Thoughts of a Catholic convert

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Sunday, August 14, 2011

John Milbank on the riots

There's a post by John Milbank at ABC Religion & Ethics on the UK riots. I thought it was pretty good but there was one element that especially caught my attention because it reminded me of the clerical sex abuse problem. Here's that part of the article ....

Riot and response: England's violent August
- by John Milbank

[...] most on the left have not dissented from the general chorus of approval for parents who turn their rioting offspring over to the courts. Yet the notion that such action is unquestionably right is a reversion to pagan norms for which the political order was the only sacred one. By comparison, Thomas Aquinas, for example, denies that that we have any duty to shop our family members to the power of the law ....... while religious people tend to see that malefactors and sinners are most of all to be pitied, secular political positions are bifurcated between a rightist and neo-pagan pure condemnation, and a leftist scientistic patronising of the wrong-doer as a sub-personal ineffective cog in a wonky machine.

I don't have any insights about the riots - about why people rioted or what should be done about it - but I wonder if this attitude perhaps contributed to the church not turning in priests who were suspected or known to be child abusers, and to covering up of such abuse.


Blogger PrickliestPear said...

I recall reading about church leaders who tried to justify their failure to notify police about abusive priests on the grounds that these priests were like family to them.

I don't think the argument holds water, and not only because there is (usually) no actual kinship between bishops and the priests under their supervision.

The arguments in favour of this idea usually point out that a person's obligations to their family trump their obligations to the state. But protecting a criminal (whether family or not) is not only injurious to the state, but to the victims of the crime itself, not to mention potential future victims. This is all the more true when the victims are children.

Family ties do not alter our responsibility to the cause of justice. The idea that it does strikes me as profoundly ethnocentric.

There may be a legitimate distinction between refusing to cooperate with law enforcement on the one hand, and actively interfering with it on the other, but I think this distinction should apply, if at all, only in matters of criminal law, not moral law.

11:00 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi PP,

Yeah, I remember that in the news too.

I agree with you. And in a way it's a false dichotomy - either the family or the state. The state is actually made up of just all the other people that aren't your family, as you say, potential future victims.

Another reason to dislike Thomas Aquinas :)

12:23 AM  

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