In this blog post, I will show you Ross Douthat saying why the Catholic abuse scandal is bad news for Red Tories and Front Porchers who prize localism. But first, a word about Maureen Dowd.
Another day, yet another nitwit Dowd column about the Catholic scandal. She’s now reduced to playing the gender card:
I’ve been wondering, given the vitriolic reaction of the New York archbishop to my column defending nuns and the dismissive reaction of the Vatican to my column denouncing the church’s response to the pedophilia scandal, if they are able to take a woman’s voice seriously.
As a (liberal-ish) Catholic friend of mine puts it, “Not hers.” He points out that it’s absurd that Dowd blames sexism for the fact that intelligent Catholics don’t like her “snarling, half-baked analysis.” Ordinary people often don’t realize that in the culture of newsrooms, there’s a high wall between the editorial/op-ed page and the newsroom. The Times newsroom can’t be held responsible for the shallow, utterly unserious observations of Dowd on the church problem, but trust me, that the Times continues to publish them — her last four columns have been about the scandal — is hurting the newspaper’s credibility. I say this as a Times subscriber and as someone who has been sharply critical of the Catholic hierarchy. I expect better that Dowd’s catty, ill-informed trash-talking from the best newspaper in the world.
The Catholic NYT columnist worth listening to on this matter is, of course, Ross Douthat. On his blog today, he has a smart piece explaining why the Vatican’s flailing on scandal management is bad news for localists of all sorts. His argument is that from a managerial point of view. the Catholic crisis demonstrates the problem of localism, insofar as so many bishops, left since forever to deal with the sex abuse problem on their own, kept Rome in the dark. Ross says — and I think he’s right — that the result of this crisis will be a Catholic Church even more centrally administered from Rome, because pontiffs will not be able to trust local ordinaries to handle abuse cases properly.
The Roman example, says Ross, is a tough lesson for proponents of governmental decentralization to learn. Excerpt:
But here’s the question: is real decentralization sustainable, given the centripetal forces of mass culture, mass media and mass politics? Once you’ve established that administration can be centralized, won’t any cascade of local blunders eventually get pinned, whether by the press or the public or the legal system, on some more central authority … which in turn will try to consolidate or re-consolidate its power, on the theory that if you’re going to get the blame, you might as well have the authority as well? And doesn’t this mean that any bold attempt at decentralization will only last until the next crisis — the next Hurricane Katrina, the next financial collapse, the next sex abuse scandal?
I don’t know the answers to these questions. But so far, the experience of the Catholic Church doesn’t seem encouraging.
He’s right. Leaving theology aside, the managerial constitution of the Roman church gives the pope full universal authority over the church, but without the effective power (which includes a well-informed, professional and responsible bureaucracy) to exercise it effectively.
Incidentally, Catholic blogger Leon Podles has some thoughts along these lines, saying that modern popes are in an impossible position. It is important that readers understand that Podles excepts dogmatic pronouncements about the office of the papacy; he is making a point about the problems with church governance. Excerpt:
The modern papacy has centralized the administration of the Church. Until recently, the pope appointed only a minority of bishops. Governments had a huge role, and the representative of the Empire had a veto power over papal elections. The selection of bishops was taken out of the hands of the laity (who were often no longer Catholic) and clericalized. But with the centralization came the responsibility to oversee the episcopate, and in this the Vatican has failed. But bishops are unlikely to criticize, much less discipline, their fellow bishops, remembering the proverb about glass houses. So no one is maintaining standards, and the law of entropy sets in, as the Church loses zeal and is reduced to a creaking bureaucratic machine.
Granted, the U.S. federal government is not required to be zealous, Deo gratias, but if the central authority is in faraway Washington, it will be easier for local outposts to lose their zeal for efficiency and competency, causing frustration among those the government is supposed to serve, and building support for decentralization. Until those same people see the decentralized administration of government behaving incompetently, and demand that the central government crack heads and take over the job from failed locals.
You see the problem.