I came across yet another article on this and decided – it being Easter and all – to make one more stab at this thing.
Two pre-notes first.
One, I hold no brief for anybody who in a position of trust and authority indulges him/herself at the expense of another human being. Or for that matter, anybody who indulges him/herself at the expense of another human being – whether sexually, emotionally, economically, or otherwise.
And that definition, I think, covers just about all of us humans – since Sin (as they used to call it around here, and the Catholic Church still does) seems reliably built-into the entire human thing: despite our best intentions, we humans have a tendency to violate our own best interests or others’ rights in the indulgence of this or that urge or desire. Worse, we can make it seem (to ourselves, at least) like a good idea, like the right thing to do, or – at least – the ‘necessary’ thing to do.
We are – let’s face it – a flawed species. And it seems rather clearly to be a built-in characteristic.
Which is not a particularly new or original insight. The Catholic Church has been operating on that assumption for a little over two thousand years and still going strong and actually growing (although not in the now-declining West, where the Emptiness and Flatness of assorted Materialisms of the Right and the Left have pretty much left folks standing in quicksand and expected to be ‘optimistic’ about it).
We are faced now with this amazing tornado of Catholic Priest Pedophilia (or Sex Abuse or Molestation or what-have-you). Having blown through town in the mid-1980s, it then circled around and came back in the early 1990s, then circled around and came back in 2002, and now has circled around and come back again in 2010.
If you were a Pentagon heavy, and saw weather behaving like this, and continually hitting your positions, you wouldn’t be doing your job if you didn’t wonder if somebody with ill intentions toward your operations, organizational health, and perhaps your very existence hadn’t figured out a way to manipulate large violent weather phenomena. And no doubt the Pentagoons would call them LaVWePs or some such; perhaps even Hostile Guided LaVWePs, or HoGi-LaVWePs.
As best I can make out, either a ranking spokesman for the Church has suggested that there is – at least to some extent – a “conspiracy” against the Church or else the Western mainstream media (MSM) have adopted the conspiracy trope as their quick and easy shorthand for the latest ‘Church statement’.
Either way, you wind up with the idea that there is some smoke-filled (well, they used to be) back room where representatives of all the Church’s enemies (and their name, it has to be admitted, is Legion) are running some sort of command center for planning and executing such a conspiracy.
I don’t think so. I don’t think a ‘conspiracy’ like that could exist – there are so many ‘enemies’ with divergent agendas, and of such varied levels of competence, that I can’t see getting them all together in one room and staying on the same sheet of music and for an extended period of time.
On the other hand, this sex-abuse scandal story just keeps coming back – and we’re back to the odd behavior of the tornado again.
My thought is that this thing is a SYNERGY, not a conspiracy.
There are just a lot of forces and organizations and movements in play in the Western world nowadays who consider the Catholic Church – or perhaps the Catholic approach to life, death, sin and other things – to be a rival or – soooo much easier – an ‘enemy’.
And if an ‘enemy’, then – again, soooo easy to claim nowadays – ‘evil’. Odd how an avowedly secular West – or its elites, anyway – keep tossing the E-word around; you get the sense you’re back in the early Medieval era or worse … a condition the actual Catholic Church grew out of, after much wrack and suffering, quite a while ago; indeed, while the Church no longer tortures (even for heretical comments about the Deity) the self-proclaimed secular paradises, deputized either by God or by the Correctness of their agendas, have taken up torture with a repugnant gusto … funny how the night moves, as the songster doth say.
So back to this mysterious tornado that keeps circling around and coming back.
I make no claims about the truth (or not) of various assertions and claims, either by the Church or the cases of individual priests or by persons claiming whatever they claim however long ago it has been.
But there are factors and forces and elements surrounding the core script (you almost have to use the word nowadays) that certainly stimulate my Kick-Tire instincts.
A recent Post on the Politics Daily site tries to take a middle-of-the-road, sorta ‘balanced’ view – which is nice, but doesn’t really permit the wide-lens assessment that gives a larger picture of everything involved.
So let me share the list that seems to me necessary here.
First, the Church has always been characterizable as both ‘She’ and ‘It’. The ‘She’ is the sum of her ideals and the Good News and – she has always claimed – the divine support that constitutes her Mission in the world. This is the realm, also, where you have to acknowledge beforehand that this dimension of human striving and suffering is not the only dimension.
The ‘It’ is the organizational Church extended in Time and Space, the one that is mired in all of the same failures of faith and reason as everything else in this dimension where the human tendency to fail its own ideals taints whatever is undertaken.
In this aspect, by the way, the Church shares the same divided reality of Ideal and Actual as anything else: what nation can say that it never fails its ideals? Can it not – must it not – be said, for example, that the US holds great value for the world and for humanity because of its Ideals, enshrined in the Constitutional vision (although it has recently been declared “quaint” by assorted American elites – as they like to style themselves) and yet is so often failing in adhering to its own ideals in its actual operations?
It is always necessary to measure your own performance against your ‘ideals’ – and this is true for individuals, organizations, and nations. (It’s also essential that you have committed to some objectively good ideals, of course; there were many SS personnel and many communists who remained loyal and committed to their ideals – but that clearly isn’t enough.)
It’s also necessary that any such committed entities are liable to be judged on the quality of their ideals and on the quality of their performed faithfulness to those ideals – which nobody likes (surely not countries, as Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo indicate).
But as any old high-school debater will tell you, it’s also a pretty good rhetorical strategy: if you want to make something look bad in this incomplete and imperfect human dimension, there’s no easier and more effective way than to dig into the guaranteed gaps between the ideal and the real.
Second, there are many elements and forces and factions in the modern world that can reasonably be characterized as ‘aspiring rivals’ looking to supplant the Church’s role and status.
Simply in the domestic arena there are such rivals – earnest ones – on both the Left and the Right.
On the Left, the entire ‘secularist’ thrust seeks to remove ‘religion’ from any role in American affairs. The common term for this is ‘secularism’. And nowadays and for the past 40 years or so this was also cast as being ‘liberal’. Or at least up until very recently – when for various reasons the former ‘liberals’ suddenly felt the urgent need to separate themselves from their past decades’ worth of activity and have started calling calling themselves ‘progressive’.
But ‘secularism’ nowadays is also allied with ‘postmodernism’, and one of the most essential elements of the postmodern programme is to ‘deconstruct’ any established authority. And not simply the ‘authority’ in this dimension, but the authority that in the West has traditionally been thought to reside in another, a higher, an ideal dimension which constitutes the Ideal, and which therefore sits in judgment on the things of this world.
That higher dimension, the vision of which was developed extensively in Christianity and especially in Catholic Christianity, has for the past 40 years been a prime target of deconstruction’s adherents and cadres. It had to be: the cadres sought to clear away not only ‘traditions’ in this world but also any authority Beyond this world which would ‘judge’ and interfere with their objectives and programmes.
And the Church has always spoken against such a Flattening of all authority and Goodness, a collapsing of existence into the horizontal, 2-dimensional confines of the Actual world by the erasure of any sense of the Ideal world.
In its staunch refusal to acknowledge the Flattening ultimate authority of this-dimension, and in its constant proclamation of a Beyond that restores a Vertical 3rd-dimension – and a God Who cares and seeks the genuine fulfillment of humankind – the Church is guaranteed by political dynamics to be a target of those elements that would – on whatever pretexts of doing ‘good’ in history – Flatten humanity’s vision of the fullness of existence and thus Flatten humanity’s possibility for fulfillment as a species-community and as individuals.
So the Church was pretty much fated to be the Left’s target for the past 40 years: not only because of the Church’s influence in society and culture but also because the Church’s Ideal stood squarely in the path of the Flattening but vigorous Materialism and ‘deconstruction’ essential to the Left’s elites these past 40 Biblical years.
And of course, by refusing to admit ‘women’ into its ordained clergy, the Church was asking for the Mao-Mao (not a misspelling) treatment so widely deployed by the feministical cadres here in the past 40 years.
But the Church was also in the position of being the Right’s target, again almost ‘automatically’ so, as American politics intensified their vertiginous descent into partisan caricature in the 1980s.
The neocon Right demanded an idolatry of the nation in order to firmly establish support for its highly dubious and assaultive program of international domination – and this became exponentially worse after the fall of the USSR in 1991. Beneath the old ‘patriotic’ pieties there was a jingoist imperial agenda. And after 9-11 that intensified even more.
And the neocons could not forget the Church’s strong opposition to the spread of nuclear weapons in the early 1980s. Indeed, not even the Polish Pope, John Paul II – survivor of World War 2 and the Nazis as well as of the era of Central Europe’s Communist domination – supported the Reagan build-up or valorization of a re-ignited nuclear arms race, although that Pope’s ultimate purpose of bringing down Communism coincided clearly with Reagan’s.
But the Right in the 1980s also welded into its ‘base’ the Fundamentalist fringes of American Protestantism. And that former-fringe and now ‘base’ took the old State-as-Church fallacy latent in Henry VIII’s assumption of supreme ecclesiastical authority in his Realm and raised it to frakkulously idolatrous levels: Americans were pretty much God’s Deputies, and the US government was God’s Sheriff, and thus whatever they did was the direct will of God and – so neatly and morally crapulent – could not be judged Good or Evil by mere mortals. Indeed, once you had declared yourself to be “on a mission from God” then everything you did was by definition Good, so anyone who disagreed must – of course – be ‘Evil’.
None of these major forces in American politics were friendly to the Church. Indeed, their hostility was guaranteed: for them to ‘succeed’, the Church’s moral authority and her status in American society would have to be reduced, if not destroyed.
It was in the early 1980s, when the ‘liberal’ Congress and the neocon-fundamentalistic Executive sought ways to make common cause (‘bipartisan’ became Tip O’Neill’s mantra) that the country saw its first ominous and bizarre ‘sex mania’*: those day-care ritual satanic sex abuse trials fueled by a national hysteria whipped up by mainstream media now addicted to the soap-opera ‘clarities’ of good-vs-evil and the perennial ‘innocent victim in danger’ that Hollywood had discovered when the first silent films had evil and moustachioed older males tie nubile young women to railroad tracks with a huffing locomotive approaching from the middle-distance.
The sex-offense mania that began in 1990 – see the Note below – resulted in a second ‘priest sex abuse’ wave in the early 1990s.
Then came the 2002 re-ignition, led by the ‘Boston Globe’, which didn’t wind down for several years.
Neatly, that ‘reporting’ coincided with the post-9/11 Executive drive toward starting a bunch of wars in the Middle East and Southwest Asia (which the ‘Globe’ supported).
Now the ‘New York Times’ – owner of the ‘Globe’, by amazing coincidence – has started up another round, this time going for the Pope and the other Western European countries. And just this morning the ‘Globe’ trumpeted that – by another amazing coincidence – it has just been awarded a place among some journalism school’s list of the 10-Best Stories of the past ten years for its 2002 ‘priest sex abuse’ ‘reporting’. Perhaps all this will help the ominous decline in both papers’ subscribership.
And perhaps, as the past 40 years’ worth of Beltway** frakkery now demonstrate through their stunning bad consequences just how much damage has been done by so many baaaad ideas embraced merely for their electoral utility, it would help to distract folks from the colossal and wide-ranging failures of government by setting the old Catholic bonfires going again.
And surely, as even in their failure the most established Identities of Identity Politics are now looking to share their bounty with as much of the rest of the known world as the government’s power can reach, then the Catholic Church’s steady growth in the non-Western parts of the world (which is most of it) – especially in areas like Africa and South America where there are – wait for it! – large untapped reserves of natural resources … well, you can see where the US government wouldn’t be averse to a two-fer: pandering to its Identities while also eliminating any potential obstructions to a new and far more desperate phase of colonialism whereby ‘mature’ economies, still in possession of military power, are going to need to go ‘over there’ and take stuff from the natives all over again.***
None of which means that I am trying to pooh-pooh or ‘minimize’ such sexual abuse as has happened within the Catholic fold.
But I watched too many of the Five O’Clock follies in Saigon back in the day not to come away with a verrrry clear and distinct conviction that government Tire must always be Kicked by every intelligent Citizen.
So in the more specific matter of allegations of priestly sexual abuse I would approach any such with a few thoughts in mind.
First, the Catholic approach has always been first and foremost from the aspect of Sin: Sin is always there, built into the heart of the human endeavor, and if you adopt the rather purist and impatient Protestant approach of ripping out every vestige of ‘sin’ forthwith you are going to wind up in the position of ripping the wood planks out of your lifeboat in order to get at the wood-worms … and that type of approach is, before too long, going to put you in a rather difficult situation indeed.
And the Church is into sustaining and nurturing a multi-dimensional human societal and civilizational enterprise over the long haul (2,000 years and counting at this point).
Yes, the danger of the ‘patient’ approach is that organizational dynamics might also seep in and keep you from wanting bad things aired about your failures to perform as well as you should (sort of like Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo and ‘torture’, come to think of it).
And so if a sinner – even a priest – refuses to truly repent (which requires reforming one’s sinful behaviors) then there must be a way to deal with such persons more forcefully. (Sort of like the current US government refusing to stop ‘torture’ and all sorts of other things that many on the Left had insisted was merely the malfeasance of a few bad Republican apples that would stop as soon as the Party of Goodness once again gained the White House, come to think of it.)
But you want to give a sinner some chance to repent.
This entire approach is hell-and-gone from the Protestant and more specifically the Fundamentalist approach.
It is also hell-and-gone from the ‘revolutionary justice’ approach adopted (along with a lot of other Maoist praxis) by the revolutionaries of the Left in this country since the late Sixties.**** To both the cadres and the ‘true believers’, impatience is a virtue, since their Good intentions justify whatever they think should be done.
Thus, in many of these cases, the Church’s approach to priestly failure has been ‘patient’ – and perhaps in some cases (see the following paragraphs) too patient. But to ignore the reality of how the Church approaches sin is to leave only the more sensational and ominous (and, it has to be noted, politically useful) inference that it’s all been a ‘cover up’.
Such an imperfect and incomplete analysis is bound to fail to get at the reality.
Second, I try to keep in mind the following points:*****
- There is precious little evidence in most of these cases, except for the allegations themselves’;
- There is a disturbing problem of overbroad and vague definition: ‘rape’ (which is not the allegation in the majority of the cases) is not the same as ‘abuse’ or ‘molesting’ (which could be anything including a touch);
- The actual percentage of priests who have been accused is not so large compared to the number of priests;
- Following from that, the actual number of incidences ‘reported’ is miniscule when you figure in each priest over the past 50 years, the number of probable interactions he had with parishioners over the course of his ministry, and then divide by the number of allegations (even if you multiply the allegations by ten to compensate for non-reporting and even if you accept the overbroad definitions of ‘abuse’ and ‘molesting’);
- There have been few criminal trials where evidence can be examined; the vast majority of ‘settlements’ through civil litigation (legally advisable, perhaps, in light of the costs of defending against every allegation under the current skewed rules of evidence and statutes of limitations) do not constitute proof that any act was committed;
- Billions of dollars have been paid out – which surely gives rise to doubt as to factors beyond guilt or innocence that might drive allegations;
- The lifting of statutes of limitation, on top of the already vague and overbroad definitions, make it almost impossible to defend oneself or for any observer to establish what might really have happened;
- The mantra of what might be called ‘victimist’ jurisprudence – that no ‘pain’ should go juridically unaddressed simply because there is no evidence – is utterly and profoundly antithetical to the Constitutional and Western traditions of law as they have evolved over the course of a long hard slog from the legal swamps of Medieval heresy ‘trials’ and post-Reformation witchcraft ‘trials’.
Third, I recall just how many internal factions rend the Church in the United States. Two of the most vocal ‘Identities’ – the feminists and the gays – are eager to change things substantially.
The feminists wish to see female priests and are miffed about the Church’s position on abortion; additionally, as it would be in any case, the Church’s insistence on actual Realities that are Beyond this world places it inalterably in opposition to the radical elements at the core of the feminists' postmodern approach. And both gays and lesbians (the terms in use according to the last memo I got on the subject) are miffed at the Church’s stance in regard to same-sex sex and same-sex marriage. And the lesbians, as well, must be included among the feminists who are looking for ‘women’s ordination’.
On top of that, there are Catholic theological faculty members who want to see the Church’s lines-of-governing-authority ‘democratized’; and also are often in sympathy with the assorted discontents enumerated in the paragraph above.
And from another point of view, it has to be said that the late Pope John Paul’s insistence on appointing bishops who were doctrinally sound sacrificed, with some frequency, spiritual distinction for doctrinal ‘soundness’.
I would add that an overemphasis on doctrine, to the exclusion of a genuine spiritual vitality, would also contribute to the development of far too many clergy who would be – to use a military image – ‘garrison troops’, the parade-ready City Cohorts of the late Republic and early-Empire whose armor was always shiny and whose uniforms were always correct, but who were clearly not the Legions and didn’t really know how to use the stuff in the field.
And from another angle, there’s no doubt that a Church that has evolved an increasingly personalist pastoral approach in its priestly personnel, while simultaneously requiring that only males can be priests, sort of set itself up for some substantial reliance on gay males (even if they cannot come ‘out’).
Add to this the trip-wire atmosphere induced by feminist-victimist legal theory and the changes wrought in American jurisprudence (especially in regard to rules of evidence, presumption of innocence, and statutes of limitations) and the 20 years of what I call the Mania of sex-offense dynamics, and it’s not hard to see where things can get verrrry frakky verrrrry quickly nowadays.
These elements, any one of which should raise serious concerns, act cumulatively to substantially undermine any possibility of determining what actually did or did not happen.
While simultaneously opening the floodgates of a cash cornucopia to allegators.
I am not at all saying or trying to imply that no Catholic priests ever gravely violated their responsibilities, or that – if it can be genuinely established – they should not be criminally prosecuted and sanctioned.
But I am saying that with so many forces and elements active in this type of thing, with so many variables – some of them quite dark themselves – active in the ‘equation’, the most diligent and prudent deliberation, on the part of the public as well as on the parts of legislators, judges, agents of the government and member so of the Fourth Estate – the media – is utterly essential.
Because this type of thing will spread. A cavalier or sinister disregard of the most basic safeguards, if successful here, will then migrate to infect other areas of national life and governmental activity. Which I think can already be seen.
And as Martin Niemoller said, I let them come for this group and that group and did not speak up, and then when they came for me there was nobody left to speak up.
But I think that even Niemoller’s statement is insufficient to the present American reality. The current cohorts or generations of Americans have a responsibility to preserve the American ethos for the world, for history, and for humanity. And for the generations, surely, of Americans yet to be born.
If the Constitutional ethos, bequeathed to Americans by the Founding, is allowed to be dissolved, then a great light is going to go out of the world.
Is that what Americans of today want to have happen on our watch? That this light, as Lincoln said, shall “perish from the earth”?
*As I’ve always said, the still-expanding sex-offense mania itself, which began in 1990 – in all of its phases and sub-manifestations (of which the ‘priest sex abuse’ gambit is but a variant) – is the result of a similar blending and melding of Rightist and Leftist political agendas and objectives. Both Right and Left could unite to get rid of a powerful potential cultural and even political counter-influence to the agendas of their own ‘bases’: the neocons get rid of an antiwar influence; the Fundamentalists get rid of the Kathlik approach to understanding and proceeding-through life and history; the feminists get rid of a major obstruction to the postmodern deconstruction of ‘Capital Letter Realities’ and to their utterly essential abortion initiatives and at the same time strike a blow against ‘men’ (whom their more radical thinkers have always characterized as incorrigibly sexually violent and more or less a bane to humanity). Something for everyone! A marvel of ‘bipartisanship’.
And from the point of view of abnormal social psychology, a classic instance of the displacement of one’s own failures toward ‘children’ (abortion, latch-key parenting, frequent divorce, family dissolution, the dissolution of parental and adult authority) onto some comparatively small and ‘marginalized’ group upon whom shall be loaded all the opprobrium that is really a societal self-hate and guilt.
And of course, politically the whole thing serves to get American society used to being driven (like stampeded cattle) by ‘fear’ – the fearsomeness garishly limned in heavily-manipulated and highly-selective ‘reporting’ and ‘advocacy’ warnings and – alas – truckling legislative ‘findings’ that bear no correspondence to reality and suffer from fundamental conceptual incoherence.
**I don’t think you can talk of a two-Party system any longer. Both Parties have adopted the game-plan of pandering to Big Pain in order to maintain some form of electoral viability and, through the Dems’ inspired creation of PACs back in the early 1970s, to Big Money to collect their swag (formerly delivered at night in surreptitious bags and briefcases).
I also don’t think you can usefully talk of ‘Congress’ any longer. There is the Beltway – a now un-diselectable nomenklatura of pols, staffers, bureaucrats, lobbyists, and assorted ‘experts’ – and they are all too deep into it to back out or really change things now.
*** But of course, it will be a ‘partnership’ this time, as the Pentagoons have been burbling. Which isn’t such a new scam. The Imperial Japanese were quick to point out that their expansion throughout the Far East and Far Pacific was indeed merely a “Co-Prosperity Sphere”, just like the US’s own Greater Southwest Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere and the new ‘partnerships’ that have been unilaterally declared with Africa (the good resource-rich parts) and South America (ditto).
It’s a neat trick: any nation not wishing to be ‘partnered’ (to use the nice new verb for this sort of thing) can now be declared ‘oppressive’ of its own people and therefore ripe for the Left’s ‘humanitarian intervention’ and the Right’s ‘regime change’ at the same time. And if any members of that country’s citizens or that country’s government itself choose to resist such ‘gifts’ as having their culture ‘deconstructed’ and their resources ‘partnered’ – well, there’s always whatever’s left of the military to send in for an occupation. You see how this whole thing could get out of hand. And might develop not necessarily to the Beltways’ (or America’s) advantage. As has already been demonstrated in places where Americans have not at all “been greeted as liberators”.
****That ‘revolutionary justice’ approach is essentially premised upon the presumption that the ‘revolution’ is the only Good, and therefore nothing can be allowed to interfere, obstruct, or slow down the rush to ‘revolutionary justice’. Which, you might notice, is not so far from the Fundamentalist approach to ‘justice’ and ‘sin’: nothing can be allowed to interfere with the immediate and thorough uprooting of ‘sin/injustice’ wherever it is found. The various ‘revolutions’ of the American Left and the Fundamentalist approach are really ‘sisters under the skin’, sharing a common ruthless impatience to whatever they feel is ‘sin’ or ‘oppression’ or what-have-you.
This is not a particularly original insight here. Since the time of Marx, ‘revolutionary’ approach has been seen as some sort of eerie doppelganger of the ‘impatient’ and ‘radical’ ruthlessness latent in Christianity from its earliest times. Christ himself, as portrayed in the Gospels, advised both that if your hand committed a sin you should cut it off if you couldn’t control it while also allowing that there are times when the wise farmer must allow the tares to grow alongside the wheat until the Harvest (although Jesus expected God to be the Lord of the Harvest, whereas some Christians – most recently the Fundamentalists – declared that they themselves had been deputized by God to do the separating of the tares from the wheat, right here and now).
I’d add here that the Good Book said that if your own hand became an occasion of sin, then you should cut it off. It did NOT authorize you to go out cutting off other peoples’ hands if – in your humble opinion – they were sinners. But of course, it’s always easier to go looking around than to go looking in, as it were.
The consequences for the Constitutional ethos of ‘limited government’ and a justice based on careful analysis of valid evidence over the course of the past decades of assault from the Left (the ‘pain’ is too great to permit any obstruction – evidence be damned!) and from the Right (the government grants rights and can take them away because the government is God’s) … well, you can see that none of the ‘elites’, Left or Right, have really been interested in government and jurisprudence being ‘limited’ by such “quaint” stuff as ‘evidence’.
*****See my Post on the statistics here.