Rod Dreher

Rod Dreher

The case of the ‘refreshing pervy priest’

Steve Blow is a columnist at the Dallas Morning News who typically writes homespun, slice-of-life reflections on life in Big D and its suburbs. But he finds his professional ox in a massive ditch today because of a tossed-off blog post (since removed) he put up on his DMN blog yesterday. The post was titled “A refreshing pervy priest.” It was his snarky remark on allegations that a local Catholic priest had been making unwelcome sexual advances on women. Blow wisenheimered that it was “sad to say,” but the stories about priests diddling little boys had been coming in for so long that it was almost a relief to hear about a priest accused of “good old-fashioned heterosexual perviness.”
Blow got blasted for his insensitivity to victims of sexual abuse. A friend of mine in Dallas who was molested by a male family member as a child wrote to say how upset she was over it. The paper took down the Blow blog post, but it’s still a mess there.
Tim Rogers, editor of D, the Dallas city magazine, whacked Blow hard over this, but said something true and important:

I’ve got empathy for Blow when it comes to the pickle he’s gotten himself into. I am in no way defending the joke he made. But anyone who works at a media outlet who has been asked to blog and tweet and tumble and facebook knows how Blow got himself in trouble and has trod similar territory. There’s a bottomless bucket that we’re all asked to fill each day with posts and opinion and entertaining nuggets. We’re all publishing more words than ever, which necessarily means we’re giving them less thought. Hey, much of the time it’s a blast. It can be fun to work without a safety net and get instant feedback on what you write. But the pitfall is what Blow fell into yesterday.

That’s so true. Truth to tell, I’ve heard variations on that joke made among small groups of Catholics, and I understood what was being said by it. It wasn’t to make light of any kind of sexual abuse, but rather a black-humor attempt to lessen the sting of yet more abysmal news on the clerical sex abuse front. Everybody who heard those jokes in the groups I was in understood exactly what was being said by them — and it most definitely wasn’t literally an expression of relief that the abuse victims weren’t boys. Still, I think every one of us in that group had enough sense to know that this black humor ought not be indulged outside a small group of people who understood enough of the context to realize that it wasn’t really an attempt to make light of the suffering of abuse victims. Most people who deal with intense and painful situations — especially cops, doctors and firefighters — develop a sense of black humor to diffuse the emotional intensity of the sort of things they face. The Catholics I’ve heard make this joke were people for whom the scandal was a lacerating ongoing event. That common pain was shared among the group, which is why the joke was not taken seriously.
Still, as I said, I think everyone in that group would have had the sense not to make the same remark in front of others, because it’s far too easy to misinterpret it. I don’t really know Steve Blow that well, but I don’t for a minute think that he truly believes it’s “refreshing” to have a priest who hits on women as opposed to little boys. He ought not to have made that remark, but I don’t think the remark reflects his convictions, only his poor attempt at humor. And believe me, I have been there.
The problem with blogs, though, is that we get into the habit of having no unblogged thoughts, because a blog really is a diary, and it gives the blogger the illusion that he’s free to say what he’s really thinking. This blog your reading now typically gets more than 400,000 page views per month, which is a pretty big audience. Yet to me, it all seems so intimate. I have had to learn the hard way to put more of a governor on myself here, so I don’t end up becoming a victim of myself in the way Tim Rogers identifies.
But Tim brings up another good point about the Blow mess:

Whatever disciplinary action the paper takes, it’s going to cast a pall over all of the paper’s blogs. What newspaper reporter wants to risk his job for a joke?

You got that right. People complain about how dull mainstream newspapers are, and mostly they’re right. But if you want more interesting newspapers, you’re going to have to give journalists, especially opinion writers like Blow, the leeway to take the risk of saying stupid things, and forgive them for it when they screw up and apologize. I would rather have a columnist make insulting and insensitive remarks, and sincerely apologize for them later, than have a columnist who never writes anything interesting because he’s so afraid of being lambasted and even fired when a lynch mob comes after him. If we want more interesting media, we’re going to have to develop thicker skins.
Besides, anybody who has never made an insensitive or mean remark that they would dearly like to have been able to take back is free to cast the first stone at Steve Blow. I just got an e-mail from an old New York journalist colleague who wrote, of Blow’s travail, “There but for the grace of God go I.” It’s true for most of us, I think — though most of us don’t have a blog or a byline through which we can broadcast our moments of temporary idiocy.
I wish to associate myself with the remarks of my Dallas friend Rawlins Gilliland — who is as liberal as the day is long, if that matters to anybody — who said here:

Honestly, for all Steve Blow’s whatever catalog of shortcomings, he has clearly not a mean or subversive or sexist or racist bone in his aging body of work. Let’s put in perspective the quip he meant to say in the sardonic thud room where it belongs. Blow is an easy target here but I am asking us to not make this a gang bang. He’s undoubtedly a decent guy who made a careless insensitive attempt at ironic humor & it bombed for what should have been obvious reasons to anyone, certainly in these days of ‘gotcha’ PC quick sand. At this point there are plenty of reasons to blow this guy off but let’s not treat him like he intended to idealize any form of molestation. He’s a proud granddad & that’s about the last thing he would ever intend.

“The Sardonic Thud Room.” I like that concept.

Comments read comments(19)
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Scott Lahti

posted June 30, 2010 at 4:32 pm

A columnist named “Blow” wrote a post about a “pervy priest”.
Then “Blow got blasted.”
Then his “paper took down the Blow blog.”
Then a local magazine editor “whacked Blow hard,” and went on to say
“I’ve got empathy for Blow when it comes to the pickle he’s gotten himself into.”
Outside of recalling comedian Ron White’s recollection of having worked once in a pickle factory before getting fired for putting his finger in a pickle slicer, after which she got fired, too, I have nothing to add here.

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Max Schadenfreude

posted June 30, 2010 at 4:43 pm

Scott, you beat me to it, though you failed to mention to mention the use of “tweet and tumble” and “bottomless”.

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Scott Lahti

posted June 30, 2010 at 4:50 pm

The post [by Steve Blow] was titled “A refreshing pervy priest.”
You know, if we can have a liqueur bottled in the shape and color of a cord-knotted brown-robed friar (as opposed to a broiler?), how about a cross-embossed black-bottled soda whose figurehead is depicted, adapting Aqualung unto legality, “eyeing [big] girls with bad intent?” –
Cola Blow®: The padre that refreshes.™
How about it, Coca-Cola Latin America Group?

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posted June 30, 2010 at 4:57 pm

and it most definitely wasn’t literally an expression of relief that the abuse victims weren’t boys.
Uh… you mean “children”, right? Of course you do.
[Note from Rod: Nope, I meant “boys.” Steve Blow mentioned boys specifically in his original post, which is why I used that term here. Besides which, most of the victims of molester priests have been boys. You may find that fact inconvenient to your purposes, but it’s a fact. — RD.]

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posted June 30, 2010 at 5:02 pm

Gosh, you guys are refreshingly pervy…
But, again, I’m not sure why I’m supposed to feel any sympathy for Mr. Blow, apart from the fact that he’s a member of the guild who has to churn out thousands of words a day, particularly when it’s the same group of journalists who, as was pointed out on the previous thread, were responsible for the WaPo’s decision to publish 150-odd stories about George Allen’s macaca statement, which was also an off-the-cuff remark by a politician who was probably speaking several thousands words a day.
Can’t you see why it’s troubling to us that journalists get worked up about something like this only when it happens to one of their own? I completely agree that this oversensitivity is ridiculous: I myself love dark humor and would be strung up if I blogged publicly what I say privately. But the news media bears much responsibility for having nurtured this oversensitivity, for depriving politics and other spheres of life of color and humor. And now they expect me to feel sorry that they’re subjected to the same shaming rituals that they’ve long subjected other to?

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Hunk Hondo

posted June 30, 2010 at 5:12 pm

If I had a dime for every time I heard someone say of an abusive heterosexual priest “Oh, well, at least that’s NORMAL,” I could retire tomorrow. But it wouldn’t be worth it. I have much less patience with such jokes than Rod.

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posted June 30, 2010 at 5:23 pm

Thank you, Richao. Cry me a river, Rod.

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lancelot lamar

posted June 30, 2010 at 6:24 pm

Steve Blow is a wonderful guy and a sincere Christian. It’s sad that he’s gotten into this mess.
Having said that, Richao is right about people not having much sympathy for journos who stumble, when they themselves have–along with the universities–created a whole world where only politically correct speech is allowed. A whole world in which anyone who who makes the slightest slip to offend the unholy trinity of “race, class, gender” sensitivities is pilloried mercilessly.
This policing of speech for ideological purity is one reason people have turned from mainstream to alternative media, where there is a great deal more bluntness and honesty (and blow hardiness and exaggeration.)
Rod himself is constantly excoriated for speaking honestly and directly, but in a politically incorrect way, about Islam and Islamic groups, and about making homosexuality normative, among other things.
The mainstream media deserves the grave it has dug for itself in hastening the death of free speech.
Captcha: avenged on

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posted June 30, 2010 at 8:20 pm

Sometimes, you just have to let victims vent, even when they are being unfair, and even when you were not the real cause of their pain. That’s part of dealing with victims. If their verbal attacks on you take a little of the edge off their pain, that’s OK.
An apology is often insufficient, but here it should be enough. The harm was not intentional, and the comment really did mean that the abuse of children is far, far worse than “mere” affairs. Also, my guess is that the knowledge that he caused pain to sexual assault victims is itself causing Blow a lot of pain. That’s it’s own form of punishment. I hope that whatever disciplinary action the paper takes is symbolic in nature. The penalty should fit the crime.
And yes, we defense lawyers tell jokes to each other (and sometimes to prosecutors) that would be grossly inappropriate in public. You can’t deal with case after case of murder and rape without a little dark humor. At least I can’t.

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posted June 30, 2010 at 8:50 pm

You may find that fact inconvenient to your purposes, but it’s a fact. — RD.
Exactly what are my purposes, Rod? Really.
I’m quite well aware that the majority of victims of the Catholic abuse scandal are boys. I was very nearly one of them, so, please, explain what my purposes are.

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posted June 30, 2010 at 9:37 pm

Nothing new really. Years ago when I used to read National Review, at a time when a Demo politician was caught with a boy, some Republican congressman got caught messing with a female intern, and NR said “Well at least our guys like girls”.

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Rod Dreher

posted June 30, 2010 at 10:30 pm

Exactly what are my purposes, Rod? Really.
I’m not going to take your bait. Not everything that happens in this world has to do with anti-gay bias. If the sun comes up tomorrow and warms the grass on the graves of Jerry Falwell and Jesse Helms, it’s not because the solar system conspires to put gays down. Don’t turn this thread that should be about ethics into yet another opportunity to vent about supposed anti-gay bias. That subject is closed on this thread.

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posted June 30, 2010 at 10:31 pm

A whole world in which anyone who who makes the slightest slip to offend the unholy trinity of “race, class, gender” sensitivities is pilloried mercilessly.
We live in a complaint culture. Bill Donahue is offended by everything. The National Review is in a constant state of offense. People are angry.
That said, this isn’t about political correctness, which is largely a nonsense phrase. People were offended by what Blow said. They weren’t being PC, they were being offened by a callous comment.

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posted July 1, 2010 at 12:01 am

this thread that should be about ethics
Your explanation of why you said “boys” made perfect sense and was quite logical for both of the reasons you gave. Your snide comment impugning my motives was unnecessary and rude and not about ethics at all.
Still, your house, your rules. Next time I’ll ignore your bait.

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posted July 1, 2010 at 8:24 am

Clarification, please, from Rod or somebody in Dallas: did the case involve molestation of little girls (as reactions suggest) or relationships with adult women (which is what I thought after eading Rod’s original post)?

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Rod Dreher

posted July 1, 2010 at 8:42 am

According to the Dallas Morning News, the case was made public by one or more women the priest had allegedly been hitting on — but that there are allegations that in at least one case, he forcibly kissed a 12 year old girl. Here’s the top of that story:
By MATTHEW HAAG and SAM HODGES / The Dallas Morning News
When Mary O’Dell learned that a priest of the Catholic Diocese of Dallas faces accusations of inappropriately touching women and two teenage girls, she blanched.
O’Dell said she had her own trials with the Rev. Robert Crisp 35 years ago. She was 12 years old and recalls Crisp, then a recently ordained 26-year-old priest, kissing her on the mouth and telling her he wanted to marry her.
Rev. Robert Crisp “This has been going on for too long,” said O’Dell, speaking publicly about Crisp for the first time. “Nothing has been done. I thought maybe the diocese would have stopped him.”
And others say that, going back across parishes and decades, Crisp has engaged in questionable conduct toward women and girls. One woman said she went to him for marriage counseling and ended up joining him in a two-year affair.
Crisp has not been charged with a crime and has not faced serious church sanctions until recently, when several female parishioners at Rowlett’s Sacred Heart Catholic Church complained that he rubbed his bare feet against their legs and stroked their necks and backs. The Diocese of Dallas alerted Child Protective Services, and now the Rowlett police are investigating. No charges have been filed by the police, and no agency has found he acted improperly.

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Rawlins Gilliland

posted July 1, 2010 at 10:47 am

Rod, I appreciate you posting this and excerpting some of what I wrote that day in my attempt to apply some broader perspective bandages onto the hemorrhaging situation. Before I write further, I have to laugh that you characterize me here as more ‘liberal that the day is long’. In fact, on only social issues like gay marriage & religion am I what you’d call that liberal. On a hundred other issues politically & socially, you know how I coined the mantra after my years on NPR: “What I’ve learned is that the far left is stupid & can be mean while the far right is mean & can be stupid”. In fact I am a left of center Centrist who increasingly infuriates my far left leaning friends.
Back on topic, as I watched that day’s over-reactionary excess pool become flooded, it became clearer and clearer: Blow’s boring toss out had ultimately taken a life of its own as a red meat pounce. …relegated to the sucking bog of over-the-top PC insensibilities. In rapid succession short order, it became clear to anyone (that would be me) who was trying to lance the boil….no other response was welcome other than ‘Off with his head’ savagery. And suddenly my being a man was the issue as women who have been molested shrieked their open wound sagas. Well, I too was molested (by yes, an Episcopal priest among others) as a kid but that apparently held no water. Irrelevant. This was a man’s…Steve Blow… attack upon women who are the victims. This man…Steve Blow…whom I do not know nor willingly read….was (according to the lynch mob of angry opportunists…) .nothing but a homophobic anti-Catholic lauding the virtues of victimizing women while defending male dominance over female virtue while denigrating children and blaming them for being victims….
I wrote: “Frankly the idea that I could be cast in a Steve Blow apologist camp is more ironic than any humor Steve Blow could dare attempt. I find his writing lame on a good day so I find it a stretch to read between his lines.
Today, everywhere I read, people are pouncing on people who said or wrote this or that and my natural response is usually to not ascribe hidden or personal meaning to what someone ‘meant’. I write in my life, and I many times have people tell me what I ‘meant’. Well, I KNOW what I meant since I wrote it. How could they be telling me what I ‘meant’ by what I wrote. That is where I was coming from.”
I watch those to the far left and the far right both repeating these online assault weapon ambushes constantly now…and frankly, it’s scary ..and even scarier to me when it is increasingly coming from the far left. One-dimensional reactionary responses to anything that flicks their raw-nerve-end switch. Briefly, I was being maneuvered… in my efforts to be fair-minded & not skewer someone in the name of those who saw him as the poster boy for all things not yet dealt with in a psychiatrist’ s office or elsewhere….I was coming to be cast as part of the problem. Susan B. Anthony’s name was posted. Women not allowed to vote was railed. (Never mind that I was raised by a flaming feminist mother who was raised by a suffragette mother professor & my record as a proponent of female advocacy in my tenure as an executive, etc, etc., etc.,……..blah, blah, blah)
My personal postscript irony here; In the same brief blog post Blow wrote that this was another reason to allow ‘priests to marry’. Oh, that would help, right? Never mind that the priest who groped me was a married man with 3 daughters. No man who wears a ring is a molesting pedophile or gay or an adulterer or anything other than what they appear to be, right? Anyone but me recall Dennis Rader the BTK killer? Married, scout leader, church deacon.

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posted July 1, 2010 at 7:49 pm

The fact that one of the alleged victims was twelve makes the statement far more reckless than if it were merely about unwanted advances against adult women. That is not “refreshing.” If Blow knew that one of the victims was twelve, it would be a little worse.
There is a huge moral difference between unwanted advances on adults and any advance on a kid. Yeah, both are wrong, but it’s a lot worse to hit on a kid than it is to hit on an adult and accept “no” for an answer. A whole lot worse. One is a sex crime. The other is “just” a moral failing.
Still, Blow’s post was a single reckless act. The penalty is sufficient (if not a little over the top). It’s time to move on.

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