Wednesday, March 21, 2007

A Version of Godwin's Law for the Sex Scandals

Rich Leonardi posts the text of a letter to the editor of the Cincinnati Enquirer responding negatively to an essay by a SSPX priest that called for continued protests in front of an abortion clinic utilizing photos of the remains of aborted babies:

So, the reverend from St. Pius X Chapel in Northside encourages his flock in his guest column 'Abortion protests will continue' (March 17) to increase the protest of the Clifton women's center using graphic pictures of aborted babies. He vows to continue the protest until the center closes while not caring how it affects adjacent businesses or the sensibilities of innocent individuals.

How about protesters armed with graphic pictures of priests abusing children camping out in front of St. Pius church? Problem priests and pedophile preachers have abused thousands of children with 'mental abortion' for years without recourse.

Joseph Gorman, Finneytown
Leaving aside the controversy giving rise to this letter (for my part, I believe exhibiting graphic photos of aborted babies to be counter-productive; it is much more effective to show pictures of ultrasounds, especially of the 3-D variety), I want to focus on the ad hominem argumentation utilized in this letter to "counter" the priest's position.

I wonder if there will ever be a rule similar to "Godwin's Law" (regarding references and analogies to the 3rd Reich) for invocations of "the Scandal" as a rhetorical device?

It would go something like this: As a debate involving the Catholic Church (either a discussion about the Church specifically, or a discussion in which the Church is taking a position) grows longer, the probability of someone mentioning the sex scandal approaches one.

And then there's it's corollary: Once such reference to the Scandal is made, whoever mentioned the Scandal has automatically "lost" whatever debate was in progress.

Finally, let's not forget the codicil known as the "Time Better Spent Fallacy": The Church has enough things to worry about and can better spend its time on cleaning up its own messes rather than on [fill in the blank]. Among Catholics, this fallacy is frequently invoked by "progressives" in arguing against the Church's reform of the reform.

Perhaps the Scandal is still too recent - with the repercussions still being felt and likely to be played out for years to come - for such a rule of debate to gain any traction at this juncture. But surely, at some point in time, such ad hominem argumentation against the Church and its teachings needs to be consigned to similar status as inappropriate Nazi comparisons.

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At 3/21/2007 10:39 AM, Blogger Matt Hurley said...

If the Catholic Church would actually do something about The Scandal instead of pretending it doesn't exist, then perhaps I would buy your argument.

The Archdiocese of Cincinnati put me and my classmates AT RISK and didn't bother to tell ANYBODY about it. Yeah, that ticks me off a bit even though nothing happened (that I know of) while this particular priest was at my parish.

Catholics ought to demand accountability on this issue from the Church hieracrchy. Until they do, The Scandal will continue to be mentioned pretty much any time the Church comes well it should.

At 3/21/2007 10:57 AM, Blogger Pro Ecclesia said...

"The Scandal will continue to be mentioned pretty much any time the Church comes up ... as well it should." (emphasis added

Sorry, I don't buy that a completely unrelated ad hominem should substitute for reason whenever the Church takes a stand on an issue.

Are you really saying that whenever the Church speaks out on an issue that it is appropriate for someone to respond:

"Who are you to call abortion / birth control / same-sex marriage / etc. immoral? Your Church did nothing while pervert priests molested kids. Talk about immoral."


At 3/21/2007 10:57 AM, Blogger BillyHW said...

Matt, unfortunately many Catholic bloggers think it's against some sort of canon law to demand any sort of accountability from our popes and bishops.

At 3/21/2007 11:06 AM, Blogger Pro Ecclesia said...


I've got no problem demanding accountability for the Scandal.

But I don't believe that it is an appropriate form of argumentation to dismiss the Church or the Church's teachings by making reference to the Scandal as if that's dispositive of all issues.

At 3/21/2007 11:51 AM, Blogger Rick Lugari said...

Right, Jay.

And for those who would define the Church by The Scandal I would posit that if nothing else, it has proven what the Church has taught all along - that it is a Church made up of sinners, including the clerics. The Scandal is referred to as such because it was/is a terrible scandal. The implication being that the actions of those involved are immoral and against Church teaching, and that the Body as a whole still recognizes that, else it wouldn't be a "scandal" at all.

At 3/21/2007 12:34 PM, Blogger Matt Hurley said...

Sure, it is a ridiculous argument to make when you are talking about abortion, but here's the thing: if you are going to take the high road, you had beeter make sure that your vehicle doesn't leak... My point is this: the Church really should get its act together before they go off makeing a scandal out of other issues. To me it is not enough to sweep The Scandal under the rug...

And I'd be okay with the argument put forth by Rick if the Church actually acted as if they have sinned. They don't. In fact, just the opposite. The arrogance of the Church on this issue is really the biggest stinker of the whole thing. It wouldn't be The Scandal if the Church had done the right thing right away...but they didn't. And I have a real problem with that.

At 3/21/2007 12:36 PM, Blogger Matt Hurley said...

And furthermore, dare I say that neither Jay or Rick was ever at risk from The Scandal...I WAS... When you have skin in the game, perspectives change greatly...

At 3/21/2007 8:18 PM, Blogger Rich Leonardi said...

And furthermore, dare I say that neither Jay or Rick was ever at risk from The Scandal...I WAS... When you have skin in the game, perspectives change greatly...

Under your definition I too had 'skin in the game,' but I don't feel compelled to use the scandal as a bloody shirt to stymie the Church from exercising her divine commission.

At 3/22/2007 12:03 PM, Blogger Matt Hurley said...

Don't get me wrong, I just think that the Church would have better chance of being taken seriously if they'd clean up their own house before they go throwing boulders at somebody else's glass house...that's all I'm saying...

At 3/22/2007 10:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Any institution that has a scandal will have it thrown in its face if they chose to address moral issues. This multiplies if the scandal is aided by management, covered up, and allowed to fester. In most cases, that is remembered long after the scandal dealt with decisively. Bishops should have been removed and the issue with homosexuals should have been dealth with since almost all of the scandal was homosexuals with older boys. It was never a pedephile scandal. Today, we still have guilty bishops and also still have homosexually active and others preaching that the homosexual act is not wrong. Hard for the church to then teach the acts are depraved.

However, I think many who bring up the scandal issue are not out banging the issue of homosexuals seeking out teenage boys and wanting to criminalize and inforce it. If they were as concerned about kids as they claim, they would not see it as a Catholic issue.

Also, showing abortion pictures are similar to the photo's shown during the struggle for freeing slaves. Many gruesome images of blacks with their backs laid open were routinely marched in the streets. Remember the argument at the time was that blacks were not fully human, but 3/5ths. Today, they say the fetus is not human. I still shake my head over the mom having friends over for a fetus shower. We live in a world where violence is shown over and over and at times you have to have the shock value for some. I also agree that the 4D ultrasound images are very beneficial. Recent 4D pictures of animals in the womb were everywere and should have been used more as well. This gets into the battle for the beginning of life.

At 3/27/2007 9:58 AM, Blogger John Jansen said...


I like your proposal for a new version of Godwin's Law.

I do have one question, though, regarding what you wrote here:

...for my part, I believe exhibiting graphic photos of aborted babies to be counter-productive; it is much more effective to show pictures of ultrasounds, especially of the 3-D variety...

Are you talking here about whether or not it's a good idea to display graphic abortion pictures outside of abortion clinics specifically, or just in general - say, alongside a major street, nowhere near an abortion clinic?

It the former, I'm generally inclined to agree with you, as large graphic abortion pictures are likely to inhibit any women on their way into the clinic from stopping to talk to any sidewalk counselors who may be there.

If the latter, however, I disagree.

If you could clarify, I'd appreciate it.

At 3/27/2007 10:43 AM, Blogger Pro Ecclesia said...


I'm just saying that I don't think photos of aborted babies are our best weapon against abortion. The pictures, wherever displayed, seem to set off a visceral reaction in people - and the reaction appears to be overwhelmingly negative toward the pro-life side.

I just think it is much more effective to use ultrasound photos to get the point across that the unborn are people, too.

At 3/27/2007 12:42 PM, Blogger John Jansen said...


I can understand where you're coming from. Honestly, I can.

Speaking as one who works full-time for a pro-life activist organization that frequently coordinates "Face the Truth Tours" -- which consist of setting up graphic abortion picture displays out on the streets -- I've seen my share of the "visceral reactions" you speak of.

Often, when those who have this initial type of reaction stop and talk to us, we learn that they have been personally involved with abortion in the past -- sometimes the very distant past.

Part of me really does not like showing graphic abortion pictures in the public square -- largely because of the inevitable nastiness, threats of violence, and other shooting-the-messenger type behaviors directed toward us.

My conscience, however, compels me to do so. And, we know that it's amazingly effective -- I can't tell you how many times we've heard from people comments along the lines of, "I never knew what abortion really was until I saw these pictures..."

One such reaction that sticks out in my mind was from a kid no more than 16 years old, who happened upon our Face the Truth Tour in downtown Chicago with a group of friends:

Kid: "Man, that's what an abortion looks like?!"

Me: Yeah, it is.

Kid: (With genuine surprise) "Damn!"

I can assure you that we've given a great deal of thought to this issue, and have offered explanations for why we think it's necessary on our Answering Common Objections page. I would encourage you to check it out.

And, if you'd like, I'd be glad to send you our short, 10-minute video that explains the Face the Truth concept in more detail, and which includes footage from an actual tour.

If you'd like one, e-mail me at john-at-generationsforlife-dot-org, and let me know your mailing address, and also whether you'd prefer a DVD or VHS copy. (Rest assured, if you give me your mailing address, I won't add you to any mailing list.)

At 11/16/2008 11:59 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Someone mentioned that the graphic photos appear to produce negativity toward pro-lifers. The key word should be appear. This is a natural reaction to a horrible reality. It is called denial, and denial often begins with anger.

Everybody already knows what little newborn babies look like. Until recently, even doctors were taught that there was "a mass of cells" being aborted, not a tiny little guy with a beating heart and an adorable little body.

I have a passionate empathy for the victims of the great sex scandal. My thoughts on these warlocks wearing priestly costumes in order to destroy the souls of vulnerable kids are not OK to publish.

Take the outrage about those perverts and put it where it belongs, for God's sake. Go after those who have stained the dignity of the Priesthood, not pro-lifers!

And for those who complain about anti abortion signs lowering real estate values and so forth, well piles of dead babies in the trash bins don't make it very pretty around a restaurant, do they? The solution is to shut down the abortion clinics.

And another thing: Some people respond to gentle posters, and some only learn what abortion is by seeing a poster. It's not as if they will see the reality on TV, is it? Someone has to show the truth of what it looks like to slaughter a little baby out of his mother's womb. A lot of people just don't know what they are doing before they cross the threshold of an abortuary.

Christ have mercy.

Eliz. Carroll


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