A Few Bad Men, Two Bad Cultures
A recent article tells that the Catholic Church knows that there has been a good deal of sexual assault on nuns by priests, particularly in Africa.
In a world plagued by AIDS, nuns are sometimes singled out as victims because they are perceived as safe. Anyway, it's a horrible thing. Your instinct might be to blame and want to punish the priests who did this. I know I get that feeling. However, I get another feeling too.
There are social forces going on here that exacerbate the problem. The systemic problem is sexism, both in many African countries and in the Catholic Church. The church only allows men to be priests. This would not be so bad, except for the fact that priesthood comes with authority over nuns. There is a built-in sexual power differential in Church culture.
Similarly, in Africa, many countries are very male-dominated (as described in the article). Mixing these two sexist cultures results in a situation that is very bad for women. On top of that there is the fear of AIDS.
If it were just a problem of "a few bad eggs," then you'd expect the abuse rates to be relatively constant across countries. But it is not, pointing to a cultural and geographical influence.
I'm not saying that these men are any less to blame. That's not the point. The point is that if you want to solve this problem, you need to change the systems in which they happen. We live in a time of cultural acceptance, which is a good antidote to the way things were, which was a state of explicit bigotry. However, we should not let the pendulum swing too far in the other direction to complete moral relativism. Sometimes cultures have aspects to them that are bad, given almost everyone's values.
I am reminded of the torture done by Americans. The reaction of the public, and the government, was to bring to justice those who allowed this to happen. Again, it was the "few bad eggs" reaction. As Zimbardo describes in this excellent TED talk, those military people who did these crimes are in part reacting to a system that allows, or even encourages such things to happen.
Pictured: Rollerblading nuns.
By April Sikorski from Brooklyn, USA [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons