Collect

Collect for Purity (said at every Mass)

Almighty God, unto whom all hearts be open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

The Next Catholic Reform, Part IV

‘Give your evidence,’ said the King.
‘Shan’t,’ said the cook.

—Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

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A few ideas for reforming the Catholic Church that I personally think are bad, or at any rate unhelpful. I may of course be mistaken, but, in case I’m not (or in case I am but a smarter person can show me where I’m wrong), here is a list of them and why I believe they’re unwise.


1. Categorically banning gay men from becoming priests. There are a myriad of problems with this idea. First, considering the cultural hostility of the Church toward LGBT language and self-identification, there are strong social and psychological pressures against young men even recognizing themselves as gay (or same-sex attracted or whatever, I seriously don’t care, as long as you just pick a word and are honest about it). On the other hand, there is no surefire gay test. So what this policy would actually do, is allow only those gay or bisexual men who are either sufficiently in denial about their attraction, or unscrupulous enough to lie about it, to become priests; those who have processed their sexuality and aren’t willing to be dishonest will be the ones excluded. The problems of abuse and Machiavellian secrecy would be exacerbated by a policy like this.

Besides this, while it’s true that something like four-fifths of clerical abuse has been homosexual in nature, it doesn’t actually follow that homosexuality is causally linked to abuse. Most mass shootings and terrorist attacks on American soil have been the work of white men, but it doesn’t follow that whiteness causes terrorism—although it does justify investigating why the statistical link exists. Likewise here: the pattern exists, but that calls for analysis of its causes, and targeting gay people or gay priests is not only unjust, it’s unproductive. There are other factors at work, and if they are not properly accounted for then more people will be victimized. It is the difference between discovering the guilty, and simply burning the accused; the latter is more immediately satisfying, whereas the former requires persistent, intelligent work.

2. Ordaining married men and/or allowing priests to marry. I say in all seriousness that it would be nice if the solution were this straightforward. The problem here is that it isn’t, not that the proposed expedient is unattractive.

The notion here is that the celibate life either causes a tendency to act out sexually, or attracts people who already have such a propensity (whether through a naïve belief that celibacy will fix them, or maliciously, as cover for their appetites). There’s no doubt that that is true in individual cases. But it doesn’t match the facts about sex offenses in general—a category of criminal that’s very poorly understood in the popular mind. There are two typical profiles of sex offenders, what you might call the acute and the chronic; the recidivism rate for sexual offenses is lower than that for any crime except murder, because sexual crimes are largely the work of acute offenders who are reacting to specific, temporary stresses in sick ways, and who mostly respond to treatment. Chronic sex offenders are to the acute what a serial killer is to an ordinary murderer: apparently incurable as a rule, and very rare. They dominate the popular idea of what sex offenders because their victim-to-criminal ratio is far higher and their deviant behaviors tend to be much more dramatic.

But the thing about both categories of sex offender is, many perpetrators are or have been married, more than half (in direct contrast to violent crime in general). As far as I understand, acute sex offenses are usually about relieving some kind of stress, and chronic offenses are usually about power and ego—neither of them is necessarily about sexual appetite just as such. If they were, we would expect a majority of sex offenders to be unpartnered, but that prediction is contradicted by the observed facts.

3. Ordaining women. According to Catholic (and Orthodox) doctrine, this is impossible, whether it would be desirable or not. Female accountability or even oversight are not necessarily impossible, as I addressed in my third post; and given that the principal function of the clergy in general is to provide the faithful with the sacraments, which is not simply the same thing as canonical governance, intimately entwined though the two things are. The abuse scandal should not be made a pretext for deforming the doctrines of the Church—but equally, the doctrines of the Church should not be made a pretext for protecting a diseased system of discipline.


4. Violating, altering, or abolishing the seal of Confession. More than one government has attempted this recently: some districts in Australia have passed laws this year that would compel confessors to violate the seal in cases of abuse, and Ireland passed such laws in 2015 (though they have yet to be implemented). The problems here are two: one is the religious liberty issue, and the other is that, like trying to exclude gay men from the priesthood, it would certainly be ineffective. As to the first, the whole notion of the separation of Church from state is that neither should have the power to interfere in the affairs of the other—which is one of the reasons that so few states have really attempted the separation. And Confession is most certainly the Church’s affair. Her belief is that the priest himself is only lending his body to Christ’s personal action of forgiveness, and the seal exists because the penitent’s sins and secrets were not being told to him except, in a way, accidentally.

The impracticality, however, is even more obvious. Who would confess these things sacramentally if they knew they would be reported to the civil authorities? Only somebody who was prepared to face confessing to the civil authorities anyway. It is like the riddle in Wicked about what a dragon looks like while it’s inside its shell; nobody knows the answer because the only way to get inside it is to break it.

5. Turning into a snake. It never helps.

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Friday, October 26, 2018

The Banquet

The Pope has laid a princely feast
Upon the Church’s board:
In files each cardinal, bishop, priest—
The chosen of the Lord.
No expense spared, each place is set
With cups of gold and gem,
Napkins of silk as black as jet,
White plates of porcelain.
The joint is carved, the wine is poured
(But the fish would not fry);
Bishop with bishop firm concord
Holds, over roasted thigh.

Their charities have got them fame,
As promised in the Law.
A Virgin in a silvered frame
Smiles blind at their foie gras.
They their vexatious Church affairs
Delicately discuss:
How laws oppress, tithes are impaired,
And how the laymen fuss.
Their programs they accept and bless,
Their institutes exalt,
Sitting serene as stone grotesques
Or statues made of salt.

The Pope rises, and calls a toast:
‘The Body and the Blood.’
The college nods. The white-clad ghost
Imbibes the scarlet flood.
The tipsiest are talkative,
The sober ones are mute:
All eye each other, secretive,
While the maid serves the fruit.
Little is left of their repast
Below the Mother mild:
They licked the rib-cage bright as brass,
The rib-cage of a child.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

The Next Catholic Reform, Part III

[Saint] Francis wanted to call the outcast, ready to revolt, to be part of the people of God. If the flock was to be gathered again, the outcasts had to be found again. Francis didn’t succeed, and I say it with great bitterness. … Excluded as they were from the flock, all of them were ready to hear, or to produce, every sermon that, harking back to the word of Christ, would condemn the behavior of the shepherds and would promise their punishment one day. The powerful always realized this. The recovery of the outcasts demanded reduction of the privileges of the powerful …

—Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose
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Brass tacks, then. If my evaluation of how the Catholic Church got into this mess is mostly or even largely accurate, then we can identify a few reasonable, workable ways to confront the mess and clean it up. The summary is: we have a hierarchy that feels embattled and defensive, trying to maintain its authority with its members and its prosperity and influence in the general culture; this has led to a deformed attachment to appearances, which rewards dishonesty and evasion and punishes complaint regardless of its legitimacy; and this in turn results in a clerical culture that fosters unhealthy approaches to sex and gives substantial cover to predators.

The focus of most traditional Catholics in accounting for this scandal has been upon sex (and especially homosexuality), but I think that’s mostly a red herring. It is the diseased dynamics concerning image and power that brought the scandal into being—if the hierarchy had not been trying to protect both, it would probably have dealt with the problem openly and as it was discovered, and there would have been far fewer victims. These are problems with pride and avarice, not lust.

Conversely, progressivist Catholics have long been talking about the all-male, celibate priesthood and the Church’s doctrinal stances on issues like divorce and homosexuality as contributing factors to abuse. Personally I’m a little skeptical of this, partly because there are other institutions consisting largely or entirely of celibate men—for instance, there are monastic orders among Buddhists and Hindus, as well as Eastern Orthodox Christians—which, so far as I know, don’t display the same problems that the Catholic hierarchy does. However, to the extent that factors like an all-male environment intersect with image and power issues (and I strongly suspect they do), they’d be relevant, though not necessarily in the way progressivists claim.


The thing to do, I believe, is to hack at the roots of pride and avarice, rather than plucking the flowers of lust. There are several ways this could be done, none of them mutually exclusive.

1. Impose poverty on clergy. There’s nothing wrong with having a beautiful church building, indeed there’s everything right with it: we should give God our best, materially as well as otherwise, and it’s a more creditable (and more public) use of gilding and marble than a billionaire’s private gym or a shopping mall. But chanceries, rectories, and episcopal residences could be cut down to size. A chancery office does not need chestnut panelling and Tiffany chandeliers to serve its purpose, and outside of the liturgy, bishops do not really need to appear in state. Even if they are receiving dignitaries, what could be more appropriate than requiring an official who wants to deal with the Church to deal with her in her poverty? the poverty in which her Lord entered, lived, and died in the world? An inverse relationship between ecclesiastical stature and secular prosperity would not only help rein in pride and greed, it would be deeply apostolic.

2. Introduce laity, male and female, into the official operations of the Church. Of course there is some of this already. But it can be ramped up. Sacramentally speaking, qualified laymen and laywomen could be made eligible to fulfill almost any function in the Church except for celebrating the sacraments: teaching seminarians, running hospitals and schools, serving as diocesan officials. Even the office of cardinal could be reöpened to laymen—it was not restricted to clergy until 1917, though most cardinals were in fact priests or bishops; and indeed, the ancient electoral form included the right of the laity of the diocese of Rome to confirm or reject the papal candidate whom the clergy had picked, a system which was not changed for the first seven hundred years of the Church’s existence. [1] It’s particularly important that seminarians should be formed with constant (not periodic) contact with laymen: these are the people they’re devoting their lives to serving and they should understand them.

Introducing women into these official functions seems to me like a good idea, too, up to and including appointing female cardinals. (This is a different matter from conferring Holy Orders on women, which has been pronounced theologically impossible by the Church. Celebrating the sacraments and making authoritative doctrinal definitions are the powers attached to Order, but most business the Church conducts is not directly either of these things.) This is not because women are any less fallen than men, but because, in a number of ways, they aren’t likely to make the same kinds of mistakes that men typically do. The obvious example in our current situation is that women are far less likely to be sex offenders, and, to judge from the last two or three years, less likely to ignore or minimize reports and evidence of sexual abuse. But the peculiarly feminine genius, which I don’t claim to understand very well, is one half of the human experience, and I think it’s accordingly foolish to exclude it from the human governance of the Church. She is far more than her human governors; but she is not less, nor is she immune to their faults and limitations.

3. Encourage all Catholics, and require clergy and other officials in Catholic institutions, to be thoroughly educated on sexuality. I’ve said several times that this is a power problem more than a chastity problem, but chastity is obviously involved—partly because, in both healthy and unhealthy ways, sex is easily experienced as power. [2] Now, we have the doctrines of chaste conduct, marital and celibate, pretty well outlined. We have some acquaintance with psychology and sexual development. We have the beginnings of a mystical theology of sexuality, e.g. in the work of St John Paul II. But, to be perfectly blunt, what we need is sex ed.


Dishonesty about contraceptives, ‘discreet’ silence on sexual matters, defamatory portraits of the queer and kink communities, and an alarming lack of clarity about consent, are all familiar in Catholic circles. But none of them should be, nor do they need to be. Many of them are fostered by a desire to protect the Church’s teaching; but, as Kallistos Ware pointed out in The Orthodox Church, ‘Christianity, if true, has nothing to fear from honest inquiry.’ 

Catholic teachers and apologists should be prepared to acknowledge that, yes, condoms work to prevent pregnancy and STDs most of the time, and our reasons for objecting to them lie elsewhere; Catholic parents and pastors should be prepared to speak frankly about things like masturbation and porn, without hiding behind euphemism or manipulating people through shame and guilt; Catholic theologians and journalists should be willing to learn about gay, trans, and kink people from their own lips, rather than repeating quack science and stereotypes and excusing their prejudicial ignorance as fidelity (as if understanding a community entailed approving of everything about it); Catholic teenagers and confessors should be able to identify the difference between genuine consent, abuse of authority, coërcion, intoxication, and predatory acts. Addressing these issues intelligently is not an obstacle to chastity. It is the subject matter of chastity. Knowledge is the natural ally of integration, and that, not abstinence just as such, is what chastity is.

4. Establish total financial transparency, at both the parochial and the diocesan levels. This is going to get some significant pushback from the hierarchy, but I think it is one hundred percent necessary to any substantial reform. Money is what allows abusers and those who cover for them to get away with what they do—rarely, I think, through direct bribery or embezzlement, though that doubtless happens, but rather because money can purchase two things that those who wish to keep shaming secrets want: privacy and lawyers. ‘Uncle Ted’s’ notorious beach house was a splendid little thing for keeping his indiscretions away from the public eye, and Cardinal Wuerl’s legal team enabled him to be transferred from Pittsburgh to the second see of the nation despite his ghastly record; privacy and lawyers may be seen operating together in the squalid behavior of the Archdiocese of Baltimore over the half-revelations of The Keepers. None of that can be dealt with unless there’s total openness about how much money is coming in and what it’s being spent on.

And when I say total, I mean total. Gross income [3] for every parish, school, hospital, diocese, and so forth; the wages of every person paid by the Church, whether salaried or hourly and irrespective of their work; every expense footed by parochial or diocesan accounts or by institutions they govern and fund, including both the amount paid and what the payment was for; every yearly surplus or deficit; and legally binding statements that the information provided is both true and complete. Websites would be the easiest way of making this information publicly available, though letters might be preferable for that very reason—I’m not certain.

5. Restore the liturgical ritual of degradation for serious offenders among the clergy. This may be the least important of the proposals I’m putting forth; but I think it would be worthwhile. Considering the sometimes liturgical character of many of the offenses the scandal is about (e.g., abuse happening in the confessional), and the publicity it has entailed, a public and liturgical response is called for. Degradation, the ritual removal of the privileges of ecclesiastical office, fulfills these requirements exactly, and helps symbolize how seriously the Church needs to take these things. I think it might help reassure the faithful, too, insofar as the liturgy is the principal business of the Church and also the context in which Catholics are most likely to deal with fellow Catholics and with the hierarchy, and placing these issues in that liturgical context is therefore an act which directly, officially addresses the majority of Catholic Christians.


Doubtless other measures would also be reasonable, and many of these things would help to heal the gravely wounded trust of the laity in the hierarchy. Still, these five points seem to me like a very good place to begin. But, remember, any effort to implement them must begin in prayer. Partly because it is going to take a lot of prayer to get the clergy to accept such a reform—I mean, if I were in their shoes, I wouldn’t much want to give up my possessions and stature. But also because it would (perhaps will) be very easy for these acts to become merely malicious. Few of us can quite truthfully say that we don’t enjoy seeing someone who hurt us being taken down a peg. And there is little, if anything, of heaven in that pleasure. Only God can purify our hearts and the pleasures they harbor, and guide all our deeds to a wholesome end.

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[1] It was changed in 769, through a synod convened to deal with electoral abuses and a number of disputed elections that resulted in antipopes. For the time, this was probably a wise decision, but what is wise changes according to circumstances.
[2] This is a huge topic that I am only hinting at here. A guy I dated for a little while a few years back used to say, ‘Everything is about sex, except sex, which is about power.’ I don’t think he was right exactly, but the maxim is, I think, more oversimplified than wrong. In particular, the pleasure of male strength (in both heterosexual and gay male sex) is an obvious way in which sex is experienced as power, as too in a different way is the compelling beauty of the female (in heterosexual and lesbian sex). Most forms of kink, like BDSM, involve much more explicit or ritualized power games. I don’t think these things are intrinsically unhealthy, although their development and expression certainly can be.
[3] Gross income, not net income. Net income is, approximately, synonymous with profits. Gross income is the total amount of money received into an account, before any deductions or payments are made from it.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

The Next Catholic Reform, Excursus

‘Trample! Trample! It is to be trampled on by you that I am here.’… I, too, stood on the sacred image. For a moment this foot was on his face. It was on the face of the man who has ever been in my thoughts, on the face that was before me on the mountains, in my wanderings, in prison, on the best and most beautiful face that any man can ever know, on the face of him whom I have always longed to love. Even now that face is looking at me with eyes of pity from the plaque rubbed flat by many feet. ‘Trample!’ said those compassionate eyes.‘Trample! Your foot suffers in pain; it must suffer like all the feet that have stepped on this plaque. But that pain alone is enough. I understand your pain and your suffering. It is for that reason that I am here.’ 
—Shūsaku Endō, Silence
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This was another toughie to write. In my experience that’s usually a good sign—it means it’s worth bothering with.


The colossal scandal of Church corruption that’s been more and more exposed over the last few months, and the non-stop infighting among Catholics which has accompanied it, prompts a question [1]: why be a Catholic at all?

Even for someone who believes that Christ is personally present—body, blood, soul, and divinity—in the Eucharistic species, the Catholic Church is not the only place you can go and find that. The Eastern Orthodox Churches possess apostolic succession too, and their Eucharist is as valid as the Catholic. The Oriental Orthodox have preserved valid sacraments since their division from the main body of Christianity in the fourth century; so have the Church of the East, many Old Catholic Churches, and a few other bodies [2]. Of course, they each have their own scandals—there is no institution that doesn’t, if it’s existed for more than a few minutes. But that is not much of a case for being loyal to any institution, and certainly not a case against dissociating oneself, at least temporarily, from a body that’s embroiled not only in scandal, but in widespread refusal to address that scandal truthfully and effectively.

I’ve rehearsed my intellectual reasons for becoming and remaining a Catholic on this blog many times. I find a God the most satisfying explanation of the universe, Christ the most satisfying explanation of God, and Catholicism the most satisfying explanation of Christ. But is that enough to remain a Catholic, right now? No way. I don’t think I have ever seriously considered leaving the Church, but I know that is not because of my intellectual satisfaction with her claims. I wish I could say it’s because of a solid faith—and, hell, maybe that’s true too; faith is a supernatural gift and my understanding of it, even in myself, is bound to be limited. But really, I know it because I’m unchaste. Knowing Catholic doctrine, its assertions and hypotheses, its nuances and substructures, has never once kept me from unbuckling my belt.

Which lies athwart a quite different problem. Disobedience like mine is pretty straightforward. But what about the criticisms of the Catholic Church that paint her as homophobic, indifferent or oppressive toward women, controlling, and so on? If the Church’s doctrines are true, and if it’s pointed out that the Church also teaches us not to hate gay people or oppress women or any of that, so that those who do are really transgressing, these charges evaporate … right?

Wrong. This isn’t simply a question of people disobeying. Catholic doctrine is dangerous, and no amount of obeying it will make that not be true. The truth of an idea has nothing to do with whether that idea is dangerous. It is true, for example, that God forgives sins, no matter how grave, no matter how monotonously repeated, if we sincerely repent—which includes an intention to, but does not require success at, reforming one’s behavior. Put that truth into an abusive relationship and see what happens. It is true that people have a right to defend themselves against aggressors; put that truth into the mind of a paranoid schizophrenic and see what they do with it.

We have a duty to take thought for the consequences of not just our actions, but our ideas. The Holy Ghost guides the Church into all truth, yes, but he nowhere promises to guide her out of all implications. It is perfectly possible to be an enabler when one ought to be a prophet, without ever once saying anything untrue; and that will inevitably leave people, in a blasphemous paradox, victimized by the truth.

It’s like the water in Flint: you don’t stop needing water because it’s polluted with lead, but lead doesn’t become safe to drink because you have to drink water. Which means that the obvious thing to do is to leave Flint, at least until Elon Musk donates citywide filtration systems. So why not leave?

I won’t, that’s all. This flawed, ugly, corrupt mass of people is my mother, my home. She gives me Jesus—in spite of herself? often, but truly even then. I will do what I can to make her better, and I’ll hide from her cruelties and stupidities if I need to, but I won’t leave.
A darkness descends upon my eyes,
And as I fade into the unknown cloud,
It comes to me:
There is no place that I would rather die.
 
—from my poem 'Via Angorosa,' in the collection Christ’s Body, Christ’s Wounds

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[1] Not begs! ‘To beg the question’ means ‘to commit the logical fallacy of petitio principi, i.e. assuming the truth of an assertion that you want to prove as a part of your proof.’ To prompt or raise a question is not the same thing as begging it.
[2] These bodies exist principally in Asia and Europe and are little known in the US. The Church of the East was born of the Nestorian schism in 431, and at one point had sway all over central Asia: there were Nestorian Christians as far east as India, China, and Mongolia in the eighth century. Today they are mostly confined to northern Iraq and parts of western India; some entered full communion with Rome as the Chaldæan and Syro-Malabar Catholic Churches.
The Old Catholic Churches were founded in the eighteenth century through a series of disputed ecclesiastical appointments (rather like the quasi-schismatic status of the Society of St Pius X in the 1980s), and swelled in the nineteenth through Catholics who rejected the First Vatican Council’s definition of the infallibility of the Pope. There are certain divisions within the movement, and Rome recognizes only the communities of the Union of Utrecht (mostly in central Europe) to have apostolic succession. This is itself complicated by the fact that the Union of Utrecht is in full communion with the Church of England, and furthermore practices the ordination of women.
Other groups with valid (or possibly valid) Holy Orders are mostly derived, by hook or crook, from the lineage of Utrecht. These include the Polish National Catholic Church, which is seeking reunion with the Pope; the Society of St Pius V, which rejects all Popes since the death of Pius XII; the Palmarian Catholic Church, which bafflingly reveres Bl Paul VI as a martyr; and a handful of others.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

The Next Catholic Reform, Part II

‘Isn’t it a fact that, having more or less made up your mind to a spot of celibacy you are eagerly peopling the cloister with bogies? If you want to do without personal relationships, then do without them. Don’t stampede yourself into them by imagining that you’ve got to have them or qualify for a Freudian case-book.’
‘We’re not talking about me and my feelings. We’re talking about this beastly case in College.’
‘But you can’t keep your feelings out of the case. It’s no use saying vaguely that sex is at the bottom of all these phenomena—that’s about as helpful as saying that human nature is at the bottom of them. Sex isn’t a separate thing functioning away all by itself. It’s usually found attached to a person of some sort. … The two great dangers of the celibate life are a forced choice and a vacant mind. Energies bombinating in a vacuum breed chimæras.’

—Dorothy Sayers, Gaudy Night
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So! How do we respond to these scandals prayerfully, without partisanship, concretely, publicly, and in sustainable ways? To answer that, we need to determine exactly what disease shows this particular range of symptoms: i.e., abuse, unchastity, concealment, vow-breaking and deceit, and a sense of entitlement to escape consequences. All kinds of flaws show up in all kinds of cultures; but every culture has sins and blind spots that flow from its history, and outlining that context can give us an idea of how to remedy the disease.

Now, while I have some confidence in my analysis here, it has to be considered tentative. No one can have exhaustive access to history, and I wasn’t alive during most of the period I’m going to discuss. But the construction I’ve put on the facts seems to me to be plausible in itself, and likelier than the other analyses I’ve run across (to the extent that there’s any conflict). So, rather than lace every sentence with qualifiers, I’ll treat this preface as sufficient and write as if with the assurance of a journalism undergraduate.


The Catholic Church has been losing its practical authority and prestige since about the nineteenth century, if we measure those things by the amount of influence it has in fields such as law, education, and public standards of conduct. The Reformation, coming after the pinnacle of the Church’s societal victory and during its finest period of artistic accomplishment and financial success, was only the beginning. The triumph of classical Liberalism and the rise of Marxism [1] and nationalism [2] in the nineteenth century all encroached on the influence of the Church even in those countries which had remained Catholic after the Reformation, and anti-Catholicism throve throughout the English-speaking world at the same time (exacerbated by ethnic prejudices, e.g. contempt for Irish and Italian immigrants in both England and the United States). The Industrial Revolution pulled families and clans apart into smaller and smaller units, and placed harsh demands on men, women, and children in the name of production, devouring their power to practice any religion. After eleven centuries, the Papal States were conquered and abolished in 1871. And with the dawn of psychoanalysis and sexology, sexuality began to be claimed as the proper domain of medicine and the scientific method, rather than of the theological, legal, and pastoral professions.

The middle of the twentieth century saw three events shake the Catholic Church, each in different ways. The Nazi state and the Second World War involved a large-scale persecution of Christians, and there were many Catholic casualties on both sides of the war; the Second Vatican Council allowed a dramatic revision of liturgical, disciplinary, and catechetical practices; and the Sexual Revolution transformed the ideology and norms of most Western societies with respect to moral authority, marriage and divorce, fertility and contraception, abortion, and (eventually) homosexuality. This left much of the Church feeling defensive, unsure of itself, and increasingly isolated in a libertine and chaotic culture.

A rich soil this, for sins rooted in fear, doubt, and envy—not unlike adolescence itself. A sincere Catholic, placed on the defensive about clerical authority, would easily become clericalist by way of compensation, and more so to silence interior doubts. The recently codified doctrine of infallibility would exacerbate the danger and encourage triumphalism; in the Sedevacantist heresies, we see this produced to the nth degree. Other theological ideas may have played a part, too, as that, in confecting the Eucharist, priests literally control God (a subtle inversion of the true doctrine that would turn the Mass into a kind of witchcraft). [3] 

This same defensive egotism would foster a devotion to the importance of image: if you’re smart enough, charismatic enough, morally unimpeachable enough in the eyes of others, then maybe you’ll get to keep what others are losing. If you claim infallibility, you have to look the part of impeccability. Otherwise they might not believe you—you have to make them believe you. A little reflection might have reminded us that faith is God’s gift; but while he often gives faith, he less often gives security, and prestige almost never. One has to approach other spirits for that.

And so we get a clerical culture whose idea of its own importance is swollen, and a general Catholic culture whose idea of the importance of its reputation is positively cancerous. Any criticism of the Church, any assertion that she is failing to care properly for some group of people, is labelled ‘giving scandal’ and, if possible, shown to be based in heretical ideas of what proper care consists in. Offenses on the part of individual clergy must be hushed up, and the need for hushing up becomes more urgent as offenses multiply.


But why should they be primarily sexual offenses? Well, strictly speaking, we don’t know that they were: there may be, for example, a great deal more financial corruption than we’re aware of in the hierarchy (and considering the lawyers that various Catholic dioceses and institutions are able to pay for, some would argue that there is a pretty huge misappropriation of funds going on regardless). Nonetheless there are a number of possibilities for the offenses that were and are sexual. Envy of the licentious behavior of others is one possibility, especially as celibacy went from being an unusual but ordinary state in life for all sorts of people, to being the almost exclusive preserve of Catholic priests and religious, and licentious behavior itself became increasingly public and provocative. But I seriously doubt that that’s the deciding factor here, because chastity (with its opposite) is a function of the human capacity for relationship, and sex can’t be considered entirely outside of that context. The aforementioned fragmentation of the family and Catholic reticence about discussing sex are both likelier to have a big impact: the one to exacerbate the unmet need for human connection, the other to diminish the individual’s power to understand that need.

And the Church’s teaching on homosexuality does little to correct and much to poison this culture. This is partly to be laid at the feet of the ex-gay movement, some exponents of which (like Monsignor Anatrella) were later revealed to be homosexual abusers themselves. Lip service is paid in the Catechism to the need for ‘respect, compassion, and sensitivity’ towards LGBT people, but the status quo among Catholics does not evince much of those, for, in a culture that rewards image and is honeycombed with sexual indiscretions (because every human culture is thus honeycombed), LGBT people are the perfect scapegoat: most people can tell themselves, truthfully or at least convincingly, that they aren’t interested in their own sex, so at least they’re better than Those People. Such easy victories on the field of self-mastery are all but irresistible.

But the point here is not that this has a negative impact on gay people (though it does, and that deserves to be addressed as well). The point is, a homophobic culture is, if anything, likelier to have problems with homosexual abuse than one that isn’t. Writing specifically about the proposal to ban all gay men from enrolling in seminary, Chris Damian put it perfectly.
What do you do with that seminarian, the seminarian so prejudiced against homosexuality that he can’t even recognize his actual feelings? What do you do with that person, whose prejudices can harden into callousness as he seeks to cover over what he feels? Surely that will enter into the ways he ministers to those with same-sex-attractions, preventing true compassion, mercy, and engagement. He’s never practiced these towards himself, so he wouldn’t be able to fully practice it towards others either. One day he may be overcome by his repressed desires and begin acting out in odd ways, ways that he doesn’t understand and can’t face … Older, manipulative priests may recognize this and invite them into their lives, eventually surprising them with a carefully crafted seduction or assault. Seminarians unaware of how to relate to these desires and unable to recognize such advances (probably because they have been unable or unwilling to recognize much about sexuality generally) will be caught off guard and unable to formulate a response until it is too late. Then, once the seminarian realizes what has happened, a mixture of shame, fear, and desire to serve the Church may prevent him from being open about what happened. The manipulator will know this and will use the fear and secrecy created by a callous ban to further manipulate. … The seminarian will both be stuck in an abusive relationship and will be unable to honestly and vulnerably address great portions of his interior life.

My pastor, in his homily this past Sunday, spoke of non-Catholics embodying Catholic values (like the Catholic notion of the family being more evident among Mormons than among us) as a kind of fulfillment of the text If these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out. It seems to me that the stones of the New York Times, PFLAG, the APA, and Rainbow Railroad have been shouting for an awfully long while. Perhaps it is time we took notice.

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[1] Not to be confused with Socialism, of which it is a specific type. Some systems of Socialism have no conflict with Christianity, or even specifically endorse it; Marxism specifically opposes religion in general and Christianity with it.
[2] I.e., the idea that every ethnic group (in Latin natio, as in ‘native’) should form an independent state. Until the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, multi-national states were quite common. The Austro-Hungarian Empire was a famous example.
[3] I heard of this bizarre teaching as current in seminaries thanks to a talk given by Dr Lee Podles, a fellow parishioner of mine who wrote an enormous book titled Sacrilege on the abuse crisis, which was published in 2008. It explored the interior rot long before the findings of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury were released, and came to many of the same conclusions, if not sterner ones.