Questions No One Wants to Ask

The breaking-up of a paedophile ring that live-streamed child abuse from the Philippines has been greeted with a mixture of horror and relief — horror that such wickedness can exist, relief that at least one ring has been smashed. We read of the systematic abuse of adolescents in Peterborough, including a girl with learning difficulties, and react with revulsion at the brutality and exploitation involved. Elsewhere we note the historic abuse cases being tried in our courts, the suggestion that nearly 1,000 teachers have been involved in sexual relationships with pupils during the past five years, and wonder how we could have gone so wrong. But then we turn to the popular press and read the endless speculation about François Hollande and his mistress or look at the figures for internet porn and realise it is all part of the same confused approach to life. The sexual wrongdoing of others is something we can condemn, make jokes about or vicariously ‘enjoy’. What we do is another matter entirely. Or is it?

There is often a kind of double-think involved in our attitudes. By separating love and sex, by pretending it doesn’t matter what we do provided no one gets hurt (the hurt being determined by us, not the other), by believing we can pretty much do what we like without its having any consequences, by avoiding commitment and fighting shy of words like ‘fidelity’ and ‘sacrifice’, we have made monsters of ourselves. Most people live good and decent lives, but even the best may acknowledge a few grey areas where their ideals become a little frayed. That is where we need to ask ourselves the questions no one wants to ask. What is the point of parents worrying about their children’s exposure to porn if they themselves watch porn when the children are in bed? What is the point of condemning exploitative relationships in others if we ourselves exploit people? What is the point of expecting others to be virtuous if we ourselves choose to be vicious?

You may think I have been harsh in the way I have framed these questions, but I think it must be becoming clear to everyone that we face a serious weakening of the mutuality of society.*  I myself think that our contempt for the human person, for the human body, is part and parcel of it. We have a double-standard about sex no less dangerous than the one it is fashionable to accuse our Victorian forebears of having. We seem to be keener on the right to die than the right to live, on personal ‘freedom’ than on communal solidarity. In short, we are confused, and it is taking a terrible toll on all of us.

*For me, as a Catholic, that mutuality is linked to morality. However, not everyone subscribes to the same understanding of right and wrong, although all of us, Christian or not, have an interest in society and the way in which it functions for the benefit of its members.


13 thoughts on “Questions No One Wants to Ask”

  1. Thank you for posting this. I was sexually abused as a child, at the time there was no internet. But I do know my abuser looked at ‘adult magazines’ despite being under 18. I have struggled so much in life because of what happened to me. I looked at society and I felt that the abuse must have damaged me because I didn’t want to sleep around, because I found porn disgusting. For years I struggled thinking I was damaged for not wanting to sunbathe topless. I felt so much pressure.
    I keep saying i should write the book to warn others not to feel the same way I did. People say sexuality is sacred, and it is but not in a way that exploits people. It is something that should be respected, and sadly society seems to be a long way away from doing that.

    • Thank you for your comment. I can’t imagine how much you must have suffered, but I think every reader will be moved by your honesty and be led by it to think more deeply than they might otherwise have done.

  2. Amen. But I would like to point out that nearly 1000 teachers were accused of sexual relations with pupils. We don’t know how many of these cases were proved. Teachers are, not infrequently, falsely caused by pupils.

    • Thank you for your comment. No slurs intended. I wrote ‘the suggestion that nearly 1,000 teachers . . .’ for two reasons. First, accusations are not the same thing as proof (as you point out, and as the word ‘suggested’ was meant to imply) and second, the impression many people will take away with them from reading the report is germane to my larger argument. I’m well aware that accusations are sometimes false and can cause great distress to innocent people. We have had quite a lot of unpleasantness directed at us here on the grounds that because we are nuns we are somehow complicit in the abuse scandals that have occurred in the Catholic Church. I have written on the subject many times, so I trust (hope?) people read my remarks in that context.

      • I’m so sorry. I read what you had written as “nearly 1000 teachers have had sexual relations with pupils.” I didn’t register the qualification. I apologise.

  3. I absolutely agree with you.
    There are no excuses but it does seem to coincide with a lack of trust by us all in “the authorities”.
    Bankers, politicians, social workers,the nursing homes, the orphanages etc…….. then worse of all the secular and religious clergy.
    Mary McAleese recently made a very good speech about the double standards of ex-Cardinal O’Brien. Instead of railing against homosexuality while in office why not be compassionate. It seems to my simple mind that double standards have a lot to answer for .

    • Thank you for your comment. I hope you read yesterday’s post about the need to be able to trust our leaders? I don’t think anyone would be keen to defend Cardinal O’Brien. Very many Catholics, lay, religious and clergy, were unhappy with many of his pronouncements and feel utterly betrayed by the hypocrisy of his behaviour.

  4. Far from thinking your articulation harsh Sister, I think you explain it extremely well and fit all the pieces together in a way that makes so much sense. We need to hear this sort of approach more often; a call to personal holiness.

  5. At last some common sense commentary on the topic which we are all outraged about, but seem powerless to do anything about.

    You’re quite right that an examination of our own conscience is the first step to take, to see if our view is guided by that sense of right or wrong or our ego, which believes that we can do no wrong?

    The mutuality of society is a concept which denies those like Margaret Thatcher who said that “There is no such thing as society” and it seems to me that it’s echoed in the workings of our current government, which lives in a blame culture. It seeks to blame either the last Labour Government or every individual for the ills that beset our country and which contribute to social disharmony and breakdown.

    I’m in the position of having lived the bulk of my life, and can look back on a life lived reasonably well, but with many failures along the way. It seems to me helpful to have that level of discipline to examine our conscious before we end a day to either repent for our omissions, but also to rejoice and give thanks to God for the many blessings which we ungratefully fail to acknowledge as we travel through the day.

    And pray for the victims of abuse, and their abusers that all may find a place in God’s love through reconciliation and repentance.

  6. No porn in our house – only Radio 4, often discussing porn (with thinly veiled enthusiasm). The Independent has tried to convince us that porn is healthy (particularly for women). In the Interior Design industry (mine), phrases like ‘pure furniture porn’ are used as high praise.

    Those that hear, hear iBenedictines!

  7. Surely the point of, ‘parents worrying about their children’s exposure to porn if they themselves watch porn when the children are in bed,’ is that their children are too young to understand or appreciate the complexities of physical and emotional human relations; and should be protected from such until they are old enough to do so, and can make their own free choices, and understand that what they are seeing is not real; and simply entertainment.
    Pornography that does not promote abuse of any form is not damaging to an open, informed mind, and has always had its place in human society, as a celebration of one of the great joys and gifts of our lives.
    And as for exploitation, that exists in every walk of our lives, from cheap clothes and shoes to immigrant workers paid a pittance. Why single out an industry that celebrates itself with a ‘Feminist Porn Award?’
    Not that you should, but you could find many examples of home made porn, between willing couples, posted out in the Internet, is this exploitation?
    As with everything it is those who abuse that must be stopped. Their victims are not just those they physically violate, but also those who view their depredations.
    Surely the confusion in society is partly because of the mixed messages fed to us and our children across every avenue of media. It is wrong to kill, but James Bond is celebrated for his license to do so, and many films, TV programmes, comics, games, etc. also do so with increasing brutality. The depiction of violence and apparent disregard for human life is fed to us daily, while we are also told that these things are wrong.
    And mixing sex, abuse and violence together is not porn for normal* people, only the perverted; but it is how it seems to be portrayed, much as some name dog fighting as sport.
    If we could remove the cruelty and brutality from ‘porn’ and our daily lives it would all be a lot less confusing.
    * By normal I mean those of us who would not coerce or persuade anyone to do something they neither fully understood or wanted to do, or were qualified to do, by virtue of age or development.

  8. Interesting, I see a world of difference between the revolting and inhumane
    activities of the paedophile ring who live-streamed child abuse from the
    Philippines, and an as they were made to be, consensual couple showing off
    on the internet, for want of a more graphic description; but your broad stroke​
    of the word, ‘porn,’ seems to cover both, and everything in-between.
    Which tars the couple with the same monstrousness tag as the ring of child
    ​Which I can imagine they may be in the eyes of the church; in that they are
    both committing a sin​; and sin is sin, full stop?
    Which is probably presumptive of me, but when do we cross the line between
    virtue and sin as far as the church, or your good self, understands what porn is?
    It cannot be nakedness, surely? There is plenty of that on the ceiling of the
    Sistine Chapel, and art galleries are crammed with it; and I am not sure
    that I have ever heard a church leader condemn ‘page 3,’ although, in
    truth, I would not have been listening.
    Is it the depiction of the act of congress, and, or, general activities around
    such? And if so, why? It is after all, a natural function of humanity.
    And where ever the line is; is it drawn around visual activities only, or can
    the spoken word, or sounds, or the written word for that matter, cross the
    church’s porn, sin boundary?
    Is it because the activities, shown or possibly described, are not confined
    within the bond of marriage? Because if so and the hypothetical couple above,
    were married, and proud to show their physical love; would that still be porn?
    And why should they be shamed as the same as the child molesters?
    I understand the technical definition of pornography; by which the
    paedophile ring’s filth is not such in my book, as it would not simulate,
    only sicken and disgust; but a great many people class it as such.
    And frankly it concerns me that they do as it adds a legitimacy of
    normality that such horrors do not deserve.
    I think that the dictionaries should insert the word, ‘consenual,’ to their
    definitions of pornography, and create a new category of ‘abusive media.’
    Of which, sadly, I can imagine newspaper editors saying that pornography
    is a much sexier word.
    However, you are obviously free to ignore me, and please do if you so wish,
    but I would be grateful if you enlightened me, as to where you, or your church
    see the line that we should not cross, and why?

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