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William C. Altreuter
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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Writing about the Catholic Church feels like piling on, but it seems to me that there are a few points that some people are missing. A few years back we were speaking at a conference in Salzburg where one of the other participants was a lawyer from Kentucky who'd been one of the first to successfully sue the Church for clerical abuse. He was an interesting guy, and more than a bit of zealot, and he insisted that there were documents that were going to come to light that would establish that the Vatican was deeply implicated. I doubted it, and it appears I was wrong, so here's the first thing that nobody seems to be saying: the cover-up is worse than the crime. Church apologists say stupid things like "The permissive sexual culture that prevailed everywhere, seminaries included, during the silly season of the '70s deserves a share of the blame, as does that era’s overemphasis on therapy," and you'd hardly think that reasoning like that would require critiquing, but it apparently does. So that's the second thing that needs to be pointed out: it seems to be that quite a few people think that sexual abuse is about sex. This surprises the hell out of me. Nitwits like Maureen Dowd (or her brother) pretend that pedophilia has something to do with homosexuality, and that pedophiles wouldn't abuse children if they weren't forced by the church to be celibate. Of course neither of these things are true. Sexual preference is irrelevant to child abuse, and is being dragged into the discussion by the Church's defenders as a distraction. ("If we blame the gays the rest of us will be in the clear.") The celibacy argument is likewise grotesque. Child abusers don't molest children because they haven't any other sexual outlet-- like all sex crimes sexual abuse is a crime of violence. It would be one thing if we were living in 1937-- there was certainly a time when we were more ignorant about sex than we should be today. There is no excuse for making these arguments now. Pretending that clerical sex abuse is an isolated problem, or something that could be fixed by tweaking a fairly minor rule about the domestic life of priests is ducking the question. We don't know the full scope of the issue-- it sounds like there was a big problem among the various religious orders, but mostly what we know about was taking place at parish and at the diocesan level. What is clear is that there was scienter,and that it went all the way to the top of the organization. The response has been to stonewall, and we all know how stonewalling ends.

It is not my place, or the place of anyone else, to tell a religion what its rules should be, but as it happens I do know some of the rules the Church has put out-- the Devil can quote scripture, after all. One of the rules the Catholic Church seems to have forgotten is that it's supposed to render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's. Another core principle is that acknowledging wrong must precede absolution. How come I know this stuff and the Pope doesn't seem to? Three years ago, following the resignation of Warsaw's archbishop I argued that the Catholic Church had squandered it's moral authority and asked, "What will that look like, I wonder, the collapse of the world's largest religion? The history of the Reformation doesn't really inform the question-- it was too different a world." We are, I think, closer to finding out.

| Comments:
I cannot possibly be the only person who remembers the phrase "limited hang-out". It's really tough when the major issues of our time such as war and peace and justice and caring take a way back seat to the stupidity of our Church's hierarchy. But so it is.

Meanwhile, the leadership of Jesus continues. Thank God.
 
I was trying to think of how to work "limited hang out" into the post.

I'm not so sure that the major issues of our time are taking a back seat here, and I think it is unnecessarily dismissive to say that the clerical abuse scandal that is consuming the largest organized religion in the world is anything other than a major issue. This is big, and it keeps getting bigger. Suggesting otherwise is buying into the defense.
 
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