destiny with the object of making men happy in the end, giving them peace and rest at last, but that it was essential and inevitable to torture to death only one tiny creature — that baby beating its breast with its fist, for instance — and to found that edifice on its unavenged tears, would you consent to be the architect on those conditions? Tell me, and tell the truth.”
“No, I wouldn’t consent,” said Alyosha softly.
Even though Dostoevsky was a Christian, I have always found the arguments he places in Ivan’s mouth convincing – though they present their own set of problems. Dostoyevsky’s own answer – told through Ivan – comes in the next section, the Grand Inquisitor, where Christ’s reply to the Inquisitor was not in words, but a kiss on the lips. Christ would only answer by demonstrating that he loved the Inquisitor. It didn’t change the Inquisitor’s thinking: “The kiss glows in his heart, but the old man adheres to his idea.”
Christ, of course, was innocent in that he was sinless, and he was tortured to death for the redemption of mankind – a fate that was not thrust upon him: he chose it.
Innocent children do suffer, yet, however great the payoff, we would all be with Alyosha: we would not consent.
And all this is what makes the present scandal of child abuse in the Catholic Church so horrifying: through repeated cover-ups and the moving around of pederast priests, children were sacrificed, not to save mankind, but to save the reputation of the Roman Church and the miserable skins of abusive priests. To use the excuse that child abuse has been rife in every organisation is simply not good enough:
If the Church suffers more — in the innocent victims, in the faith shaken, in the credibility of her preaching — than other institutions, that too relates to her mission. Sexual abuse of the young is prevalent in staggering numbers in every dark corner of society; yet only very few cases are brought to light. If the Church should be the place where more cases are exposed rather than fewer, that is for the good, for there is the possibility of grace and healing. Consequently, if the Church as a whole feels the pain of shame and disgrace, that can be an expiatory suffering for a sexually dissolute and depraved age. Expiatory suffering is, amongst other salvific things, what the Church exists for.
“In the past decade, nearly every pillar institution in American society — whether it’s General Motors, Congress, Wall Street, Major League Baseball, the Catholic Church or the mainstream media — has revealed itself to be corrupt, incompetent or both.”
The Roman church as the body of Christ has a higher standard set for it than General Motors, yet it has behaved in ways that would shame the most secular organisation. The Roman church as a human institution should be subject to the rules a civilised society applies to other human institutions: priests who engaged in criminal activity should be prosecuted. So should those who tried to cover up the criminal activity. And anyone who – even for a moment – placed the reputation of the church above the abuse of a child should be made to find another job.