News from the world of sexualizing children:

PRIMARK have today stopped selling padded bikinis for seven-year-olds in a victory for The Sun.
The discount fashion chain began clearing the shelves of the £4 bikini sets after shocked parents slammed the ‘sexy’ design.
The bargain clothes retailer has promised to donate all profits from the sale of the halterneck tops to charity.
The firm also apologised to angry parents “for any offence caused” as Tory leader David Cameron spoke out to condemn the company.
… Child protection consultant Shy Keenan, of the Phoenix Chief Advocates, yesterday urged mums and dads to boycott Primark.
She said: “It never fails to amaze me just how many High Street household names are now prepared to exploit the disgusting ‘paedophile pound’.”

You know I’m the last person to want to cut the Catholic Church any slack over clerical child sex abuse. But it must be said, especially these days, that it’s not only Catholic bishops who have failed to halt the sexualization of children. We are all complicit. As awful as the Catholic bishops have been on protecting kids, children would be far better off in a culture run by the moral convictions doctrines of the Catholic bishops than the one we have, run by the moral convictions doctrines of commercial interests.
(Which, by the way, includes The Sun newspaper, the UK tabloid that broke the story. It’s awfully rich for a rag that makes its money in part by exploiting the sexualization of society — the most read story on the Sun’s website today is a TV star alerting the media that she breaks in new shoes by wearing them during her pneumatic workouts — to object to this sort of thing. Still, this does not make them wrong about the padded bikinis for seven year olds, but it does make them hypocrites.)
Again, I am pleased to see social pressure brought to bear on Catholic authorities over the sex abuse scandal, and I hope it continues. The Church purports to live by a higher set of virtues than Primark, the Sun, or just about anybody else, and it’s not unfair to judge Church officials by those standards. This is why I’m bothered by defensive claims that “the public schools are no better,” and suchlike; even if that were true, is it really the case that the institution that claims to be the sole legitimate temporal authority for Almighty God wants to be held to the same standards of conduct as the public schools? My point, though, is not to tell people to back off the Catholic Church for failing to live up to its standards regarding the sexualization of children, but rather to urge critics to be more consistent in the application of those standards.
I mean, why stop at the church? Is it really the case that sexual exploitation of children is only outrageous because it was undertaken by agents of the Church? Given the forces in the culture — chiefly commercial — pushing hard for the ongoing eroticization of children, the outrage over clerical sex abuse is taking on the quality of straining at gnats while swallowing camels. Here’s a 2006 essay by the liberal writer Jim Sleeper, condemning what he calls “the pornification of the public square.” Excerpt:

What Dave’s family got wasn’t porn, exactly, but it forced him to think about how he’d explain to his 9-year-old that people sell their bodies – and that TV “sells” their doing it. That Dave faults his own judgment doesn’t quite make him fair game. It certainly doesn’t explain what’s coming to us unbidden in roadside “Erotic Empire” billboards, bus-shelter underwear posters, fashion-cum-kiddie porn ads, commercials for erectile dysfunction cures and the fetid currents wafting suddenly through our homes at prime time.
The thing that’s exposing itself to us increasingly is more degrading than porn because it’s so unchosen, so public and so purely commercial: The pornification of public spaces and narratives, an eros-burning equivalent of secondhand smoke, isn’t malevolent as much as it’s a mindless groping of our persons to goose profits and market share.
Don’t call it free speech; these sensors are beyond censors. They aren’t bringing us artists’ art, activists’ politics or fellow citizens’ opinions, and the only social message in their leering come-ons is this: “Our company can bypass your brain and heart and go for your erogenous and other viscera on its way to your wallet. Nothing personal, by the way.”

One major tragedy of the church scandal is that the Catholic Church (and indeed, all churches) are just about the only large institutions in society with the authority to speak out against this kind of thing. When they lose the credibility in the public’s mind to stand as opponents to the eroticization of society and the sexualization of children, we all lose — especially children. This is in part why it’s so important for the Church to regain its moral footing. Still, those who speak out so confidently against the bishops for their handling of this crisis ought to keep it up, but also to expand the scope of their outrage to include retailers and media companies who care nothing for children, only protecting their own narrowly-drawn interests.
Rick Hertzberg, writing in this week’s New Yorker:

But the broader society in which the Church is embedded has grown incomparably freer. To the extent that the Church manages to purge itself of its shame–its sins, its crimes–it will owe a debt of gratitude to the lawyers, the journalists, and, above all, the victims and families who have had the courage to persevere, against formidable resistance, in holding it to account. Without their efforts, the suffering of tens of thousands of children would still be a secret. Our largely democratic, secularist, liberal, pluralist modern world, against which the Church has so often set its face, turns out to be its best teacher–and the savior, you might say, of its most vulnerable, most trusting communicants.

To which a Catholic friend (a Democrat, by the way) replies:

Now, I actually think we do owe a debt of gratitude to “lawyers, journalists and victims,” in this context but it is rather breathtaking to posit the democratic, secularist, liberal pluralist modern world as our savior. The unnuanced liberal triumphalism is incredible.

True. I think one can only be satisfied with Hertzberg’s conclusion if one engages in a titanic degree of selective editing. As awful as the 1950s church was, with abuse of children going on behind a veil of sacred secrecy, is it really true that kids back then were worse off than kids today, in terms of the moral environment? Really? There is no utopia, then, today or tomorrow.
UPDATE.2: Judging by the comments, some of you readers are just discovering this blog, and don’t realize that I have a long record of heavily criticizing the Catholic Church for the way it’s handled child sex abuse by its clergy. I even left the Church several years ago, chiefly over this matter. My point with the headline here is to point out that there is an element of scapegoating in the way the Catholic Church is being pilloried in the public square over its behavior, when the eroticization of children continues apace, right in plain sight. I do not need tutorials from readers about how awful it is for spiritual leaders to abuse children. Look, I get this. Believe me, I was tortured by the thought of it to the point where I couldn’t stay Catholic any longer without losing my faith entirely. It is by no means defending the Catholic Church’s handling of this terrible affair — again, I think the Church has handled it horribly, and is still very far from doing the right thing — to say that I believe in some respects the Church is getting a raw deal, or rather, the public is being rather selective in its outrage. We sexualize our children, then are shocked, shocked when people treat them like sexual objects.

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