Tuesday, May 18, 2010


I have a backlog of subjects and material for Posts and I don’t like doing a same-subject Post immediately after I’ve already done one.

But after putting up the previous Post yesterday, the course of my reading today brought a Garry Wills article (“Forgive Not”, in ‘The New Republic’, print edition of May 27, 2010, pp. 14-16).

The article is worthwhile in a negative sort of way.

Wills starts off with the wrong dates, and portentously so: “This early in the twenty-first century, the rulers of the Catholic Church have suffered an earthquake of crumbling credibility. Nearly ten years ago …” He’s going for the long-range ‘historical vision’ here, and considering that the Church has been around for all twenty-one of those centuries, it’s not a bad thing.

But “the rulers of the Catholic Church” strikes a sort of monarchical note that does not really capture the mode of governance that operates in the Church: the Vatican does not “rule” in the sense of a monarchy in the Middle Ages or in any pre-modern era. Though surely in a democratic (such as it still is) era the term “rulers” is going to strike certain chords in any reader.

It wasn’t ten years ago but twenty-five or so that the first focus on Catholic priests surfaced, about the same time that the ‘victim’ or ‘victim-rights’ movement was picking up steam, in Reagan’s first administration, not long after the Satanic Ritual Abuse School Day Care mania had gone through its first explosive phase. My own thought is that Wills uses the shorter time-frame to avoid giving ground for a reader wondering why this thing has been going on for a quarter of a century, and to preserve a sense of the ‘freshness’ of the issue.

He is falling into line with the thrust of this 4th phase (by my count) of the Catholic Clergy Sex Abuse matter, which is to go after the Vatican, the Pope and the rest of the Church’s leadership in Rome as well as in Europe. “At first, the Vatican rejected the measures taken [in 2002] by [the US bishops’ conference ] … as not being fair to accused priests, giving too much scope to lay panels of critics, and violating the confidentiality of confessions”. This, to Wills, constitutes evidence of collusion and cover-up.

But it seems to me that the observations made in Rome were perfectly consistent and precisely the type of moderation to be expected by a reviewing authority considering measures made by more local authority in the heat of a sudden situation that had arisen somewhere in the world.

And surely, the dynamics of the evolving victimist-‘sensitive’ jurisprudence (and media treatment) were unfair to any accused. In the evolving script dynamics, a) anyone who claims to be a victim is indeed a victim; therefore b) anybody accused must be a perpetrator simply because ‘there is a victim’; and further c) a victim cannot be questioned closely or skeptically about an allegation because that would ‘revictimize’ and ‘disrespect the pain’ of said victim; but there’s no need to worry about a miscarriage of justice (civil or criminal) because d) victims don’t lie.

You don’t need a law school education to see how such a set of assumptions – utterly fundamental to victim-oriented ‘justice’ – would, regardless of their ‘good’ theoretical intent, profoundly derange Constitutional principles of ‘innocent until proven guilty’, the right to confront and examine one’s accusers, and indispensable standards of evidence.*

Wills, however, wants the Vatican comments to be evidence of something much more sinister. This is not solid historical analysis; it is selective and seeks to move readers toward one specific (and negative) view, though the supposed ‘evidence’ clearly indicates that there are other less-sinister and even more plausible explanations.

Equally so, he quotes a Cardinal (Bertone) who opined to an Italian magazine that he didn’t think it a good idea that a bishop be required to forthwith “denounce” to the police one of his priests who “admitted the offence of pedophilia” to that bishop; if a priest could not confide in his bishop then the core of the bishop-priest relationship is cut away.

Bertone is right, from a purely conceptual standpoint. Although there is enough evidence that bishops did not hold up their end of the responsibility by taking forceful action (insisting on credible therapy, removing the priest from certain ministries, or from ministry altogether, or having Rome ‘defrock’ him).

Becoming aware of that, the Vatican now has to steer an even more difficult course: beefing-up the disciplinary and preventive elements of episcopal oversight and priestly training, while simultaneously not yielding to the excesses of the reaction that Rome’s own failures have ignited.

It also strikes me that Bertone’s reference to “an offense of pedophilia” is unhappily vague. Is he referring to a priest confessing what amounts to the clinical diagnosis of pedophilia – which itself is only ‘an attraction to’ prepubescent children? Is he referring to the confession of an actual pedophilic act? Or merely to that ‘attraction’ though it has not been acted-upon? And if it has been acted upon, in what degree was the ‘act’? Or is it a sexual attraction but not to prepubescents? Acted upon or merely the ‘attraction’?

To the conventional ‘script’ as it has now evolved and mutated, this is all ‘thinking too much’ and ‘evidence’ of collusion and cover-up; but to any administrator or manager or leader of a human organization (and not just a religious one) these are significant questions that must be addressed before a constructive and efficacious corrective policy can be formulated and deployed.

Similarly Wills quotes another Cardinal (Casado), not an American, who looks at American society from the outside (rather a multicultural sort of thing) and opines that the pedophilic scandal is attributable to “exaggeration, financial exploitation, and nervousness”.

To Wills this is evidence of more high-level cover-up. But Casado’s remarks are hardly inaccurate, though not a complete assessment of the matter. That from the point of view of social psychology there is some connection between America’s embrace of abortion and a greatly reduced family life on the one hand, and a simultaneous anxiety over the safety of ‘children’; that one of American feminism’s primary foci has turned out to be the sexual activity and proclivities of males; that the ‘reform’ (actually weakening and skewing) of both civil and criminal jurisprudence (see Note 1 below) has had as one of its consequences the opening of a highly lucrative opportunity for unscrupulous litigation; that the combined authority of both media and legislators has been deployed in the service of heightening this societal anxiety (or ‘nervousness’) … these are hardly inaccurate or irrelevant observations. It’s mostly sad that Americans as a rule can’t see these dynamics as clearly as non-Americans.

(And I suppose I’d best say this now: I hold no brief for sexually abusive priests nor bishops or any managers lax in their oversight. I say this here because I noticed in victimist matters decades before the reign of Bush-Cheney, that verrry disturbing simplification to the effect that in the matter of victim-sensitivity one is either ‘with us or against us’ and that any effort to think is nothing but evidence of ‘insensitivity’. And, Wills would like everyone to think, evidence of collusion and cover-up.)

I can certainly agree to some extent with Wills when he quotes disapprovingly the opinion of the dean of canon law at the Gregorian University that “the bishop and superior (of religious orders) are neither morally nor judicially responsible for the acts committed by one of their clergy”. The service of human beings generates a strong responsibility to ensure training and oversight of those who will serve; this is as true for the Church as it is of, say, the Pentagon, when it deploys combat troops into civilian areas where non-combatants might be harmed by the actions of those troops.

And I think that in that regard the Church has not taken its responsibilities seriously enough. And to the extent that the Church is now correcting that – and has – then things are progressing at least as well as, again, the military’s efforts to fine-tune its activities in the several current war-zones. **

Another Cardinal (Maradiaga) is quoted as observing that Cardinal Bernard Law (of the Boston Archdiocese, in charge there when the 3rd phase broke out in January of 2002) was subjected to “Stalinist processes against Churchmen”. As I say in Note 1 below, the similarity of dynamics between ‘revolutionary justice’ and the methodology of feminist-victimist law cannot be ignored. Which is not a cheap shot seeking to ‘trump’ everything else, but rather is an observation that warns of the presence of dynamics highly corrosive of the Constitutional ethos and is intended to stimulate serious deliberation about what is going on and the possible consequences (unintended, one must hope).

Another Cardinal (Rodriquez) is quoted as observing that the sustained nature of the media attention amounts to “an obsession [that] is a mental illness”. From the point of view of a social-psychology analysis, it’s neither an inaccurate nor irrelevant observation.

The same Cardinal observed in a press conference that Americans have become rather litigious, using the example of suing a homeowner for slipping on a banana peel on the sidewalk in front of the house. This is hardly an original or novel observation and is almost conventional-wisdom even among Americans. As is his further observation that such litigation has become “a kind of industry” in the United States. That Wills claims this as evidence of cover-up or avoidance is a stretch indeed.

The same Cardinal then perorates that he’d rather go to jail than “harm one of my priests”. As a statement of pure principle it is unobjectionable and even impressive – surely the example of Abu Ghraib, where the ‘little people’ among the guards were offered up as scapegoats while the higher-ups escaped consequences comes to mind.

But I have to say that if any prelate in episcopal authority or in the Vatican failed to take sufficient measures in the oversight and training of his priests, then he has indeed “harmed them” as well as made possible the harm to any genuine victims of such priests. And in that I concur with Wills’s anger.

Wills then asserts that although his own book – “Papal Sins” – was published in 2000, before what I would term the 3rd phase, yet he sees now “the same patterns of denial, evasion, defensiveness, accusation, and protestations of innocence and holiness that I had already analyzed”. I have not read Wills’s book, but the quotations he marshals in this article do not with any degree of clarity establish such “patterns”.

Indeed, I am reminded of nothing so much as the ant-aggressors in T.H. White’s “Once and Future King”: preparing for a war against another nest, the ant propagandists say of their intended targets that “they are attacking us by defending themselves”. This dynamic is a key element in the victimist methodology, sad to say: if you do anything less than totally and immediately accept and approve every claim that a self-designated ‘victim’ makes, then you are somehow ‘attacking’ or ‘re-victimizing’ the victim. This simplistic equation is a recipe for democratic and Constitutional catastrophe. And it is no coincidence that White’s novelistic characterization was a reflection of Hitler’s actual propaganda as he gobbled up one neighboring country after another claiming ‘national self-defense’ and characterizing any opposition to his invasions as ‘attacks upon the German troops and people’.

But then Wills goes in another and more extraordinary direction. He claims to have been moved by reading Lord Acton’s disapproving assessment of the first Vatican Council (1870): Pius IX had used low political pressure tactics to get the Council to approve his claim of ‘papal infallibility’, Acton said, but clearly a papacy that had gotten through the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre (of the French Huguenots in 1572) and whose claims to near-imperial authority were based on forgeries (the ‘Donation of Constantine’, dating from the 8th or 9th century A.D.), “was just acting true to form”.

This gets Wills going on the idea that the Papacy itself is an “ahistorical” accretion, almost a parasite (my image, not Wills’s) that fastened itself upon genuine Christianity and upon “the people of God” (Wills’s term). In other words, there is, according to Wills, a genuine Christianity comprised of lay believers, and then there is this thing comprised of clergy and bishops and Pope that was not part of the “early history of the Christian community”. Nor, he adds, were “males the only ministers at the outset”.

I had mentioned in earlier Posts within the past month that among the ‘interests’ comprising the synergy driving the oddly sustained ‘crisis’ of Catholic clerical abuse was a congeries of primarily Western and American elements who a) want to ‘democratize’ the Church and b) want women to be ordained (as part of the feminist initiative). I had also opined that this 4th phase of the ‘crisis’ seemed even more specifically aimed at taking a big bite out of the Vatican and the Papacy itself, almost as a logical extension of the earlier phases, but more specific and, consequently, more revealing of its basic generating dynamics and objectives.

And here now is Wills’s article pretty much laying the whole thing out.

Wills recounts the history of the Papacy’s increasing monarchical trappings and power throughout the Middle Ages. He presumes that it is evidence merely of a parasitic organism’s deliberate attempts, with malice aforethought, to impose itself upon genuine and true Christianity, those “people of God”.

I would like to see more concern for the complexities of Western history after the Fall of the Roman Empire. The Bishop of Rome – now the only authority left in the City with the departure of the Imperial court – became the only temporal as well as spiritual authority in the City. And when the Western Empire collapsed, and the Byzantine Patriarch attached himself as a sort of Court Chaplain to the Eastern Emperor in Constantinople, the Bishop of Rome both became the only authority left in the West and also sought to gain some equal authority to the Patriarch of Constantinople in order to prevent the lands and peoples of the former Western Empire from simply being subsumed spiritually under the senior authority of the Patriarch and the Emperor in Constantinople.

In the process the Roman Church established itself as independent of secular and temporal authority (as the Orthodox Church in the East, as evidenced by the Russian Orthodox Church, did not do).

As the Dark Ages ended and the Middle Ages began, Western political structures began to develop into nascent monarchies, and the Papacy found itself now striving to preserve spiritual independence across a broad spectrum of grasping temporal powers. The Papacy wound up becoming something of a temporal monarchy itself in order to avoid being overrun, or being subsumed as the ‘court chaplain’ of this or that momentarily dominant monarch or ‘emperor’.

And it wound up not only remaining the fulcrum of spiritual authority but also struggling to retain itself against the temporal tumult of Medieval European politics.

You don’t operate in floods like that without getting wet – and the Papacy wound up as temporally befouled as the rest of the monarchies of the time.

But to characterize this as some sort of long-held conspiracy on the part of (pick one or several: power-hungry clerics, ‘men’, maniacs) to deprive God’s true people of their rightful authority in matters of Church governance ... that is indeed a stretch.

Indeed, absent a central fulcrum of identity, Christianity would have dissolved into the many variants that actually developed after the Protestant Reformation, including the queasy fundamentalist sects so repugnant to Wills and the ‘liberal’ interests with whom he shares such an aversion to the Vatican and the Papacy.

So his analysis here does not at all impress.

Especially when he refers, almost incoherently, to the Papacy’s “ahistorical and medieval roots”. In the first place, the Papacy is verrry much ‘historical’ and in the second place its roots go back further than the Middle Ages (although roots in the Middle Ages alone would still be a pretty hefty set of ‘historical’ credentials).

I see in Wills the feministical tendency, evident as well in Marxist thought, to see ‘history’ primarily as a ‘conspiracy’ of those currently targeted as being ‘successfully in power’; said ‘conspiracy’ to have somehow existed and been sustained and nurtured over long eons of human history. Marx actually was on to something – the natural tendency of humans to seek security but also to overdo it and greedily amass resources – but the ‘conspiracy’ bit as a fundamental driving dynamic of history was a serious derailment.

Ditto the feminist assertion of the all-powerful ‘patriarchy’ that was responsible for everything that they felt was wrong these days (and whose ‘defeat’ was, by the by, such a great achievement of the present cadres of the revolution): ‘men’ had evilly plotted and ‘oppressed’ for no reason but pure malice. (Yes, there is now a kinder, gentler branch of feminist thought that feels ‘men’ might simply have been ignorant, and will be rescued by the current cadres – but the essential presumption that ‘men’ are ‘the problem’, have always been the problem, and will continue to be the problem remains.)

This is the investigative paradigm that Wills brings to the Papacy, through the mechanism of this multi-phased, sustained ‘clergy sex abuse crisis’.

Thus he rails against “the mythical underpinnings of the priestly system”. I think he only means ‘male’ priests; I get the impression that if priests were women, his objections to ‘the priestly system’ would dissolve; perhaps also his objections to the Papacy if a woman were Pope.

He asks with an angry flourish: “What real change can occur when such myths are clung to with a blind ferocity?” I’m not sure that the Vatican is either ‘blind’ or ‘ferocious’, but certainly he has given no evidence to support such a characterization.

It is equally possible that in the Vatican they don’t quite see the value of what Wills (and his many compatriot ‘interests’) is seeking; or they don’t know if ‘revolution’ as practiced in America these past Biblical 40 years is a prudent way to go; or they realize that with the exception of the declining West the current Church structure (of which abuse is not an officially-approved component part) is doing rather well in the world; or perhaps they see what happened to the music when Protestantism deprived the orchestra of a conductor and a score and claimed that every player could play the music s/he sorta felt was best – and how THAT has worked out for ‘the people of God’.

There are many possibilities here – and Wills’s efforts to move the herd down the one path he favors smacks of manipulation.

“The reaction of the hierarchy has been to dig itself even deeper into the past”. Surely, an institution that has survived for twenty-one centuries is going to have a sense of its past. And by the same token, is going to be a little leery of those who suddenly insist that that entire ‘past’ has been nothing but an oppressive and malicious conspiracy.

The stampede game-plan worked with the vote-addled Democrats over here 40 years ago, and contributed to the deformative morphing of both Parties into the treacherous blob that the Beltway now is.

But it hasn’t worked with the Vatican and the Papacy. Which, I think, is gall and wormwood to the cadres and drives them to frenzy – and hence, partially at least, the sustained nature of this ‘crisis’ over a quarter of a century.

This is a matter not only of interest to Catholics but to Americans. Because the dynamics involved here are deeply corrosive of a deliberative politics and the Constitutional ethos.


*I have mentioned in a prior Post the statement of one Wendy Murphy, law professor and expert on ‘victim law’, who recently burbled that she was happy that a victim would not be denied ‘justice’ merely because of a lack of evidence. I am currently researching a far weightier expression of that principle by Martha Nussbaum, a top-tier philosopher of feminism, who gives clear voice to the basic feminist assertion that trials are not to establish the existence of a crime so much as to ‘provide justice’ to the (already believed) ‘victim’.

Thus, in her and feminist law’s vision, it is the outcome of the trial (punishing the already-presumed perpetrator) that must be the focus of expectation, rather than the process of ascertaining whether the defendant was indeed a perpetrator at all. In this scheme, the mere existence of the ‘victim’ is proof-positive that the crime was committed; the courts are simply there to provide official certification of that fact by deploying the sovereign police power of the state to punish the perpetrator-defendant and bring about (pick one or several: ‘justice’, ‘acknowledgement’, ‘closure’, ‘retribution’, revenge, prevention of further victimization).

Once you look at its core dynamics, it’s hard to distinguish the fundaments of ‘feminist’ and ‘victim’ law from the ‘revolutionary justice’ and ‘show trials’ of the Stalinist or Maoist or Hitlerite regimes, to name but a few more recent examples. And you don’t have to be a Pope-defender to see that either.

**In that regard, for that matter, the Church has never sent out the type of flyer to its agents that the USAAF sent to its bomber pilots during the fire-bombing campaign of Japanese cities: “for us, there are no civilians”. Nor have any priests or Church agents ever been assured, as American troops now report they were assured, that ‘command’ will ‘cover them’ if they kill civilians in the course of their actions. Thus, there has never been a Church document advising priests that it was ‘open season’ on children and they would be ‘covered’ by the Vatican if children (or anybody of any age) were sexually abused or raped in the course of ministry.

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