Grappling with the 9/11 Families

by Conor Friedersdorf

In a debate about the so-called Ground Zero mosque at a family dinner, I hit upon an analogy that seemed to persuade my interlocutors just a little bit. We were talking about the 9/11 families, some of whom are upset and offended by the project.

Here's the analogy I want to try out. Imagine a suburban street where three kids in a single family were molested by a Catholic priest, who was subsequently transferred by the archbishop to a faraway parish, and never prosecuted. Nine years later, a devout Catholic woman who lives five or six doors down decides that she's going to start a prayer group for orthodox Catholics -- they'll meet once a week in her living room, and occasionally a local priest, recently graduated from a far away seminary, will attend.

Even if we believe that it is irrational for the mother of the molested kids to be upset by this prayer group on her street, it's easy enough to understand her reaction. Had she joined an activist group critical of the Catholic Church in the aftermath of the molestation, it's easy to imagine that group backing the mother. As evident is the fact that the devout Catholic woman isn't culpable for molestations in the Catholic church -- in fact, even though we understand why her prayer group upsets the neighbor, it is perfectly plausible that the prayer group organizers never imagined that their plan would be upsetting or controversial. In their minds (and in fact), they're as opposed to child molestation as anyone, and it's easy to see why they'd be offended by any implication to the contrary.

Presented with that situation, how should the other people on the street react? Should they try to get city officials to prevent the prayer meetings from happening because they perhaps violate some technicality in the neighborhood zoning laws? Should they hold press conferences denouncing the devout woman? Should they investigate the priest who plans to attend? What if he once said, "Child molestation is a terrible sin, it is always wrong, and I am working to prevent it from ever happening again. I feel compelled to add that America's over-sexualized culture is an accessory to this crime." Does that change anything?

I'd certainly side with the woman who wants to hold the prayer group, and her fellow orthodox Catholics. I'd presume without investigating that almost all if not every last one of them is very much against the widespread abuse problems in the Catholic church. And I'd look with disdain on anyone who publicly speculated without evidence that these Catholics were molestation apologists. I suspect that far more than 30 percent of Americans -- the percentage that support the mosque -- would agree with my approach. I wonder if anyone else finds this to be a useful analogy.

If so, I encourage its use!