It's a good thing all those priests molested all those children, because this sure helps atheists prove the inferiority of religion.
After all, we all know that if not for religion, pedophilia would not exist - in the same way that Schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, and Parkinson's Disease are also caused by belief in God. Furthermore, as we all know, in the absence of belief in God, no human being would ever act to protect a secular institution he belonged to from bad publicity.
That was sarcasm. I suspect that there are some who might not recognize it as such.
The fact is,"belief in God" and "pedophilia" are not related. Nor is "belief in God" and "willingness to protect an organization that one belongs to." These are both facts about human beings independent of religious beliefs, thus they are not facts that separate the religious from the non-religious.
There are two relevant moral considerations to be drawn out of the recent revelations that, in Europe, as has already been revealed in America, the Catholic Church has covered up allegations of child abuse by members of the clergy.
Divine versus Secular Morality One relevant point is that it provides some counter-evidence to the claim that a belief in God provides a person with a special incentive to do the right thing. In one way of thinking, a commitment to God and church is a commitment to a moral life that brings with a commitment to do the right thing (as described within that religion). Another way of thinking says that agents can be motivated by fear of eternal punishment.
Yet, no religion has ever held that these methods are absolutely reliable. There has always been a recognition that temptation exists and that people might find themselves in situations where "the devil" might urge them to act in ways that God would not approve. So, there is an easy way out for this type of objection. These are cases in which people were not as committed to good as they should have been. They allowed themselves to be seduced by evil forces into acting in inappropriate ways. Now it is time to confess their sins, repent, and resolve to do better in the future.
There is a strong parallel to be drawn here between the temptation to evil and the commitment to do good in terms of conflicts that arise between good desires and bad desires on a desire utilitarian model. The "devil's" temptation can easily be mapped to bad desires. In this case, it applies not only to pedophilia itself, but in the desires that placed the well-being of the church over the well-being of the children. The moral fault within the Catholic church is that its leadership did not have its priorities straight. It cultivated desires that tended to thwart other desires rather than desires that would tend to prevent the thwarting of other desires.
Yet, this secular description - in terms of conflicting desires - tells us that secular institutions are vulnerable to the same forces. Pedophilia exists independent of religious beliefs. Members of secular organizations are also going to have an interest in preserving the good name of those organizations. In certain circumstances, this is going to motivate the members of those secular organizations to act in ways contrary to the interests of children. The best way to prevent these ill effects is to make it clear that this condemnation is universal - that it would not be okay to engage in this type of activity to protect a secualar organization.
Another morally relevant issue rests in the fact that religous organizations have traditionally received a type of immunity from public scrutiny that has not been given to secular organizations. The Catholic Church has been subject to civil lawsuits in the United States and its clergy have been arrested for violating the law. There is a strong public attitude of, "Thou shalt not condemn or Church or its leadership."
Well, there is no justification for this attitude. The Catholic Church ought to be subject to the same set of standards regarding criminal and civil responsibility, as well as moral judgment, as any secular organization that has involved itself in the care and education of children. People who participated in this cover-up should be terminated from their positions and replaced by people with a stronger dedication to doing the right thing.
Both of these arguments use this case to deny religion a special place in human affairs. The first denies the moral superiority of the religious - since the religious and non-religious are subject to the malevolent force of the same demons or bad desires. The latter denies that any religious institutions should be subject to the same oversight and be required to live by the same rules as any secular institution.
However, both of these argue for the equal treatment of religious institutions as compared to secular. While it argues against the superiority and privelege of religious institutions, it does not argue for their inferiority.
To illustrate this point, there was another story that made the news this week. This one concerned a 15 year old girl who hanged herself because of bullying and harrassment from classmates. This provides another example in which the members of an institution failed to take action to defend the interests of a child against those who would do them harm.
This time, it happened in a secular setting - a public school - and their is no sign that there was any religous motivation behind the attacks.
As such, it seems, atheist bloggers and commentators apparently fail to find it worthy of their attention. At least, I have not heard much mention of this particular case. This suggests that it is not concern for the well-being of children that is motivating these comments. The welfare of children is as well served by taking a stand against bullying as it is by taking a stand against abusive priests. It suggests that the interests actually rests elsewhere - in preserving or promoting the social status of one's tribe, perhaps.
What we are dealing with here are the possibilities and limitations of human psychology. Everything that has happened to the Catholic Church can happen to a secular institution. Everything that has happened is a result of weaknesses in human nature that are as common among those who do not believe that a God exists as it is among those who do. If, in fact, the protection of children from harm is the dominant motivating interest, as indeed it should be then it is important to recognize that religous institutions are not the only institutions capable of generating these types of risks.