Rod Dreher

Rod Dreher


Peggy Noonan meets Cardinal Law

posted by Rod Dreher

This extraordinary passage from (the Catholic) Peggy Noonan’s Wall Street Journal column today. She recaps how American bishops reacted at first to the 2002 scandals, and then says:

Does any of this, the finger-pointing and blame-gaming, sound familiar? Isn’t it what we’ve been hearing the past few weeks?
At the end of [a 2002 Noonan column on the scandal -- RD] I called on the pope, John Paul II, to begin to show the seriousness of the church’s efforts to admit, heal and repair by taking the miter from Cardinal Law’s head and the ring from his finger and retiring him: “Send a message to those in the church who need to hear it, that covering up, going along, and paying off victims is over. That careerism is over, and Christianity is back.”
The piece didn’t go over well in the American church, or the Vatican. One interesting response came from Cardinal Law himself, whom I ran into a year later in Rome. “We don’t need friends of the church turning on the church at such a difficult time,” he said. “We need loyalty when the church is going through a tough time.”

The thing speaks for itself.
UPDATE: The thing may speak for itself, but I want to say something else. I think future historians will observe a near-catastrophic “epistemic closure” in key institutions of this era. The Church leadership’s inability to grasp the true nature of the situation, and their role in the crisis. One thinks of the political leadership of this country through most of the 2000s, and how it got into terrible trouble because of the same epistemic closure (a fancy way of saying “living in a bubble”). I am once again reminded of my friend the top investment banker, who, roundabout 2004, looked around him at a banker’s summit and saw his colleagues behaving like spoiled princes at a bacchanal — and concluded that their privilege insulated them from any sense of reality, which would lead to disaster. As it did.
What a terrible thing power and privilege can be. Those who live with it come to think of themselves as entitled, and in some sense specially gifted with insight. That’s when the trouble begins, and the corruption sets in. The thing is, most of us in some way have power and privilege in our own spheres. It is in our nature to lie to ourselves — and when we are entrusted with the care of great institutions (the presidency, the Church, banks), the cost of our blindness and hubris can be devastating.
How can we escape ourselves? How can we avoid epistemic closure? It starts by having the humility to listen to people who tell us what we don’t want to hear, and taking them seriously. But that’s so, so hard to do.



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kenneth

posted April 16, 2010 at 9:06 am


It starts by never putting blind faith in human beings as your interlocutors with the divine. It starts by never ceding authority to men in the absence of accountability and transparency. When you you elevate a class of men to a literal princely status led by another man whose status is almost pharaonic in nature, you create a situation which guarantees abuse. If you give people the opportunity and incentive for “epistemic closure,” you will get it, 100 percent of the time. In recreating the Roman Emperor and Senate, did we really think adding a crucifix to their uniform would somehow make them humble?



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lancelot lamar

posted April 16, 2010 at 9:09 am


Surely the worst “epistemic closure,” and the one that will eventually have the most calamitous consequences, is the mountain of debt that government at all levels has amassed. I fear the tipping point on all this will come sooner rather than later, and then the whole thing, all governmental authority, and with it the entire economy, will come crashing down, and we will face a period of terrible anarchy.



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Carlo

posted April 16, 2010 at 9:17 am


Sorry, epistemic closure is not a root phenomenon, just a consequence of widespread nihilism. Loss of faith brings closure of reason. Read the Regensburg address.



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Your Name

posted April 16, 2010 at 9:30 am


She knocked it out of the park. I remember reading her story of the encounter with Cardinal Law in her book about the late Pope (about whom, admittedly, she has an embarrassing blind spot). Smoke came out of my ears. How dare such a man speak of “loyalty to the Church”? In the four corners of the earth, could there be anyone more clueless about what that is? And, needless to say, in the Journal’s forum, Peggy’s getting the standard allotment of brickbats from the usual gang of enablers and excusers. Will the damn fools never learn?



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Hunk Hondo (C.H. Ross)

posted April 16, 2010 at 9:31 am


Sorry, that was me at 9:30.



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Rod Dreher

posted April 16, 2010 at 9:32 am


Not true, Carlo. It’s human nature. Read Barbara Tuchman’s “The March of Folly.” Over and over, you see a leadership class at some point refusing to believe things that threatened their position, and because of that making foolish decisions that ultimate led to disaster. I don’t think for a second the Catholic Church leadership class in the 20th century were nihilists. I think they were and are fools, but that’s something different. They were fools in the same way that Wall Street leaders have been fools. It all goes back to that insight of, I believe, Sinclair Lewis, who said something to the effect of, “Never trust a man to see something when his paycheck depends on him not seeing it.” That’s a pretty good partial definition of epistemic closure — and it has nothing to do with nihilism.



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Caroline Nina in DC

posted April 16, 2010 at 9:42 am


The best medicine for epistemic closure (You sound like you went to grad school in Lit Theory in the 90s here!) is none other than the words of Flannery O’Connor’s Misfit: “She would have been a good woman if she’d had some someone to shoot her every day of her life.”



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Robert M.

posted April 16, 2010 at 9:52 am


I’m glad Peggy Noonan wrote that, and as a non-Catholic Christian who sympathizes with the Catholic Church, I am glad to see some Catholics still willing to speak truth to their leaders. It renews my faith. I want to say though that it has been a shocking thing to me to watch this scandal play out over the last few years. Maybe it’s a Catholic thing and I just don’t understand, but the unwillingness of most Catholics to recognize how the bishops have betrayed THEM and the Church in all this is incredible. Whenever I see Catholics blaming anti-Catholic bigotry and the media for this mess, I keep thinking, who made the decisions to send pedophile priests back into parish work? Whose children were molested and assaulted by priests (hint: it wasn’t Protestant kids)? Who is having schools closed and churches shut down, and the legacy of their immigrant ancestors sold off to pay legal bills for molestations that the bishops could have put a stop to, but didn’t? Who suffers the most, and continues to suffer the most, because of the bishops’ failures.
It’s not people like me.
I hope I’m not speaking out of turn here. I think the Catholic Church is the best ally Christians like me have in some ways. On the big questions, they believe the things I believe in, but they have the institutional resources to make a much bigger difference than little denominations like mine. I might have even thought about being Catholic, but no disrespect to Catholics, I can’t do it now. Help an outsider to understand what it is about the Catholic mentality that keeps good and decent Catholics from standing up to these bishops and telling them they were WRONG and that they have to pay some kind of price for the terrible things they did? It worries me to think that if I was a Catholic I would have to go along to get along. If I’m reading Peggy Noonan’s column as she intended, she’s saying that as long as Cardinal Law is in his priveleged office in Rome, it’s a sign that nothing basically has changed in re the bishops. In other words they still don’t get it.
I am sorry if I offend my Catholic friends, but I don’t get it either. I think I understand why you stay with the church. If I believed what you do, I guess I would too. Our denomination has problems too. The thing to me is I don’t get why you have been willing to see your children and your parishes and your schools, etc., stomped on by what your bishops have done, and you not raise Cain over it. If you can help me understand this, I would be grateful. I really am trying to be respectful, but when they talk about the “Scandal”, to me part of it is the scandal of the Catholic laity just sitting back and letting the bishops off scot free. Maybe there’s nothing practical you can do about it, but if so doesn’t that humiliate you? It would do that to me. Honestly, I doubt I could handle it.



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Jeff Sullivan

posted April 16, 2010 at 9:54 am


Hopefully Peggy Noonan was able to answer Cardinal Clueless with something like, “I am loyal to the Church, sir. It is you who have lost my loyalty.”



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thomas tucker

posted April 16, 2010 at 9:56 am


She should have said to him: “I am loyal to the Church. But you are not the Church.”



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James P.

posted April 16, 2010 at 9:59 am


“It starts by having the humility to listen to people who tell us what we don’t want to hear, and taking them seriously.”
Doesn’t the discipline of regular confession engender such a quality? Rome’s stuborn cover-up of sexual abuse is rooted in part in the abandonment of regular confession among its prelates and the lack of spiritual fathers to whom they are accountable, I’d be willing to bet.



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Carlo

posted April 16, 2010 at 10:01 am


Rod:
sure, it is universally true that people are blinded by interest, power, prejudice etc. But the really interesting question is: what breaks through “epistemic closure?” The Regensburg address hinted very clearly how historically the Christian faith did it (without of course eliminating the problem, including inside the Church). I insist that a nihilistic culture if destined to reach new highs of “epistemic closure” and that this can be observed all around us.
How this principle applies to people in the Vatican is a delicate question, since it is a rather unusual situation.



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Randy G.

posted April 16, 2010 at 10:04 am


I have long had an approach to sportscasters and political pundits that echos Rod’s quote of Lewis: “Beware people who are paid to say (or write or type) something everyday.”
Unfortunately, one feature of having the priviledge that insulates leaders from the results of their actions is that the rest of the people suffer when the leaders finally fail. That one in seven homes in our zip code have been foreclosed in the last 3 years has much less to do with the owners’ individual choices than with the reckless actions of bankers and brokers. Many of these folks were not on “subprime” mortgages, but were 10-15 years into conventional mortgages when they lost their jobs in the bust.
This is one good reason for President Obama to take seriously calls by liberals as well as others to increase the diversity of the Supreme Court with his next appointment by 1) appointing someone who is not a judge, and 2) appointing someone who does not come out of Harvard or Yale (or Princeton or Stanford).
Peace,
Randy Gabrielse



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Carlo

posted April 16, 2010 at 10:07 am


Rod:
in fact, that will be what Augusto Del Noce called the ultimate refutation of secularism: it will weaken the foundations of Western rationality, i.e. it will destroy its own idol.



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Bill

posted April 16, 2010 at 10:17 am


Kenneth touched on an important issue. Our Savior is Jesus, not any human organization or organizational functionary. I guess this is why I have sympathy for those (such as my oldest son) who attend a lay-lead “house church.”
For me and my wife, we still attend a Protestant church on Sunday for worship, but we hold the congregational organization and the larger denomination at arms-length. I get most of my spiritual nourishment from sources I trust: the Bible, the Mars Hill Audio tapes, my Tuesday night Bible study partner (with whom I have met regularly for nearly 20 years), my wife and kids, a few authors and this blog.
For the first two decades of our marriage, my wife and I were late-stage churchaholics. We attended congregational events two or three times a week, served on every church committee available and poured time and money into the congregation and the denomination. Eventually, we realized that most of that effort was wasted struggling with organization, hierarchy, logistics and internal politics. We bailed out of that church, swore to never again get so entangled in churchianity, and instead got reacquainted with the basics of the Christian faith. It made all the difference.
So perhaps the current crisis in the Catholic church offers another opportunity to rethink the roles of authority and institution in the Christian walk of faith. To what extent does a Christian “need” the conventional church?



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Your Name

posted April 16, 2010 at 10:22 am


We can see everyone judging the catholics mistakes from the past,present and future.
When will the others do a John-Jay report…I dont know.
Whe need to evaluate the mistakes from the past,all of them ,from all…
the answer:
Ne-ver…..
Ne,Ne,Ver,Ver….
NEVER….



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Your Name

posted April 16, 2010 at 10:24 am


I agree with everythinb Peggy and Rod said on this topic. It’s not hard to find examples of epistemic closure – they’re all around us – in politics, art, religion, higher ed, etc. Alan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind is a terrific look at the issue. And I think Rod is right in saying that every ruling class for centuries ends up crashing at some point because they begin to think their downfall is impossible. And wehn they start to think that way, they cut off all other points of view. Come to think of it, that’s a very biblical scenario: the story of Israel is about God continually picking up, dusting off, and restoring a people who begin to feel entitled and proud and the exclusive holders of God’s favor. They never learn the lesson.
N.T. Wright once gave a terrific lecture about the Resurrection, Post-Modernism, and Empire in which he developed this theme. The modernist Enlightenment ‘ruler’ come in for his particular scorn not because of their worldview but because they continue to think that empirical data and scientific knowledge will lead to us being able to re-order the world for maximum happiness. And the post-modern critique is that for all the knowledge and experiments and undoubted improvements in the daily lives of humans, we still struggle with the same ‘banality of evil’ that has existed for milennia. I’ve been to university lectures where you have the freedom to bring up anything, but don’t expect a serious discussion of the commonly held assumptions of the academic left. Same goes for some churches where anything is welcome other than questions.
Wright’s point being that until we come to grips with the fact that the only lasting empire is the Kingdom of God, we’re never going to be able to transform our culture.
Scripture can be instructive, as always: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you.”



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Richard

posted April 16, 2010 at 10:24 am


Yes, that last one was mine.



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Major Wootton

posted April 16, 2010 at 10:39 am


Here’s something on “epistemic closure” for people who, like me, needed an explanation.
http://www.juliansanchez.com/2010/03/26/frum-cocktail-parties-and-the-threat-of-doubt/



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Rod Dreher

posted April 16, 2010 at 10:44 am


Sorry, my use of the term “epistemic closure” comes from having been reading the big discussion among political bloggers about whether or not mainstream conservatism is suffering from it (i.e., are right-wingers only willing to listen to voices who tell them what they want to hear?). In the past I would have been blogging about this, but as this is no longer a political blog, I’ve left it alone. But I’ve been reading it all the same, and unconsciously assumed that I’d been blogging about it too, as has been my habit for years.
Please don’t take this post as license to start a political discussion! I’ll have to nip it in the bud if so. I just wanted to explain why I used this term, which was unknown to me till I started following the debate.



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the stupid Chris

posted April 16, 2010 at 10:46 am


The way to avoid living in the bubble is humility.
The princes of the Church are no different from the titans of Wall Street or the so-called Masters of the Universe….or the “indispensable man” of Libertarian lore. When humility is gone so is all perspective, all ability to see clearly.



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Clare Krishan

posted April 16, 2010 at 10:56 am


The institution is not “bank” but money, and thusly the “institution” is not “Vatican” but grace – not man-made but divine, an economy of gratuity. All created goods are limited by time and space, in scarce supply and thus inherently valuable a priori to what utility man makes of them. The epistemic closure contained in the urceole of Pilate is not the same thing as the font of divine mercy. We can fashion any number of “ideal” or “open” epistemologies that still keep us in bondage in Plato’s cave. The REAL world, our world full of sin and suffering remains.
Peggy’s brilliance is not authochtonous, she’s simply a mirror (an old-fashioned term for an organ of news — in German “Die Spiegel” magazine on current affairs, for example) and as such an instrument of God’s terrible mercy. As the Holy Father is now on record in reminding us, sin must be repented of and penance and restitution seen to be made:
“I have to say that we Christians, even in recent times, have often avoided the word ‘repentance,’ which seems too harsh,” Benedict said at a Mass later broadcast on Vatican Radio. “Now under the attacks of the world, which speaks to us of our sins, we see that the ability to repent is a grace, and we see how it is necessary to repent, that is, to recognize what is wrong in our life,” he added.
Watching the fly-over of the Irish coastline that accompanies this brief prayer
http://www.h2onews.org/english/48-in-the-world/224443089-prayers-for-those-who-have-suffered-abuse-of-any-kind.html
penned for Friday penances in Ireland in the coming year, it occured to me that contemporary society is like the half-eroded ruins of the fort, a secular institution unable to withstand the ravages of the seas natural forces. Peggy Noonan is the “cameraman” reporting from the vantage point of Eternity. Those who critique her are earthbound in the Fort, unable to recognize the loss to their paternity made by the encroaching posterity. Like lemmings they will plunge over the precipice and drown…
I love my Church, bloody, wounded but undefiled. What sticks in my craw is the hollowness of professional clerical commentators like the young L.C. priest I saw on FOX News Wednesday lunchtime. The lady journalist is showing due reverence for “Father” as he decries how in the sixties and seventies the Church let men become priests who never should have been admitted to holy orders — if she was any way informed she would have pounced on him and queried what was so special about hsi arbitray choice of decade – wasn’t the disgraced founder of his order ordained in the early fifties WAY before Vatican II etc etc. There’s too many pundits inside the tent using the crisis to aim divisive blows at fellow Catholics they diapprove of. That’s the kind of disloyalty that must stop. And journalists need to keep on doing their homework and practising their craft courageously. If (or when) they stumble, the sacrament of reconciliation was instituted by a merciful God to “wash away the iniquity and cleanse us of our sins.” Which answers Bill’s query “To what extent does a Christian “need” the conventional church?”
She’s the vessel we need to be washing our hands in – but the dirty paws of the guys holding her are rather off-putting to say the least!



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Roland de Chanson

posted April 16, 2010 at 11:04 am


Robert M.,
You are not speaking out of turn at all. And you have said it — there is indeed nothing practical Catholics can do. The Church is government of the clergy, by the clergy and for the clergy. It always has been and always will be. Even after the schism the Benedict has predicted will lead to a much smaller Church.
Why is Bernard Law still mitred and ringed, as Peggy Noonan puts it? Because he knows a lot of secrets. He had his price for resigning his Boston see, he demanded it and he got it. There is no chance of removing him since he can only be removed by the pope. It is not merely the disgrace of Law’s publicly processing about his basilica that galls, it is the ignominy of his sitting on the committee (among others) that selects bishops for the entire world. The godfather still pulls the puppet strings from his safe house in Rome.
It is Law and his ilk who have given scandal — in the theological sense of the term. If the squalor he perpetuated prevents you, for example, from considering conversion, or destroys Rod’s faith in Catholicism, as it did, then Law has compounded his other sins with the sin of scandal.
I remember talking to a neighbor shortly after the crisis broke in Boston and he was aghast, bewildered and befuddled (he was in a state of tautological stupor, so to speak). I was disgusted but not shocked that such things would go on in a chancery. His kids were in a local parish school and I told him my rules of thumb for dealing with the clergy were (1) don’t trust them with your money, (2) dont’trust them with your kids, (3) don’t trust them with your soul. This gravely offended his “pray, pay, and obey” sensibilities, but sheep are designed to be fleeced, shorn, and butchered at the shepherd’s pleasure..
Even the present archbishop of Boston, O’Malley, is not free from questionable actions. When he became bishop of Fall River to clean up the Porter case, he made a certain Fr. Annunziato a monsignor; several victims reported that Annunziato was an eyewitness to their having been raped by Porter while Annunziato did nothing. How can a man live with himself for rewarding and honouring a coward who failed to report such crimes? In Boston, O’Malley shut down a financially viable parish during his money raising scheme to pay off the abuse lawsuits. When parishioners presented evidence that the parish was thriving and asked his “eminence” why he did not accept it, O’Malley sniffed, “It does not rise to the level that would have me change my mind.” If you find such hubris in a sandal-shod Franciscan, what do you expect from a thug like Law? The hubris of the clerical class is the most morally culpable of all.
Peggy Noonan suggests that if a woman were present when the transfers of abusive priests were being contemplated, they would not have occurred. I think she is on to something but has missed the mark a bit. If that woman had been a Mrs. Law, perhaps Bernard Law would have been a man who was a genuine father of his own family as well as spiritual father of his parish family, and not just a cold calculating clerical careerist apparatchik. Prince of the Church? Rather, the prince of scoundrels.



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Rod Dreher

posted April 16, 2010 at 11:32 am


I am skeptical of Noonan’s point that adding more women to the mix would have stopped the abuse. Maybe it would have — I would certainly be willing to see — but I do not believe that women are somehow free of the same human stains that color and distort the judgment of men. When I was being held down and sexually humiliated by older kids in that hotel room at age 14, while on a school trip, the two adult chaperones who literally stepped over me to get out of the room, with me begging them in vain to help me, were women.
I have thought a lot about why they did that. They were adults there, and they had power, as well as responsibility. All they had to do was tell those big kids to leave me alone, and it all would have ended. But they had been flattered by that teenage clique all week on the school trip — by which I mean, they were treated by the cool crowd as if they were part of the cool crowd themselves. It seems to me that they didn’t have the guts to risk their standing with the power clique among the kids, and if it meant turning a blind eye to an act of abuse they were responsible for stopping, they were willing to do so. That’s the only sense I can make of it. Their putative extra sensitivity because of their sex was not enough to overcome the allure of status, and maintaining that status was more important to them than some little nerd boy who probably deserved it, because he wasn’t part of the cool crowd anyway.
Bottom line: I suspect that most nuns, having risen so far in the Church governing structure, would have felt the same sense of self-protection regarding potential loss of status by bucking the power structure for the sake of abused children.



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hlvanburen

posted April 16, 2010 at 11:48 am


“Bottom line: I suspect that most nuns, having risen so far in the Church governing structure, would have felt the same sense of self-protection regarding potential loss of status by bucking the power structure for the sake of abused children.”
Self-interest rather than doctrine would be guiding their actions, very much in the same way it guided the actions of the bishops who covered for the abusers, and their fellow bishops (and above) who ignored them while they did it.
What the Church needed was someone who put others ahead of self, a concept taught but rarely modeled in many institutions, let alone the Church.



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Clare Krishan

posted April 16, 2010 at 12:17 pm


ditto Ron, think of mums who disbelieve their children’s testimony of incest, or in my case (as the largest and most articulate in his class, my 9-yr son was the focus of much of a certain elementary school teacher’s b*tch*n*ss because he was the one most able to challenge her injustices, I ignored his appeals chiding him to “behave in class” until truth prevailed when the more courageous mother of the tallest female victim called the principle when she found bruises on her daughter).
A panel of lay competencies (medical, civil legal, moral developmental) could at least provide Chancery clerics responsible for gauging “scandal” some pertinent data on the moral hazard to be weighed when determining the scope of damage and loss of reputation — what private gain for perps/episcopate outweighs what socialized losses for victims/we their flock? What detrimental behaviour is being subsidized (and therefore implicitly encouraged) when those who pay the price for the consequences are NOT the ones who enjoyed the privileges of the asset value at zero cost?



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the stupid Chris

posted April 16, 2010 at 12:34 pm


I am skeptical of Noonan’s point that adding more women to the mix would have stopped the abuse. Maybe it would have — I would certainly be willing to see — but I do not believe that women are somehow free of the same human stains that color and distort the judgment of men.
Women aren’t free of the human condition, but women sometimes see things differently than men.
Then again, I’m represented in the United States Congress by three liberal women (two senators, one congresswoman), and two of them proved reliable votes whenever the Bush/Cheney team wanted to go to war.
And the single most sadistic teacher I ever had was a Catholic nun…



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Athelstane

posted April 16, 2010 at 3:36 pm


1. I found Peggy’s column to be too much of a piece with most of her work: long on crafted rhetoric, short on substance. I give her a pass on the inaccurate headline, which I can’t attribute to her with any surety, since her column says almost nothing about how to fix the Church, but plenty about how she thinks it got broken (some of which I certainly can’t disagree with).
But I will agree with Mark Shea today on this, Rod: Peggy’s an odd choice to hold up as paragon of transparency given her stance (“Keep walking. Some things should be a mystery”) on torture. No doubt there’s worthy stuff to comment/blog on here. But I don’t think you help your case by overselling her.
I hate to finish on a negative note, so I’ll agree with you that her prescription is only half right: more fresh blood please, out with the old; but there’s no reason to assume more women (presumably orthodox, since she only wants younger people, none of which can be found in dissident religious women’s orders) will fix this problem, or be any more immune to the kinds of weaknesses she identifies. I don’t oppose more roles for women in the Vatican; there’s just no evidence that it will be a panacea for *this * problem.
While I’m at it…
2. Clare said: The lady journalist is showing due reverence for “Father” as he decries how in the sixties and seventies the Church let men become priests who never should have been admitted to holy orders — if she was any way informed she would have pounced on him and queried what was so special about his arbitray choice of decade – wasn’t the disgraced founder of his order ordained in the early fifties WAY before Vatican II etc etc.
I think if you had any idea of just who was getting additted to many of these seminaries in the sixties, seventies, (and I will add) eighties – and also who was adamantly NOT being admitted – you would be forced to reconsider that opinion. Even if you throw out half of what Michael Rose uncovered in “Goodbye, Good Men” (which Rod positively reviewed and promoted) can be called anecdotal, it still leaves a damning portrait of the kind of men too often brought into the priesthood in many areas. And I am not just talking about the sex abusers. It’s one of the things that gives me hope for the future that the caliber of new your priests and seminarians has gone up so much in recent years.
But I will agree with you that 1) the Legion is the last organization to have the credibility to make such comments, and 2) the problem of men who didn’t belong in the priesthood, like sex abuse itself, did not begin in 1965. Rather, it just greatly multiplied.



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Rod Dreher

posted April 16, 2010 at 4:10 pm


Athelstane: But I will agree with Mark Shea today on this, Rod: Peggy’s an odd choice to hold up as paragon of transparency given her stance (“Keep walking. Some things should be a mystery”) on torture. No doubt there’s worthy stuff to comment/blog on here. But I don’t think you help your case by overselling her.
Wait, who’s holding her up as a “paragon of transparency”? I have a lot of problems with this or that thing Peggy Noonan has said, or stands for. I just thought this was a good column that made an interesting point — one I used as a jumping-off point to discuss how privilege, and the environment of privilege, conditions and corrodes one’s moral judgment. I brought up Wall Street and US politics as other examples.
Besides, it’s just sloppy thinking, and indeed skirts the ad hominem fallacy, for Mark to say that because Peggy Noonan has been wrong about torture (as she has been!), then we can legitimately dismiss other points she makes. When I link to something smart or important that Mark Shea has said, it shouldn’t be assumed that I hold him up as a paragon of anything. I think Mark twisted himself up into pretzel knots to avoid finding fault with John Paul when he was alive, and I believe he’ll do the same thing with Benedict, no matter what should be reported. Alas for Mark Shea. He’s great on torture, not so great on the scandal. We all have our biases and blind spots. Me too.



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David J. White

posted April 16, 2010 at 4:27 pm


Maybe it’s a Catholic thing and I just don’t understand, but the unwillingness of most Catholics to recognize how the bishops have betrayed THEM and the Church in all this is incredible.
Speaking as a Catholic, I understand your incredulity, Robert M., I really do. But what one has to bear in mind is the overwhelming majority of Catholics simply do not know anyone who (*at least to their knowedge*) was molested by a priest, or even knows anyone who does. From the way the story is portrayed in the media, one would think that every Catholic family has one or more children who were molested by priests. That is simply not the case at all. Most Catholics simply don’t feel a direct connection to this story. As for things like the closings of parishes and schools, they have been going on for the past 20 years or so before the pedophilia scandal broke, due to demographic shifts in where Catholic families live. For most Catholics, this is simply something they read about or hear about in the media, without any personal connection to them, and it strikes them as an assault on the church by the secular media.
Again, I’m not saying that most Catholics should feel so disconnected from this, but to the extent that they do, this is why: for all that the media make it sound like pedophile priests and venal bishops are just crawling out of the woodwork, most average Catholics simply don’t feel any personal connection to this, or know anyone who does. I certainly don’t. They just want to go about their business as they are accustomed to doing.



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Athelstane

posted April 16, 2010 at 4:54 pm


Hello Rod,
I can only respond that it might be easier to give you a pass on your use of Peggy’s column if the rest of your commentary on Pope Benedict’s role in the Church sex scandals over the last few weeks hadn’t been…I am searching for a word…overcooked.
We know your history on the scandals, Rod. We sympathize (really, I do). And you have always been upfront about that. We know that even if you’ll never be entirely objective about this, you’ve on the whole been a great force for good in forcing these closets open.
But what really gets my goat, as much as Mark’s, is that you’re too willing to assume the worst of Ratzinger with every new report, too unwilling to hold off blogging about it until there’s been time to examine the facts. No one is saying you’ve gone off into the Hitchens/Dowd/Ellis Hyperventilating Land of No Return, but it *is* clear you’ve been patently unfair in your treatment of Ratzinger. Likewise, to say all this is not to claim Ratzinger’s record must be absolutely faultless, or that we don’t also wish he’d modify his (rather Orthodox) ecclesiology a little to sack some bishops. Your initial riffs about the Kiesle and Murphy cases simply weren’t sustained by the facts, once they became clear.
And it undermines your credibility. Just as it undermines Noonan’s when she’s so curiously selective about her demands for transparency and accountability from those in power, which raises the question of whether certain circles in Manhattan and D.C. aren’t much less isolated or privileged than Vatican City or episcopal chanceries.
I don’t expect you to stop blogging about the Long Lent. Nor do I expect you to suddenly give equal time to OCA scandals. But could we ask for a little more balance, at least when it comes to the feeding frenzy on Pope Benedict? Could we ask that you do a little digging the next time the Times dregs up another Kiesle/Murphy story? Sure, it might be that smoking gun. But would it hurt to do some checking first before just assuming it?
best regards,
R.M. Lender



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Michael C

posted April 16, 2010 at 5:15 pm


“the unwillingness of most Catholics to recognize how the bishops have betrayed THEM and the Church in all this is incredible.”
I can only say to that, that it should be qualified with “those Catholics who remain”, because many of us left.
What you have left are those Catholics who know nothing about a current abuse crisis, and those Catholics, The American Papists of this world, who believe the church can do no wrong and that it is all the fault of Gays and Abortionists.



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Reaganite in NYC

posted April 16, 2010 at 5:24 pm


David J. White: “From the way the story is portrayed in the media, one would think that every Catholic family has one or more children who were molested by priests. That is simply not the case at all. Most Catholics simply don’t feel a direct connection to this story. As for things like the closings of parishes and schools, they have been going on for the past 20 years or so before the pedophilia scandal broke, due to demographic shifts in where Catholic families live. For most Catholics, this is simply something they read about or hear about in the media, without any personal connection to them, and it strikes them as an assault on the church by the secular media.”
David White, you’ve explained ONE of the reasons why ordinary Catholics like myself are unmoved by the media ranting of the current season (or what Peggy Noonan described in today’s column as the “second wave” of the scandal, following the “first wave in 2002″). The media portrayal doesn’t square with current, everyday experience in Catholic parishes.
One reason is that the Church in America has acted decisively in the past 8 years with firmness in implementing a whole host of changes that today make the Catholic Church in American — and certainly in my diocese — a very safe place for children and a model for other institutions to emulate. Whatever practices existed 20-30 years ago don’t square with what is going on today. It also helps that we’re seeing a lot of new bishops and priests that won’t tolerate the nonsense that existed before.
A SECOND reason is that a lot of the “new noise” sounds like “old news.” Noonan’s column barely mentioned B-16 and instead rehashed old material about Cardinal Law. Law should NOT have been given a comfortable sincecure in Vatican City back in 2004, but the guy is pushing 80 and pretty soon he’ll be forced to offer an explanation to a far more exacting Judge than he might ever have to face in this world.
The THIRD reason most Catholics are unmoved is that too many of the current news reports — especially those by Laurie Goodstein at the New York Times — represent biased, second-rate journalism. Questionable, motivated sources are being used to try to stick something — anything! — on the Pope … but nothing is sticking. That’s why so many Bishops — including Dolan and DiMarzio here in the NYC area — are fighting back and having little trouble “calling out” the NY Times for their sloppy, slanted commentary and reporting. It’s so bad that even Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz and the folks at America magazine have been moved to condemn the media for their attempts to scapegoat the Pope.
A lot of these media folks remind me of Captain Ahab obsessively chasing after Moby Dick. They are hoping ever so badly to nail the Holy Father (and win themselves a Pulitzer Prize and, who knows, their own cable show on MSNBC) that one can appreciate their frustration at coming up short. What’s a good Catholic to do other than to pray for these poor, frustrated souls :-)
Every Catholic I know is angry at the people who ravaged these kids and the folks who covered up for them. But we’re also angry at the people in the media who betray a callous indifference to these victims and bear an interest only in taking down the Church.
Incidentally, not every critic of the Church on this issue I view with scepticism. For example, the historian Lee Podles, whom Rod has cited frequently here, is someone whose views on this entire mess make sense.



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The Will

posted April 16, 2010 at 5:30 pm


Rod: please, please just stop. You are a noticeably worse thinker when you write about this topic. It’s too negatively personal for you. Just stop. Please.



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Cecelia

posted April 16, 2010 at 5:50 pm


What you have left are those Catholics who know nothing about a current abuse crisis, and those Catholics, The American Papists of this world, who believe the church can do no wrong and that it is all the fault of Gays and Abortionists.
Oh seriously – is a statement like this what passes for intelligent and reasoned observation? Talk about painting with a broad brush.



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Reaganite in NYC

posted April 16, 2010 at 6:08 pm


The Will (5:30 PM) — “Rod: please, please just stop. You are a noticeably worse thinker when you write about this topic.”
Rod can certainly explain himself on this (as he has previously), but let me share my two cents. Yes, I find this recurring theme a bit tiresome at times on this blog, but that doesn’t keep me from sincerely appreciating the other stuff Rod discusses here.
Moreover, we should cut Rod plenty of slack here. It’s one thing for a non-believer or religious skeptic to report on this issue. It’s entirely different, however, for a reporter with strong Christian convictions and deep faith to have to dig into the muck of this story the way Rod did years ago. Few Catholics, as David J. White noted in a previous comment today on this thread, have any direct experience with the pedophilia/pederasty scandal. Rod didn’t have the experience of a victim but as a reporter who had to dig deep into the filthy, rotten details of this scandal it must have undoubtedly been a traumatic experience.
Nearly two years ago Rod and I shared a couple of emails on this issue and from them I got the sense (though I could be wrong) that there are even darker layers to this story still yet uncovered (assuming they can ever be fully brought to life in this world). In reporting on this story Rod came face-to-face, I suspect, with the worst kind of evil and is still shaking with outrage. No one can fault him on this.



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Unapologetic Catholic

posted April 16, 2010 at 6:38 pm


Well, Rod isn’t beating a dead horse. It just refuses to die:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/8624763.stm
How can this be?



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The Will

posted April 16, 2010 at 7:03 pm


Reaganite in NYC: I appreciate your comment. And I agree that Rod showed real courage through his early coverage of this mess. But as Rod has acknowledged, his investigation troubled him so deeply and so profoundly that he had to stop writing about this. By his own description, this scandal just consumes him emotionally and is much too personal now. If this has changed, it’s not coming through in the writing. And it’s becoming exhausting to read. While I could just stay away, I like this blog and its new, generally collegial tone. But this disappears every time he blogs on this topic. Give it a rest. Give us a rest.



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Ben Dunlap

posted April 16, 2010 at 7:31 pm


“Our Savior is Jesus, not any human organization or organizational functionary.”
That’s what Catholics believe too, which is a fourth reason why some of us are unmoved by this mess.
Anyone who’s tempted to leave the Church over this should sit down for a weekend or two with the collected stories and novels of J.F. Powers. Powers’s main observation seems to be that the clergy is, by and large, a pretty mediocre industry. But he manages to convey this idea with a deep love for Christ and his Church, not to mention a delicious wit.
At any rate, one cleric who’s decidedly /not/ mediocre is Joseph Ratzinger. So please, please: Lay off with the breathless linking to shoddily-reported wire stories and axe-grinding columnists, and do some damn research before you sic the dogs on him again.



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Elastico

posted April 16, 2010 at 7:54 pm


to me is this: Are children safer today in the Catholic Church than in 1960-1990? I would say the answer is demonstrably yes. The question then is why. There are a number of reasons: The church is tired of bad press, billions in payouts, changes to how cases are handled, a better understanding of the psychology of perpetrators, third party diocesan reviews, better seminary screening.
Pope Benedict in his letter to the Irish clergy and religious got it right. Be focused on and emulate Christ. That more than anything will solve the problem.



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Ben Dunlap

posted April 16, 2010 at 8:10 pm


Another reason that children are safer now, Elastico, is that Joseph Ratzinger has worked tirelessly at fighting this problem, at least since 2001 and almost certainly behind the scenes before that. (who knows how much red tape he had to deal with to get CDF oversight of these cases?)
Which is why the current round of attacks is so shameless and, frankly, stupid. Not because “he’s the pope and you mustn’t criticize the pope” but because he’s the one man who has done more than anyone else to clean house. And so far there hasn’t been a single substantiated report to the contrary. Unless you count AP headlines as “substance”.
The Hullerman case is the only thing that even comes close and there’s hardly any information available on that one. In all the other cases, as soon as sufficient information became available, it was clear that Ratzinger had acted well. An inability to admit this is the real sign of “epistemic closure”. Cf. Rod’s italicized “They all did it” in his earlier piece on the debunked Kiesle story.



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digbydolben

posted April 18, 2010 at 11:43 am


Mr. Dunlap, if you can read German, I suggest you take a look at this:
http://www.spiegel.de/panorama/0,1518,689580,00.html
If you can’t, wait a few days and then read it in Der Spiegel English. Ratzinger’s role in the Hullerman case seems to have been different from what you describe it as having been.



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John Farrell

posted April 18, 2010 at 12:20 pm


Few Catholics, as David J. White noted in a previous comment today on this thread, have any direct experience with the pedophilia/pederasty scandal.
What data do you base that on? I live in Boston. And long before the scandal became public (late 1970s) I knew of boys at my high school who had been abused by priests. And it was common knowledge among the students that there were certain priests you just didn’t go near.
I’m sure for Catholics in non urban areas where they are a minority and churches and schools are few and far between, it may be true. But forgive my skepticism about “few Catholics” in the greater urban centers having any direct experience of the scandal.



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Michael Kremer

posted April 19, 2010 at 11:06 am


digbydolben: the English version is now available:
http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/0,1518,689761,00.html
But I find it a confusing article — unnamed friends serve as sources and an “open letter” from Gruber is referred to but the full text is not available. I am not sure of this evidence.



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