Thursday, August 22, 2002

Rod Dreher Responds

I invited Rod Dreher, the author of the WSJ article I blogged on below, to respond to my criticisms, and he graciously agreed to do so.

He apparently burned the midnight oil to do so, as he sent his response to me at about 1:00 AM. Another night owl (like me)!

I apologize for the delay in getting this up, but this is my day off, and I'm not exactly keeping a schedule today...

I will have some comments and observations about Rod's response later today, but for now I'll just let you read what he had to say:

Fr. Rob, I appreciate the opportunity to respond this way.

You wrote:

>Bishops are rarely deposed because to do so is to cut off the head of the local
>Church. To cut off a man's head, no matter how enfeebled or diseased, is to kill
>the man. I realize that the analogy limps here, because deposing a bishop does
>not "kill" the local Church. But it is an act of violence, and it does damage
>not only to the local, but to the universal Church. The only justification for
>doing so is the judgment that the damage done by the removal of the bishop is
>less than that done by keeping him. And that is a prudential judgment.

I'm sorry, but this is cant. How, outside of the rarefied world of mystical theology, does removing a calamitously failed bishop like Bernard Law do violence to the Church, local or universal? I think rather the opposite is happening. Removing a bishop is not to be undertaken lightly, of course, but please understand what the worst bishops in the U.S. Church have done. Time and time again, they recycled priests who rape children and minors through parishes, where they preyed on more children, particularly the children of the poor. Some have lied in public, and even, I firmly believe, have perjured themselves. Some have sought to intimidate victims and their families by siccing private investigators on them. All this and much more. The Catholic people in dioceses across the country, first among the Boston, have had to come to grips with the ugly fact that their Church is headed locally by a self-protective clerical mafia -- and that there is no relief to be expected from Rome, which apparently identifies the interests of the Church locally and universally with the narrow interests of the clerical class. The moral authority of the Church in Boston, and increasingly everywhere in this country, has been evacuated by Rome's failure to remove corrupt bishops. It is becoming perfectly clear to all who have eyes to see that there's a deep sickness in the hierarchy of the Church, and Rome's blindness to this only deepens the crisis.

No, the true violence was done first by the priests who sexually abused the powerless, then by the bishops who maintained them in ministry, and/or helped the escape the police, and finally by a Vatican that for whatever reason refuses to hold these bishops accountable for their actions. The judgments Rome has made to this point in this scandal are horribly wrong.

>It is erroneous to look at the Pope's actions and diagnose them as a "failure"
>to govern. The Pope, in this situation, has made a particular prudential
>judgment. The fact that we do not like that judgment does not mean that the
>Church isn't being governed.

Well, this is a dispute over terminology. The Church is being and has been governed passively by John Paul, which is tantamount to no governance at all.

>But that may be reason number 6,485 that I am not the Pope, nor ever will be. I
>hope Mr. Dreher and those who agree with him have the humility to admit the

More cant. Of course you're not the Pope. Neither am I. What does that have to do with anything? Can only a Pope pass judgment on a Pope's managerial style?

>In his WSJ article, Dreher writes "John Paul must bear partial responsibility
>for the catastrophe that has befallen us." I hope that Mr. Dreher does not think
>that Pope John Paul is not profoundly aware of that fact.

Mr. Dreher doesn't know John Paul's mind, and neither does Fr. Johansen. All we can do is go by what we can observe. I believe evidence shows John Paul to be a man of deep faith and boundless compassion. Sadly and perplexingly, I see no evidence of that in the way he has responded to the cries of the victims in this clergy sex-abuse scandal, which has been with us, at least publicly, for almost 20 years now. I cannot square the John Paul I know and love with the John Paul who permits such evil to take place by not demanding and enforcing accountability on the bishops who have betrayed him and the People of God in such unspeakable ways. It is not enough to say, "Well, he must have his reasons." I'm sure it must break his heart to see what's going on, but as C.S. Lewis observed, "A long face is not a moral disinfectant."

>Our obsession with the "governance" of the Church is almost certainly a sign
>that we are not yet thinking with the mind of Christ in the heart of the Church.
>We will not govern our way out of The Situation. We will only find the way out
>through Christ and His way of the Cross.

Still more cant! What can you possibly mean by this, Fr. Rob? What about the mind of the Christ who prescribed millstones for those who harmed children, and who drove moneychangers out of the Temple they desecrated? I don't know why you draw a distinction between right governing of the Church and devotion to Christ. It is all of a piece, or should be. The solution is not more rules, I agree. The canons were already in place to have prevented this catastrophe; they were widely ignored by bishops, who rightly figured that there would be no consequences from Rome for allowing these things to slide.

I am grateful for the press and the secular authorities for beginning to put a stop to the evil exploitation of children and minors by elements of the Catholic clergy and their bishops. And it's pathetic, a humiliation to all us Catholics, that Church authorities didn't do it first. It seems pretty clear to me that the terrible Cross the Church is suffering now could have been mitigated if bishops, including the Bishop of Rome, had been willing to endure countless tiny crosses, such as removing pederast priests or whitewashing bishops from office when it became apparent what they were. But that didn't happen. And here we are.

A general comment: the overall impression I get -- and please correct me if I've misunderstood you -- from the position that you and Tom Hoopes take is that the laity has no business questioning its ecclesiastical betters. That God has sent us our bishops, and whatever they do, or fail to do, is to be accepted without protest as His will. To stand up and say, "Hey, I'm tired of having a bishop who tolerates pedophile priests, and lies about it in public; we don't deserve this!" -- to say that is to deny Christ at some level. The implication of this is that the victims at some level deserved what they got; after all, it was God's will, because Bishop X. knew what Fr. Y. was doing, and allowed him to continue. You should realize that this is precisely what many abusive priests told their child victims: Don't tell, or you'll make God mad and go to Hell." Is there any wonder that victims feel victimized again?

I tell you, Father, if y'all keep this business up of talking down loyal orthodox Catholics who protest in good faith the way the Pope and the bishops have handled this, by saying that we're "not thinking with Tradition," and so forth, you're going to convince people that you're right. They will think: Does Catholic tradition require my silence and acquiescence in the face of evil like child rape? How could the Church of Jesus Christ make such a wicked demand of me? Maybe the Catholic Church isn't what it claims to be at all. Maybe the Orthodox, or the Protestants, are right. And then we lose them.

I ask you to consider that you cannot have the kind of stories that we've had for the past eight months, and which we are going to be getting for the foreseeable future, without calling up a terrible reaction from good Catholics. Invoking mystical abstractions to counter revelations of priests committing grotesquely cruel forms of sexual abuse will mean less than nothing. Good Catholic mothers and fathers will not sacrifice their children upon the altar of clericalism. I commend to you and St. Blogs the final analysis historian Barbara Tuchman gave, in The March of Folly, summing up why the folly of six Renaissance popes led to the Reformation. I think there are lessons there for us all:

The folly of the popes was not pursuit of counter-productive policy so much as rejection of any steady or coherent policy either political or religious that would have improved their situation or arrested the rising discontent. Disregard of the movements and sentiments developing around them was a primary folly. They were deaf to disaffeciton, blind to the alternative ideas it gave rise to, blandly impervious to challenge, unconcerned by the dismay at their misconduct and the rising wrath at their misgovernment, fixed in refusal to change, almost stupidly stubborn in maintaining a corrupt existing system. They could not change it because they were part of it, grew out of it, depended on it. ...Their [the six popes] three outstanding attitudes -- obliviousness to the growing disaffection of constituents, primacy of self-aggrandizement, illusion of invulnerable status -- are persistent aspects of folly.

Is this the "Tradition" you and Tom, and those who reject my viewpoint as insufficiently Catholic, insist that we all think with? I fear it is.

In any case, my words have been tough, but charitable I hope, and I appreciate you lending me your blog to respond to your tough but charitable attack on my position.