I spoke, in the new issue of the Weekly Standard , about the effect of the atmosphere created by all the reporting on clerical abuse:

The best sign of such hysterical moments may be the difficulty of anything sane or sensible being heard in them. As Newsweek noted on April 8, the surveys and studies over the past 30 years show “little reason to conclude that sexual abuse is mostly a Catholic issue.” Nonetheless, in 2002, after the last set of revelations, “a Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll found that 64 percent” of Americans “thought Catholic priests ‘frequently’ abused children.”

A poll released on April 13 this year found that between 8 and 11 percent of Canadians say they know personally a victim of sexual abuse by a Catholic priest—which works out to well over 2 million people, out of a national population over 33 million. Given the number of Canadian claims over the last 50 years, that would require every abuse victim to know thousands and thousands of people—but the poll respondents aren’t lying, exactly. They’re responding, quite accurately, to an atmosphere, reinterpreting the past and reinventing the present to conform to the ambient understanding of the world.

Need another example? Here’s Lawrence Lessig in the New York Times this week:

With the pope’s pledge, and the resignation in recent days of three European bishops involved in the sex abuse scandal, it might appear that the church is finally taking responsibility for failing to protect children against molesters for hundreds of years.

Ah, yes, molesters for hundreds of years .

Don’t worry, by the way, that this passage seems to be moving toward praise for the Catholics. The phrase “might appear” is setting up the required negative turn in the next sentence: “But the church is not doing everything in its power to help victims. In fact, it is worsening the sins of the past by taking a leading role in preventing abused children from getting the compensation they need to help remedy past abuse.”

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