Bear in mind that the Catholic sex abuse scandal was at its worst in the last 1960s through the 70s. There are a lot of factors which contributed to things suddenly getting very, very bad: the seminaries went from overly-strict to overly-lax in the aftermath of Vatican II; there was a sense that “anything goes” and that dogmas (including those pesky sexual ethics) held today were going to evolve or change tomorrow (so why bother obeying them now?); and the Western world in general was gripped with a radical sexual revolution which not infrequently targeted children for “liberation.”
In that vein, here’s a 1974 children’s program called Free to Be… You and Me, about discovering gender/sex. In the clip, two babies squabble about which sex they are, until their diapers are changed:
It’s got lines like the boy saying he wants to grow up to be a cocktail waitress, which seem wholly unfit for children’s programming, especially coming out of a baby’s mouth (then again, the baby is voiced by Mel Brooks, so it could have been much worse, I suppose). Today, I think most people would say that children’s programming shouldn’t be in the business of hinting to kids to look in their underwear.
Much worse was what happened in Germany. In a telling caption, Der Spiegel notes:
Children playing in an anti-authoritarian Kinderladen in Bochum in 1971. Many such daycare centers in this period sought to educate children to be free of sexual inhibitions. This often led to questionable practices including fondling with adults.
The article to which it is attached (which is too vulgar for me to link) describes numerous instances of sexual abuse, as adults (including parents and teachers) sought to “educate” children about sex/gender/sexuality by molesting them. Another caption reads:
Alexander Schuller founded a Kinderladen in the Berlin quarter of Wilmersdorf in 1969. Many of the parents who sent their children to the daycare center were determined to encourage their children to show and touch their genetalia. “I found it incredibly difficult to take a stance,” says Schuller now. “I felt that what we were trying to do was fundamentally correct, but when it came to this issue, I thought: This is crazy, it just isn’t right.”
Even a prominent leftist German politician all but conceded that he sometimes molested children in his care during this period.
None of this, obviously, justifies those priests who molested and raped children. But perhaps it’s helpful context in trying to figure out how something so monstrous could have happened so frequently. The Western world rapidly went from a place where any open discussion of, or encouragement of, sex was forbidden to one where “anything goes.” All too many priests who should have known better, were drawn in by the glamor of evil, indulging in fornication, homosexuality, and pedophilia. All too many bishops who should have known better lacked the backbone to stand up to popular opinion.
Well, popular opinion’s changed now. What was once viewed (in at least some progressive corners) as liberating children sexually is now rightly viewed as life-shattering abuse. Those bishops and priests who marched to the tune of popular opinion are now damned by popular opinion. Let it be a lesson to all of that while we are called to be in the world, we’re not called to be of the world. Even secular society expects us to behave better than them (even if they hate us for it sometimes).