Saturday, May 29, 2010


More on this Catholic priest thing. Why? It’s amazing to watch this thing keep going, with so many commentators tossing whatever they happen to have handy in the hopes that something will stick. And yet it is presented by ‘The New York Times’ and its corporate subsidiaries with all the breathless solemnity of ‘serious’ stuff.

Carroll has a full-page piece. He’s basically running the plan of claiming that all the priestly abuse and all the ‘cover up’ is due to priestly celibacy (and an old-boy network that also comes back to ‘men’, not to put too fine a point on it).

In this approach he dovetails nicely with Garry Wills, about whom I recently Posted. Although, Wills goes after the Papacy and the entire concept of a hierarchy and a clergy (at least a male clergy) as being late add-ons to a fancied original layperson’s church nicely called “the people of God”.

But they both join the ‘liberal’ siege that is seeking to neutralize the Church’s credibility and stature as a moral force, either through sex-abuse (cases now either very old or diminishing in number), hierarchical cover-up reaching up to the Papacy itself (opening the path to a ‘democratic’ – and thus more ‘liberal’? – Church), maleness (opening the way for women to be ordained and become bishops and even Pope), or – not quite coherently – abolishing the Papacy and the hierarchical priesthood itself (what will that do to all the ordainment opportunities for women?).

I sort of get a sense of déjà-vu: the old Tailhook game-plan now run against the Church, presumably with as much success as – alas – it had with the Navy and the Pentagon. The Church, though, appears to have a bit more backbone than the Admirals and assorted pols, and perhaps enough intellectual chops to see that the proposed utopia of Postmodern Ascendancy has more than a coupla downsides.

Which resistance is not having a good effect on the ‘liberals’’ blood-pressure at all.

Carroll is going for the idea that if the Church got rid of clerical celibacy then there wouldn’t have been all the sex-abuse.

Of course, you first have to remind yourself that the ‘abuse’ has been defined to include anything from a touch to outright rape, with an awful lot of the claims at the lower end of that spectrum, and with almost all of the allegations never subjected to the inquiry of a trial (even as the trial process has been skewed in favor of allegators in the Age of Sex Mania).

But beyond that, I’d need to know if the existence of sexual abuse is less among married clergy.

That’s an utterly necessary bit of information to have before you can start assessing the dump-celibacy (or dump-men) plan. But it’s a tough one, since – by amazing coincidence – the marquis media investigative resources have never done any sustained and effective looking into the question.

Anglican clergy? Protestant clergy? Fundamentalist clergy? Mormon clergy? Jewish clergy? Where either the male or the female is the ordained member?

Surely the sex-offense movement’s rather shrewdly underplayed information is that when you actually look at the numbers, more than 90 percent of the sexual abuse of children takes place in the family setting. And that the stranger-man so favored in media reports constitutes less than 5 percent of the instances. Marriage doesn’t seem to have the effect that Carroll presumes it to have.

Nor do I say here that the clergyman is a ‘stranger’; but then I would want to know if Catholic priests are relatively more frequent or less frequent offenders (when they actually do offend) than clergy of other faith-groups. And that too is a rather vital piece of the puzzle that the marquis reporting media haven’t really discussed.

This is not an attempt to ‘minimize’ by trying the ‘everybody does it’ gambit; but if Carroll is going to pin everything on ‘celibacy’ (and ‘men’ to a lesser extent) then answers to these questions are essential.

He stakes a lot on his own experiences as a seminarian and priest for some years.

He himself left, he says, because he wanted to be a writer and he felt he couldn’t exercise the freedom to do that while a priest. He’s probably onto something there: large organizations don’t usually allow their official representatives or employees an unlimited latitude for freedom of expression. It’s sort of built into the organizational – even the ‘team’ – dynamic, and is clear in corporate and military settings as well as in political and even academic settings.

But he also reports on the substantial amount of immaturity – emotional, psychological, as well as sexual – among the Catholic clergy as he experienced them.

And I think he’s on to something there.

The Church made a choice for an unmarried clergy in the 12th century. There were organizational and strategic reasons for that. Organizationally, married priests died, for example, leaving wives or concubines and even children to be supported and there arose questions of what belonged to the priest’s ‘estate’ and what belonged to the Church (did the widow or relicts have a legal claim upon the parish property?).

Strategically, the Church in the various nascent monarchies of a Europe recovering from the Dark Ages, was looking to protect not only its spiritual integrity and authority (fearing what ultimately took place in Henry VIII’s England) but also the physical infrastructure of parishes and bishoprics and so forth.

And in suppressing the pre-Reformation agitations of dissenting sects (the Cathari and Albigensians, most notably) as well as in looking at the diplomatic and military professionalization going on in the developing monarchies, the Church leadership saw the possibility of having a corps of professional dedicated agents in the form of a celibate priesthood.

It was that or allow a slide toward priests becoming employees of the nascent monarchies (as happened in Henry VIII’s England, most notably) or simply popular local tribunes, chained to local popular whims theological, social, political and otherwise.

And, of course, if you were married – and marriage being such a significant and profound sacrament – then your first responsibility in life had to be to your family and not to God and the folks assigned to your care. (Which is why the military for so long preferred unmarried folks and was not ‘family-oriented’. I clearly recall an episode in the first season of the ‘Star Trek’ TV show (the one with Kirk and Spock and the gang) where two officers on the ship (a male and a female; the show wasn’t TOO far ahead of the times) are going to get married; suddenly the Battle-Stations alarm goes off as an enemy vessel is sighted; the betrothed immediately rush … to find each other for re-assuring hugs. Thank God this is science fiction, I said to myself.)

But there was a spiritual dimension to it as well. Carroll rightly looks to the original deformation – to remain in the spirit of his analysis – that took place in the early centuries of Christianity when certain North African Christians took to the deserts to live a life of almost complete withdrawal from the life of this world, the better to conduct a vital relationship with the Divine, unhindered and undistracted in their pursuit of the soul’s excellence by the needs of societal living and even of the body itself.

Their idea was something akin to naval life: you stripped down the vessel so that it carried only those things essential to the mission of the warship. You lived your life as focused on the Mission of conforming yourself to a relationship with the Divine as a naval officer at sea lived his life conformed utterly to the needs of the Mission (you see a robust echo of this in “Master and Commander” Jack Aubrey’s overriding dedication to ‘the needs of the Service’, which so exasperated his friend, the scientist (and, in the books, government intelligence agent), Dr. Stephen Maturin).

This strand resembles the insight underlying Noh plays: you strip down the inessentials, thus acutely refining and intensifying the spirit to fit into the most core essentials in the script-action and in the performance. (Alhough there then developed Kabuki for those who weren't up to the challenges of performing or watching Noh - but I'm not going to draw the analogy out that far: because in the Church, and certianly as reaffirmed in the Second Vatican Council, 'lay life' wasn't seen as merely a 'watered-down' version of genuine Christianity suitable for 'lesser' minds, souls and lives - rather, the lay life was in itself a mode of the Divine life expressing Itself in life and history and human affairs.)

There was a significant weakness in this desert hermit approach: not everyone baptized into the Church community was going to be living as a desert hermit. And the Church saw her mission as not only to provide a matrix for desert hermitry, but also for all of those human beings who still wished to carry on a life of more conventional (not to say less-spiritual or less morally valuable) societal participation, marrying, raising families, and earning a living through which sustenance could be provided for same.

The hermits, let’s face it, took a dim view of ‘the body’ and of Matter (as opposed to Spirit) generally. To them, all of that was ‘the world’ and it was the playground of the Devil. And especially sex, which the hermits rather vividly – and perhaps acutely – perceived as capable of raising one hell of a mess with one’s concentration and one’s life. Few adolescent boys of any era (girls too, in their way) could disagree with that concern.

The trouble with sex was that it is not only a human capability, but is one of the most primal evolutionary* fundaments of the human being, and in each individual self, it was a remarkably powerful element of ‘motivation’. This, we now know, wasn’t surprising: the first thing Nature seeks to ensure in a species it that it will be able to reproduce itself and raise its young to continue the cycle of birth, life, and death.

But in the Church’s (and hence the West’s) view, the human being also possessed a ‘soul’, something that kept going after death, something that (as we now know) maintained personal identity even as all the cells in the body replaced themselves in the space of multi-year cycles throughout life.**

And the problem arose of how to integrate the human’s primal evolutionary sexual urge into the advanced life of being possessed not only of Material (physical, bodily) existence but some form of non-Material, spiritual (metaphysical) existence as well.

Scripture was not definitive. There are two Creation accounts, one which emphasizes procreation and one which seems to indicate that God created Eve so that Adam wouldn’t be all alone and lonely. Nor does Scripture apologize for the bald duality in its text.

Is sex for ‘having kids’ or for ‘relationship’? Or for both? (Or, as in today’s hook-up culture, the gift of the past 40 years, is it for ‘personal fulfillment’ or for ‘stress relief’ or for ‘health’ or for laffs?)

And in any case, then, how integrate it into a general balance among one’s human powers and potentials? Or do you just call Sex your personal equivalent of the Prime Directive and let it run your life?

You may already sense that these issues are hardly ‘quaint’ or of merely historical interest. For much of the past 40 Biblical years this country has been wrestling with the question. And taken it to new heights or depths of conceptual creativity. And political activity - or political theater, anyway.

Especially in a consumerist culture that emphasizes the immediate gratification or ‘fulfillment’ of the individual and every desire, not to be postponed or ‘repressed’ for any reason – including, some would say, responsibility to ‘children’ and succeeding generations (once quaintly known as ‘posterity’).

The Church has evolved a concept of human ‘fulfillment’ that involves a responsible use of sex (by males and females) that is tied into a complex and dynamic human reality that involves other human beings in the Present building on the experiences of humans in the Past and holding itself responsible for those humans in the Future, that posterity yet to be born. And the whole three-ring circus to be overseen by a Beyond that cared enough to guide, nurture, support and – in the widest and most constructive sense of the word – ‘judge’.

And it is a concept that requires more than a little ‘postponement of gratification’, a hallmark of maturity in psychological circles that yet affronted (and affrighted) the cocky adolescent Boomers (who, if you ask me, were given far too much too soon, not only by their doting parents but also by their government when the Democrats gave them the vote in 1972 and told them they were the cutting edge of Everything).

If materialist and consumerist America has always existed a little uneasily with the Church’s teachings, the Boomers – and especially some of the utopian paradise excitements that have riled Us during their tenure – have really got their issues with the Church. But nobody ever really said No to them; and after the domestic political experience of Vietnam they got the idea that nobody really had the authority or integrity to say No to them.

Nor have they learned to say No to themselves. To the contrary, they have erected Yes into a general philosophy of life. But one that has somehow morphed in the following generations into an instinctual (no philosophy about it) knee-jerk of Whateverrrrr.

But Carroll’s own experiences do hold some valid observations.

The downside of the Church’s 12th century plan was that if you were going to have a complex set of sacraments that would mark all of the important watershed moments in every believer’s life, dispensable only by your ordained agents, and yet you were a very large and widely dispersed organization, you were going to need a whole lot of agents.

And that would have quality-control ramifications. Where find consistently so many spiritually as well as personally mature adults, trained to ecclesiastical and sacramental competence?

In American history, especially as the pioneering immigrant Catholic flocks of the 19th century got themselves adjusted to America’s culture, the pool of candidates – raised in a misch of Catholic and ethnic tradition that then combined with American attitudes – to administer the extensive Catholic ‘establishment’ of parishes, schools, and dioceses faced a life not so far different from what is known in the military as ‘garrison life’.

It was not the life of the legions, enduring great physical hardship and danger yet experiencing the thrill of deploying self and commitment to duty squarely in the teeth of the remarkably concentrating and enlivening threat of death. Rather, life in garrison was prone to become a round of duties and formalities.

Garrison life attracts a certain type of recruit who might not have signed up for the legions. It’s just the way things are and for what it’s worth I don’t think that the simple addition of ‘women’ to the mix is going to make that much difference.

Unless, deducing from the work of the many ‘nuns’ who vitally sustained the work of the Church over decades, the female is naturally better equipped to ‘nurture’ and ‘nurse’ – which, in a way, is what the parish ministry is all about. But that – who can be surprised? – is not something that Correct thought will entertain in the present matter. Nor can I resolve it in a simple Post here.

And the garrison mentality – as opposed to the life of the legions – also brings its own insidious spiritual drawback: you get the idea that if you just get all the daily, weekly, monthly checklists checked-off, and keep the flag flying and fire the sunrise and sunset guns, then you’ve pretty much done your job and the rest of your energy is … ‘free’ (as in free-time or – in Latin – ad libitum).

So you either have to train the troops to define ‘free’ and ‘freedom’ in a way commensurate with their overall professional responsibilities, or else you’ll wind up with a 9-to-5 soldiery that, once the uniform is off, acts like just any other civilian.***

The postwar years – when the Boomers were just getting started - saw not just a loosening of cultural restraints (that had started at least as early as the 1920s, though tempered by the Depression and then World War Two) and a culture-wide settling down to a long-deserved (it was presumed) binge of peace and quiet and personal satisfaction.

It is the strength as well as the risk of the Church’s deep engagement with culture that anytime the culture ‘catches a cold’ the Church’s own human agents are going to start sneezing a little too.

And the confusing trumpet of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965)didn’t help matters, sounding in this country in the midst of the confusing mid-Sixties civil rights experience (the Voting Rights Act followed in days by the Watts riots), the Vietnam experience, Liberation Theology’s concern for ‘oppression’ and ‘social justice’, an increasingly anti-male early feminism, on top of the general confusion of both elements of the Boomers’ excitements: the groovy, druggy Summer of Love ethos and the in-your-face ‘revolution’ ethos (so vividly-modeled by Mao’s Red Guard youth cadres).

The upshot was a general loosening of the traditional strictures, evident not only in the increasing number of priests who more frequently appeared in public without their traditional black-suit garb, but also weren’t so clearly held to the old strictures that governed deportment.

But then, the idea was to get ‘beyond the garrison’, so to speak, and get out among the people. (The French had tried that with the ‘worker priest’ movement of the immediate postwar era.)

And not to be underplayed (but also not to be overplayed) were the number of priests who were either clearly unbalanced (but accepted because they seemed able to keep up appearances and go through the daily round) or were accepted into seminary far too early in their lives. And there was also a residual dynamic among some ethnic groups where you either wanted your ‘best son’ to be a priest or you gratefully sent along your ‘different’ one.

A genuine kaleidoscope of pressures, influences, dynamics, and – as ever – complex human realities.

All things considered, I’m not about to say that the Church did a worse job navigating that era in America than did the national political establishment.

But to conclude on the basis of his own experience of organizational inertia and emotional confusion that there has been a) a huge and extraordinary amount of genuine and profound sexual abuse and b) an old-boy network cover-up that clearly indicts the Church’s entire concept of i) ordaining only males and ii) requiring them to be celibate … I don’t see it.

And, frankly, I can’t see how Carroll sees it.

Nor can I imagine from certain tensions I noticed as a kid among the tremendously impressive and dedicated ‘nuns’ who taught grammar school, that there wasn’t and would not be an awful lot of old-girl dynamics in a Popess or Goddess Church.

Carroll blames Paul VI, the Pope who followed John XXIII (he who decided in 1959 to call a Council in the first place). John was a marvelous peasant (I mean that in the very best sense) who had been an Army chaplain with the Italian forces during their profoundly horrific experiences, under truly awful senior leadership, against the Austro-Hungarians in the mountains of northern Italy; he had been in the Vatican diplomatic service during the interwar years, ranging Europe as it was wracked by all the tumults of aspiring social democracy, departing monarchy, vigorous Red agitation, and nascent Fascist reaction.

And Catholics were involved on all sides of everything, or were endangered by same.

John, a large man in all senses of the world, maintained his heart and mind, possessing his soul and ministering to the soul of Europe and of humanity.

Paul was a bird-like man, physically, but no dope. He gasped, as probably any more conventional person – or responsible official – would gasp, when his boss decided to shake things up with a world-wide corporate re-evaluation. Imagine the head of GM or IBM in 1959 ordering a general world-wide re-assessment of Everything.

John died before he could guide the complex forces that he had convened. Paul found himself elected to the hot-seat; the previous Ringmaster – a true master of the life forces – had put them all in the center ring and had no doubt expected to manage what he had set in motion. Paul was a far less confident and secure Ringmaster – and the whole zoo figured that out pretty quickly.

In a way, the Church experienced what this country experienced when Lincoln, who had formulated a vision for the future and had achieved the political and personal maturity to shepherd it through, was taken away just as the War ended, but long before its objectives and achievements were solidly anchored in a national consensus.****

Paul VI's solution – decently enough – was to slow down; since navigation and even command philosophy were now uncertain for the moment, the prudent thing to do was to slow down from Warp 6, make a respectable Warp 3, and get things a little clearer.

The American idea – sharing more than a little utopian impatience with the French Jacobin and 19th-century ‘revolutionary’ mind and heart – is to kick it up to Warp 9, see what happens, and que sera sera. Wheeeee! It worked so well in the movies, and up to that point (1965) had made and kept the country an actual (if not comprehensive) Number One in the world and in history.

Carroll speaks for the Warp-9 club that considered any prudent handling of the helm to be rank incompetence, cowardice, back-lashing, foot-dragging, and probably some things a whole lot darker.

It’s not sufficient to suggest that the Warp-9 bunch have been emboldened by the past quarter-century of American Sex Offense Mania to take a swipe at the Vatican, the Papacy, the hierarchy, the celibate priesthood, and men generally.

Their own ‘liberal’ credentials and their friendliness to all things Boomer and Correct enabled them to render encouragement and credibility to all the forces within American culture and civilization, on the Left and on the Right, that would rather not live in the presence of a Beyond that might Judge.

It also occurs that there is an extra benny MIRV-ed into this whole priest sex-abuse thing: you will wind up scaring off whatever decent potential priesthood candidates there are. In either of two ways: a) they simply lose hope in the possibility of a fulfilling and worthwhile life answering the call to ministry or b) they realize that no matter how blameless a life one might lead, the sex-offense laws and the mainstream media are so skewed now that just about anybody can lodge an allegation secure in the knowledge that you can't defend yourself and they will never be held to account in law for any mischief they deliberately wreak with a false claim.

This of course will yield the tactical and strategic result of weakening the Church's ministry as numbers of available priests shrink, and perhaps even render the Church more amenable to ordaining women or simply turning over more and more 'ministry' and 'governance' to laypersons. Neat.

And here We are today.

On top of which, the forces for ‘liberalization’ have convinced themselves that ‘religion’ as in the forces that pulled off 9-11 and ‘religion’ as in the people who shoot abortion doctors are pretty much the essence of ‘religion’, and that therefore the ‘liberal’ attack upon the Church is justified and Good because it will rid the country and the world of fanaticism. Thus the ‘New Atheist’ movement, which has been inspired to ‘get active’ and join the Cause against religion-terrorism.

Although if anything is true of the garrison-mentality it’s that it isn’t dedicated (not to say ‘fanatic’) enough.*****

It's a mug's game - taking the mis-application of something and claiming that the mis-application is its essence. The Church has spent long centuries trying to tame the wildness in the most profound needs and potentials of the human reality, seeking to Shape and channel the deepest human energies rather than choking them out.

But as I've said here, that requires a certain amount of saying No, and to both the Boomer and the revolutionary cadre, being-said-No-to is the most outrageous of oppressions.

And as I’ve said in a previous Post, it’s long past the time that the Church faced up to itself and yet also to its – I’ll indulge myself here – tormentors.

There’s more than enough work and space cargoed in that comment to keep ‘liberals’ and ‘conservatives’, hierarchs and laypersons, quite usefully, constructively, and (one hopes and prays) fruitfully engaged for quite some time.

As has always been the case with the Church and with humanity and with History.


*’Evolution’ was not formulated widely as a concept until the 19th century, but while they didn’t have the word for it, or a large conceptual understanding of its dynamics, earlier generations and eras intuitively grasped the power and complexity of the sexual urge.

**This is a problem not unknown to the ancients. The 'Ship of Theseus’ problem dealt with it: if you have a ship, and you replace its original planks one by one, at what point have you replaced so many of the original planks that you no longer have the original vessel at all? Nicely, the oldest commissioned warship in the US Navy – the frigate Constitution, now berthed in Boston – has at this point in Time had just about every single piece of her replaced several times over with the possible exception of the deep keel wood; so to say that you are taking a tour of the ship that did all that great stuff in the space of a few months in the War of 1812 is to deploy a bit of imagination. (It’s still a tour well worth taking if you’re up that way.)

So too with humans then: if you replace all the cells in your body every 7 or 10 years, say, then how is there still a ‘you’? (Assuming that 6 year-olds aren’t reading this Post.) What is it that keeps you You even though all the physical infrastructure present at birth has been replaced several times over at the cellular level?

Current science suggests, among other things, that a) there is a ‘mind’ or b) there isn’t anything and you’re not.

But (a) simply kicks the can down the road since you now have either a ‘something’ at your core that is not actually materially dependent on your cells or you do have something immaterial at your core – and why not call it a ‘soul’ and how can you be so sure that said ‘soul’ isn’t configured as the Church has always taught?

And (b) simply erases you as an individual extended in Time. And, by the by, raises all hell with the Constitutional vision of the individual person as Citizen. That is to say: if You today aren’t the same entity carrying your name and wearing your clothes that existed yesterday, and that You today aren’t the same entity that will be carrying your name and wearing your clothes tomorrow, then ‘You’ as a Constitutionally protected (and responsible) entity are merely a momentary flicker and could hardly have any ‘rights’; You are not sustained and are not sustainable as an individual being. Whatcha think about that?

I sit back sometimes and wonder if this is the type of stuff that they assure each other is ‘knowledge’ at elite Beltway and academic dinner parties, as the Chardonnay and Kool-Aid rain down like a tasteful and tasty flood.

***Let’s not even get into the fact that this, indeed, is precisely what the national approach to military life is sliding into.

****Contrary to current Advocacy thinking, I don’t think it’s first and foremost a matter of getting your ‘vision’ enacted into law, so as to force everybody to go along with you. Rather, the hard path of consensus-building, at which Lincoln was a patient and sober master, is the only way to profoundly change a democracy without ripping it off its foundations. Alas, in 1965 and subsequently, the vote-addled pols chose the low-road, the easier way, and We are hugely the worse for it as a national Community with a national Idea … meaning that We The People at this point have neither.

*****I don’t want to limit my vision of things to the somewhat military garrison-legion image, helpful as it is. If you imagine the parish priest as a ‘farmer’ in the best sense of that vocation, then surely that is a powerful image through which to imagine a disciplined dedication to assisting Life (including Spirit) that requires focus, concentration, competence, and unremitting effort in order to remain an efficacious servant of the Great Process of God’s life-giving work in the world and in history.

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