Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Repentance During The Holy Week of Christianity

Both Maureen Dowd and Ross Douthat write about the child molestation scandal of the Catholic church, and both focus on repentance. That's where the similarities end. Dowd (whom I should praise for finally taking off the anti-feminist lenses):

If the church could throw open its stained glass windows and let in some air, invite women to be priests, nuns to be more emancipated and priests to marry, if it could banish criminal priests and end the sordid culture of men protecting men who attack children, it might survive. It could be an encouraging sign of humility and repentance, a surrender of arrogance, both moving and meaningful.

Douthat also advocates contrition:

For those of us who admire the pope, either possibility is distressing, but neither should come as a great surprise. The lesson of the American experience, now exhaustively documented, is that almost everyone was complicit in the scandal. From diocese to diocese, the same cover-ups and gross errors of judgment repeated themselves regardless of who found themselves in charge. Neither theology nor geography mattered: the worst offenders were Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston and Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles — a conservative and a liberal, on opposite ends of the country.

This hasn't prevented both sides in the Catholic culture war from claiming that the scandal vindicates their respective vision of the church. Liberal Catholics, echoed by the secular press, insist that the whole problem can be traced to clerical celibacy. Conservatives blame the moral relativism that swept the church in the upheavals of the 1970s, when the worst abuses and cover-ups took place.

In reality, the scandal implicates left and right alike. The permissive sexual culture that prevailed everywhere, seminaries included, during the silly season of the '70s deserves a share of the blame, as does that era's overemphasis on therapy. (Again and again, bishops relied on psychiatrists rather than common sense in deciding how to handle abusive clerics.) But it was the church's conservative instincts — the insistence on institutional loyalty, obedience and the absolute authority of clerics — that allowed the abuse to spread unpunished.


Popes do not resign. But a pope can clean house. And a pope can show contrition, on his own behalf and on behalf of an entire generation of bishops, for what was done and left undone in one of Catholicism's darkest eras.

This is Holy Week, when the first pope, Peter, broke faith with Christ and wept for shame. There is no better time for repentance.

Parsing the differences in the two opinion pieces can be enlightening.

What struck me the most was that bit about the 1970's culture in Douthat's piece. I have no idea if data on child molestation prior to the 1970's exists anywhere, but it would be interesting to see if all the molestation in fact started during that lewd decade. Especially given that the famous extreme Catholic, Bill Donohue, used an argument having to do with the zeitgeist of the 1970's, too.

Donohue also argues that the Catholic church is taken to task for something which "everybody did" and that this is unfair. Here's where I disagree, most strongly.

Religious organizations should be held to higher standards than the average person in the street or even the average person holding secular authority.

They tell us that they are speaking on behalf of a divine source, after all. They tell us how we should live our lives, what is wrong and what is right. For all this they get freedom from taxes, lots of kowtowing and respect. Something has to be given in return, and at a minimum that something should be higher ethical standards of personal behavior.