A brief defense of the Pope

Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the contributor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.

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61 Responses

  1. Scott says:

    How can you proffer even a “brief defense,” as the Church knowingly continued to employ molesters and shifted them around to new positions. The attacks on Pope Benedict XVI are justified given his position and knowledge during the scandal in Germany.Report

  2. Rufus F. says:

    I’m sort of sympathetic to your points here, but I’d note that child molestation scandals aren’t generally known for bringing out cool, calm rationality in people, no matter who is involved. The crime is utterly horrifying, so I don’t think you need be anti-Ratzinger to react harshly to it.Report

  3. Jaybird says:

    If Papa helped reassign priests to another parish rather than send them to a monastery where they’d be stuck molesting grapevines, then we have a scandal.

    If he was Just Another Cardinal who, stuck in the ivory tower that is the Vatican, had nothing to do with much of anything going on at the parish level, then we have a spectacular target.

    Which was he?Report

  4. Dan H. says:

    Bernard Francis LawReport

  5. Travis says:

    I think the current disgust with the Catholic hierarchy has more to do with the institutional cover up of the sexual molestation of children than it does with Benedict’s looks. Does anyone honestly think we would be having this conversation if these revelations had emerged from a secular institution or the Church of Scientology?Report

    • Rufus F. in reply to Travis says:

      I’ve wondered since this emerged why the Boy Scouts don’t have this problem. My wife tells me that she thinks they do criminal background checks for all incoming scoutmasters, although I have no idea.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Rufus F. says:

        Is there still a “shooting” badge?Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Rufus F. says:

        I expect she’s right. I was subject to a background check when I was scheduling youth umpires for the Little League, even though that involved no more child contact than e-mailing out the work schedules and the occasional phone call to find a substitute after a last-minute cancellation.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Rufus F. says:

        This is mostly based in conduct perpetrated in the 80’s and before, remember. Not that there weren’t background checks then, but they weren’t just a societal given the way they are now, presumably especially in the Catholic church. That does not excuse anything, however. Far from it. This ‘defense’ is a tough stretch. It’s not looking good for BXVI.Report

      • BobN in reply to Rufus F. says:

        The Boy Scouts DO have this problem, though on a lesser scale.

        Their response has been quite similar to that of the RCC, both to the abuse when it happened and to the scandal today. They exhibit the same foot-dragging, worry about appearances, and trying to shift the blame.Report

  6. Jake says:

    I missed the part of the article that actually did the defending of the Pope. As far as I could tell, the article’s main function was to mount baseless attacks against your political opponents on the grounds that they were making baseless attacks against their political opponents.
    Next time, you want to make a “brief defense” of someone, you should focus on defending them rather than using up all your precious ink impugning the motives of the people on the other side of the debate.Report

  7. Rufus F. says:

    Mr. Kain has added a helpful postscript, noting: I can’t really blame people for having a strong reaction to such hideous crimes, but let’s make sure we get it right. Absolutely. But you see where this is different from saying that the reactions are purely political or entirely aesthetic?

    I’m totally in agreement with the sentiment that the Pope is innocent until proven guilty and Sullivan needs to calm down. But, let’s be honest- the reasons people are so upset about this are: 1. Molesting children is horrifying, and 2. Enabling molesters to molest children is somehow worse, and 3. A moral pillar of society has a special obligation to hold itself to a higher standard than the rest of us, but the majority of us would likely call the cops if a subordinate was caught molesting children.

    I think Catholics need to keep all of these points in mind when responding to the critics. I spend a lot of time with Catholics, especially on Sunday mornings, and am very sympathetic to their fear that the Pope is being made into a boogeyman by the media. However, it just sounds tone-deaf to suggest that what’s really motivating the critics is anti-Catholic animus, or political agendas, and not to consider that the charges- and here I mean the charges of cover-up more than even the charges of molestation- are uniquely horrific. It suggests that these people wouldn’t be as upset as they are if it came out that, say kindergartens had a problem with allowing molesters to be alone with children, which is quite a logical leap.

    But, again, your larger point- innocent until proven guilty- is totally fair and correct.Report

  8. “I think it is entirely an aesthetic obsession which motivates Benedict’s fiercest critics.”

    Sorry, E.D., I really can’t follow you on this one. Many of Pope Benedict’s “fiercest critics” want to see the church’s whole hierarchy disabled. You have to admit that if one wants to oppose a hierarchy, the human leader at the top of that hierarchy is the proper target?

    Others have disliked him ever since he was head of CDF. Look at the life stories of the two Popes. Before he became the head of the church, John Paul II spent years as part of the spiritual heart of Polish resistance to the Soviets. Cardinal Ratzinger, on the other hand, had the job of enforcing doctrine. The former seems more inspiring than the latter, does it not?

    I think the most important factor is that the public reputation of John Paul II was formed decades before the scandal. Not so for Benedict XVI.Report

    • Barry in reply to William Brafford says:

      “I think the most important factor is that the public reputation of John Paul II was formed decades before the scandal. Not so for Benedict XVI.”

      And JP II died before things got so hot at the very top.Report

  9. Francis says:

    tragedy? witch hunt? Uh, no. The Pope is accused of engaging in acts which, if done within US jurisdiction, would be serious felonies. Back during the Boston scandal, there was some discussion as to whether a criminal RICO claim could be brought against the archdiocese. From what I recall, there was no doubt; either the Boston DA or the US Attorney could have easily prosecuted Law and the archdiocese as the legal entity.

    As far as I’m concerned, if the evidence supports the allegations then the Pope’s next stop (given that he is the head of a country) should be the Hague.Report

  10. Mike Schilling says:

    And as all of these Papal defenders say themselves, child abuse in the Church is a real problem and hopefully the Vatican and the Pope will do more to combat this terrible tragedy

    If after all the years, the most that can be said is that hopefully, something will be done, how can you criticize those who feel that the Church hierarchy needs to be replaced starting at the top?Report

  11. Michael Drew says:

    How many Cardinals knew exactly Ratzinger’s history on this and voted him in office anyway? Moreover, how many of them could take office right now with any less unpleasantness waiting to be unearthed? Or am I to understand there isn’t any serious unpleasantness we need to pay attention to in benedict’s own past?Report

  12. Michael Drew says:

    Honestly, you can’t get anywhere on a Napolitano analogy here, Erik. It’s not even worth the effort.Report

  13. Dan H. says:

    “One can be both horrified and hugely critical of the Church’s handling of the sex scandals and still defend the Pope from these accusations.”

    The problem is that we know of one case where this happened directly under the Pope’s watch. Best case scenario is that he was asleep at the wheel on that one. Best case.

    We also know that there is no accountability in the Church, see Bernard Francis Law.

    Any defense at this time, a time in which there has been no accountability, seems to ring hollow. Let’s see less defenses of the Pope and lets use that energy to actually changing the culture of the Church in a way that protects children and not abusers. The Pope can do this. We’re waiting.Report

  14. Jason Kuznicki says:

    I do find it somewhat odd to imagine that simply allowing priests to marry would somehow put a stop to child abuse in the Church. Do married men not molest children?

    There’s nothing remotely odd about this.

    To this day, the Church promotes total celibacy and chastity as the proper pastoral care for deviant sexualities. Yes, this includes both gays and men who are oriented toward children.

    If you’re gay and Catholic, and if you’re being an observant Catholic, then you are not sexually active. Likewise if you’re Catholic and a pedophile.

    From there — with either deviant orientation — it’s not a big leap to go into the ministry. A great many Catholic priests are discreetly gay — I’ve known some personally, though for obvious reasons I’m not naming names. These priests don’t cause any fuss because they are only oriented toward adults, and because within the priesthood they tend to, er, flock together.

    As to the pedophiles, the Church itself sold them a false cure. To be perfectly fair, there is no known way to change a pedophile’s orientation. But it’s much harder to excuse that the Church very often and knowingly placed them in charge of ministering to children.Report

    • North in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

      Yeah it’s kind of a no-brainer. You can remain a lay person and either obtain a false wife (an act of remarkable cruelty to the poor woman) or be viewed with contempt and suspicion for your chastity by your peers.

      Or you can join the church and be a leader among your peers with chastity simply expected.Report

  15. Michael Drew says:

    I will I say I take E.D.’ point that the calls for resignation are not entirely on-point because they just don’t reflect the way this Church does business. On the other hand, the testy, defensive missives from the High Command don’t exactly send the message I’m looking for (not that I need to be messaged to here; I make to claim to being directly affected by this). But if it were me I would be looking for honest tears of contrition and literal, I mean LITERAL, rending of garments in a televised address. Until we see that I wouldn’t even credit the idea that an honest reckoning is being contemplated here.Report

    • Chris Dierkes in reply to Michael Drew says:

      If Benedict had (or still could) responded differently to these latest set of abuse revelations then there wouldn’t be calls for his head. In that sense he is just the scapegoat for some (well deserved imo) desire for vengeance.

      With the way he has responded to the Irish crisis and now the German one, it is clear that he is still thinking in a mode of response characteristic of the 1950-1980s. That’s when Ratzinger was enculturated into this life, so I can understand how hard it would be to change your way of acting after decades and decades. But the reality is he’s the spiritual and political leader of the Roman Catholic Church and he’s not doing what needs to be done.

      Calling for his resignation is I suppose fair in that sense, but I’m not sure it would really do much. All of the Cardinals and Bishops in the world are ones appointed by JPII (or Benedict) and they all essentially subscribe to their view of the world. One which I think is causing the RC (and Christianity more generally) a huge amount of unnecessary pain and loss of prestige (if it has any left).

      It would take a major league conversion at all levels of doing business which the Vatican is not exactly known for throughout history, let’s be honest.

      Still, I think it is true (as ED is pointing out) there are people who are opposed to the RC hierarchy system and want to use this issue to somehow force the end of the hierarchy. Protestantizing the RC in a sense. Maybe they’re right, maybe they’re wrong in a juridical sense, but that won’t solve the issue at hand I think. Better to focus on that one.Report

      • Calling for his resignation is I suppose fair in that sense, but I’m not sure it would really do much.

        That’s what I’m saying. What he did can’t be condoned because of cultural differences in the 80s compared to today, and if it would accomplish the right things, he deserves to be forced to resign. But it wouldn’t accomplish the right things (and I have no idea if a process of quiet forcing out is possible in this hierarchy; it must have happened in 2000 years). What I suggested might start down the path that is necessary, but i don’t know. It’s what I would want.

        I think it is true (as ED is pointing out) there are people who are opposed to the RC hierarchy system and want to use this issue to somehow force the end of the hierarchy.

        How many of those people are put in that position by having their lives or those of loved ones destroyed by that system through just the matter at hand? Isn’t that exactly what we’re talking about here? What is unfair about other observers coming to similar conclusions?Report

  16. John Howard Griffin says:

    I really love the Catholics decrying the unfairness of how the Pope is being treated with this issue, when that same Church has spent millenia actively pursuing the unfair treatment of others. But, all of a sudden it’s unfair (Leave Brittany Benedict alooooone!).

    Reap what you sow. I think I read that in a book somewhere, but I don’t remember the title. I think it was some kind of manual.

    The Christian’s Bible is a drug store. Its contents remain the same; but the medical practice changes…The world has corrected the Bible. The church never corrects it; and also never fails to drop in at the tail of the procession- and take the credit of the correction. During many ages there were witches. The Bible said so. The Bible commanded that they should not be allowed to live. Therefore the Church, after eight hundred years, gathered up its halters, thumb-screws, and firebrands, and set about its holy work in earnest. She worked hard at it night and day during nine centuries and imprisoned, tortured, hanged, and burned whole hordes and armies of witches, and washed the Christian world clean with their foul blood.

    Then it was discovered that there was no such thing as witches, and never had been. One does not know whether to laugh or to cry…..There are no witches. The witch text remains; only the practice has changed. Hell fire is gone, but the text remains. Infant damnation is gone, but the text remains. More than two hundred death penalties are gone from the law books, but the texts that authorized them remain.

    – Mark Twain

    Shorter JHG: Grow up.Report

  17. Roque Nuevo says:

    Catholic doctrine will excommunicate a priest who has normal sexual relations with a consenting adult. On the other hand, it will cover up child rape because “the flesh is weak” and the rapist can benefit from enforced prayer and reflection before being turned loose to fall into sin again. Is this a perverted ideology, or what? Child rape is probably the most heinous crime imaginable, except within the Catholic church. There, it’s having sex with women.

    Of course eliminating chastity for priests is part of the solution. The present situation allows child rapists to appear normal, amongst their fellow priests, and within a Church whose doctrine holds that women are responsible for leading men into sin (see St. Anthony’s visions of the devil as a woman). The Church attracts such people because they can hide and blend into ordinary Church culture and it has the added benefit that the child rapist will be actively protected by superiors if he’s caught and furthermore allowed to continue raping children after the appropriate period of penance has been fulfilled. What more could they possibly ask for?

    In Mexico the scandal of the day involves the founder of the Legionnaires of Christ, called here the “Millionaires of Christ.” Their founder, Marcial Maciel, was a favorite of Pope John Paul. Back in the ’90s, four or five of his ex acolytes came forward to accuse him of serial child rape. As the scandal built up, and the Mexican authorities declined to prosecute, Maciel was called to the Vatican. Back then, Ratzinger was in charge of the so-called investigations, which let him off the hook entirely. Furthermore, believing that the best defense is a good offense, Ratzinger and the rest of the hierarchy accused the accusers of perjury. When Ratzinger took office, if that’s the right word, he reopened the case and found Maciel guilty as charged. Ratzinger must have had some live-changing experience in the interim. Maciel’s punishment? More prayer and reflection within the Vatican, where he died last year (or the year before).

    The Legionnaires consist of a shadowy network of initiated millionaires plus their priests. The head of the organization is Álvaro Corcuera. Álvaro is related to European nobility and his family goes back to the days of Porfirio Díaz, in the 19th century, where they took advantage of their wealth to become one of the nations most important banking families. They kept this status until 1981 (they were owners of Bancomer, then the countries second-largest bank), when the Mexican state nationalized the banking system.

    The Lelgionaires are mainly known in Mexico as owners of a large network of schools, from kindergarten to graduate schools.

    When Ratzinger emitted his judgment against Maciel, maybe five or six years ago, Corcuera’s reaction was to call Maciel a martyr for Christ. He was being subjected to torture, you see, like Christ, based on flagrant injustice, by the Vatican itself. I used to work in one of their schools and the Maciel-worship was absolutely disgusting.

    Now, new information has surfaced: Maciel had a few children while he was otherwise busy leading the holy order of the Legionnaires and serially raping other people’s children. These children have also come forward to accuse Maciel of raping them as well.

    All this is finally too much for Corcuera. He now admits that Maciel was a child rapist. He now admits that he had a secret family. “Who knew”? he says. He says he’s shocked, shocked, to find out all this stuff when it has been common knowledge for years. He asks for forgiveness, etc etc. No word about the victims of Maciel’s depredations.

    Ratzinger was involved in the cover up at the highest levels in the Vatican, along with Pope John Paul himself. I suppose that money talks even to god or whatever. The Legionaries are a huge, worldwide, cash cow.Report

  18. BobN says:

    “I think it is entirely an aesthetic obsession which motivates Benedict’s fiercest critics.”

    Surely the solution, then, is for Benedict to put his Number One Assistant out there as his spokesman. You know, the absolutely gorgeous Fr. Georg Gaenswein.


    (Is this a childish, stupid suggestion? Sure it is, just like the assertion that inspired it.)Report

  19. that was a ratZINGER! says:

    this entire essay is “lazy.” so, calling the pope a defender of coverer-up of child molestation is too easy, but defending him for your righteous reasons isn’t naive? your conclusions are predicated on these two subjectivities:

    1.) this is akin to politicking and is certainly making a mountain out of a molehill. this tempest of a story is too good to pass up for those who are ideologically sundered from the pope.

    2.) the pope is not photogenic. a person’s first glance at a photograph informs him/her of ratzinger’s character, humanity, and complicity in this cover-up.

    according to you, calling for the pope’s resignation conflates anger and accountability. it is obviously too early for ratzinger to give his resignation, given the soft evidence against him; however, the man clearly had knowledge of the preponderance of these cases, at least when he was a cardinal.

    apparently it was OK for rod blagojevich to be impeached on NOTHING CHARGES, despite the man’s overt sleazeball-factor. so i can wait for all the evidence to come out, because in the end facts are stubborn fucking things.Report

  20. John Henry says:

    I find most of these comments baffling. To review, there are two charges against Benedict:

    1) The New York Times published an article attacking Benedict for not dealing more harshly canonically with a priest who had been out of active ministry for twenty years based on two sources: 1) a plaintiff’s attorney; 2) an infamously terrible Archbishop, who, in addition to shuffling around abusive priests (and not pursuing canonical penalties against them), paid off an ex-lover with hundreds of thousands of diocesan funds. That article was a journalistic travesty; and it’s not hard for Catholics to conclude that there is a lot of anti-Catholic animus driving that type of nonsense, rather than a serious concern for the welfare of children.

    2) The second charge is 1) From 30 years ago; 2) There’s no evidence Benedict even knew the priest was re-assigned to active ministry; 3) And this is taken as grounds for calling for his resignation. WTF?

    Moreover, the evidence is fairly clear that the abuse scandals spiked in the late 1970’s and early 80’s and fell off rapidly afterwards, that there are not really any additional steps that can be taken at this point, and that Benedict was one of the leading figures who brought this about. Why, exactly, should he resign?Report

    • John Henry in reply to John Henry says:

      As my comments above suggest, I am struggling to understand the point of view of people who think that this is all a new scandal. From my perspective, this issue has been addressed – and addressed – and addressed some more. I’ve worked in parishes in the U.S. I’ve been to training. My wife’s been to training. Our friends have been to training and run training. The pastor canceled pick-up basketball at the parish on the off chance that people who hadn’t received the abuse training might show up and might come into some sort of contact with children. It’s been eight years since these scandals broke in the U.S. The culture that produced the abuse scandals is long gone at this point – and has been for going on twenty years according to the best available statistics:


      Benedict was one of the chief leaders in recognizing the problem and taking action against it. The New York Times reporting was remarkably shoddy, and the other charge is based on taking as a starting point the worst possible gloss on the available facts.

      At some point, particularly given that there’s not much else the Church can do going forward that they haven’t already done to prevent abuse, it starts to appear to many people that this isn’t about abuse. Rather, it’s about people like Sullivan and the New York Times who dislike the Church for a host of other reasons grasping any weapon at hand to attack the Church and Pope Benedict. At least, that’s how it appears to me.

      And, of course, immediately the charge is that anyone who says this doesn’t really care about the victims of abuse. Listen, I care about the victims of abuse. They include family members and friends; who I don’t care for are people who hide behind these victims to attack the Church in a way that strikes me as transparently dishonest. People don’t like the Church; that’s fine. There are any number of legitimate reasons for that. But treating Archbishop Weakland as a reliable source or trumping of charges against Pope Benedict aren’t among them in my view.Report

    • E.D. Kain in reply to John Henry says:

      John – exactly right. And thanks for linking to Douthat’s piece – it’s very illuminating.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to E.D. Kain says:

        “addressed — and addressed — and addressed some more.”

        This indeed reflects the seeming attitude of the hierarchy to ward this ongoing problem. It is “addressed” and then it should be over. Well, it is not “addressed” and it is not over. And nothing could be more destructive to this institution than for its leadership to allow itself to retain this posture any longer.Report

        • John Henry in reply to Michael Drew says:

          I really have no idea what you’re talking about. I cited the current rates of abuse, the procedures that have been put in place to prevent abuse, and the fact that Benedict was pro-active in bringing about many of these reforms. And your response “It’s not over!” Well, if kids aren’t being abused…and the proper procedural safeguards are in place…and it’s still not over, when will it ever be over? It’s been eight years since we became aware of the abuse that primarily took place fifteen to forty years before that. You may not have been paying attention, but a lots changed. I really don’t know what else they can do to protect children at this point, and it’s obvious you haven’t worked or volunteered for the Church in the last ten years, much less applied for seminary. There’s nothing wrong with being ignorant, but ignorance combined with ‘I’ve made up my mind, don’t bother me with the facts’ blustering is Sullivan-esque.Report

          • robert in reply to John Henry says:

            What about justice? Ok fine, so you believe the church. You believe they have everything under control, fine. I disagree but fine. But that isn’t enough. There are laws. And breaking laws have consequences. In this country, you cant simply find out a man molested children and then transfer him to another parish so that you aren’t embareced. Now I understand there is some religious sensitivity. But imagine if an company that provided day care for hundreds of thousands of children all across the country had top executives that transfered child molesting day care providers around to avoid embarcement for the company. What would happen to those CEOs. I know you believe that the Pope can talk to God. But our country has a seperation of church and state. And further more it is time for you to realize that your church has not been honest to you. You need to help fix your church.Report

          • I just hope everyone reading all these posts and threads reads this particular comment and considers your claims and your level of understanding of the implications of the last fifty years’ worth of deeds and what is required to reckon with them very carefully.Report

            • John Henry in reply to Michael Drew says:

              I don’t think it’s really fair play to change subjects that quickly Michael. There are a number of different questions here:

              1) What is required to reckon with the scandals? Well nothing can ever ‘reckon’ with the scandals. No one can undo harm to the victims of abuse, or unappoint the disgusting monsters that shuffled priests around to avoid responsibility. There are no redo’s in life.

              2) What should be done going forward to prevent abuse? For the most part, I think everything that can be done has been done?

              3) How long after an abuse scandal do people like you get to say ‘It’s not over’ when the statistics, the procedures, and all of the available evidence suggest that the spike in abuse that occurred has long been over? I think at some point there’s a statute of limitations on that, and after eight years and countless changes, I’m a little tired of hearing that it’s never been addressed.Report

              • I didn’t change topics – reckoning and accountability are the topics. As much as you want it to be over, or be about the fact that “the spike” is over, it is not. (I’m frankly agape that it is possible for someone to believe that is even significant apart from the thankful implication that the rate of new ongoing harm has slowed.) It is about acknowledgement, reckoning, and accountability. That’s a real, pressing human need and your obliviousness to it entirely explains your incredulity that a crisis that “it’s been eight years since we became aware of” could possibly have remaining to say nothing of renewed virulence after that amount of time. No, the harm can’t be undone. And perhaps it can’t even be reckoned with. But the clear reality is that this institution has not tried. Your easy declaration that “nothing can ever ‘reckon'” with this amounts to nothing more than simple avoidance. Even if you are right, it can’t be that easy. A struggle to reckon with it, even if ultimately failed or even doomed, is required. And even if reckoning is impossible, accountability is clearly not. I’m not calling for it, but the Pope COULD resign. Other signs of accountability COULD be shown. Which ones should be shown must be determined by processes I don’t have mastery of. But the means of so doing are clearly available. All avenues have not been exhausted to an institution determined to do all it can to reckon and pay account. So even though ultimately nothing can ever undo the harm, and perhaps the Church can never truly reckon with it, it manifestly has it in its power to do far more to offer accountability in place of those things. Your breezy dismissal of such need here because this renews Eight Long Years of painful allegations and adjustments just demonstrates that you don’t think such things are necessary, not a tortured conclusion that, alas, nothing more can be done. Because it obviously can. You just don’t want it to, or want not to have to think about it.Report

              • John Henry in reply to Michael Drew says:

                But the clear reality is that this institution has not tried.

                The ‘clear reality’ here, in my view, is that a lot has been tried – and succeeded – but that you have decided to ignore all of those things for whatever reason. In other words, implementing strict abuse training in every diocese of the country, changing seminary formation for priests, Pope Benedict individually meeting with abuse victims, Pope Benedict publicly apologizing repeatedly to abuse victims, Pope Benedict personally suspending various bishops immediately upon being elected, and the sacrifices of millions of Catholics every year to atone for these scandals are evidence of ‘not trying’ whenever the New York Times decides to make weakly sourced and implausible allegations. Well, that’s your call, but when you display little to no familiarity with the actions the Church has taken or any of the relevant statistics and continue pounding the table all the same, it’s difficult to avoid the impression that you’re basically Andrew Sullivan-lite.Report

              • When I say they have not tried, I mean that relative to what needs to be done and what they are capable of doing, an effort of note has not been made; the message has not gotten through. Nevermind that it hasn’t gotten through to me, it hasn’t gotten through or been enough for the thousands who have been victimized. Who are you to say when it is enough for them? If it were enough, then the virulency of the scandal would pass; it would have no more bite. A belief (anticipating your response) that it is being perpetuated by people hostile to the Church has no handle on reality: no one could make this difficult for the Church if a reckoning with victims and members were complete. The outside detractors are irrelevant. Blaming this on enemies is Nixoneque denial. The matter is not settled in the Church itself; that is the thing — the only thing — that can keep the scandal alive.

                Because who can say how many rounds of the recurrence of this pain in victims are to come? And the Church will be responsible for every one. Does this mean the Church may be reckoning with this and dealing with renewed scandal for the foreseeable future. The thought!

                They have not tried to reckon with this, because likely you are right and nothing can ever equal a true reckoning and so until they have truly done all they can, they have not truly tried. If they follow your advice and decide they can simply move on now because nothing can ever really make it right or even reckon with it and within that reality they believe have done enough, then that is simply abrogation. They have not tried until they do ALL they can do and then do more.

                I also can’t stress enough how irrelevant the processes they have put into place to end or stem the abuse are to the question on reckoning and accountability. That is simply an entirely independent requirement that would amount a new egregious crime everyday being committed if not done. It is a precondition to a reckoning but is not in itself a positive step forward.

                Though whatever comfort they have brought victims is welcome, — and if I underestimate it, then I will accept that — a few apologies along with meeting the bare minimum legal requirement of implementing procedures to stem the abuse do not seem to me to constitute a real effort at reckoning or accountability given the resources, prestige, and authority the Church has to bring to bear on such an effort if it truly were so inclined. You seem to agree as you say that accountability is lacking and reckoning impossible but therefore, wrongly, impossibly, that enough has been done.

                For the record, I’m absolutely fine playing ‘Andrew Sullivan-lite’ here. Or ‘heavy,’ as it were. I’m pleased to be associated with him on this as on any of a number of other topics. At least he is a Catholic who is facing up to this.Report

              • John Henry in reply to Michael Drew says:


                Again, as fond as you are of pretending to care about children, your really just engaging in ignorant table-pounding. Abuse of children in Catholic institutions is multiples lower than in similar institutions that perform the same functions. If you care about abuse of children – as opposed to attacking the Church – then there are far better targets out there.

                Over 4% (almost 1 in 25) of every child that goes through the public school system is abused. That’s multiples higher than at Catholic institutions, where the rates are currently well below 1%. But I doubt you’ve ever written anything to condemn the public schools in this country, which probably means you’re giving the administrators the benefit of the doubt – it’s tough to identify and screen out people who, by definition, actively seek to be close to children in order to abuse them. And it’s fine that you don’t give Catholic institutions similar trust after the recent scandals.

                But this means that, basically, we have institution A, where abuse is at x level and we have institution B, where abuse is at 4x. Both institutions are performing the same educational function. At institution A they’ve recently engaged in a comprehensive education program of all children, volunteers, and instructors to prevent this problem. At institution B, the rates are multiples higher and it’s basically business is usual. And yet you’re criticism is that at Institution A they’re not taking abuse seriously and haven’t done anything. Forgive me for concluding that it’s dislike of Institution A on other grounds rather than concerns about abuse that’s driving your criticism.

                As I said, there are areas where I wish more has been done, but

                1) I think everything has been done that can be done to protect children going forward. And, as a parent, with a child in Catholic schools, with relatives who had been abused during the 1970’s, I’ve researched this;

                2) I have personally observed the implementation of these programs in the U.S., and they are stringent;

                3) The available evidence suggests that the rates of abuse now are much lower than at comparable institutions.

                Now, you can always scream at the top of your lungs “It’s not enough!” and that’s fine. I’ll even agree with you on some points. But claiming that nothing has been done is just ignorant.Report

              • It’s just not the question. I am not saying the measures that have been put in place are inadequate. I quote one commenter questioning it, but ultimately it isn’t my point at all. I’m not questioning what you say about where things stand with ongoing abuse. You seem to think it is the only relevant point. I am saying the issue is addressing the harm that is already done in a real way that reflects its profundity and fully explicates responsibility.Report

              • And I have never claimed that nothing had been done. I said they have not really tried at a reckoning, and I defined “tried” very specifically.Report

  21. robert says:

    I am sorry, but I am having a hard time seeing how this is unfair to the pope. Who it is unfair to is the hundreds of thousands of children that have been molested and the hundreds of thousands of more children that will be molested if something is not done. So I am less concerned whether or not you feel that this fair or not. There is evidence that the Pope has committed a crime. I am not saying that he committed a sin. I am saying he committed a crime. He might be able to go wash his hands of his sin by confessing to a priest, but that aint enough for US law. We need this to stop. And WHATEVER it takes to get this to STOP we NEED TO DO. It might be time to look at putting political preasure on the vatican. They seem to think that they do not have to answer to US law. In this country, US law comes before vatican law. We need to put preasure on the pope to come testify. We need to find out what he knew and when. We need to start putting people in jail. Including Cardinal Law. Since he is head of state and can not be prosecuted. Then we need to put preasure on him to resign and the vatican to prosecute him. This is what needs to be done to people that commit crimes. If the vatican will not prosecute or he will not resign. We need to work with EU, Italy, GB and other major countries to get the vatican no longer recognized as a country. We need to seize church lands so that children can no longer be molested on them. We need to freeze vatican accounts. If we do not children will continue to be molested by this monsterous church. This is the reality. I am sorry that you believed in them… but it is time. This isnt stopping. It keeps on going. There is just more and more evidence. We need to treat them like we would treat any other organization that has allowed so much molestation and there is so much proof that they are covering up.Report

    • John Henry in reply to robert says:

      the hundreds of thousands of more children that will be molested if something is not done.

      Again, it’s hard to take this type of ignorance seriously. The abuse peaked in the late 1970’s. Here’s a link to the data on abuse:


      Notice, there hasn’t been an abuse crisis in terms of abuse rates since at least the late 1980’s, and the rates of abuse currently are extremely low. In a population of a 100 million Catholics, there are about 50 reported cases a year. As to the ‘if something isn’t done’ line, do you have any idea what has been done? I mean, every person who volunteers or works for the Church in any capacity has sexual abuse training and background checks. All potential priests (unlike in the 1950’s and 1960’s when the priests who perpetrated most of the scandals went through seminary) now go through extensive psychological and emotional maturity evaluations. There is a no-tolerance one strike policy. Now, sure, you’re never going to hear about the very low current rates of abuse or all of the measures in place to protect children now if your sources are Andrew Sullivan, the New York Times, and plaintiff’s lawyers, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened.Report

      • I don’t disagree that the particular claim you quote (and indeed likely the entire idea of “hundreds of thousands of children that have been abused”) is just hyperbole. But because it isn’t and won’t be hundreds of thousands, does that make it any better, any less demanding of reckoning and accountability?

        Fifty cases of reported sexual abuse a year is indeed probably no worse than many other institutions, indeed probably better. But it’s still nothing to celebrate, except in this grotesque context. Does the quip, “so, when did you stop beating your wife?” have no meaning for you? Here it’s real. It’s necessary proper that precautions and changes have been made to control the problem. But that does nothing more than stem the tide (if the statistics are to be believed). You’re still utterly failing to offer a program for reckoning and accountability, in fact denying the need for it. Your view seems to be that the mere survival and quelling of a crisis at a certain time actually amounts to a resolution that renders the problem “addressed.” You are apparently oblivious to the human need for full acknowledgement, accountability, and closure. If this were done, it would be clear. It is clearly not.

        As to your claim that “kids aren’t being abused” (made in an earlier comment), or your backpedalling claim that “there hasn’t been an abuse crisis in terms of abuse rates since at least the late 1980’s,” perhaps the John Jay statistics reflect reality. Or perhaps they don’t. The graph given in the Douthat post labels the number it tracks “Actual totals of incidents.” This label itself seems to me to reflect a profound ignorance of the nature of the problem here — no reference to the problem of reporting. We do not know what we do not know. This comment on Douthat’s post is worth considering:

        Absolutely amazing. One day after posting a comment yesterday that there was no “sexual revolution” basis for the clerical sexual abuse scandal, and that I should know, as an ex-seminarian who, in the 1970s , attended one of the prominent Diocesan seminaries and knew personally many of the abusers and the climate in which they were schooled and ordained, Douthat is still trying to manufacture a connection using statistically invalid inferences.

        The fact that offenses per priest isn’t shown in the John Jay chart above is just scratching the surface. In reality, the percentage of all priests ordained in 1960 who were were accused of abuse is statistically the same as the percent ordained in 1980 who were accused.

        And what about the post 1980 trend? Guess what – children and young adults take YEARS even DECADES to come forward about their victimization. Have your ever watched the documentaries the “Hand of God” and “Deliver us from Evil” and listened to the agony that these people went through to finally get to a point of telling someone they had been abused?

        The John Jay report itself states “(e)very published empirical study on the disclosure of child sexual abuse indicates that a high percentage of those child sexual abuse victims who report their abuse to authorities delay disclosure of their abuse and that a significant number of children do not disclose the abuse at all.

        Try plotting the age at which the abuse victim finally came forward versus what the age when they were victimized. That lag time will give you a good idea of what is still brewing.

        And what about other factors other than the “sexual revolution” affecting the curve? The John Jay report itself suggests that rates of sexual abuse in general have perhaps been reduced as a result of increased incarceration for sexual abuse offenders, and between 1991 and 1997, the number of individuals incarcerated in state correctional facilities for sex crimes against children rose 39 percent.

        Legal actions and law enforcement increasingly forced the church to start treating these sickos as criminals and to stop protecting and reasssigning them. That is has helped – but hardly fixed what was wrong and why they abused in the first place.

        And how do you factor in the attempts by Catholic Bishops to publically discredit victims, hide evidence, lie under oath, prolong legal proceedings, hide behind trumped up bankruptcies, etc… in short, act like mob bosses (to quote one member of the board who investigated). Do you think that behavior has had the net result of surpressing the number of recently reported cases?

        John Jay was, in reality, used as an end run attempt to preserve the status quo regarding mandated celibacy. It’s methods were flawed as data was withheld from them by certain Bishops. And it was used to suggest that priests abuse no more frequently than the public – which has been exposed as a falsehood – and ultimately to pin blame for the scandal on anything else that might be “fixable”, short of addressing the real costs of the insane celibate clerical mandate.

        I cannot say how much we can credit this perspective. To me it seems objectively as credible as yours , however.Report

  22. John Henry says:

    Michael, the comment above strikes me as ludicrous. Set aside the bizarre motive-based attack at the end. In order for the lag in reporting to alter the data, there would have to be a significant change in the rate of the lag (some people deciding to report later, some people deciding to report earlier). Does it at all seem likely to you that such a lag, post the 2002 scandals and the clear financial incentives for victims to bring suits prior to the expiration of the statute of limitations, that the rate of such a lag would increase in a way that would make reporting of abuse go down? If so, well, you’re entitled to your opinion, but on any less tragic subject I’d be willing to bet a large amount of money against someone who employed that type of reasoning.

    As to accountability, I’m in agreement with you to some extent. There has not been nearly as much accountability as I would like. Someone like Cardinal Law should be in a shack in the desert living out his days in penance and prayer. There are other bishops who should receive similar assignments. Additionally, the press office of the Vatican has (as at many other times in the past four to five years) responded to the slanderous NYT story and the possibly legitimate (but we don’t have the facts) claim about what happened under Benedict’s watch in Munich 30 years ago about as poorly as one could imagine. They are incompetent, and they have been for some time.

    That said, while I favor much harsher accountability for certain individuals, I simply don’t think it’s accurate to say that the scandal has not been addressed. As I described above, a lot has been done, and Benedict has personally met on several occasions with abuse victims and apologized directly and without qualification for the horrors of the scandal.Report

  23. Michael Drew says:

    I want to say that on this Easter Sunday, I am hearing Catholics from across the world and the political/cultural spectrum say unequivocally that the Churches response to this crisis — and no one questions the legitimacy of the renewed crisis — is insufficient and evasive. There are widespread calls for massive institutional reform. Massive institutional reform. As I have written, I do not have mastery over the institution’s parts and levers to say what that entails, but when I talk about a real effort at reckoning, this type of undertaking — massive institutional reform, which I now hear called for from around the globe — is exactly the kind of I refer to. At least it would seem a necessary part there of.

    Happy Easter, everyone.