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hansel
06-16-2002, 11:21 PM
What exactly does it mean to hold someone to a higher moral standard? This phrase came up most recently in this thread (http://boards.academicpursuits.us/sdmb/showthread.php?s=&threadid=120845), where a Catholic says that he holds priests to a higher moral standard, so the rash of revelations of abusive priests lately have been especially troublesome.

I first got sick of this phrase when Republicans were claiming that Bill Clinton's oral office liaisons with Monica Lewinsky were especially awful because the president should be held to a higher moral standard.

Is this just a rhetorical device to express greater frustration with the moral lapses of particular people? Does it have any relevance to our normal moral functioning? Is it at all rational to hold a fellow human being to a higher moral standard than one holds oneself?

On the one hand, there are obvious cases where we do so: mentally retarded people are held to a lower moral standard than those who are not, because they presumably lack the fullest understanding of the morality of their actions. Thus, someone with an I.Q. of 50 will not get away with murder, but his punishment will (outside of Texas) be mitigated by the fact that he can't be said to have committed the crime with full consciousness of the wrongness of it. But lowered moral standards are generally applied only where the moral agent is incapable, in some sense, of acting as a mature moral agent (retardation, insanity, etc.). Where someone can be said to act as a fully capable moral agent, does it make sense to hold them to a higher standard? Doesn't that suggest that we are normally incapable of being fully moral? Or is it the hypocrisy that bothers us, for a priest (who is normally an arbiter and sage of morality) to commit the same sins we do?

To say that a priest should be held to a higher standard suggests that it is somehow less egregious for someone who works on a machine all day to sexually abuse a child than it is for a priest to do so.

Is it rational to suggest that another person is bound by moral restrictions more tightly than you are? If you can conceive of the higher standard, how are you not then bound to it yourself?

robinc308
06-16-2002, 11:59 PM
I think it is reasonable to hold certain people to a higher moral standard based on their position or role.

We hold priests to a higher standard because they are leaders and their behaviour impacts those they lead. Also, they are the defenders and promoters of morality within their sphere of influence, therefore, we expect that they practice what they preach.

Similarly teachers, presidents and prime ministers are held to higher standards in some areas? Why? Because they influence us? They teach us? What does it say about a teacher who is caught cheating in an exam? What does it say to his or her students?

With a leadership role, with power and with authority comes responsibility.

Some things are shameful, no matter how you look at it. Child abuse, sexual or otherwise is one of those things.

But in somethings, it is worse if it is a person of authority who does it. Consider a married priest (presumably protestant if they're married) who has an affair. This is considered by many, and certainly by his church to be worse than an affair by a married lay person? This is because he is held to a higher standard by his position. When those in such positions fail, they can take down people with them, because people look up to them, and will accept something because that leader said (even if only by action) it's OK.

In almost every case I can think of, it is a choice to assume a role that comes with such standards and responsibility. If you can't handle the responsibility, don't take the job.

kniz
06-17-2002, 12:13 AM
Some of the people that were molested mentioned that they could not tell their parents because the priest was respected so much. Part of the "holding to a higher standard" is because the person is in a position that causes people to give them a trust that is connected to that position. A policeman is held to a higher standard, because we do not think he will steal from us, for example.

ResIpsaLoquitor
06-17-2002, 12:28 AM
Oooh! That's my thread he's invoking!

Basically, everything robin said. In the religious context, priests are much more aware of what's considered wrong, and not only that, but why it's wrong. We put less blame on the ignorant; it's a normal reaction to put more on the educated.

Hence, a priest understands (or should understand) why child molestation is wrong on so many more levels than I'd expect from a layperson. It's like, geeze, you went to morality school for 6 years in order to get that collar.

People screw up, of course, which makes it understandable (except child molestors...I don't WANNA understand). But it doesn't make it excusable, particularly where it's completely contrary to the occupation.

hansel
06-17-2002, 12:07 PM
I think that you all nailed the intuitive side of holding someone to a higher standard--that there are people from whom we expect more moral behaviour.

However, as Robin pointed out, ignorance is the deciding factor--I'm much less ignorant of the wrongness of child abuse than someone with an I.Q. of fifty. But if I can conceive of the higher moral standard to which someone should be held, how am I then more ignorant of that standard than they are? Conversely, if I hold them to a higher standard because I am more ignorant, how am I in a position to judge them?

I guess what bothers me about it is that I'm no more ignorant of the moral standards to which I would hold a priest, or Bill Clinton, than they are. So it seems hypocritical of me to excuse or mitigate in myself what I won't excuse in them.

gigi
06-17-2002, 12:10 PM
Technically, all three vocations (single life, marriage, religious life) are equally "valuable" and followers of God are equally expected to know right and wrong and practice good to the best of their ability. There are exemplary people in every vocation and while it may be rarer that someone follows the path to religious life, I'm not sure that makes them a more moral person. It doesn't take years in the seminary to know that child molestation is wrong, and a married person keeping it in the family is no better or worse than a priest.

ResIpsaLoquitor
06-17-2002, 12:42 PM
Originally posted by gigi
Technically, all three vocations (single life, marriage, religious life) are equally "valuable" and followers of God are equally expected to know right and wrong and practice good to the best of their ability. There are exemplary people in every vocation and while it may be rarer that someone follows the path to religious life, I'm not sure that makes them a more moral person. It doesn't take years in the seminary to know that child molestation is wrong, and a married person keeping it in the family is no better or worse than a priest.

Point taken. Let me see if I can give a clearer example:
Take contraception. Assuming arguendo that contraception is morally illicit as the Church teaches (5 gets you 10 this touches off a GD), then I have a bigger problem with a priest who endorses it than with the layperson who uses it.

Why? Because by and large, most lay Catholics I know either come from a blue collar background, or are else too busy to spend an afternoon reading Evangelium Vitae or Humanae Vitae. Most non-contracepting Catholics I know seem to do it because the Church says so...which is not to say that they're zombies, so much as they trust that the church knows what it's talking about in the same way we trust scientists who say "radiation causes cancer." However, the plenty I know who do contracept don't really intend to defy the church, so much as they don't understand the basis of the church's teaching. Without that foundation, it's a lot easier for them to disobey: they just don't care about it as much.

Meanwhile, most priests should have had included in their training something about the fidelity of marriage, yadda yadda, firmly establishing why contraception is wrong in the Church's eyes. If they reject it, that's a different story, but at least they've been exposed to the full theological foundation of why the Church opposes it.

My point is this: the average layperson just gets pissed off when a child is molested; the kid's been seriously hurt. A preacher would do that too, but could also take into account scripture passages, the Catechism, any number of Papal Encyclicals on human dignity, the idea that injury to man is an offense to God, and so on.

You're right in that the harm isn't any greater or lesser whether a priest or non-priest does it, at least immediately. But I guess the difference is that while both a layperson and priest knows molestation to be wrong, the priest REALLY knows that it's wrong, which makes it all the sadder.

hansel
06-17-2002, 01:25 PM
Originally posted by ResIpsaLoquitor You're right in that the harm isn't any greater or lesser whether a priest or non-priest does it, at least immediately. But I guess the difference is that while both a layperson and priest knows molestation to be wrong, the priest REALLY knows that it's wrong, which makes it all the sadder. This makes no sense to me. I know it's wrong to molest a child, or to cheat on my wife, or to tell an outright lie. That the priest has additional arguments against it makes it no less wrong for me to commit those sins; they are no less sins because I can't quote chapter and verse on why they're sins.

There's a catch-22 I'm trying to articulate here. If "knowing better" is the criteria for moral culpability, then I can't judge a priest to have committed a greater sin than I would have: either I have the same knowledge as he does, in which case I am just as culpable, or I haven't the same knowledge as he does, in which case I'm too ignorant to condemn him as a greater sinner than I am.

gigi
06-17-2002, 02:32 PM
Originally posted by ResIpsaLoquitor

Take contraception. Assuming arguendo that contraception is morally illicit as the Church teaches (5 gets you 10 this touches off a GD), then I have a bigger problem with a priest who endorses it than with the layperson who uses it.

The Church puts forth the idea of scandal, which is the added dimension a sin takes on when it includes leading others into sin. The example above would include scandal in that the priest influences others to sin ("he said it was OK"), while a personal decision to use contraception would usually not. In that this is not an analogus example to molestation, as it does include the leadership or public influence of the priest.

Regina
06-17-2002, 03:14 PM
As robinc308 touched on, I think it is more than "knowing better" as the moral culpability criteria for persons who are held to a higher standard, it is using your position of authority over another person to their detriment.

For example, physicians are held to a higher standard because of their position of authority over the patient. As with a priest, people put their trust in a physician, and in addition to committing a morally and legally wrong action, for example, sex with a minor, the physician has also committed an additional morally-wrong action by abusing that trust and using his position of control and authority.

It's not simply the knowledge of the immorality of the action which constitutes culpability when a person in a position of power uses that power in the commission of the action; this is why people in positions of power are held to a higher standard.

Also, the person who abuses his authority to commit immoral acts reduces the opinion and trust of the general populace in that profession, and to those in that profession, that is a very bad thing.

doreen
06-17-2002, 04:23 PM
It's not really that the person whose being held to a higher standard is supposed to know better- a police officer doesn't know any better than any other person that drunk driving is wrong and illegal.The police officer, however, unlike a non-police officer, holds a position of trust, authority, and one in which he enforces the very law that he broke. Priests and bishops don't exactly enforce laws, but they have some degree of authority over Catholics, they are supposed to be trusted, and they are supposed to provide moral guidance to the people. I don't expect a priest to be sinless (they are people), nor would I hold a cop to a higher standard for getting a parking ticket, but a priest who has sex with children has lapsed far beyond the equivalent of a parking ticket.

WSLer
06-17-2002, 07:27 PM
The probelm I have with this whole "holding to a higher standard" thing is that the same Republicans who were screeching and bleating about Clinton getting bj's from Monica & by doing so had soiled the Oval Office forever, these same Republicans were out there fucking everything that didn't have a cock that wasn't their wives.

OH PLEASE.

wring
06-17-2002, 07:39 PM
WSLer I'd suggest that your issue isn't with the 'holding to a higher standard' but the hypocrisy issue of while holding some one else to a higher standard, you, yourself are not willing to be so held. (and the moral difference 'tween President messin' round and a Senator isn't really there in my book).

People we (generally) hold to a 'higher' standard include:

those who by virtue of their position, are in a position of trust relative to the item/person being violated.(teachers/parents/priests, counselors etc.)

Those who, by virtue of their position are in a position of enforcing/interpreting/judging said rules etc. (judges, police, politicians, teachers, parents, priests etc.).

it is more abhorrant for some one who'se been given the responsability to enforce the rules to break them. If you're in a position where it's your duty to protect some one, it's more abhorrant if you violate that duty by harming them.

Got no problem w/the concept personally.

ResIpsaLoquitor
06-17-2002, 10:30 PM
...what they said.

gigi
06-18-2002, 02:28 PM
Originally posted by wring
Those who, by virtue of their position are in a position of enforcing/interpreting/judging said rules etc. (judges, police, politicians, teachers, parents, priests etc.).

it is more abhorrant for some one who'se been given the responsability to enforce the rules to break them. If you're in a position where it's your duty to protect some one, it's more abhorrant if you violate that duty by harming them.

When it comes to child molestation, though, where do you draw the line? We're all responsible to enforce this prohibition by virtue of being adults. A babysitter who molests, a family member, etc. When does the person become enough of an authority to be held to this higher standard?

Unless priests, parents, etc., are out there saying it's OK, publically at least they are enforcing the rules. It's such a private struggle and offense that it probably doesn't influence their guidance and public example to others.

I don't to come off as sounding like this isn't a terrible thing, but it's an equally terrible thing no matter who does it. I am Catholic and would look to a priest for guidance in some cases. I would expect that he would represent the Church faithfully in his witness or advice to me. I wouldn't necessarily expect that he is doing the right thing privately just as I don't know what anyone is up to in their heart of hearts. And I am disillusioned to the same degree no matter who I hear about messing up.

Zoff
06-18-2002, 04:39 PM
Originally posted by gigi
When does the person become enough of an authority to be held to this higher standard?

It might be more of an issue of trust than authority. In the example of a priest molesting a child, that priest has abused the trust he asked others to place in him. The underlying act of molesting a child is no worse than if it was done by a stranger who grabs a kid from the street.

But the person who has, by his position, asked people to trust him to apply or enforce proper conduct is violating another "rule". Leadership positions come with attachments. When the trust is violated, it bothers people more. That, to me, is what is meant by a "higher moral standard". Every child molester is a bastard. But a priest who molests is a bastard for the molestation and for the violation of the duties that come with his position.

wring
06-18-2002, 04:57 PM
I thought I'd made that clear (IMHO) - Parents/adults in family, teachers, counselors, their preist/rabbi etc, babysitters, guardians. In order to raise it to the level of 'position of trust', there has to be a relationship between the perp and the child. The fact that the person is a minister somewhere doesn't mean that the person has a position of trust w/that child, unless that child belongs to, routinely goes to that church.

that wouldn't include: paper boy, letter carrier, neighbor, cashier at the local store, minister for the church you don't go to etc.

Note, this is not to be construed as claiming that the other people have 'carte blanch', or that it's not bad. The list above include those we hold to a higher moral standard, those who have a special obligation to that child to care for them.

doreen
06-18-2002, 05:43 PM
When it comes to child molestation, though, where do you draw the line? We're all responsible to enforce this prohibition by virtue of being adults. A babysitter who molests, a family member, etc. When does the person become enough of an authority to be held to this higher standard?

Certainly we're all responsible not to molest children by virtue of being adults. You, however, have no general responsibility to protect my kids as I do. I am supposed to be who they come to for protection, not the person they need protection from. And in some circumstances, so are the babysitter, the police officer and the teacher. The priest doesn't have any responsibility to protect my children.However he is a moral authority He's in church every Sunday and religion class once a week talking about how God want us to behave, and as far as my kids know, their parents always agree with the priest.I believe (and hope) that my kids wouldn't just do whatever a priest (or teacher,babysitter or coach) told them to, but certainly some kids will.comply with what an authority figure wants (including keeping it secret), even though they would try to get away from a stranger.

And that's the long way around to why it's worse- because in addition to the crime, there's also been an abuse of trust Perhaps I wouldn't hold a molesting priest to a higher standard if he went to a video arcade, without identifying himself as a priest, and seduced an unknown young teenager.But in fact, every case I've seen described involves the abuse of children and teenagers that the priest ahd some degree of authority over ( children in the parochial school or religious education programs or altar boys).

Doreen

The Ryan
06-18-2002, 06:48 PM
First of all, when someone says that someone else should be held to a higher standard. they don't necessarily mean a higher standard than themselves. It's quite possible that they mean "Person X should be held to higher standard than the average person, and I hold myself to a higher standard than either".

A second possibility is the "appearance of impropiety" factor. A person in high authority should not even be suspected of acting imorally, and might therefore be expected to avoid situations which would cause suspicion.

Third, if someone is a role model, his actions affect not just those around him, but the community as a whole.

Finally, some positions simply require sacrifices. For instance, Catholic priests aren't allowed to marry. In a way, they're being held to a higher standard.

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