Academia

Scholarly Taboo

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Most articles in academic journals generate no income for either the publisher or the author. Which is one reason to be dazzled by the negative cash flow associated with a scholarly piece about pedophilia written by the ironically named Prof. Harris Mirkin. According to the Kansas City Star (a paper that once employed suspiciously macho author Ernest Hemingway), the University of Missouri-Kansas City political scientist's scribblings cost his college a cool $100,000 during last week's state budget process.

Mirkin is unfazed by such legislative rebukes, telling The New York Times today that his 1999 article for the Journal of Homosexuality "is meant to be subversive…to make people think"; among other things, the article argues that, "Though Americans consider intergenerational sex to be evil, it has been permissible or obligatory in many cultures and periods of history." The 65-year-old grandfather, says the Times, insists that incest and rape are always wrong and that priests and teachers "who touched children were abusing their authority." Yet he also worries that the current "panic over pedophilia fit[s] a pattern of public response to female sexuality and homosexuality, both of which were once considered deviant."

Mirkin's saga is, of course, an almost bizarrely comical sidelight to the ongoing scandal involving the U.S. Roman Catholic Church and ever-expanding accusations of sexual abuse by priests. While Mirkin and others are right to always worry about false accusations and social panics, what is perhaps most striking about the current scandal–besides the church hierarchy's inability to issue clear-cut, unambiguous statements on the matter–is precisely the apparent lack of false accusations. Indeed, the Catholic Church may not be the criminal organization that four RICO plaintiffs in California say it is, but by virtually all accounts so far, it is not being asked to pay for another's sins, but only its own.