Friday, June 21, 2002

On Elephants, Anger, and Michael Rose

Mark Shea has once again proved himself the man on the spot by posting the honest admission of a gay radio talk show host, Al Rantel, made on CNN's "Talk Back Live" last Friday. Mr. Rantel said that the media has been unwilling to reveal that "there's this proverbial 3,000-pound elephant sitting in the room that no one wants to talk about." That "elephant" being the fact that "predatory gay men" have made their way into the priesthood in "in inordinately large numbers." I would be curious to know what would constitute an "ordinate" number of homosexual predators in the priesthood, but let's not quibble over words. To hear this kind of honesty from someone describing himself as "openly gay" is refreshing. Mr. Rantel further trod the heretofore-avoided path of insight and honesty when he said that the recent scandals in the Church made "the boy scouts look prescient with what they did."

Of course, our bishops are still avoiding the elephant. They avoided it last week in Dallas and, as I have discussed previously, are avoiding it in their own dioceses. The problem is priests who are contemptuous of Church teaching on sexuality, and of the Church's discipline of priestly celibacy. Catholics have been complaining of this problem for years, as they have in Dallas and in Brooklyn. The bishops haven't been listening, and many still seem to not be listening now.

This failure to listen has made many Catholics angry, and rightfully so. But anger cannot be what motivates us, if we claim to be followers of Christ. I think that among many Catholics their anger is in danger of blinding them and drying up their charity. That leads to injustice. And injustice in one direction does not make up for or compensate for injustice in another. In other words, we can't go off on a crusade, leveling charges and blame wherever we will, because we're confident in our own righteousness.

Many of the great saints, among them St. Ignatius Loyola and St. John of the Cross, warn against the dangers of anger, even righteous anger. The only passion that clouds the intellect more than anger is lust. I had to learn a long time ago to try not to give in to the temptation to anger (not that I'm always successful), precisely because it led me to say and do rash and unjust things. I think one of the reasons that conservatives have been so ineffective until recent years is precisely because they have allowed anger, in all too many cases, to be their motivation.

The current crisis in the Church has gotten many people angry, and has exposed or laid bare the anger of many more which has been simmering for many years. For many years orthodox Catholics have endured outrageous liturgical abuses, watered-down self-help pap for homilies, denial of essential doctrines of the faith, and every manner of trendy experiment. And they are angry!

And then, along comes a book like Goodbye! Good Men. "At last," people have been saying, "someone has come out and told what we've known for all these years. Finally, someone is telling the Truth!" Michael Rose's book has struck a nerve precisely for that reason. There is a tremendous resonance out there for what Rose is saying.

But when people have been angry for a long time, anger begins to feel normal, almost comfortable. And you develop a voice inside you which warns you not to believe anyone who tells you that things may not be quite as bad as you thought. I see this mindset in publications like The Wanderer all the time. They almost seem to take a perverse pleasure in publicizing the latest outrage. But how healthy is a steady diet of that for one's soul? The effect of a steady diet of that stuff is to cause bitterness and dry up one's charity. That's why I rarely read such things anymore. Not because I'm a pollyanna, but because reading yet another story of Bishop Matthew Clark's support of heterodoxy will only make me mad and not tell me anything new.

So when I came along and criticized Michael Rose's book, I too tapped into that stream of anger. Only for me it was like touching a live wire. I tried to raise questions of methodology and accuracy, and was greeted with shouts of "shut up!" For the comments of Mr. Rose and some of his supporters amounted, more or less, to just that. When my criticisms are met with the charge that I am in the same league as those who protected child abusers, that is an attempt to dismiss my criticisms out-of-hand, and therefore stifle debate. When someone asks at "whose behest" I wrote, and my review is labeled "schizophrenic", those are other attempts to stifle debate.

I bear no ill-will to Michael Rose. I believe he is well-intentioned. But I think that there are inaccuracies in his book, and in some places they are serious. Does that dismiss his entire thesis? No, and I never claimed it did. But the people who are holding the book up and shouting "See, see, we were right all along!" do so at their own peril. Because if I hadn't exposed the problems in his book, someone else would have. The Truth is like that. It will always find a way out. And the longer it takes to come out, the more damage it does to those who try to ignore or suppress it. That's one of the reasons I think the bishops who have tried to cover up The Situation will be in for such a severe judgment. But that kind of judgment isn't only reserved to bishops.

The Truth has to be what we are all about. We claim to follow a man who is Truth. We can't be satisfied with anything less, no matter how inconvenient it may seem to be at the moment for our side or our cause.

I have been dismayed by some of the e-mails (thankfully few) I or Michael Jones have received which have said, in essence, "so you differ with Rose on a few points; so he may have been wrong about this or that point. He's on the right side, so why don't you just back off." Well, I think we have a higher obligation than to our "side" or our "cause". I said in my review that abuses have happened in some seminaries. But that truth doesn't give Mr. Rose, or anyone else, a pass on publishing inaccuracies because they fit our idea of the Cause of Right. Real people can be unjustly injured by carelessness or inattention to the Truth. We cannot allow our righteous anger to cause us to overlook or defend such injustice. No cause or campaign can justify this.

Some people are apparently willing to overlook the problems with Goodbye! Good Men because it fits in to some "bigger picture". But does that give honor and glory to God? If the "big picture" is not about the Truth, what is it about? Can the big "Truth" be served by what some are willing to dismiss as "little" inaccuracies? Remember, real people can be hurt by "little" inaccuracies. If we are going to claim to serve the side of Truth, we can't do so with anything less than the truth.