Police vs Priests

That title sounds way more awesome than this will be…

Some people are of the opinion that every police officer is part of the police brutality problem, just as every priest is part of the child rape problem. I disagree, and it has taken me some time to understand why, but I think I can finally articulate it.

I have to admit that there are several parallels. In both cases, a priest or police officer is using his position to get away with an awful act. In both cases, there is an institution in place that protects them. In both cases, being part of that institution is implicitly to say that one is more or less ok with what that institution does, unless one is actively working to change the organization from within.

However, I think there are very important differences.

For starters, there is a very real need for police officers. Somebody needs to fill the roll of finding criminals and bringing them to justice. Somebody needs to investigate instances of rape, murder, theft, etc. Otherwise, we cannot have society. On the other hand, there is no real need for priests. The roll of a priest is to help lead a group of people to Heaven, and there is no real Heaven. Society could function just as well, if not better, without any priests or churches.

Another difference is that lay people are part of the Church, and those lay people, by continuing to be part of an organization that institutionally protects child rapists, are also implicitly part of the child rape problem. Regular citizens are not part of the police force, leaving individual officers as the lowest ranking members. If every lay person who disagrees with child rape (hopefully, that is all of them) were to leave the Catholic Church, the Catholic Church would die. At the very least, there would be no more children being taught to look up to priests, and therefore much decreased opportunity for child rape. If every officer who disagrees with police brutality were to leave the police force, society would deteriorate in two ways. First, there would be more crime, assuming the police force is ever at all effective at their job, or at the very least more people getting away with crime. Second, the officers left would all be the bad kind.

In both cases of the problem of child rape in the Catholic Church and the problem of police brutality, there are generally two solutions. All of the members who recognize the problem could leave the institution, or the institution could change from within or without. I think that either solution would fix the Catholic Church, although the first is probably more likely. However, the first solution would only worsen the problem in the case of the police force. We need to work towards the second solution.

And that really is a “we”. Citizens are not part of the police force, but we can work to change the laws that govern it. We can petition to stop militarization of police, and we can vote for sheriffs who want to stop police brutality. We aren’t part of the problem, but we can be part of the solution.

I cannot write on this matter without bringing up statistics. I expect most, if not all, of my readers to agree that police brutality and child rape are problems, but how big of problems?

For child rape by Catholic priests, statistics are not overly difficult to find. One study finds that 4% of priests have been accused of child sexual abuse. If we assume this study is at all accurate, and that some abuse is never reported and some accusations are false, it is reasonable to say that less than 10% of priests are guilty of the crime of child rape. Cases might be significantly under-reported, but without further details, let’s not assume so. In any case, to say that less than 4% of priests are guilty is almost definitely unreasonable.

For police brutality, statistics are a bit harder to gather. There are surely many factors for this, including that the same actions could be a police officer doing his or her job in one instance and abusing his or her position in another. For instance, a police officer shooting to kill is part of the job in the case of an armed suspect who is threatening the officer or a civilian but abusing the position in the case of an unarmed black teenager who is minding his own business. I was able to find the National Police Misconduct Reporting Project, which was founded explicitly to gather these statistics. The latest report on the website is from 2010, and according to it, even the state with the worst problem has less than 2% of officers accused of misconduct, with an average of just under 1% across the nation. Again assuming that this is at all accurate and some officers are unjustly accused and many cases go unreported, it is impossible to support the idea that a majority of officers are guilty. Instead, based on this information, it is reasonable to assume that no more than 10% of officers are guilty of brutality. Even the largest percentage I saw in my searching was under 25%.

You might argue that even one officer abusing the position is too many, and in a sense I agree, because in an ideal world it would be unheard of – but then, in an ideal world, we shouldn’t need police at all. I would argue, and I think with greater force, that even one priest raping a child is too many. The difference I see is that the Catholic Church teaches a god exists who could stop child rape and should be motivated to do so, but is allowing it in his earthly representatives, whereas the police officers are not representative of a being that could prevent crimes effortlessly. Instead, they are representative of law enforcement, which can (generally) only act to punish crime. Preventing crime is (generally) another department. It is reasonable, if Catholicism is true, to expect 0 priests to engage in child rape. It is not reasonable to expect 0 officers to commit acts of police brutality, because we all know they are only people trying to do a difficult job.

To me, the bigger problem is not that police brutality happens, because I think it always will. To me, the bigger problem is that it so often happens with impunity, and I think that is a problem which we citizens have a hand in perpetuating.

I have just one final point. When you call someone “part of the problem” for being a member of an institution, regardless of whether they are working to reform it, that rhetoric implies that the most moral thing they can do is leave the institution. It is on this point that I most seriously disagree with comparing priests and police officers. Why? Because there are many other reasons, besides child rape, that I think the Catholic Church as an organization is immoral, while the only real problem I have with police is police brutality. Because I disagree that good officers leaving the police force is a good solution to the police brutality problem. Because a non-brutal police officer who does his job is just a good police officer, while a non-child-raping priest who does his job is still a priest forcing morally horrifying doctrines on children and adults.

There’s obviously many more aspects of this issue that I could delve into: the racism factor of police going after blacks, the militarization of the police force, the unnecessary drug laws that increase violence, my understanding of why police officers can turn to brutality (although I disagree with their actions), etc. However, I have determined to approach these topics in a future post, if at all.


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