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Andrew Sullivan, the Pope and…

Andrew Sullivan, at the Daily Dish, is obsessed with speculation on the stunted sexuality of abusing priests, which would probably be hard to deny, but does not dwell enough on two things:

1. Mercy and care for the children, many of whom are now adults, who were abused.
2. The system that drags its feet, protects priests in order to help them, fails to report abuse as a crime to the legal system, and then spends too much energy protecting the reputation of the Church. The Church’s reputation is better served telling the truth, admitting sin, and working for the healing of the wounders and wounded.
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Tim Hallman

posted March 25, 2010 at 10:45 pm

Whew – Sullivan comes out swinging! He’s very angry, it seems, due to the abuse of the children, the culture that perpetuates tortured gay priests, and the system that “protects” them. Maybe in another post Sullivan will propose ways for the Catholic church to provide more mercy and care for abused children/adults. But for this article, Sullivan has every reason to lash out at the church and call for the Pope’s resignation.

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posted March 25, 2010 at 11:44 pm

You should look at the posts under the series “The Pope: Drowning, not waving” and especially “Sin or Crime,” both of which I think address your second point.

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aly hawkins

posted March 25, 2010 at 11:54 pm

Scot, I think taking this single Sullivan post in isolation gives a skewed picture of his commentary on the topic. His point, I think (especially when read within the context of all his writing) is that it’s not okay for the Church ONLY to treat these abuses as sins. They are also crimes, both ecclesial and civic. Sullivan has spilled a lot of ink addressing your #2 (and will spill more, I predict) and I get the impression that his sometimes out-sized passion is stoked by his understanding of the need for #1.

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Scot McKnight

posted March 26, 2010 at 7:44 am

I’ve read all of his posts; I don’t think there’s enough focus on the children or on the system. There’s too much focus on getting the pope etc to resign.
The best way to make changes here is to get journalists to tell the story of the children and now adults who have been abused. The worst thing to do is to call for resignations.

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posted March 26, 2010 at 8:57 am

So get the pope to resign and get rid of mandatory celibacy for priests is Sullivan’s solution?
While I would be in favor of the former in light of his office being the one responsible for how many of these cases were mishandled, I have a difficult time seeing mandatory celibacy as a root cause. If this is the case why is sexual abuse so prevalent in public schools and homes in our communities? The assumption on Sullivan’s (and other’s) part is that because we’re such sexual beings, then to not have sex is to somehow not be a healthy human being. Correlation is not causation. If someone is abusing children, what makes us think that them getting married is going to end the abuse? I think it would more likely transfer the dysfunctions to a marriage bed though they would manifest themselves differently.
I’m still convinced that the issue isn’t the system, it’s the people in the system being willing to report and deal with sin/crime as it comes up and work to prevent it from happening in the first place. Actually following through on what the system teaches and preaches.

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Bob Smietana

posted March 26, 2010 at 9:52 am

Have you seen the piece by John Allen at the National Catholic Reporter –
Allen says that in 2001, then Cardinal Ratzinger began to collect and read the files on all the abuse cases, and that he had basically a conversion experience on the issue, and began a campaign to drive abusers out of the church — something he had not done in the past.

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posted March 26, 2010 at 9:58 am

“The system?” “The reputation of the Church?” Part of the problem is that we accept the current “given” that the church is an organization, rather than a movement of the people of god. The sins of those in a movement can be addressed by those around them. The sins of those in an organization are typically addressed within the frame of reference of the reputation of the organization.

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posted March 26, 2010 at 10:21 am

I don’t disagree with you, Scot, but isn’t the “stunted sexuality of …priests” part of the “system” that needs to be addressed?

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posted March 26, 2010 at 11:19 am

@ Bob 6
Thanks for that link. It helps round out my perspective on Pope Benedict and back away from my comment earlier. It helps to see that now that he is in a higher position of authority he is taking steps toward disciplining those responsible.

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Phil Atley

posted March 26, 2010 at 12:39 pm

This is an orchestrated campaign to undermine Benedict XVI on other issues. The monster in the Milwaukee case was Archbishop Rembert Weakland, who sat on this case for decades. Weakland himself was an abuser and a scoundrel about whom many of us complained for decades. The case did not reach the CDF until 1996.
Sins and errors abound in this case and in many, many others. But if you cannot see that the present hue and cry was raised by the trial lawyers and jumped on by people like Sullivan with an axe to grind, then you are not a critical consumer of news. And that’s frightening because there’s a lot of people out there trying to spin us in all sorts of directions and one needs a critical sense to sniff out when one is being bamboozled.
This is significant because false allegations are going to become more and more common. One of the reasons John Paul II did not take accusations of this sort as seriously as Cardinal Ratzinger did at the CDF was that false allegations were routine in Communist Eastern Europe. Until recently we could assume that a critical press would evaluate accusations and sort out the meritless ones from the ones with “legs.” It has always beent he case the accusations made against certain groups are taken uncritically by mainstream journalists because the allegations conform to their own prejudices. The difference today is the post-Christian shift means that allegations against Christians are increasingly treated uncritically.
Paraphrasing Martin Niemoeller’s comment: when they came for the Catholics, I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Catholic. When they came for the Fundamentalists, I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t one of those. When they came for the Sarah Palins, I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t one of those, you know, icky uncouth boors from the boondocks. When they came for the Evangelicals, I didn’t speak up because, well, you know, I’m an Emerger.
And then they came for me.
The only way to keep them from coming after me is to avoid offending them. That’s how people’s souls get sold.
I repeat, there are plenty of sins, evil, monstrous sins, committed by Catholics, that should be denounced. But this campaign against Benedict is an artificial construct that would be easy to spot if people had their critical analysis caps on.
A fundamental mistrust of what the NYTimes chooses to highlight would be a basic critical analysis rule of thumb.
See the Archbishop of Westminster’s letter to the Times of London at

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Scott W

posted March 26, 2010 at 12:58 pm

Andrew Sullivan’s portrait of the psycho-sexual dynamics at play in Catholic priest offenders that is at the bottom of the American Catholic Clergy Scandal is in line with the findings of the major study commissioned by the Catholic Church on this issue. Just throw in the chaos and confusion of the Post-Vatican II era in seminaries (and the Church itself!) with what Sullivan describes and you have the makings of a disaster.
(When I was in seminary about 20 years ago, I remember reading a study published in the Journal of Pastoral Psychology of Southern Baptist clergy involved in sexual misconduct. From the respondents themselved the two most salient variables which they say contributed to their problems,psychologically speaking, were:1)lack of self knowledge, 2)inability to deal with transference issues. In others words a lack of psychological and emotional maturity was a crucial aspect of vulnerability which made ministry a dangerous vocation for them. A similar tale in a different context.)
Transmitted 03/01/2004 1:53 PM ET
Clergy sex abuse report and study mark major milestone
By Jerry Filteau
Catholic News Service
The report highlights a closed seminary environment up to the 1960s and a too-open reactive seminary environment in the 1970s as part of the institutional problem behind the crisis. In the former, future priests got little or no training to deal with questions of intimacy and sexuality, and some of those ordained were so psychosexually immature that they identified with, and acted out with, children and teenagers. In the latter, seminary faculty unequipped to cope with the sexual revolution of the 1960s and ’70s offered too little guidance to students who were part of that culture.
The review board said that whatever the ideological viewpoints of the witnesses it interviewed “all agreed that the rapidly changing (seminary) climate — from a strictly regimented atmosphere to an ‘anything goes’ atmosphere — contributed to the current crisis” by failing to form seminarians for a mature celibate commitment.
Experts say the seminaries have made major strides in screening and formation in celibacy and sexuality in the past 15 years. To the extent that sexual attacks on children by adults are part of the sinful human condition, it is inevitable that some of those adults will be found among the nation’s 45,000 Catholic priests. To the extent that conditions in society or an institution enable or contribute to such conduct, the epidemic character of priestly abuse of minors appears to have been a phenomenon of the 1960s, ’70s and early ’80s.
Issues of mandatory celibacy and homosexual orientation in the priesthood receive nuanced treatment in the review board’s report. It raises some tough questions for bishops to deal with, but it does not fall prey to the easy solutions of the left — let priests marry — or the right — ban all homosexuals.

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posted March 26, 2010 at 1:54 pm

I think the church has made major strides. I was in seminary for awhile and some iffy people got kicked out.
now as a youth minister for the catholic church there are so many rules and regulations on me and any of the staff to protect the kids.
i do like the john allen article that was posted earlier. The HS spirit certainly knew what He was doing picking Pope Benedict.

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