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.