Brooklyn Diocese Demands An Apology That It Is Not Owed

Sam Wilkinson

According to a faithful reader, I'm Ordinary Times's "least thoughtful writer." So I've got that going for me, which is nice.

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13 Responses

  1. Mike Dwyer says:

    I thought this post was well-done. It lays out an abbreviated timeline of events and (mostly) sticks to the facts. I don’t disagree with any of those facts. The Church is a very long way from making amends for past deeds, though I think if we’re being honest, I don’t see how they could ever actually obtain forgiveness. Those abuses likely go back centuries, in one form or another. If it wasn’t priests molesting young boys, it was taken advantage of female parishioners or the poor or [fill in the blank]. I have been watching Rebellion this week on Netflix and was unsurprised to learn that the local bishop in Dublin was unsupportive of the Easter Uprising in 1916 because he had gotten too chummy with their Protestant occupiers (I haven’t investigated the historical accuracy of this but it was so believable I didn’t even blink).

    Regardless of all of that, since chasing forgiveness is a fool’s errand that must still be undertaken, I think the Church faces two ancillary questions: The first is whether or not they have put structure in place to ensure these abuses don’t happen again. I have not been watching close enough and the Church is so large that i can’t answer this. For example, what are conditions like in South America or Africa, where the Church is at its strongest? It seems like Third World faithful are even more vulnerable to abuse. What is happening there?

    The second question is much, much bigger. It’s a question of how to reconcile this terrible thing with all of the good that has also come from the Church. I was raised Catholic, attended Catholic schools in a town that is dominated by Catholic culture and my entire family still practices (and also most of my friends). We see all of this cultural good that comes out of the Church and for the still-faithful they also believe their salvation lays with the Church. How do we reconcile this?

    I have been considering historical parallels and haven’t landed on a perfect one yet. I have thought about the average German citizen during the Third Reich. How did they reconcile things afterwards? But that’s much different because the government no longer endured. It’s punishment was thorough and complete, with the exception of the odd concentration camp guard that is occasionally revealed. Because Germany itself was to blame, they have passed all sorts of laws that codify their shame.

    Because of this dichotomy between the evils of the Catholic church and the good of the Catholic church and it’s role as a still-vibrant religious institution, I don’t know if those on the outside will ever be satisfied with the outcome. And that spiritual role is also why it is so hard for people to fully acknowledge what happened. When the subject comes up around my Catholic friends you can see how much they struggle with an answer. They are trying to compartmentalize the evil they know to be true away from the good they also know to be true. Otherwise, how can they continue to send their kids to catholic schools, attend Mass and feast at the next Lenten fish fry?

    As a no-longer-practicing Catholic who still has many good things to say about the Church but who also has my eyes wide-open about the evils that have been done, if I could ask for any understanding from outside the Church, it would be to recognize how hard this is for the average Catholic and to maybe not see the issue as quite so black & white. To be clear, i’m not suggesting the OP does this, so this is more of a plea for the conversation to follow.

    Thanks for writing this Sam.Report

    • “I have been considering historical parallels and haven’t landed on a perfect one yet.”

      No need to look to history. We have a present-day parallel: the blue wall of silence police culture. Most cops are not homicidal psychopaths looking for the thinnest excuse to shoot someone. The problem is that many departments are willing to tolerate the ones who are, and close ranks around him when the need arises.Report

      • Mike Dwyer in reply to Richard Hershberger says:

        I don’t think I agree with that one because people aren’t born cops, grow up as cops, educated as cops, attend weekly re-affirmations of their cop status, saying cop prayers before meals, etc. Growing up in a faith and having it permeate every part of your life is a bit different than joining a fraternity of cops as an adult. That’s why I feel some sort of state-level example is more accurate. Being Catholic is a whole other level of involvement that feels more like national identity to me. And that’s also why I am so interested in seeing how the average faithful reconcile this. It’s a lot easier for me, having left the Church long before any of this.Report

  2. Anecdatum: the church has managed to drive away my niece, a life-long practicing Catholic. The final straw was a pastoral letter after the Pennsylvania report was released. The short version is that they blamed the gays for everything. She now attends an Episcopal church.Report

  3. Pinky says:

    I’m a devout Catholic, and I was offended by Davidson’s bit. But I reject the call for an apology as an American and as a Catholic. As an American, I’m part of a long tradition of free speech and public debate, which no church is protected from. As a Catholic, I’m keenly aware that I have no right not to be discriminated against. I shouldn’t ever be phased by the praise or mockery of society.

    Now, the part of the Diocese’s statement that this article left out is its defense of its actions following this scandal. I think that’s important. That’s the part I agree with. I don’t think Davidson’s bit was correct. There’s a lot I’d debate in this article, as well.

    (I keep writing more, but it’s basically me repeating myself. On the one hand, the actions of some members of the Catholic Church can be somewhat explained and defended; on the other hand, the organization as a whole cannot expect to be immune from criticism based on some members’ bad actions.)Report

    • Sam Wilkinson in reply to Pinky says:

      Which part of Davidson’s bit were you offended by?Report

      • Pinky in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

        I find it offensive because it was so sweeping. If his analogy were right, it would be like condemning music in 20 years because there were some artists like R Kelly and presumably some people in the recording business who overlooked his behaviour.Report

        • Sam Wilkinson in reply to Pinky says:

          R. Kelly is to Music as the Catholic Church is to religion was the analogy Davidson was going for. (That’s without addressing the scope of the abuse.)Report

          • Maribou in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

            @pinky @sam_wilkinson

            I didn’t find it offensive at all – it was satire and like all good satire it stung. I think it’s also relevant that Davidson is speaking from the perspective of someone whose own upbringing is steeped in the very Catholicism he’s criticizing. “My mom said …” not “some random stranger I’m othering said…” It’s a joke about being uncomfortable with how the speaker pulls the wool over his own eyes, as much as anything.

            But, also, if you look at the logical hole in the joke (which, again, jokes have holes, not really a complaint) — there are many many practicing Catholics who were victimized in ways that priests were directly or indirectly responsible for — I would wager *more* of them than there are abusive members of the hierarchy, given the math on such things (leavers because of being abused is a linear proportion of victims, whereas abused people is a geometric proportion of abusers, is the math I’m seeing). So that’s pretty different from the R. Kelly thing.

            I’m glad we can all agree it’s frakkin’ absurd for the diocese to be demanding an apology for the joke, though. I think that speaks volumes to what at least those particular members of the hierarchy have and haven’t learned.Report

  4. Mr.Joe says:

    A large social system whose first principals are 2000 year old best practices is likely to have many of the failings we have discovered and have patches for in social system design. To me, the fundamental issue is that the Church believes itself to be the highest law on the earth and sees no need to answer to other social structures. Additionally, the belief that God’s law is timeless and unerring does not help. As long as the Church answers to itself, all is well. I do not believe the Catholic church is capable of reform to update to modern life. The problems are foundational, and the foundation cannot be changed without the entire structure collapsing.

    This is not the first time that the Church has failed to keep up with advancing morality. It probably will not be the last.

    As to the question of “what about all the good the Catholic church does?”, I would posit that most, if not all, of that good is done by good people. In the absence of the Catholic church, they would almost certainly be good people and do good works. There are plenty of alternatives.Report

    • Mike Dwyer in reply to Mr.Joe says:

      With regards specifically to the abuse allegations in the last 20 years or so, that was in many ways created by some unique cultural forces paired with structural flaws in the way boys and young men were funneled into the priesthood. So that is a fairly specific phenomenon. It appears though that the Church has some new problem every century. That seems fitting for any organization with global reach.

      The interesting phenomenon is that the Church is arguably the oldest institutional structure in the world. Most other faiths are much less centralized and structured. Unlike the Roman empire though, I think it is better at enduring. That does mean some amount of adaptive ability. This is the purpose of various councils and papal decrees. Keep in mind this is the same Church that imprisoned Galileo and now is mostly friendly to science.

      As for keeping up with advancing morality…it’s a religion. None of them move swiftly along the lines of changing morals. There should be no surprise there.Report

  5. Dark Matter says:

    Yeah, Sam has it right here.

    I’ll add that the Church is a business, and that it’s business is god doesn’t prevent it from having the normal management style issues. The solution is the same too btw, 9+ digit fines.

    Businesses this size and age are amoral. From their point of view this isn’t an ethical issue because there is no such thing. They’re going to continue doing this until it’s so expensive they need to stop.Report