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The "Satanic Ritual Abuse" scare -- it's BAACK!
The alleged conspiracy of "Satanic pedophiles" in the Catholic clergy
by Diane Vera
Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2006 by Diane Vera. All rights reserved.
In 2003, I wrote the first edition of this article out of sheer startlement at my encounter with a Catholic writer named William Kennedy, who was claiming that the clergy pedophilia scandal should be blamed on an alleged conspiracy of "Satanic pedophiles" within the Roman Catholic clergy. I first ran into this idea when Kennedy posted in a bunch of Satanist and Pagan Yahoo groups, making a series of laughably poor attempts to conceal his identity. (See my article An SRA scaremonger's bungled undercover operation?.) It boggled my mind that anyone would think a massive conspiracy of any kind (other than the Catholic clergy's notorious general clubbiness and tendency to protect its own) was necessary in order to explain clergy pedophilia.
Perhaps Kennedy's scaremongering was a sign that the entire clergy pedophilia issue has gotten a bit out of hand? Certainly child molestation by clergy is a very real problem. And the many clergy abuse survivors are certainly justified in their outrage at the way their cases were treated in the past, before the issue finally broke through to the mass media. But perhaps the pendulum may have swung too far in the opposite direction, at least in Boston? Perhaps some innocent priests may have gotten accused and convicted too, along with many guilty ones? I'm sure that the opposite problem still exists too - that there are many guilty priests who have never even been charged, let alone convicted. But I'm now horrified to learn that at least one Catholic priest has been convicted of child sexual abuse on the basis of little more than one alleged victim's "recovered memories" - as recently as 2005! See the following articles:
- The Passion of Father Paul Shanley by JoAnn Wypijewski, Legal Affiars, October 2004
- Prosecutors rest case vs. Shanley by Joanna Weiss, Boston Globe, February 1, 2005
- Comments on the Shanley Trial by Bob Chatelle
- Is sex so uniqely powerful that people repress the memory of it? by Jim D'Entremont, The Guide, November 2002
As I've explained elsewhere, I don't think we're likely to see a full-blown resurgence of the 1980's-style "Satanic Ritual Abuse" (SRA) scare, complete with another "recovered memory therapy" fad and alleged child sex rings based in daycare centers. (See "Satanism" scares and their debunking: A brief introduction and To scholars and journalists: Topics of timely interest on my new website Against Satanic Panics.) Future Satanic panics are likely to mutate into new forms.
The SRA scare was pretty thoroughly debunked back in the early 1990's. As far as I can tell, most police officers, social workers, and psychotherapists are no longer inclined to believe in a massive SRA conspiracy, or in "recovered memories," or in the aggressive interviewing of alleged child victims. (See "Satanism" scares and their debunking: A brief introduction and my collection of links to pages about The "Satanic Ritual Abuse" scare of the 1980's and early 1990's on my Against Satanic Panics website.)
Yet a lot of ordinary lay folks are still unaware of the issues, hence still easily inclined to believe any SRA scaremonger who comes along. And some long-discredited SRA scaremongers, such as Ted Gunderson, have been receiving air time lately.
Among the people still pushing the SRA scare are some conservative and traditionalist Catholics, as a way to explain the recent clergy pedophilia scandals. They can't accept the reality that a celibate priesthood is inherently problematic. So, in their view, clergy pedophilia must be the fault of a gigantic conspiracy of "Satanic pedophiles" who have been trying to take over the Church.
Some of the more extreme traditionalist Catholics blame an alleged conspiracy of "Satanists" not only for clergy pedophilia, but also for all the changes to the Catholic Church since Vatican II, including changes to the liturgy and more tolerant attitudes toward Protestants.
The idea of a vast comspiracy of "Satanic pedophiles" within the Catholic Church had been pushed for years by the late Malachi Martin, a well-known traditionalist Catholic author. (See Malachi Martin and the “Enemy Within”: Satanic Plots and the Fall of the Catholic Church on Priests of Darkness, a website about "Sex, sin, and Satanism in the Catholic Church, in history and in popular culture.") Despite his erudition on at least some topics, Martin somehow managed not to have learned the difference, for example, between Satanism and what he called the "black rites" of Wicca; nor did he understand the difference between homosexuality and pedophilia. No wonder he saw "Satanic" conspiracies everywhere.
Various people are now having a field day with Martin's allegations, including some ultra-conservative and traditionalist Catholics, such as the Fatima Network, the Our Lady of the Roses crowd, and African former Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo. Likewise some secular political groups, such as La Voz de Aztlan, and some anti-semitic groups. Likewise William Kennedy, whose book Lucifer's Lodge: Satanic Rituals in the Catholic Church is excerpted here.
There do exist child molesters who use Satanic trappings, as a way of scaring their victims into silence, or perhaps because they themselves find Satanic trappings erotic. Perhaps even some Catholic priests have used Satanic trappings in such ways. But they should not be considered Satanists if the trappings are no more than a tool or an erotic fetish.
And I see no reason to believe in the existence of massive conspiracies of Satanists, pedophile or otherwise. As far as I can tell, most Satanists are not even capable of organizing massive conspiracies; most forms of Satanism are too individualistic.
And, as far as I can tell, the vast majority of Satanists are not child molesters. People who molest kids using Satanic trappings are certainly not representative of Satanism.
But it is only to be expected that a vocation like the Catholic priesthood would attract more than its share of pedophiles. Because priests are required to be celibate, the priesthood naturally attracts the following two categories of people: (1) people with unusually low sex drives, and (2) people whose sexual tastes have no socially acceptable outlet (such as pedophiles), and whose only socially acceptable option, therefore, is to try to be celibate. The Catholic priesthood has attracted a disproportionate number of gays for this very reason. (See the article Inside The Church's Closet: Gay priests talk about their hidden lives, love of the church and fear of being scapegoated in the sex scandals by Amanda Ripley, Time magazine, May 20, 2002.) All the more so would it likely attract pedophiles, since pedophilia is, by far, less socially accepted than being gay.
Conservative and traditionalist Catholics do not want to face this fact, obvious though it is to nearly everyone else. Therefore, they must resort to other explanations, such as allegations of "Satanic" conspiracy.
Perhaps there are some Satanists among the Catholic clergy. If so, they would most likely be individual priests who have become disillusioned with Catholicism but have not left the church because they don't feel inclined to seek employment elsewhere. If indeed they exist, they would most likely be just isolated individuals or perhaps a few very small isolated groups, not a massive conspiracy.
Some right wingers have alleged that the Catholic hierarchy has been infiltrated by a conspiracy not of Satanists but of Italian Freemasons. Though I'm a bit skeptical of this idea too, it is at least more plausible than the idea of an infiltrating conspiracy of Satanists.
Unlike the Freemasons in Protestant countries, who have been pretty much apolitical, the Freemasons in Catholic countries have long been politically active as a leading champion of separation of church and state. Thus the Freemasonss in Catholic countries have been a longstanding, well-organized political enemy of the Catholic Church, which has traditionally insisted that Catholicism should be the official and sole religion of any country in which Catholics are a majority. And it's certainly not unheard of for large, mutually-antagonistic organizations with political ambitions to spy on each other and try to subvert each other. If indeed the Catholic hierarchy has been infiltrated by some Italian Masons, then I would expect said undercover Masons to have worked to persuade the Church, from the inside, to become a bit more religiously tolerant, given the Freemasons' obvious desire for their own organizations to be allowed to exist legally in Catholic countries, and given that religious tolerance has long been one of the ideals of Freemasonry.
I have not yet examined, in detail, the purported evidence for Masonic infiltration of the Catholic hierarchy, so I don't currently have a position on whether this idea has any truth to it. I suspect that even this allegation is at least greatly exaggerated, given the right wing's propensity for outlandish conspiracy theories. For example, I seriously doubt that a conspiracy of Masonic infiltrators could have been solely responsible for the Church's liberalization. But perhaps some Masonic infiltrators may have been a liberalizing influence? At least this idea is not as ridiculous, on the face of it, as the idea of a conspiracy of Satanists.
It is ridiculous to blame clergy pedophilia on any conspiracy, whether of Satanists or of Masons. But, of course, Catholics can't think rationally about sex and still accept the teachings of the Church.