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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

NO POPERY: a liberal fatwa

With the round robin letter published in today's Guardian, the anti-Pope campaign cranks up to a shrill crescendo (I'm sure there's worse to come over the next few days, though). That not just the likes of Stephen Fry and Johann Hari but so many of the Great and the Good have deemed it worthy of their signatures is a depressing commentary on the state of intellectual life in Britain.

Practically every sentence cries out for fisking, but I'll be selective.

Among the misdeeds laid at B16's door is...

'Opposing the distribution of condoms and so increasing large families in poor countries and the spread of Aids.'

So if you come from a large family in a poor country, you can rejoice in the knowledge that all these movers and shakers consider you surplus to requirements.

Here, of course, we have plenty of condoms and plenty of Aids. Is it too much to ask for just a little humility from the ayatollahs of secular liberalism?

Another grievance, and a decidedly bizarre one:-

'In any case, we reject the masquerading of the Holy See as a state and the pope as a head of state as merely a convenient fiction to amplify the international influence of the Vatican.'

Riiight. So how, exactly, do we identify proper states? By the blushing diffidence with which they surrender any claims to international influence?

This one goes without saying:-

'Failing to address the many cases of abuse of children within its own organisation.'

Now because this is a debate in which no benefit of the doubt is ever extended to anyone who speaks up for the Pope, let me say at once that this is a serious matter which has been dreadfully mishandled by the Church. However, the accusation that he has failed to address it is simply untrue.

And let us take a look at the glass house from which the stones pour forth. Did I mention that Peter Tatchell is one of the signatories? Did I need to? In fact I strongly suspect that the wording is his. Now in 2008 Mr Tatchell had an article published in an Irish paper in which he argued that the law should allow adults to have sexual access to fourteen year olds. As he points out in the article, this is an issue on which he has campaigned since the 1990s. In 1997 the following appeared in a letter to the Guardian from Tatchell (at least Peter Hitchens says it was a letter, I remember it as an article):-

'The positive nature of some child-adult sexual relationships is not confined to non-Western cultures. Several of my friends – gay and straight, male and female – had sex with adults from the ages of nine to 13. None feel they were abused. All say it was their conscious choice and gave them great joy.

'While it may be impossible to condone paedophilia, it is time society acknowledged the truth that not all sex involving children is unwanted, abusive and harmful.'

I'd really like to see some of the Professors, Baronesses and Lords who have signed the round robin letter confronted with this quote and asked to defend their association with its author in a campaign ostensibly motivated by concern over child abuse. If this happens on the BBC or Channel 4 (which recently screened a hatchet job on the Pope fronted by... Peter Tatchell) I'll eat my hat. Mr Tatchell is Teflon Man incarnate.

Doubtless the Professors, Baronesses and Lords would, if put on the spot, counter by asking what this has to do with children being raped by priests. But that would be sophistry. The roll of shame of priestly rapes (and however much exaggeration of the figures has gone on the real ones are shocking enough) includes every case where a child was subjected to penetrative sex. Consent is irrelevant since the law deems children incapable of giving it.

Change the law, though, and you convert large numbers of priests from abusers to legal lovers. For example, in one of the US cases which was talked up in the hope (I use the word 100% advisedly) that the Pope could be incriminated, one of the victims recalled that he hadn't liked to say no because the priest was such a nice guy. Well, consent is consent. Plenty of adult sex happens on the same basis. Of course he had subsequently regretted it, but you can't have it both ways. If consent is valid you can't allow those who have given it to retrospectively cry "rape".

I would not dream of suggesting that Peter Tatchell has ever had nefarious designs on fourteen year olds. If he had, though, he could hardly have supplied himself with a more perfectly self-serving argument than this one (from the Irish Independent piece):-

'This sexual disempowerment of young people [by an age of consent set at 17 in Ireland] plays into the hands of adults who want to abuse them. Guilt and shame about sex also increase the likelihood of molestation by encouraging the furtiveness and secrecy on which abuse thrives.

'One way to protect young people against unwanted sexual advances is by promoting sex-affirmative attitudes which challenge the idea that sex is something sordid, and by empowering teenagers to stand up for their sexual rights. Sexually informed and confident youngsters are more likely to resist sexual exploitation.'

So the way to protect kids from abuse is by redefining it so that adults who succeed in persuading them that they want sex aren't guilty of it at all.

Sexual empowerment is for adults. Children have one sexual right and it is the right to be protected from sex. Blur that distinction and you start sliding towards the rationalizations of the paedophile in denial.

To sum up: I'm not the only person who remembers reading the Guardian in 1997. You can bet that 80-90% of the signatories to the letter did. If the campaign against the Papal Visit was really about protecting children, they'd have quietly ensured Peter Tatchell wasn't invited to sign. My suggestion is that they didn't because it isn't.

I have more on the letter but this is already a longish post. Another to follow, time permitting.


Unknown said...

I can understand that some people are concerned by certain of Peter
Tatchell's writings on under-age sex. But I don't think you have given
a fair and accurate picture of what Tatchell is saying and why he is
saying it. The quotes you cite from Tatchell are too selective and
partial. You quote too many of his words out of context.

Tatchell offers a different explanation, which I am posting below. I
hope you might engage with what he is actually saying.

Peter Tatchell writes:

The idea that I advocate paedophilia is laughable, sick, untrue and defamatory.

Unlike many Catholic clergy, I have never abused anyone. Unlike the
Pope, I have never failed to report abusers or covered up their
crimes. I do not support sex with children. Full stop.

Dares to Speak was an academic book published in 1997, authored by
professors, anthropologists, psychologists, a Dutch senator and a
former editor of a Catholic newspaper. It questioned ages of consent
and whether all sex between children and adults is necessarily

I do not condone adults having sex with children. My Guardian letter
about this book was in defence of free speech and open debate about
the issue, in opposition to those who said that the book and the
debate it generated should not happen and should be closed down. I was
against calls for censorship. Even if Dares to Speak is entirely
wrong, in a free society its authors have a right to be published and

My Guardian letter cited examples of Papuan tribes and some of my
friends who had sex with adults while they were still children, but
who do not feel they were harmed. I was not endorsing their viewpoint
but merely stating that they had a different perspective from the
mainstream one about inter-generational sex. They have every right for
their perspective to be heard. If they say they were not harmed, we
should respect that (while also recognising that many people are
harmed by early sexual experiences).

My Guardian letter did say very clearly that paedophilia is
"impossible" to condone - meaning that I don't condone it.

Here's an example of what he wrote in the Irish Independent last year:

Irish Independent – 10 March 2008

“The time has come for a calm, rational debate about the age of
consent. It should be premised on four aims. First, protecting young
people against sex abuse. Second, empowering them to make wise,
responsible sexual choices. Third, removing the legal obstacles to
earlier, more effective sex education. Fourth, ensuring better
contraception and condom provision to prevent unwanted pregnancies and
abortions and to cut the spread of sexual infections like HIV.”

You can see that he made protecting young people against sex abuse his
first priority.

he has said similar things in many other articles and interviews.

See this Guardian article, published in September last year:

It is true that I support reducing the legal consent age to 14. But I
support 14 in order to end the criminalisation of the many young
people who have sexual contact with each other from this age onwards.
More than half of all British teenagers have their first sexual
experience (not necessarily full intercourse) at around the age of 14.
I do not advocate them having sex at this early age. It is best if
they wait. But I don’t think that consenting 14 years olds should be
dragged to court and threatened with prison. I certainly do not
endorse adults having sex with young people aged 14.

My critics may disagree with me on the age of consent, but I have
advocated a clear ethical stance and moral framework, which stresses
sex with mutual consent, respect and fulfilment. My arguments and
articles are not about abusing young people but protecting them.
That's my motive.

Mr Grumpy said...

Seaon, thanks for expanding on Tatchell's views. Far from reassuring me, your quotes confirm my view that he is a very slippery customer indeed.

He doesn't "condone paedophila", doesn't "advocate" it, doesn't "endorse adults having sex with young people aged 14", doesn't "support sex with children". What a lot of negatives. What's missing is a plain, unreserved condemnation of any adult who engages in sex with a minor.

On the contrary, since he raises the suggestion that children are not necessarily harmed by sex with adults, that would imply that he doesn't feel bound to automatically regard adults who have sex with children as abusers (unless they are Catholic priests, evidently).

That being so, I am deeply suspicious of his claim "Unlike the
Pope, I have never failed to report abusers or covered up their

Let's rephrase that as "I have never withheld from the police any knowledge or suspicion I have had concerning an adult breaking the law by having sex with a minor". Now, why didn't he say something like that?

Mr Grumpy said...

In fact he states plainly in the 1997 piece: 'it is time society acknowledged the truth that not all sex involving children is unwanted, abusive and harmful'

Not necessarily abusive, therefore the adult is not necessarily an abuser. So if in Peter Tatchell's judgment no abuse has taken place, clearly he could decide not to go to the police, and still put his hand on his heart and say he has never failed to report abuse.

As I said, a very slippery customer. Unless you can supply more quotes to convince me otherwise.