That notorious purveyor of hate and guile, the Rt Rev’d Dr Gavin Ashenden, has been blocked by Twitter. Actually, the tense is wrong: he was blocked by Twitter, but recanted and deleted and is now restored. The allegation of purveying hate and guile is also wrong: it is hard to imagine a more amiable, gentle and honest soul tweeting into the cybersphere. But ‘hate’ is what Twitter accused him of, and so he was ordered to recant and repent on pain of eternal excommunication. Deletion was insufficient: he had to prostrate himself in humility at the feet of the Twitter Pontiff, and beg to be restored to his ministry.
Bishop Gavin spent the day considering whether he would do either or both. He mulled and prayed and anguished for many an hour: should he recant and beg? Would he come to regret his decision and recant his recantation? He sought fellowship and wisdom among friends, and decided that since the article he had commented upon had been written some days ago, this particular tweet was not performing to much continued purpose. He considered that deleting it and continuing to foster public conversation on behalf of the kingdom was the better course. He then discovered that on pressing the ‘delete’ button, his Twitter excommunication was immediately withdrawn. He was restored without further pleading.
His tweet was a link to an article written by the Rev’d Dr Jules Gomes, which concerned sex abuse in the Roman Catholic Church. The article is fairly robust in its research, though quite unremarkable in its assertions: it is surely a matter of biological fact that the scandal engulfing the Roman Catholic Church is primarily one of homosexual clergy preying on teenage boys. It is not paedophilia (though the term is often applied in the vernacular), but ephebophilia – that is, sexual interest in mid-to-late adolescents. Since the Roman clerical hierarchy is exclusively male, and altar boys are boys, and seminarians are young men, it is surely not only a matter of biological fact but also of irrefutable logic that the scandal is exactly as Gavin Ashenden described it: not paedophilia, but predominantly one of homosexual lust.
He had previously written about gay predators himself, but this appears to be an unmentionable truth on Twitter: a violation of their rules against ‘hateful conduct’. Bishop Gavin shared no ‘hate’, and yet the infallible edict descended in order to censor him and demand conformation to Twitter’s moral orthodoxy. It is hard to discern where this might stop. Is it ‘hate’ to quote Moses (Lev 18:22)? Is it ‘hate’ to quote St Paul (Rom 1:26f)? Is it ‘hate’ to tell people they are sinners and need saving? Is it ‘hate’ to tweet ‘offensive’ extracts of the Bible? Would Twitter block Jesus?
If, as Dr Gomes avers (with supporting links), 80 per cent of the sex abuse in the Roman Catholic Church is of a homosexual nature, and only 96 of 4,329 priest offenders were classified as true paedophiles, how can it be ‘hate’ to tweet this? He writes: “The US bishops even admitted that ‘an understanding of the crisis is not possible’ without speaking of ‘the presence of homosexually oriented priests’. Criminologist Margaret Smith, who worked on the John Jay report, insisted that: ‘The majority of abusive acts were homosexual in nature.'”
One cannot be too critical of paedophilia, but this is not that. Surely one has to be careful when speaking of sexual abuse lest one point the finger at the wrong group? Don’t we need to properly define our terms so we are clear what we are talking about and whom we are criticising?
Was it the phrase “predominately a gay crime” which caused the Twitter police to block Bishop Gavin? It can hardly be “homosexual lust”, unless Twitter is of the view that homosexuals don’t experience lust as much as heterosexuals or bisexuals do. How would they measure such things?
Either way, this is not ‘hate speech’: it is simply factually correct. It is a crime to engage in sexual activity with minors (fact), but around 80 per cent of the recorded instances of sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church were committed by homosexual adults on pubescent or post pubescent boys (fact). It is, therefore, predominantly a gay crime. Or perhaps the Twitter police were being grammatically pedantic? People may be gay, but a crime may not: is ‘gay crime’ a juxtaposition which offends against the public mood of progressive tolerance? Must it be censored to avoid the public paying attention to the more problematic areas of gay culture?
By censoring this, does Twitter not become complicit in the perpetuation of sex abuse in the Roman Catholic Church? At the very least, does it not become an impediment to academic inquiry and wider understanding? And by censoring Bishop Gavin Ashenden, are they not defaming him as a ‘hate preacher’? This erstwhile Chaplain-to-the-Queen has been found guilty of threatening or harassing people on the basis of their sexual orientation, and from this judgment there is no appeal; no natural justice. He must re-learn what virtue is, and what moral goods are, and only then may he resume his role in the social-media order. In the tensions of moral conflict, where compatibility is difficult if not impossible, it is orthodox Christians (and Jews and Muslims?) who are forced either to re-think their way through some painful choices, or to work out a strategy for evading these choices. Yet it is only by raising and openly debating these moral tensions and conflicts that public morality acquires an important dimension of its content. Shouldn’t Twitter be facilitating that conversation, rather than hurling ‘hate’ at every slightly contentious use of terminology?
Who reported Bishop Gavin? That’s the interesting question. Is it not preferable to take up a matter of dispute with your brother rather than run to the Twitter police and demand his suppression and restriction? What are you afraid of? Truth?