This produced responses from some other Catholic Bloggers. Emily Stimpson at Fools Folly argued:
As Catholics, we are not citizens of the Republic of The Church or employees of The Church, Incorporated. Rather, we are members of the living Body of Christ, joined together in union with our Lord. And as a part of that mystical body, all of our actions, good and bad, profoundly affect one another. Our priests and bishops sinned not just against those poor young men and their families, but against all of us. Membership in the Body of Christ, however, also means that each of us bears the responsibility of making reparations for those sins.
A similar argument was made by the author of Integrity:
Remember, folks, the Church isn't just an institution. It's also the Body of Christ, and that means you are part of it. We may not be the ones responsible for the current scandal, but we certainly aren't sinless and need purification ourselves. More than that, though, we need to realize that we have a part to play in the recovery from this specific scandal and more generally in the life of the Church and the spread of the Gospel.
I have to admit that my own initial reaction to the Cardinals’ proposal was closer to Amy’s. While there have been genuine expressions of contrition coming from some bishops, there have also been far too many efforts to shift blame to others: the media, lawyers, dissenting Catholics, gay priests, and general cultural permissiveness. An understanding of all the forces at play in this scandal does not dispense the bishops from acknowledging their personal and direct responsibility for the depth of this crisis.
At the same time, I think that Emily and Jack have raised some valid points. Those of us who have committed no overt act of abuse or concealment still have a role to play in healing the hurt caused by members of the Body of Christ. As Abraham Joshua Heschel once said of the Holocaust: “Some are guilty; all are responsible.” My ancestors may not have owned slaves, but that does not mean that I, as an American, can evade responsibility for dealing with the legacy of slavery. In a 2001 article in The New Republic (not on this topic), Leon Wieseltier wrote some words that I think are particularly appropriate to our situation:
It is not true that the moral life is lived only individually, even if acts of good or evil are the work of individuals acting together or alone. Individuals belong to groups, and it is a cost or a benefit of their belonging that they are morally implicated by their groups, which are moral agents, too. One can oppose the misdeeds of one's group, but one cannot secede from it, I mean not neatly after the fact. For this reason, I am not hurt when I am interrogated about the misdeeds of Jews or the misdeeds of Americans, because I have chosen to be known as a Jew and as an American. I understand why they are coming to me with their questions, even with their slanders. I accept that I have some explaining (or refuting or apologizing) to do. To be sure, I am not just a member of my groups, I am also an individual whom they cannot entirely reach or entirely rule; but I cannot hide behind the fact of my individuation, behind the doctrine of individual responsibility, when the going gets rough. Indeed, I could not permit myself to feel pride about the accomplishments of my people and my country if I did not require myself to feel shame about the perfidies of my people and my country. If those perfidies were not the work of my own hands, neither were those accomplishments.
I AM THE WAY: Today’s gospel reading is an excerpt from the Last Supper discourse in John, which is much longer than the descriptions of the Last Supper found in the other gospels. This discourse is Jesus’ testament, similar to those given by figures such as Moses and Joshua shortly before their deaths.
In today’s reading, Jesus is trying to reassure the disciples. They know what is likely to happen to Jesus, and they are afraid. They still do not understand the fullness of what He has been trying to tell them. They believe that if he is killed, everything will be lost and their movement destroyed. Even though they have been traveling with Jesus for a long time, they still don’t “get it.” They still believe that suffering and death are the worst things that can happen to a person.
As a Church, we’ve been traveling with Jesus for a long time too—2,000 years! Sometimes it seems that we don’t “get it” either. When leaders of the Church first began to confront the depth of the clerical abuse crisis, there was a tendency to act defensively, to assume that “scandal” was the worst thing that could happen to us. It wasn’t.
If you think that “scandal” is the worst thing that can happen to you, you’re not really walking the Way of Jesus. Because sometimes walking that Way means we’re going to be scourged, spit on, and crucified. One of the things I hope we’ve learned from recent events is that trying to avoid the via dolorosa just makes things worse. It’s better to face the truth about the yawning gap between what we are and what we’re called to be. It’s better to endure the wrath of the crowd than to make a mockery of what we say we believe.
Still think Canadians are all peaceful, gentle folk? I went to university in Montreal so I know better, but those who still cling to this stereotype should check out this post from Kathy Shaidle at Relapsed Catholic. Personally, I’ll let these guys watch my back any day of the week. Kathy also does a nice job summing up commentary on the end of the Cardinals' meeting.
Eve Tushnet believes that we should not give up hope for the redemption of priests who have committed acts of abuse: “Forgiveness doesn't mean doing nothing. It for sure doesn't mean shuffling abusers from post to post. It means giving, with charity and self-sacrifice, to men who act horribly--in other words, visiting them in prison” (My emphasis). Minute Particulars delves more deeply into the Charles Krauthammer article on cloning. Fool’s Folly comments on a bizarre case of a mother helping her healthy son to commit suicide.
Amy Welborn continues her excellent coverage and commentary on the scandal. On Wednesday she argued that what is important is not the sexual orientation of priests, but whether they are faithful to their vows. Virtually every paragraph of this post is a gem, but I particularly liked this one:
Pedophilia and sexual exploitation of teens is one thing. But we cannot get to the point in which we are trying to “weed out” priests for being human beings with all of the confusion, flaws and mystery that makes us human. I can’t, for the life of me, declare that a priest who struggles with homosexual inclinations, but is committed to living the Truth in Christ no matter what the cost, is any less “worthy” to be a priest than one who struggles with heterosexual yearnings or the urge for power or popularity. As Fr. Neuhaus said today on television, we all possess a disordered sexual nature, to some extent, because we all are burdened with the effects of original sin.
MISCELLANY: Generally, I have not found The New Republic to be particularly fair-minded in its coverage of Catholicism. But Sean Michael Winters has been writing for them recently, and his cover story on the scandal in this week’s TNR is worth reading. The following paragraph gives you a taste:
The Church's lack of credibility on questions of sexual ethics is especially disheartening because the Church has a lot to say to a culture in which sexuality is dehumanized, commodified, and generally seen as less than the beautiful thing the Catholic Church's best theology insists it is. It is more than a little ironic that a culture awash in images of underage sexuality--the same culture that gave Oscars to American Beauty and where Britney Spears albums go multi-platinum--is now struck with horror at the revelation of priestly molestation. The irony, however, is grim. When the Church is most needed to remind our culture that sexuality can and should be humanizing, a giving of self in freedom and love, a participation in God's ongoing creative work, the Church instead finds itself in court.
THE GREAT COMMISSION: Today’s gospel reading is from Mark and contains his version of the Great Commission: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.” This passage, and others like it in the Gospels, is the basis of the Church’s commitment to evangelize, the mission of helping people to know God's love, become Jesus' followers, and serve as members of His Church.
Some Catholics have a negative reaction to the word “evangelization,” perhaps because they associate it with aggressive proselytizing. Many of us have had the experience of being cornered by someone who wants to know whether Jesus Christ is our “personal savior.” To me, this has always sounded a bit too much like “personal banker,” and so I am wont to reply: “Well I usually let Saint Anthony handle my account, but I can get the Big Guy on the phone when I need to.”
Evangelization is part of the “job description” of being a Catholic Christian. It is as important as the other aspects of our faith: prayer, the mass, the sacraments, reading scripture, works of charity and justice. Our faith is a great gift that we are obligated to share with others.
This doesn’t mean, of course, that we should all pick up a Bible and head down to the Town Square to preach at the top of our lungs. Saint Francis of Assisi once said: “Preach the Gospel ceaselessly. If necessary, use words.” Often, the most effective evangelists don’t have to say very much. Their lives become their testimony. People ask “What is it about this person? What do they have? How can I get some?”
In my own parish, we’ve developed a strategic plan for evangelization. One of the first things we realized is that we have to evangelize ourselves before we can evangelize others. We have to transform ourselves from “once a week” Catholics to people who are so enthusiastic about our faith that we want to share it with others.
That can be a hard sell right now. With all the revelations about sexual abuse, many Catholics aren’t feeling very enthusiastic about their faith. We’d almost feel embarrassed about trying to get anyone to join up.
On the other hand, maybe this is a good time to ask ourselves why we’re here. What keeps us coming back every Sunday? Is it just part of our routine? Do we think it’s good for the kids? Or is there something here that we can’t live without? If so, we need to grab onto that, even if it’s only an ember. Grab onto it and blow a little. Don’t be surprised if it starts a fire burning in your heart.
DID THEY GO FAR ENOUGH? It’s hard to know how to react to the proposed policies that came out of the meetings between the American cardinals and the Pope. As expected, the language of the proposals is vague enough that most of the hard decisions will have to be addressed by the U.S Bishops when they meet in June.
There are clearly differences between the cardinals over the issue of a “one strike” policy that would remove a priest from active ministry—or even dismiss him from the priesthood—based on a single substantiated allegation of abuse. The language of the proposal is vague, endorsing dismissal in cases where the priest has become “notorious and is guilty of the serial, predatory sexual abuse of minors,” but allowing for more flexibility in other cases. It is also unclear to what extent any policy implemented by the Bishops’ conference would be implemented in all dioceses, or whether Bishops would still retain significant local flexibility.
I don’t find myself particularly disappointed by the statement because I didn’t expect it to be very specific. This is not a problem that is going to be solved by Roman fiat. One thing I would have liked to have seen is a strong statement that local bishops would be expected to implement the recommendations of the national conference. The Vatican has generally defended the autonomy of bishops and sought to limit encroachments on that autonomy by national bishop’s conferences. There may be good reasons for that policy, but this situation clearly calls for a different response.
The proposed policies themselves are almost too vague to venture an opinion. Just what does the word “notorious” mean anyway? Does it always imply serial abuse, or can a single case of abuse become “notorious?” How about two cases? Is that serial? I’m assuming the word means more than merely causing embarrassment to the Church.
Personally, I find myself torn on the issue of a “one strike” policy. As a parent, at a very gut, primeval, pre-rational level, I don’t want someone who has done something like this around my kids, or anyone else’s. I know that some of the research suggests that abusers of adolescents can be successfully treated and be at very low risk of recidivism. I’d really like to believe that is true. But would I feel comfortable letting my kid be an altar server for that priest? I’m not sure I would. Maybe that says something about me, but I suspect a lot of parents would feel the same way. And would I be angry if a priest with a record was assigned to my parish and we were never told? Damn right I would.
On the other hand, what about a guy who did something 30 years ago but has had a clean slate ever since? Maybe Mike Novak is right that things were a little fast and loose in the early 70s and a lot of people lost their heads (I’m too young to remember so I’ll have to take his word for it). As a Christian, I have to believe that people are capable of change. It’s part of the job description.
But too much “flexibility,” too much “discretion,” and we’ve got the same problem we’ve got right now. A lot of us who sit in the pews just don’t trust the Bishops to protect our kids anymore, not without someone looking over their shoulders. It’s sad, but it’s true. There may need to be some kind of external auditing to ensure that whatever policies are ultimately adopted are actually implemented. It’s not a perfect solution (c.f. Enron), but it’s a step forward. Trust has been lost. It’s going to be a while before we get it back.
I think it was in the early 1980’s that I met a fellow Jesuit at a conference on liberation theology and philosophy. As I recall, we were discussing a book I had written, Following Christ in a Consumer Society. He liked its political and cultural analysis, but found my emphasis on the vows, especially chastity, outdated. “Come on; it’s the 1980’s. It doesn’t bother me if a priest sleeps around now and then.” I told him he ought to get out of the priesthood. In fact, although my memory may be more courageous than the reality, I remember saying, “You’re a menace.” We parted amicably, I guess, and he eventually did leave the Jesuits, but my anger over this incident lingered with me a long time.
This week’s Commonweal contains a well-balanced look at the sexual abuse crisis written by Peter Steinfels, who writes the Beliefs column for the New York Times. While acknowledging the gravity of the crimes that have come to light, Steinfels thinks that it is important to realize that the vast majority of the cases cover behavior that occurred “fifteen, twenty-five, thirty or more years ago.”
So while the past sins and crimes of priest molesters and the delinquencies of church authorities cannot be set aside as though they had nothing to tell us, it is flatly irresponsible to assume without examination that the situation is the same today as it was, say, a decade ago or a quarter century ago. It is irresponsible to skirt that examination out of anger or carelessness—or because undertaking it would weaken a brief for reform or unduly complicate a dramatic narrative. It is irresponsible to concerned parents, dismayed Catholics, innocent priests, and quite simply to truth itself.
Steinfels notes that a number of dioceses have implemented many of the most likely reforms: “one strike” policies, lay review boards, etc. But efforts by the U.S. Bishops to implement these policies nationally have run up against the local autonomy that bishops have traditionally enjoyed. Until recently, Vatican officials were among the strongest defenders of such autonomy and had taken steps to rein in the authority of national bishop’s conferences. This may be about to change, at least with regard to this issue.
The National Catholic Register has an editorial that argues that the current crisis in the Church is not a product of Vatican II, but of a misunderstanding of what the Council actually said. The National Catholic Reporter has a cover story about Jerry Levin, a former CNN reporter who was kidnapped by Hezbollah in Lebanon and now works with Pax Christi to bring peace to the Middle East.
GROUND ZERO: I received a stunning aerial reconnaissance photograph of Ground Zero in New York. Note to anyone seeking to exploit this event to advance their particular cause: don’t, okay? Just don’t.
JUDGMENT: Today’s reading from John’s Gospel is Jesus’ final public statement before His passion. After this, Jesus will speak to His disciples at the Last Supper, and speak a few words at His trial. But this is his final testament to the crowd.
We can feel the anguish in Jesus. Despite the many signs He has performed and the powerful words that he has spoken, so many still do not believe. But Jesus does not forsake them. “If anyone hears my words and does not observe them, I do not condemn him, for I did not come to condemn the world but to save it.”
But there are consequences, too. “Whoever rejects me and does not accept my words has something to judge him: the word that I spoke, it will condemn him on the last day.” We are responsible for what we have done with the freedom that we have been given. We live our lives under judgment.
Many of us grew up in fear of that judgment. We envisioned God as soon sort of spiritual accountant, keeping careful tally of our sins. If our balance was in the red, then we would be consigned to everlasting darkness.
In his book, The Great Divorce, C.S.Lewis sketched a slightly different vision of what awaited us in the hereafter. A group of disgruntled residents of Hell take a bus ride to Heaven. They are free to explore and, if they like, to stay. But they find aspects of Heaven uncomfortable, even painful. They are still holding on to “baggage” from their earthly lives that prevents them from embracing the gift of Heaven. In the end, most of them choose to return to Hell rather than undergo the purgation that life in Heaven would require of them.
I suspect that academic theologians would take issue with some aspects of Lewis’ narrative. But it contains an important truth. How we live our lives prepares us—or fails to prepare us—for life with God. Rather than a spiritual accountant, we should see Jesus as the Divine Physician, urging us to cut the “fat” out of our lives before we do some permanent damage.
CATHOLIC BLOGGERS HIT THE BIG TIME:Amy Welborn (In Between Naps) and Kathy Shaidle (Relapsed Catholic) were mentioned yesterday in Howard Kurtz’s “Media Notes” column in the Washington Post as well as an article on the MSNBC web site. Let’s hear it for Amy and Kathy! Don’t forget all the little people now that you’ve hit the big time…
KRAUTHAMMER ON CLONING: I’ve written a number of things about cloning over the past couple of weeks. But nothing I’ve written is as well written or as well argued as this article by Charles Krauthammer in this week’s New Republic. Which is, of course, why he writes a nationally syndicated newspaper column and I write for…uh…Sursum Corda. Check it out.
THE ANNOINTED ONE: Today’s gospel reading from John recounts the last major confrontation between Jesus and the Jewish authorities prior to the events of His passion. Throughout the Gospel of John, Jesus has avoided directly answering the question “Are you the Messiah?” He has spoken of Himself as the Son, as the Good Shepherd, the Bread of Life. In today’s reading, the Jewish leaders demand “How long are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah tell us plainly.” Jesus replies “I told you and you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify to me.”
Why is Jesus so reluctant to claim the title of Messiah? Although it would be presumptuous to claim that we can know the mind of the Lord on this matter, it is not hard to imagine why Jesus would want to be cautious. Under the boot of Roman oppression, messianic fervor among the Jewish people of Palestine had grown strong. Many were interpreting the ancient prophecies in the light of their current situation. They expected a Messiah who would be a military leader, someone who would unite the people, cast out the hated Romans, and reestablish a kingdom governed by the Mosaic law. There was a growing belief that a decisive point in Israel’s history would soon be reached.
His words in John’s Gospel (indeed, all the Gospels) suggest that Jesus shared this belief and that He also believed that He was the person in which Israel’s hopes would find fulfillment. But it seems clear that His vision of the Messiah differed markedly from many of His contemporaries. Jesus believed that it was the task of the Messiah to suffer and die, to bear the sins of Israel and thus clear the way for the dawn of a new age, the Reign of God. Rather than simply claiming the title “Messiah,” Jesus may have wanted to lead the people to a better understanding of who the Messiah was and what He was here to accomplish.
I must say I see this problem very differently from these commentators. The issue is (or should be) behavior, not orientation. I certainly concur that seminarians, whether heterosexual or homosexual, who are unable to live a life of sexual chastity should not be ordained. But I have still not seen a compelling argument why a homosexual orientation, per se, should be a bar to ordination.
Dreher, Micheal Rose, and others argue that a culture of homosexuality is pervasive in many seminaries and that this has undermined the practice of celibacy. It seems also to have led, as Michael Dubruiel’s reflections on his own seminary experience make clear, to a culture of institutionalized sexual harassment. I am not in a position to dispute this description; Dubruiel’s stories (check his April 15 archive if the link doesn’t work) are particularly compelling. There is clearly a problem in many Catholic seminaries that needs to be addressed.
Here is where I part company from some of the other commentators. I don’t believe that denying homosexual men admission to seminary, or removing homosexual priests from faculty positions, is the only way to solve this problem. I have spent the balance of my career working for medium and large-sized organizations in both the private and public sector. Every single one had a written sexual harassment policy that covered both peer-to-peer harassment and supervisor-subordinate harassment. In all of these organizations, every member of the staff received a copy of the policy and, in some organizations, was required to sign a form stating that he or she had read the policy. Supervisors received additional training in how to handle complaints brought to their attention. All of the organizations had procedures for filing complaints in situations where the supervisor was the harasser.
Have these policies completely solved the problem of sexual harassment in the American workplace? No. But they have certainly helped. Having a clear set of rules and procedures makes it easier to deal with the problem. Some complain that interactions between men and women in the workplace are less “relaxed” than they used to be. That may be true, but it doesn’t worry me greatly. I’m running a business here, not a singles bar. If you want to “relax” do it on your own time.
So how would I solve the problems described by Dreher, Rose, and Dubruiel? Every new seminarian would be given the following speech upon admission:
As a candidate for the priesthood, we expect you to live a life of sexual chastity. If you feel you aren’t up to that, this is not the place for you. We enforce this rule among your fellow seminarians, and among the faculty. If you are sexually harassed or propositioned by one of your fellow seminarians, or a faculty member, we want to hear about it immediately. If for some reason you feel uncomfortable bringing your complaint to someone within the seminary structure, there is an ombudsman in the chancery office whose job it is to receive such complaints and investigate them. If for some reason you feel uncomfortable bringing your complaint to him, there is a similar ombudsman employed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Any questions?
The argument that we should not admit homosexual men into seminaries for their own protection has been heard before. It was what we used to say about women taking occupations predominantly held by men (e.g. police, firefighter, armed forces, heavy manufacturing, etc.). Sexual harassment was a serious problem. But over time, managers have found that a firm policy on sexual harassment can gradually change the internal culture of their organizations. I don’t see any reason why the same approach could not work for seminaries.
I suspect that some of my readers are going to call me naïve. But is it any more naïve to believe—as Dreher suggests—that the Vatican is going to personally take charge of cleaning up seminaries in the United States? That is certainly not going to happen. The U.S. Bishops have created this mess and Rome is certainly going to insist that they clean it up. But if the Bishops aren’t capable of implementing the fairly straightforward policy that I outlined above, what would make anyone believe that they would be capable of implementing the more radical steps that Dreher and others would like to see?
I LAY DOWN MY LIFE: Today’s reading from the tenth chapter of John comes immediately after the healing of the blind man in Chapter 9. This healing angers the Pharisees, who believe it is a trick. When the man insists that he was born blind and that Jesus must therefore be from God, they become even angrier and expel him from the synagogue.
Jesus’ words in Chapter 10 are meant to contrast himself, “the Good Shepherd,” with the “hired men” who run away to save themselves when the wolves threaten. A good shepherd must be willing to lay down his life for the sheep.
There are many ways to die, of course, and the kind of death that Jesus is asking of the Pharisees is not the kind of death that Jesus himself will be called upon to die. He is asking them to die to pride, to selfishness, to concern with power and position. It is all of these that blind the Pharisees to the truth about Jesus. Because of that blindness, they expel one of their own flock, whose welfare should be uppermost in their minds.
The image of the ‘good shepherd’ is one that is often used to describe the role of Bishops in the Church. The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church issued by the Second Vatican Council (often known by its Latin name Lumen Gentium) says that a Bishop “should keep before his eyes the example of the Good Shepherd , who came not to be served but to serve (Mt 20:28;Mk 10:45) and to lay down his life for his sheep (Jn 10:11).”
Much of the anger that is found among Catholic laypeople right now is rooted in a belief that some of our Bishops failed in this essential mission. Many are convinced that when the ‘wolves’ came, these Bishops were more concerned with protecting themselves than protecting their ‘flock.’
Are our Bishops willing to lay down their lives for us? I am not speaking of physical death, but I am speaking of a willingness—if it becomes necessary— to lay down their ecclesiastical lives, to resign their offices and to embark on a journey of penance. Such a course may not be appropriate in all cases. But today’s gospel suggests that Jesus’ authority to teach was linked to His willingness to die for those who followed Him. Can we expect less of those who would teach in His name?