Sunday, September 16, 2012

Sin and the Mind

Two days ago a commenter here was defending Statutory Rape.  He was linking to anime and spanking sites, and he argued that 12-year-old girls were fully mature.  I banned him from the comboxes and began moderating comments.

Since then many of you have commented and not made it past the censor - me. 

Since Friday, all banned commenters - some of them regular readers of this blog - have had this in common: you have all picked up on the Canon Law Argument that was set forth somewhere on the internet.  The essence of that argument is that a cleric may witness a valid marriage between a boy as young as 16 and a girl as young as 14 (with or without parental consent is not addressed in the section quoted); which, my censored commenters are claiming, proves that Statutory Rape is a "legal fiction". 

Is that all you need?  Some talking points?  Something to cling on to? 

The same thing happened with the Lying Argument and with Christopher West.  Someone somewhere on a web site would float a balloon in defense of their position, and others would jump on it, copying and pasting, as a sudden and new-found talking point.  "Maybe this is the weapon that will give me a win!"

But this intellectual grasping at straws does not help you; on the contrary, it stands as a witness against you.  You are still - much as you deny it - defending Child Abuse.


However, since this argument has been advanced somewhere - and latched onto by folks eager to deny the Natural Law basis of Statutory Rape - I suppose I have to deal with it.

Oddly, Canon Law supports my case entirely - the argument that puberty alone does not immediately give rise to maturity, nor do hormones magically produce the full rational capacity to consent, is implicit in the section sited, and all over Canon Law. 

For example, regarding parties to a case in a canon law trial, the Code of Canon Law states -

Can. 1478 §1. Minors and those who lack the use of reason can stand trial only through their parents, guardians, or curators, without prejudice to the prescript of §3. ...

§3. Nevertheless, in spiritual cases and those connected with spiritual matters, if the minors have attained the use of reason, they can petition and respond without the consent of their parents or guardian. They can do so personally if they have completed their fourteenth year of age; otherwise, they do so through the curator appointed by the judge.
Thus even Canon Law acknowledges the Natural Law at its core -  that minors do not have the use of reason. 

Indeed, the Canon asserts that 14-year-olds do indeed have at least enough reason to participate in a Canon Law Trial.  And I would not deny that.  And yet deniers of Statutory Rape think that this is a mark in their favor.  But it's not.

Clearly, 14-year-olds do have the use of reason, which is why Confirmation is typically received by children only when they attain to that age or thereabouts.  Again, the exact age at which bits and pieces of maturity develop over the course of a child's development is always somewhat arbitrary; what is not arbitrary is the reality that underlies the decision to assume a certain age for a certain capacity.

Look at the way we do it in Civil Law in most states.

  • We realize that a minor of any age cannot be convicted of a crime unless examined and certified to stand trial as an adult.
  • We realize that children under the age of about seven do not have full capacity to receive communion.
  • We realize that before the age of 13, minors need adult accompaniment to see certain films.
  • We realize that before the age of 17, minors are not allowed to see any NC-17 (X-rated) films, with or without adult accompaniment.
  • We realize that a minor has attained the capacity to drive a car at about age 15 with an adult present, and at about age 16 alone, upon passing a driver's test.
  • Maturity proceeds apace in other areas - consenting to sex, voting, drinking, smoking, working, fighting at war - all of these are activities that humans grow into gradually as their capacity for them slowly develops.  Thus, the law sets ages for each of these activities, ages that are necessarily arbitrary, but that are based upon the fundamental Natural Law principle that underlies them - Rational development and maturity is a gradual thing.

Also note that consent to marry is NOT the same as consent to fornicate.  And if Canon Law does not match Civil Law, which one is "arbitrary"?  Here in Missouri, children can not marry without parental consent until they are 18.  With parental consent they may marry at 15. 

Why the distinction?  Because the law recognizes that children between the ages of 15 and 18 do not have the full mental capacity to enter into a civil marriage bond, without guidance by their fully mature parents or guardians. 

Is there something magical about the age of 18?  About the age of 15?  Of course not; the ages set by statute are somewhat arbitrary (drawing any line is always somewhat arbitrary).  But the underlying principle remains - children do not have the full capacity to consent to a variety of acts, as do adults.   One of those acts is fornication; another is sodomy.

That I am arguing this - that I am sitting at my computer typing these things patiently and calmly - is outrageous.  That this is not automatically recognized by people - especially by Catholics, who claim to care about defending the most innocent and vulnerable among us - is infuriating.


To run with talking points - especially a so-called argument from Canon Law as poorly thought-out as this - to make a case with something somebody copied and pasted from a combox or blog somewhere shows what's really going on here.

What's really going on here is an eagerness to explain away bad behavior.

Now, I'm not "judging".  I do the same thing all the time.  We all doI recently broke away from a sinful situation that I rationalized away for many years, so I'm as guilty of this as you all are.

And, since we're all guilty, we can spot this type of behavior - Rationalizing Away Sin - when we see it.


And this all began innocently enough - or so it seemed - as an attempt to defend Fr. Benedict Groeschel, a holy and devout man, who, after saying some ill-advised things on the subject of child abuse, was eliminated from EWTN's rotation and apparently from their memory banks.  Fr. Groeschel deserves a better deal than he got, and this situation was not fair to him.  I concede that, and I'm glad there are people sticking up for him.

I can also see that the motivation behind this is to defend Kansas City Bishop Finn, a man I have criticized severely and persistently.  That folks would spring to the defense of a Catholic bishop - even a bad Catholic bishop like Finn - speaks to the loyalty of heart that most of you have, and that is admirable, though counter-productive in Bishop Finn's case.

I understand the original motivations behind the argument being made against Statutory Rape - the motivations were to defend Fr. Groeschel's misguided compassion for victimizers, and to defend the Church from the awful Scandal she's endured.

I understand how this started.  What I don't understand is where this is going and where this has gone.

When I said the following ...


If the capacity to consent depends upon testicles and ovaries and not on the rational mind and will, then we must accept the inevitable conclusion. Since menstruation can begin in a girl as young as age 9 or so, and since the production of sperm can begin in boys as young as 12 or so, then these post-pubescent children should be understood to possess the capacity to consent to the following:

9-year-old girls and 12-year-old boys should be allowed to

  1. Vote
  2. Drive cars
  3. Enter into contracts
  4. Be drafted
  5. Drink
  6. Attain independence from their parents
  7. Get married without parental consent
  8. Get abortions without parental consent
  9. Smoke
  10. Be elected to public office


... and when, after saying that, I get a commenter who agrees with the hypothetical I present and says, HELL YES, KIDS SHOULD BE ALLOWED TO DO ALL THOSE THINGS ONCE THE HORMONES KICK IN, ONLY I'D MAKE THE AGE OF CONSENT 12 FOR GIRLS - and then when I see the Legion of you picking up spurious talking points you found somewhere and running with them, that's when I get disturbed. 

That's when I lose sleep. 

That's when the cold breath of the Dark Angel creeps down my back.


Anonymous said...

As a person who is 19, I cannot believe that someone could not possibly rationalize that people under 18 have the capacity to do such things as you have discussed, and I have been considered exceptionally mature for my age. The only reason to support such fornication would be because you are doing it, in which case you need professional psychiatric help.


Joey Higgins said...

I've been following the posts and responses on this topic and was getting confused as to what the point of arguing the specifics of whether pedophilia was actually a subset of pederasty or the opposite - as if it made a difference.

The only sense that I make is that some must be getting lost in the trees and missing the forest. Lets accept the argument that statutory rape is a "legal fiction." Then we have a logical barrier because being a "legal fiction" doesn't make something "okay." Abortion is the easiest example: fully legal and fully wrong.

Even if there were no issues with taking pictures of minors and even if there was nothing wrong with the age gaps of molester priests and their victims - there is so much wrong with both of those crimes that any attempt to make the crime seem less evil should get the same treatment on the internet as people get for suggesting that abortion should be limited.

John C. Hathaway said...

Thanks, Kevin. I missed this post somewhere along the line, but it addresses a few things I kept meaning to ask you to clarify.
My problem on the statutory rape end is that it implies that it's ever legally permissible to consent to fornication or adultery.
Also, it's important to distinguish between pedophilia and rape of a minor. Look at how the media are treating Kevin Clash, versus how they would treat him if he were a Catholic priest. They're insisting he's a homosexual, not a pedophile. If Clash were a Catholic priest, the media would be insisting he was a pedophile and not a homosexual.

I still though feel like you're taking the position that minors never prey upon adults, either by directly trying to tempt them or by making false accusations. As an educator from a family of educators, I know how students try to get teachers in trouble. I once had a freshman girl lift her shirt in front of me in class on the first day while pretending to "yawn." Immediately after that class, I went to my department head and said the girl was sexually harrassing me. I never saw her again, and was glad. So I don't have any sympathy for those who, in situations where the minors are seducers, succumb to the seduction. I *do* however object when I hear, or seam to hear, someone saying that students are incapable of that kind of malicious behavior.

Kevin O'Brien said...

We're in agreement, John. Minors can indeed be malicious and can indeed attempt to seduce adults. It is always and everywhere, however, the responsibility of the adult to resist any attempted seduction; for even if the minor instigates sexual contact with an adult, that contact victimizes the minor by definition. That's my whole point. The "by definition" is not arbitrary; it's based on Natural Law.