Stephen Fry, Twitter and the Abuse Scandal.

Stephen Fry
It’s not all bad. Heightened self-consciousness, apartness, an inability to join in, physical shame and self-loathing—they are not all bad. Those devils have been my angels. Without them I would never have disappeared into language, literature, the mind, laughter and all the mad intensities that made and unmade me.
 ― from Moab Is My Washpot

So yesterday Stephen Fry tweeted an image which I thought was offensive and beneath him:

I felt compelled to express my disgust; there were certainly enough sycophants patting him on the back for his hilarious witticism, so I suggested such gutter humour was beneath him and he responded with more prejudice.

The very fact that he aimed a tweet directly at me provoked an onslaught from his followers which constituted literally hundreds of tweets, many of which were pretty foul and I am sure even Mr. Fry would not have condoned. 

I was accused of all kinds of non- sequitor crimes against humanity: condoning and defending child rape among them. Let's get this clear, I am most likely more hurt and angry about this going on in my Church than you as some atheist is hearing about it in the media. Also, saying I believe in a 'Sky-fairy' is not the powerful intellectual polemic most of you seem to think it is. Neither will swearing at me, or tweeting suggesting various lewd homosexual acts I am constantly engaged in myself convince me that two thousand years of Catholic history is worthless (I wonder what Mr. Fry thinks about those sorts of abusive comments?).

Had he done the same thing about a Muslim cleric, or (God forbid, the Prophet himself (PBUH)) I should imagine hoards of angry Muslims with rocket launchers would have invaded Mr. Fry's residence by now. Similarly, if someone had dared to assert that Mr. Fry was guilty of a similar crime, I doubt he would have found it quite so amusing, and would most like have enlisted the help of Mr. Clegg, leader of the new Liberal Democratic Militia, to have the perpetrators immediately carted off to a comfortable prison somewhere, along with all other bigots and slanderers of celebrity impropriety.

I have to say that I'm not bothered by the onslaught, or the abuse, which comes somewhat with the territory when you're a Catholic. But it does form part of an interesting trend on Twitter. To be honest, I thought it was just rather good of Mr. Fry to even bother responding to me, but then a friend pointed out that by putting anything before a handle, it places the comment in all your followers' timelines. And Stephen has nearly five million followers. A dot, as you will note is included before my handle (@sitsio) on Mr. Fry's tweet, is a discreet way of doing this, and thus 'summoning the winged monkeys'. Not more than a few minutes later, Stephen is now bored with people disagreeing with the hilarity of his jape and  opines the current trendy atheist lament thus: 
But hold on Stephen, by inserting that palfrey period, that insignificant iota, were you not deliberately attempting to incite a bit of victimising? Was that not the intention of your action, which practically amounted to screaming "fly my pretties, fly!"? Can you then retain any integrity if you start moaning about it?

What I really do object to is the slur on the Pope (who I hold in great esteem) and the Church, which I love. The problem really is that Stephen's little joke plays to the media hype about the scale of abuse within the Church and suggests that even the Pope is complicit. For any right thinking person this should be beyond the bounds of what we consider humour. I do not find the abuse of children funny and I don't know why anyone would. To try and pass it off as humorous frankly disgusts me and fosters the wrong idea in society about such practices.

Perhaps the real aim of the 'humour' is the hypocrisy of an organisation which claims to hold extremely high ideals with regard to sexual conduct and the treatment of minors, and has then been caught doing exactly the opposite? 

It's impossible to have the argument on Twitter, so this post is about the reality, in case anyone is actually interested in that.

There is no excuse for child abuse which I hold to be objectively evil, as does the Church. Perspective is essential though. If we are serious about stopping child abuse, we need to be realistic about what causes it, where it takes place, and what allows it to continue. 

Within the Catholic Church, the incidence of abuse was in general a little lower than that which takes place within the population as a whole - and somewhat less than some other religious organisations, although interestingly, we don't hear much about that at all.
What does make it especially scandalous is the betrayal of trust. Priests and religious have been trusted more than the general populace; parents were happy to leave their children in the care of an institution they trusted as much as themselves. Of course the same is true- perhaps more so- of those abused by family members. The nature of abuse then, constitutes a betrayal of trust, and indeed, a betrayal of innocence.

The media have pretty much brain-washed the populace on the abuse scandals. You might want to note that it is an undisputed fact that by far and away most child abuse occurs in the family. Also, other denominations have much higher rates of abuse than the Catholic Church. There are however, far more Catholic priests around the world, and the media chose to pick on those. Fact. The married (Catholic) priests I've seen around have their work cut out. The workload of a typical parish priest who is not prayer-shy or work-shy does not leave time for a family. The concept of ministry amongst the different denominations varies greatly, even between Anglicans and Catholics.  A recent study commissioned into the causes of abuse found that celibacy and homosexuality were not factors. This was an interesting result, because liberals in the Church blamed celibacy and conservatives homosexuality.

Let's look at the numbers in context. The facts are that 4% of priests in the US between 1950 and 2002 have had allegations made against them. With 3/4 of these allegations dismissed because they came after the priest's death. Of the 1%, 1/4 were charge and convicted. I'll still say that 0.25% is too high a number of priests abusing children, but my point is that it's lower than any other denomination. Priests are also one of the lowest-abusing profession according to the US Dept of Justice. Families have higher rates of abuse than clerics. The German criminologist Christian Pfeiffer reported approximately 0.1% of those who committed abuse come from the personnel of the Catholic Church: 99.9% came from other areas. In the US, a government report for 2008 lists the proportions of priests who were involved in cases of paedophilia at 0.03%. The Protestant Christian Science Monitor published a study according to which the Protestant denominations in America are affected by a much higher rate of paedophilia. The media may have caused more scandal over the Catholics, but the point is that they have actually managed their duty with less actual scandal (in terms of abusees) than any other denomination.

This is why I find Stephen's joke offensive, ill informed and ill advised. I understand the way the utterly disgusting events of abuse which took place within the purported safe environment of Mother Church was portrayed by the mass media. Indeed, anyone who followed the story must have the impression that the Catholic Church is exclusively a system of injustice and sexual crimes. It was immediately laid at the feet of Catholic teaching on sexuality and celibacy, the accusation levelled that these must be directly connected to abuse. The fact that there were similar incidents in non-Catholic institutions faded into the back ground. 

Each and every Catholic is wounded by these abuses. Recently in Malta the Pope met with several victims of abuse. One of them, Joseph Magro, said afterward "The Pope wept along with me, although he is in no way guilty for what happened to me". For me, that speaks volumes, for we believe that the Church is a source for good, that she communicates the light of Christ to the world, that she helps people in life. Yet she is an institution made up of human beings. Sinful human beings, rooted in man's sinful situation. We all weep when people use the institution we believe to bring so much good into the world into such bitter ill-repute.

The Pope, like all faithful Catholics, cares deeply for everyone, especially the vulnerable.

Also, I would say that the Church has never been a building or a hierarchy. It is a community of believers. It is the communities that assent to the doctrines of the Church that you are attacking and it is utterly ridiculous to assert that it is these communities who condone or defend the abuse of their children. They have been more let down by this than anyone.

In reality, that community has achieved more towards the unity of the human race than anyone before or since, from the intellectual heights of scientific discoveries like genetic theory and the Big Bang, to the founding of our schools and universities, to the care of our sick and dying and the beauty of the Renaissance.

Watch the video above. This is why I am, and will always be, Catholic and proud.

Ultimately, Mr. Fry was bored with the stupid people who disagreed with his conjecture, which, as I hope I have clearly demonstrated here (and believe me, I was conservative with the figures, I have really looked into this and I have lots of figures!) is wrong. So what does that ultimately say about Stephen Fry?

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