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Sins of the Fathers

I was Catholic once (…and young), so I’m going to dive into the ocean of commentary on the Church’s sex abuse scandal. Yesterday, Ross Douthat offered an idea for the “Are you f&^$%ing kidding me with this s@*!?!” file:

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.”

I hardly know where to begin with this utterly ludicrous contribution.

While Douthat seems to be doing his Fox News-fair-and-balanced best to implicate the left here, he’s gone a league too far. “The silly 70s,” Ross? Really? We’re not talking about slap and tickle at the seminary – a tradition I would have to guess is roughly as old as time – we’re talking about sexual predators who for years upon years made children their victims. Children. Surely Douthat doesn’t mean to suggest that those poor deaf choir boys were running around in Studio 54 hot pants, and, yet, what else are we to take from his assertion that the culture is to blame?

It’s easy to set psychiatry up here too, isn’t it? Those MDs with their newfangled notions! That too fails the sniff test. In Germany, a psychiatrist repeatedly warned Church officials that an abusive priest must be kept away from children, but he was ignored. No, the blame here – and there is so, so much – belongs to the priests who abused children and the bishops and archbishops and cardinals who abetted them. Their crimes should not be called “cover ups”, they should be called what they are: the criminally negligent actions that “allowed the abuse to spread unpunished.”

I know Ross still wants to protect the Church hierarchy and its ancient customs, but it’s time for the tortured attempts to blame a permissive culture to end. It’s time for the attempts to blame anyone or anything other than the Roman Catholic Church’s hierarchy to end. Catholics have endured more of these scandals than any other denomination because of their peculiar insistence on celibacy for priests. As long as the Church offers refuge to men who are unable or unwilling to integrate sexuality into their adult identities, there will be problems. For not only does the Church give them a haven to hide from an important part of their humanity, it elevates them for doing so. That’s a recipe for tragedy, the kind of tragedy that is being visited upon the Catholic faithful around the world during this Holy Week. Again.

2 Comments


  1. Kate

    March 30, 2010 at 10:25 am

    Douthat’s blame on the 1970s’ permissive culture also completely ignores the fact that the abuse against the deaf school children in Milwaukee began in the early-to-mid 1950s – not exactly the “silly season” of permissive sexual culture. Many of the other abuse reports against clergy have arisen from long before the 1970s, and long after, as well. I completely agree with your analysis – the bizarre and debilitating emphasis on celibacy combined with the hierarchical and authoritarian culture is a recipe for disaster.

  2. Jack

    March 31, 2010 at 10:39 am

    I’m sure priest are familiar with the biblical text “be in but not of the world.” Priest hold themselves up as pious examples for the community imulate. With the trail leading to the doors of the Vatican I guess such an image is now shot all to H E double hockey sticks.

    Besides, what kind of reasoning is: the ’70s made me do it? Of course it was in the early 1970s when Flip Wilson aka “Geraldine Jones” introduced us to “The devil made me do it.” But Flip was poking fun at the permissive sexual culture of the time.

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