Sunday, August 1, 2010

As simple as boys versus girls

Is this the twilight of the patriarchy? Cracks have appeared in the edifice of the Catholic Church with its all-male hierarchy. It’s certainly not like the way things used to be, when women knew their place and didn’t step out of line.

That way of life is on the wane because women can now own property, they can earn money outside the home, they have legal rights, and they can vote. They can send their children to daycare and public schools. They can teach and write books, and they can call out men for their moral failings without fear of being beaten or killed.

Before modern society, women could not rise to fulfil their talents. They were forbidden to do many things. The Taliban, the modern Islamic Fundamentalist political movement in Pakistan and Afghanistan, specifically targeted women. They made a point of publicly executing women for being independent.

Christian Fundamentalists are not as crude as the Taliban but they can be just as afraid of women. Why do you think they are so dead set against birth control and abortion? Both are ways that women can use to raise smaller families or just focus on a career. They don’t want women to have those freedoms.

But there is a darker secret. There is a hidden relationship between patriarchy and sexual abuse and it has to do with a simple but unavoidable fact - the vast majority of sexual abusers of children are men.

It’s not hard to see why. Most women don’t have the powerful sexual drives that men have. And women make it their business to care for and about children, whereas most men are less involved in child care.

Men who like to abuse others can easily hide within the confines of a patriarchical system. Patriarchy is the original old-boys club. As men, we tend to forgive and make wide allowances for our shared shortcomings. “Boys will be boys.” If you have an organization where the hierarchy is exclusively male, it’s bound to be protective and secretive.

In a real old fashioned patriarchy, certain men have absolute power and women and children are not allowed to question their authority. This works very well for men who sexually abuse children, because they can effectively forbid their prey from telling others. In such a society a man’s word cancels out a woman’s or a child’s, so the man can get away with more.

Lately the Catholic Male Hierarchy has let the cat out of the bag. In a Vatican press conference last week, sexual predation and the ordination of women were both called “graviora delicta”, which means: a grave offense.

Most of us know of or have heard of female clergy. We might disagree and dislike them but we are not likely to hold them in the same contempt we hold a sexual predator. How could the consequences of a woman giving the sacraments be of the same gravity as a priest sexually abusing children? Only in the mind of someone so bound to the patriarchal system that he is deathly afraid of women’s sexuality.

How else to explain the disproportionate zeal with which the Church rejects the idea of the ordination of women, compared to their painfully slow and lacklustre campaign to stop priests from abusing children. In one case the Church bureaucracy is pulling out all the stops in order to prevent heterodoxy, and in the other, it has been using the full weight of its bureaucracy to stonewall police investigations into child abuse cases.

I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of these guys thought that ordaining women was worse than sexual predation. Sexual predation ruins some people’s lives, it turns even more people away from the church, but ordaining women strikes at the very heart of the system. It could mean the end of the Catholic Church as we know it.

There are plenty of women out there who would be willing to make up for the alarming shortage of male priests. But, by God! If women could be priests then they could exert authority over men. They could change doctrine. They could dismantle the hierarchy. That would mean the end of the old boys club wouldn’t it?

A patriarchal church hierarchy feels instinctively threatened by girls who want to take charge. Could be as simple as that.