Devon, PA. As someone who has written in an extended fashion on Benedict XVI, Catholicism, and human sexuality in the past (here and here), it seems appropriate that I should offer at least some comment on the current of bluster and indignation that has fabricated, during these past several weeks, a new sex scandal out of the residue of old ones.  A few observations, dilating from news items toward reflection, followed by a concluding commentary:

1. In 2002, when reports of serial pedophilia by Catholic priests emerged in the Boston media and, indeed, across the country, it became very clear that two distinct phenomena had been depressingly conjoined: individual pedophilic and pederastic predators on the one hand and inept, shameful, and sometimes vicious acts of bureaucratic self-interest on the part of certain Bishops on the other.  These were, again, two distinct phenomena between which hung several nauseating threads.

2. For many years, apologists for the Catholic Church who have sought to explain and grapple with the individual cases of pedophilia and other forms of sexual abuse, much less the evident presence of active homosexual and pedophilic clergy within the Church, rightly pointed out that instances of sexual abuse by clergy in general were comparable to that within the American population as a whole.  That is, a Catholic priest was approximately as likely to engage in some form of sexual abuse as was anyone else, they explained hopefully.  More recent data suggests otherwise: a Catholic priest is substantially less likely to commit such an act than is a Protestant minister or a school teacher, and is half as likely to engage in sexual abuse as the average male.  The ontological explanation for such priests is the fact of original sin, which ensures that all things from sexuality to salesmanship, and on to the growth of cells and the shifts of tectonic plates, may be frustrated in their natural movements to their proper ends.  The result is evil: sexual perversion, charlatanry, cancer, and earthquakes, respectively.

3. We also have witnessed that larger, bureaucratic scandal, in which Bishops and their subordinates behaved like modern managers, seeking to minimize internal problems by the mere shuffling of personnel.  It is true that the majority of sexual abuse cases derive from the 1960s and 1970s, a time when the consensus on sexual disorders was that they should be treated by therapy rather than deemed a permanent mark on the psyche of the pervert; insofar as they were as “scientistic” as the rest of us, bishops, had good reason to believe a change of scene and some serious engagement in the “talking cure” might be all that was required.  Since then, however, we have witnessed the collapse of psychology along with most of the social sciences as serious disciplines with predictive and manipulative powers equivalent to physics and engineering respectively.  We have witnessed the broader cultural shift that presumes sexuality to be an intractable thicket of desires impervious to reason and moral analysis alike.  And so, we — meaning of course the modern West rather than its dissidents — have concluded that the only kind of “bad sex” is the kind that violates shared consent and that the only proper response to this violation is incarceration.  I shall return to this cultural shift presently, but here I wish only to underscore that the practical judgment of the Bishops of yore looks less sound now than it would have several decades back.

4. An accurate, if bare, assessment of the Bishops’ actions past and recent, however, does not require the above sort of cultural analysis so much as it does one that attends to the rise of the manager as a social type (as Alasdair MacIntyre defines this in After Virtue).  We live in an age of technocrats and bureaucrats, in which most persons flee from their uncertainties regarding the end or purpose of human life or the hard work of discerning what consistutes the Good Itself and the good life for man.  We flee from such hard decisions about an end seemingly as unreachable as the horizon to those more immanent finish lines one may cross, almost thoughtlessly, in a dash.  What we crave, in brief, is the security proper to the manager: that social type whose only job is to keep an organization under his direction running efficiently.  As long as the criterion of internal efficiency is met, the manager has succeeded.  We may not know what it takes to be a good man, but we sigh with relief and confidence that we know what it takes to be a good executive, a good secretary, a good “expert” in some results-governed field.  Ours is a culture where children are brought up to see grades in school as the benchmark of reality and to seek material success as part of an efficiently run organization as the one thing necessary — not because we fail to sense that more is required by and of us, but because we presume that “more” is a private matter to be ajudicated in the despair and darkness of the soul.  What can be measured is our delight and the light by which we see.  And so, one can turn to all that “introspective musing” after one has achieved reality as a manager “of something.”  My presumption is that the Bishops were not immune to this ubiquitous social phenomenon — a frightening testimony to their (modern American) humanity, but hardly surprising.  Bishops as managers put the apparent good, the efficiency of the organization, ahead of questions that require a broader horizon.  A manager consults his expert; the expert tells him what he wants to hear; he complies with the “best practices” advice of his expert; he is shocked when this sterile process results in reports of hundred, nay, thousands of children scarred by the indignity and violence of sexual predation.

5. These two phenomena feed readily the tastes of traditional American anti-Catholicism.  Americans have always viewed the Catholic Church as a sub-culture that approximates to a sub-basement.  We fear that any institution not the State is hiding something we have a “right” to know and control: ghoulish and dank oubliettes where the democratic light cannot reach.  So Americans thought when they burnt down convents in the Nineteenth Century; when they thrilled over the pages of Maria Monk (the most popular book of the age), attracted to its gothic confessions of sexual captivity, abuse, and titilating violence; when they declaimed against the priest-ridden masses of immigrants and feared the Papist invasions that would tranform their fair land.  These American prejudices derive from British ones that extend back to the very origin of the modern British State.  They are not only old of foundation but necessary of foundation: neither State could have forged its consciousness without deep fears of Catholic power and plots.  Deep fears, these two cultures would show, manifest themselves as fairly crude symbols: dank monasteries and sexual secrets, and so the imaginations of Americans, the English, and Western liberal society as a whole has been well trained to chirp like a metal detector at the first signs of sexual depravity and conspiratorial, mafia-like secrets.  However great the horrors of abusive priests and managerial bishops, in the western imagination they loom larger and greater still, darker and more horrible.

6. But this second-nature inclination to view the Catholic Church as the seat of “antient” secrecy and sexual violence should not blind us to the reality that the events that have so disturbed its faithful and damaged its work to spread the Gospel are exquisitely modern in character.  They testify not to perenniel Catholic depravities but to the novel adoption of the errors of modern liberal rationalism.  A reluctance to think of sexuality in moral rather than clinical terms; a reluctance to think of the Church as the Body of Christ rather than as a corporation with immanent interests that must be protected at the expense of larger, external goods; a deference to expertise; concerns about “losing personnel”; — so begins what might stretch into a long list of sorrowful errors in which the leaders of the Church provided inadvertent witness that the two lenses through which moderns tend to view the world — the therapeutic and the managerial — are entirely inadequate to any serious human question.

7. How does all this explain the news media-generated and largely news-media contained outrage at Pope Benedict XVI?  The denunciations from dubious voices like Maureen Dowd and more respectable, if over-hasty, ones like Rod Dreher?  It cannot.  No one explanation could.  Our age is so sered and bleared by hatred of the Church and the psychic dissonance of trying to reconcile the Church as the manifestation of the Eternal Body of Christ on earth with our general belief that only the individual with his contracted property of a nervous system counts as real, that hatred and dissonance alike will manifest themselves in myriad forms.  The Church, like Christ, is a corpse hung amid the elements.  Every wind will strike Her.  Including, of course, lies . . .

8. But surely the baselessness of the accusations against Benedict, the misreporting of “facts,” the vitriol against the sexual crimes in the Church coming directly from those persons most publically committed to sexual libertinism and negative freedom, are susceptible to some explanation.  I am one who prefers the difficult, winding theorization to the simple, little brass key; generally, a simple explanation of great and varied phenomena bespeaks a simple mind rather than the simple truth.  But the essays to which I referred at the start of this one, as well as other meditations I have submitted to the public (such as that on South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford) have all been part of a difficult grappling with a sadly simple, embarrassingly obvious, aspect of modern western society.  Most of us live as isolated individuals whose daily life affirms the inconsequence of our actions, the meaninglessness of our role in any larger dramatic form, the blandness of our condition.  And yet, within that individuated loneliness, before which all social institutions from the family to the city, to the nation and the Church wither as mere “subjective” and inessential extensions of the Cartesian bedrock of our selves,–within that atomic certitude, I say, we sense some ineradicable spark of consequence and meaning.  While most of us root out and extinguish that spark as much as possible, it cannot be thoroughly dimmed so long as we retain a nervous system and therefore remain capable of the crude but inexplicable mystery, the ecstatic and superhuman but manipulable event, of sexual desire and satisfaction.  Most of us experience the inadequacy of material possessions as a means to happiness and, curiously, in this materialistic age, we do not therefore divest ourselves of posessions but seek to reduce everything to a kind of possession.  A marriage, a friendship, a body, becomes one among many possessions subject to our will no less than is a new riding mower.  In the moment of sexual ecstasy, the myriad atomized loners of our age recognize that crossing point where the bedrock of the self whose certitude is beyond us meets–indeed, tries to become one with–the indifferent matter we subject to our ownership, possession, and control.  Between definite elation and evanescence, between self and matter, subjection and domination, modern man finds the only space from which meaning, some sense of greatness, cannot be fully eradicated.  Sexual pleasure is the one joy whose meaningfulness we do not question, though we doubt what that meaning is.  It becomes the one currency that remains in hard coin for the modern intellect.

9. Rather than recognizing this intransigent reality of sexuality, accepting it, cultivating it, and rediscovering  at last that it is an essential if germinal part of the great body of Creation that is super-saturated in intelligibility, meaning, goodness, moral consequence, love, obligations, relations, distinctions, ranks, and purpose . . . rather than submitting sex and self, matter and subjectivity, to the order of which they are merely a part — modern man has made sex the last battle field to be conquered.  He would rather transform the whole world, tearing down every monument, wiping out every convention and tradition, reconfiguring every practical relationship and institution, until it all seems ordered to nothing more than making possible sexual satisfaction.  Ours is the age of concupiscence, appetite — above all, libido.  Sexual liberation has become the only cry that excites immediate emotions of justice and “rights,” of truth and freedom from oppressive ideological “misconceptions.”  The denizens of our age do not agitate for an “enlightened sexuality,” for a mere pragmatic distribution of contraception and “health advice,” for a mild Lockean affirmation of “reproductive rights,” or entrance into a bourgeois form of marriage.  They do not clamor for a more just society rid of needless superstitions, one more rationally organized to conform to an “enlightened humanism.”  Such is the language we hear, but the dark center that produces all this disingenuous verbiage is reducible to sexual ache.  As the sole reality, the center of the self, the only good impervious to our doubt because its pleasure cannot be entirely effaced no matter how we debase and abuse it, we live, so far as I can discern, in the first age ever formally committed to reordering reality to the emancipation of the orgasm.

10. We abstain from moral judgments regarding others’ sexual activities for fear that hindering their pleasure might lead them to condemn ours.  We accept any range of moral judgments so long as they have no sexual implications or seem to promise increased opportunities for promiscuity (only such a configuration could explain the treatment of contraception and retro-viral drugs as the solution to an AIDS epidemic that will only in fact be brought to an end by abstinence and fidelity).  We invade the public sphere with sexuality to reassure ourselves there is nothing shameful about any sexual desire we might indulge, but also to ensure no one thinks there is anything especially elevated or sacred about sex either.  We want sex everywhere so that we become incapable of reflecting on it — so that we become capable only of fantasizing about and doing it.  In the aggregate, we seek to minimize its singularity in hopes of multiplying its instances.  Of all the worldly empires that sought after power and wealth, surely none appears so pathetic as ours: we do not require great monuments or a grand historical narrative of man overcoming weakness and desire to establish something greater than himself.  We require only constant, super-saturating reminders that everybody is just a body that likes sex.  We are very ethical indeed, because we badger and agitate perpetually to ensure that every inch of the world and every depth of the psychic dark is arranged to make possible one good, the good: the thoughtless, consequence-free, apotheosis of the orgasm.  We may, therefore, rightly complain of the unlimited appetites of material acquisition and power that so govern our age, mar our landscape, and deplete and wound the order of Creation, but these grave matters are secondary to the simple and intransigent thrust of our age toward the quantitative absolutization of sexual experience.

11. The Church, of course, remains the great visible obstacle to this absolutization and liberation.  Its very existence stands as a symbolic rebuke of those who would otherwise (they believe) be able to forget their “useless guilt” and  indulge their every lust without the slightest hestitation.  How absolute the drive to liberate lust is, and how intolerant, is testified to all the more by the curious fact that the Church’s exposure as having been itself prey to that drive in some awful instances has not led to a mere sigh of relief on the part of the sexual libertines.  They have not murmered calmly, “See?  We’re all about equally depraved and perverse, so let’s get back to our fetishes.”  They have sought to destroy rather than compassionate, in hopes that all taboo and custom surrounding sexuality will at last dissolve.  Without the Catholic Church as the representative institution of hierarchical moral order, we will, they hope, at last be free to ply our sexuality as the appetite listeth.  A great, if evil, ambition — but also one impossible to succeed.  I do not refer to the indefeasible life of the Church, but to the misconception of sexual libertinism at its root.  Were the Church somehow to disappear, some new supposed prudery would appear on the horizon as the next “judgmental” demon to be slayed, and another after that.

Today, we are led to believe any sex act with anyone or anything is legitimate so long as all subjects involved “consent.”  Given the central billing rape and womens’ rights “awareness” has as a substitute for real thought and action for women in western society, it seems unlikely that “consent” will disappear as the one sure juridico-moral standard of sexuality — at least explicitly.  Of course it will crumble, as it has crumbled, in other ways: the social pressures to engage in sex that we associate with awkward and poorly parented adolescents have come to feature ever more largely in the public culture of supposedly mature adults.  The assumption that everyone wants to and would engage in sex with as many partners as is legally permissible presents itself as common knowledge in the myriad internet responses to the Tiger Woods catastrophe: “You would do it too, if you could,” the snide insult echoes through the ether.  Shame and reverence regarding sexuality is so routinely mocked that I — even sheltered and homebound James Matthew Wilson — have found myself on more than one occasion mocked for condemning pornography and for (imagine my backwardness!) refusing to go to a strip club.  “Consent” may not go anywhere as the last legal taboo, but there is a no less powerful and more widespread cultural imperative that pushes in favor of everyone “consenting” whenever and wherever possible at the risk of being found prudish, backward, or “intolerant” otherwise.  The long range consequence of this will almost certainly be the normalization of pedophilia under “certain conditions.”  In the short term, of course, the consequence is a public culture entirely given over to displays and chatter of the libidonous.  And, in any case, this culture of atomized eroticism will persist in a restless quest for ever-further sexual liberation that, by definition, no single “victory” can satisfy, until it runs short — not of obstacles, but — of interest.  Ultimately, to paraphrase T.S. Eliot, our civilization shall die not of decadence but of boredom.

12.  The Church, that corpse hanging in the wind for all of history, has always adapted her apologetics to show that the Gospel answers the deepest — the one true — need in man.  In the early Christian centuries, she emphasized its Logos, Creation’s contingent being saturated in intelligibility as the fulfillment and reconfiguration of what the Hellenic world had taken for an eternal, divine, and necessary Cosmos.  Through much of the medieval period, She preached the Gospel as a dramatic fulfillment: the arrival of the Son as Sun in triumph over the legions of darkness.  In the diseased and violent decades of the Reformation, she preached the Gospel as the voice of the Church, and the Church as Perfect Society and Humanistic Beauty (health).  In all ages, She taught the Gospel as the balm for human sinfulness and wretchedness; Pascal, in the Seventeenth Century, rearticulated this perenniel message in terms of the isolated subjectivity agonizing within the indifferent and lonely spaces of an infinite geometric universe.  In the Ninteenth Century, She spoke of the Gospel as the source of social order and the feast for gentle sentiments.  In the Early Twentieth, through Chesterton and the Neo-Thomists, She preached the Gospel of the Creation, of the goodness of things in a world made in and for the Joy of Being.

13. But our age, as I have described it, is one of atomized eroticism; we privilege the nerve centers of sexual pleasure as the one unquestionable good even as we disenchant everything about them to make sex more readily available for exploitation without moral reflection.  I noted above that the unquestionable and ineradicable certitude of that pleasure is what makes it so suitable for this violent reordering of society that forces everything to comply with and to enable its needs.  But I also noted that the certitude of sexuality could be the germ, the foundation, for a rediscovery of the meaning and truth of the Gospel and of human life.  Just as the facts of sin and death disturbed generation after generation for two thousand years and prompted them to seek the one immortal good, so too may the fact of our embodied sexualities disturb us and summon us to seek for more than the momentary ecstasy contained in a twitch of nerves.  The Church has seen as much; She has taught it.  She stands ready to elaborate the entire truth of the Gospel if we will grant Her, for a starter, only the most polite willingness to consider the claim of Genesis 1:27,

God created man in his image;

in the divine image he created him;

male and female he created them.

From these few words derive worlds — the world of human experience, but also the world of Creation brought into being through the perfect love of the Trinity.  And so, while the world of our age calls each of us to turn from thought, from any moral reflection, from anything but the most physically immanent of our desires, the Church calls us to see in that ineradicable certitude the beginning of something, the seed of the mystery of Creation.  If one has little mind for these matters but a good will, one can at least read the first half of Benedict XVI’s Deus Caritas Est.  If one sees more clearly that the profundity of desire in man is answered by a profoundity of Truth, of meaning, to explain it, then one might wisely and swiftly turn to John Paul II’s early Love and Responsibility, a philosophical reflection on sexuality and human personhood, or to his magesterial (literally) Man and Woman He Created Them, the most complete ellaboration of his Theology of the Body.  In such silent books one finds the only voice capable of silencing the violent snarl of modern man’s lust in the face of every obstacle.  Here is the battle of our present moment: not between the West and Islam, between the Market State and Provincial Society, or between Capital and the masses, but between “Love” as a euphemism and Love in Truth.

66 COMMENTS

  1. This article has much more to say about the state of western society than about the current scandal that surrounds the Catholic Church. While there are many exaggerated claims and caricatures to discuss within this bitter polemic its primary insufficiency is that there is no good explanation for why the decadence of our society somehow eradicates the Church’s culpability in particularly egregious crimes. No matter how we slice this thing or explain it away as a manifestation of latent anti-Catholicism the Catholic Church is certainly in the wrong here and so is the Pope. The simple fact is that people under his direction swept serious crimes under the rug and no matter the motivation for these accusations there is no way to avoid this gross negligence. The Pope as Joseph Ratzinger should have known how his office was acting, especially considering his tendency to micromanage. This article seems to diminish that fact by calling attention away from the scandal to other issues. Incidentally, there has been a strong trend among evangelicals to turn towards Rome’s conservative tradition in the face of growing Protestant liberalism, a fact that calls into question anti-Catholic sentiments in the mainstream. See Francis Beckwith’s Return to Rome.

  2. It is not the ambition of this essay to give an “explanation for why the decadence of our society somehow eradicates the Church’s culpability in particularly egregious crimes,” because it does not deny that culpability. It does, however, deny your claim that Benedict is culpable, and provides a link to a web site that thoroughly aggregates headlines and news items on this question, showing that all evidence points to attacks on the Pope conceived in hatred and against reason and fact.

    If you read Ann Bradstreet’s poems, you will see that there is an attraction to the Catholic Church that dates back to the earliest moments of American Protestantism. One cannot deny it. If the “Popish church” were not so wonderful and right, it would not so persistently be subject to the laceration and macerations of Protestants now and in past ages.

    I agree with you: I am bitter.

  3. Grammar,
    For what it is worth – Pope Benedict is actually known for not being a micro-manager. He’s more known for delegating and allowing / encouraging others to follow the principle of subsidiarity [seek local options first, and move upward through the chain].

    Blessed Triduum to all!

  4. The fact that many Protestants in past ages harbored both positive and negative feelings towards Rome is a direct effect of their ambivalent relationship. It can hardly be held against traditions like the Anabaptists to have some reservations about Catholicism and perhaps even vibrant critiques. On the other hand, there is certainly a strong trend in Protestantism to favor the conservatism embodied by the Catholic Church. The fact that this tension exists does not mean that every attack on Rome is a demonstration of hatred for the Church founded in Anti-Papist theology. In fact, many of Benedict’s harshest critics are Catholic themselves and are concerned about the future of the institution. As far as Benedict’s guilt, the articles you reference do not, at least from my perspective, clear his name. Just like ignorance was no excuse for Nixon, even though he knew about Watergate, or Reagan, even though he knew what Oliver North was up to, it is no excuse for the current Pope. The simple fact is that Ratzinger is responsible for the decisions of his administration and in no small capacity. In addition, the article you cite only deals with accusations of negligence in the situation of Father Hullerman in 1980 and does not even reference the more recent situation involving Father Murphy and the school for the deaf. Still, the point remains that ignorance does not mean innocence.

    My reference to Ratzinger as a micro-manager is based on a statement made here: http://andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com/the_daily_dish/2010/04/ratzinger-micromanager.html
    Take it for what it is.

  5. Grammar, look harder. The Fr. Murphy question should be off the table by now, the efforts to connect Ratzinger with that affair having been shown to be incoherent. On the Hullerman matter, your contention that the highest authority in a power structure bears ultimate responsibility would be more plausible. But it looks like the timeline of events will ultimately vindicate Benedict there; it is hard to say, given the rank distortion and incoherence of so many accusations thus far made.

    It’s always good to take Andrew Sullivan for what he is.

  6. +AMDG

    “In addition, the article you cite only deals with accusations of negligence in the situation of Father Hullerman in 1980 and does not even reference the more recent situation involving Father Murphy and the school for the deaf. Still, the point remains that ignorance does not mean innocence.”

    Father Murphy’s wickedness regarding his charges occurred from 1950-1974, with most of the crimes occurring after 1960. So it’s hardly more recent that 1980’s crimes.

    Once the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith became responsible for these crimes, a canonical trial was in progress. Murphy died before it really got going. It certainly should have been handled earlier, but that is the responsibility of Archbishop Rembert Weakland, not of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. There is an ancient principle of canon law that every bishop is pope within his diocese.

    In any case, the crimes of Father Murphy should elicit more anger than only against the Church; prosecutors and police also consistently ignored the reports. Cardinal Levada has detailed why the recent attacks on this score are monstrously unfair.

    There are many priests and bishops that should be severely punished, but Pope Benedict just isn’t one of them. To say that the Pope is directly responsible for everything his underlings do is ridiculous; it’s like charging President Obama with assault because an FBI agent roughed up a suspect.

    The media attacks are, as usual, grotesquely overblown and one-sided. Only an anti-Catholic bias can explain why they’re going so strongly after the Catholic abuse scandal when, say, the school-teacher scandal is much larger, and when priests are less likely to abuse children than the general populace is.

    Praise be to Christ the King!

  7. Frankly, I have nothing but praise for Dr. Wilson’s in depth, penetrating analysis. He has made luminous a certain contemporary gnosticism that has become a part of modern man:

    “Most of us experience the inadequacy of material possessions as a means to happiness and, curiously, in this materialistic age, we do not therefore divest ourselves of posessions but seek to reduce everything to a kind of possession.  A marriage, a friendship, a body, becomes one among many possessions subject to our will no less than is a new riding mower.  In the moment of sexual ecstasy, the myriad atomized loners of our age recognize that crossing point where the bedrock of the self whose certitude is beyond us meets–indeed, tries to become one with–the indifferent matter we subject to our ownership, possession, and control.  Between definite elation and evanescence, between self and matter, subjection and domination, modern man finds the only space from which meaning, some sense of greatness, cannot be fully eradicated.  Sexual pleasure is the one joy whose meaningfulness we do not question, though we doubt what that meaning is.  It becomes the one currency that remains in hard coin for the modern intellect.”

    Consequently, following Voegelin, if we understand the trajectory of gnostic “attitude” it is that he is dissatisfied with his situation, the world is poorly organized, salvation from this world is possible to achieve, that this wretched world must evolve historically, that man is capable of changing human nature, and finally to seek that change that will facilitate the “New” being through gnosis.

    Wilson’s analysis seems to explicate a modern man who exhibits a certain profound nihilism, he is alienated within the context of a dialetical-material process and while rejecting God yearns for a “true” freedom that will permit him to be transformed into the Marxist “Superman.” This has, of course, been the condition of the modern since Comte’s Positivism.

    Re: the pedophile problem and the Roman Catholic Church I agree with Wilson’s comment: “The Church, of course, remains the great visible obstacle to this absolutization and liberation. “ The immanest-demonic attack on the church is very real and achieving a certain success. With that said, my question is this, Did the church, back in the 1960’s, weaken the rules that acted to “weed” out those young men entering the seminary with obvious homosexual tendencies? If this is true, and it may not be, then the church must understand that it bears the responsibility of these sexual crimes and act accordingly. And, by acting accordingly I mean turning the individual cleric over to the legal authorities to stand his trial.

  8. Wonderful post Mr. Wilson. Grammer, you fail to make the distinction between “The fact that this tension exists does not mean that every attack on Rome is a demonstration of hatred for the Church founded in Anti-Papist theology” and the obvious, which is that there is a relentless harassment by major media outlets upon the Pope and the Catholic Church, which is nothing short of irrational when one actually looks at sexual abuse cases across the board.

    Why is it that the one person within the Catholic Church hierarchy who has done more than anyone to root out this evil, is now sought out to be shamed and disgraced? As Wilson mentioned the allegation against the Pope in the Murhpy case have been soundly refuted. I mean the canonical judge in the case wasn’t even sought to verify the facts! Why kind of journalism is that? Furthermore the only sources for information were lawyers who have a vested interest in disparaging the Catholic Church for their own financial benefit because they have cases pending against the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and the Holy See.

    As far as the Munich case goes with Fr. “H”, one thing that people don’t seem to understand is that in German dioceses the Vicar General does handle personnel issues, unlike most other diocese around the world. Given that fact along with the fact that Ratzinger is absolutely NOT a micromanager as Fr. Doyle and the people who picked up his erroneous statement claim, it is not out of the question that Ratzinger absolutely knew nothing about the transfer. Even if that’s the truth, which I suspect it is, people won’t be satisfied till his head is on a platter.

    This is about a lot more than the victims of sexual abuse and this is what Mr. Wilson so excellently explains in his post.

  9. This article seems to work against the previous two that were linked to in the opening paragraph. The Pope advocates exposure to Catholic sexual morality, as opposed to to the use of condoms, in response to the AIDS epidemic in Africa. Yet, there is still significant (if at times exaggerated) sexual deviance within the Catholic Church’s leaders. Knowledge of Catholic moral doctrine then seems insufficient in quelling all sexual infractions. Perhaps the cause of the AIDS problem is moral, just like the cause of many traffic accidents is speed, but I doubt you would criticize use of “technocratic” seatbelt.

  10. @ Star

    I guess if Catholic Sexual ethics were simply about preventing disease you might have a point, but the real problem is with your analogy. The comparison between condoms and seat belts is poor. By in large traffic accidents are not intentional occurrences. The seat belt is used to protect against accidents. Sexual relations are rarely accidental…in fact I can’t thing of any incidents where someone mistakenly has sex.

  11. This is a fine essay detailing the origins of the modern glorification of lust, which unfortunate presence in the Church is as evident as the faux-earnestness and unfairness of her *heroic* attackers.

  12. “not between the West and Islam, between the Market State and Provincial Society, or between Capital and the masses, but between “Love” as a euphemism and Love in Truth.”

    This is similar to what the secularists missed when they misread the famous Regensburg lecture by the Pope. The Left read the Pope’s quote of the Byzantine emperor as evidence of the Pope’s intolerance. Similarly, the Right (especially necons) took the quote to be “in your face” to Islam. Of course, for the nuanced intellectual, Pope Benedict, niether was true.

    “The intention here is not one of retrenchment or negative criticism, but of broadening our concept of reason and its application. While we rejoice in the new possibilities open to humanity, we also see the dangers arising from these possibilities and we must ask ourselves how we can overcome them. We will succeed in doing so only if reason and faith come together in a new way, if we overcome the self-imposed limitation of reason to the empirically falsifiable, and if we once more disclose its vast horizons. In this sense theology rightly belongs in the university and within the wide-ranging dialogue of sciences, not merely as a historical discipline and one of the human sciences, but precisely as theology, as inquiry into the rationality of faith. “

  13. James – I am glad you wrote this. I know this is a painful subject for Catholics and wondered when it might get addressed here. Your remarks are appreciated and well done.

    Priests did not sexually abuse children – pedophiles sexually abused children and it seems to me that the problem in the Church was understanding the difference. I think the Church has now recognized the difference and the many new rules and procedures put in place seem to address the issue as well as it can be addressed. It seems to me that the current concern is addressing the institutional structures which permitted the “cover ups” to occur – people clearly need to know that this too has been addressed. Finally I think that symbolic acts of penitence are necessary and have occurred in several diocese – more of this would be meaningful to Catholics. The NYT won’t cover it though.

    As to anti Catholicism – I spent my freshman year at a large and much touted mid western state University where I discovered anti Catholicism for the first time. This was immediate post Vatican II and most Catholics still abstained from meat on Fridays. This University accommodated the needs of Catholics on Fridays by setting up a table with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches- for both lunch and dinner. As we would make our way to this table – people at the tables we passed would call us “Fish eaters” and “Papists”. Then there was the girl who lived in the room next door who played “The Vatican Rag” every morning for my enjoyment. My fav though was the professor who heard my east coast accent, observed my red hair and Irish surname and announced to the rest of the class that “we have a Catholic in our midst”. I transferred to a Catholic University at the end of the year. Anti Catholicism is more subtle nowadays. I do agree some of the coverage and comments on the scandal are prompted by this prejudice – as a Catholic though I think it is irrelevant to the main problem. The features of ecclesiastical organization which allowed this to happen must be reformed. The most egregious cases of bishops who facilitated the movement of pedophiles should result in resignations by those Bishops. The NYT and other elements of our society who hate the Church will hate the Church no matter how the abuse scandal is dealt with.

    I do think though that what is unfortunate about all this justifiable outrage is that it does seem limited to the RC Church – I would hope that it would call to peoples attention how pernicious child sexual abuse is throughout our society and fuel efforts for the issue to be addressed in other institutions. When the Boston story broke it was around the same time the study commissioned by Pres. Bush on sexual abuse in public schools was released. The results of this study were very disturbing – yet it got very little attention. If we truly are horrified by what has happened in the RC Church because we care about children – then let us learn from this and look at all the ways we can protect children. If we do not understand that this is not just a Catholic problem then Catholic kids will be very well protected – as long as they don’t attend public schools.

  14. There is just nothing like an entrenched Bureaucracy , whether dressed in mitre and frock or sport coat and tie to avoid problems until such time as they are sufficiently destructive enough to be mined for political advantage by whoever needs a good diversion or punching bag.

    The agony of all those over the years afflicted by the wretched sump of the Bureaucracy notwithstanding, one does wonder if the word “gratuitousness”, in its fullest sense of charity and stewardship had not crossed the lips or pen of the Pontiff, if this issue might have simmered longer in near oblivion. Busting out in full flower around Easter seems too perfect. After all, the Totalitarian Edifice takes a dim view of charity. It involves morality and this simply will not do in this age of Shiny Metallic Reasoning.

  15. I’m not sure why you linked my name and my criticism to Maureen Dowd’s, James. Unlike Dowd, who has a cultural and social agenda that is directly opposed to Catholic orthodoxy, I support the moral teachings of the Catholic Church and am thrilled that Joseph Ratzinger is pope. I have repeatedly pointed out to readers of my blog that Pope Benedict has done far more than his predecessor to turn things around on the sex abuse front, and I have relayed what a Vatican source of mine told me back in 2002 or 2003: that the American scandal opened Cdl. Ratzinger’s eyes to the true nature of what was happening, and in some sense radicalized him.

    And I subsequently wrote on my blog that I had changed my mind about the Murphy report, and believed that while the CDF made, in my view, the wrong decision about the Murphy case, it was hardly as big a deal re: Benedict as the Times makes it out to be.

    Now, I do believe that Benedict should do more to bring malfeasant bishops to account for what they did. It cannot be said often enough that the scandal is not so much what pederast priests did; the scandal is really about bishops who, knowing full well what these devils had done and were capable of doing, kept reassigning them. For me, the epitome of the bishop’s corruption is to be found in the letter Cardinal Law wrote to the serial molester Fr. John Geoghan upon his retirement. Cdl. Law addressed the man, who — as Cardinal Law knew — had gone through a number of boys, saying that “yours was an effective ministry, sadly marred by illness.” This, to a child rapist in clerics. Can there be a more disgusting manifestation of the clericalist mindset?

    When I was writing about all this for National Review in 2002, a prominent archbishop kept telling me to quit embarrassing the church by my public criticism. I finally told him that I, as a Catholic (which I then was), was compelled to write about this because I didn’t trust the bishops to fix the problem, based on their record. If you don’t trust the bishops, he said, “Then why are you still Catholic?”

    Such is clericalism.

    Anyway, I really chafe at Catholics resorting to anti-Catholicism to explain the hostility to the church on this matter. It has been my experience — obviously, this is anecdotal — that most non-Catholic Christians, far from using the scandal to tear down the Church, have been really concerned about what’s happening to the Church. Had this happened forty or fifty years ago, I would have bought the anti-Catholicism line. In fact, given the unspeakable crimes that the bishops of the church in this country have covered up over the years, I find it surprising that we aren’t seeing more anti-Catholicism coming out of this. I believe that the lower-than-expected level has to do with a couple of things: that most people have a sense that their religious institutions are vulnerable to criticism on this front, at least theoretically, and (more to the point) the “ecumenism of the trenches” that developed with Evangelicals on the pro-life front. That is, many Protestants have come to see the Catholic Church as a good friend to the cause of protecting unborn life, and an ally on other causes that most concern Evangelicals. No pleasure is taken in the agonies of the Catholic Church, at least by her traditional historical enemies.

    Does anti-Catholicism exist? Of course, and those who are taking delight in the Church’s agony are the worst sort of person, the kind of people who, as you say, cannot stand the Church’s moral witness, especially in contradiction to the ethic of sexual libertinism. But James, I really do believe you are seriously overthinking this. These folks are happy that the Church is in trouble, but even people who believe in the Church’s teaching on sexual morality — people like me — are scandalized by the fact that some small percentage of the church’s clergy, aided and abetted by its bishops, made a total mockery of that teaching, and in so doing destroyed the lives of individuals and families. Christopher Hitchens did not reassign pedophile priests to parishes, where they could prey on Catholic boys. I ask with respect and genuine curiosity: how much do you really know about the gritty details of what was done in these cases — not only the nature of the abuse, but what bishops did to cover it up and to set the abusers free to do it again? It’s very easy to theorize, but the facts of these cases have a way of cutting through abstractions. There’s nothing like talking to a Kansas farmer whose son murdered himself (like four other victims of the same priest), and listening to him describe what it was like to learn that the diocese had known all about Father Larson’s pederasty, and let him carry on — anyway, there’s nothing like having that kind of conversation, as I have had, to force one to confront the magnitude of the evil here.

    I don’t mean to be unfair, and I will happily accept your charitable correction, but the impression I’m left with after reading your essay is that the rage against the Church over all this has to do primarily with people not wanting to listen to and obey the Church’s teaching on sexual morality. Really? It makes far more sense that people, or at least most people, are raging because the hierarchy of the Church for decades allowed a small number of priests to rape children, and did little or nothing about it, until compelled to by media revelations and public anger. Furthermore, almost none of the bishops who oversaw this injustice have been compelled by the church, or even conscience, to pay any price for what they did. That is, frankly, outrageous, and I don’t think you have to be opposed to the church’s sexual teaching, or even a bona fide anti-Catholic, to be angry over that. That these same whitewashed sepulchres in mitres hold themselves up as moral authorities really is a scandal — and, for we who (Catholic or not) believe in the Gospel, and who embrace the Church’s teaching on sex and sexuality as liberating amid the erotomania of our pagan culture, the dramatic erosion of the Church’s authority because of the scandal is a catastrophe.

    And the Church hierarchy has no one to blame for this but itself.

  16. Rod, I didn’t link your name to Maureen Dowd, I mentioned both your names to show the range of persons who are critical of the Church for its failings. It that wasn’t clear in context, I apologize, but I felt compelled to name you precisely because I did not want either to pretend or to appear to be pretending that the only critics of the Church are seething imbeciles like Dowd.

    I don’t read your blog every day. I did read it the day you very unequivocally assented to the accusations against Benedict regarding the Murphy case. At the time I read it, I thought, “He’ll probably regret having spoken so forcefully after more information came out.” You are in a pickle with your duties on that blog, because it seems to call on you to make definitive statements in a context that is so destablized by and reactive to the news cycle that such statements quickly can come to seem regrettable — or at least retractable. In any case, by writing that you took a public position as critic of the Church in this regard, and therefore it seemed appropriate to mention your name: not, let me emphasize, as if that position was indefensible, but it seemed fair given the wide ranging context of the essay at least to acknowledge that real human beings are critical of the Church as well.

    There are two phenomena of anti-Catholicism my essay addresses, namely, the long traditional form of it derived from Protestant and national pieties, and the more recent advance-liberal form of it I describe in terms of a culture of “atomic eros.” My essay does not excuse or explain away the sexual abuse scandal within the Church in mentioning these two traditions. Rather, it argues three things, a) there were great crimes committed by predators and bishops in the Church; b) these very real evils have appeared more widespread than they were to the extent that the feed into ancient prejudices that explicitly fear the Church as a den of secret depravities; and c) that the reactions to the current scandal, or rather the anxious and slanderous attacks on the Pope that have arisen amid that scandal, are at least partially explainable within terms of a larger cultural shift that is not merely or even primarily anti-Catholic. Anti-Catholicism is simply a manifestation of a culture committed to the quantitative maximization of individual sexual pleasure. I see this as a broad phenomenon; I have discussed it in other contexts than Catholic ones (e.g. the Sanford essay). I don’t think this essay is reducible to a defense of the Church by means of a machine-gun diversionary assault on the broader culture. Rather, I think it is an essay that seeks by means of dilation to set the real evils committed in the Church in a broader interpretive context that, I hope, provides a hermeneutic valid to a great range of contemporary phenomena: the homosexual movements, the listlessness and childlessness of western society, the normalization of pornography, and so on.

  17. re: Mr. Dreher’s comment — hear hear!

    This essay has been incredibly helpful for me in thinking through the moral and theological implications of the sex scandals in the Catholic church; thank you very much for your guidance and insight, Mr. Wilson. Nevertheless, I must break with your conclusion. As a Protestant who is very sympathetic to much of the Catholic tradition, what is most appalling about the pattern of pederasty in the Catholic Church is the damage done to the Church’s moral witness. More often than not evangelicals see Catholicism as a important ally in the battle against secularism hedonism and the deification of eros; for these Christians, the tragedy of the recent scandals is that our important friend and ally is now maimed (at least in the public eye), and therefore less effectual in combat. Lord willing, this too shall pass; but from the outside looking in, inditing modern sexuality for the nauseating sin of many Catholic priests, rather than directly confronting the Church’s ludicrous and deep-seeded moral hypocrisy, frankly rings very hollow.

  18. Edwin Star, since I have felt compelled to clarify my comments to Rod, I should also attend briefly to your argument. Aristotle, I think, would be the natural respondant to your sophistry. You write,

    “The Pope advocates exposure to Catholic sexual morality, as opposed to to the use of condoms, in response to the AIDS epidemic in Africa. Yet, there is still significant (if at times exaggerated) sexual deviance within the Catholic Church’s leaders. Knowledge of Catholic moral doctrine then seems insufficient in quelling all sexual infractions.”

    I don’t think the Pope or anyone believes “exposure” to Catholic moral teaching or “knowledge of Catholic moral doctrine” will stop AIDS or do anything. Morality pertains not to knowledge but to action; and it would be the worst sort of liberal optimism to believe that knowledge alone suffices to act like an innoculation, a technological solution, to any moral problem. What the Pope and the Church teaches is that following, adhering to, Catholic moral teaching will make for a happy and good life. It is evident — indeed, it is not even a secret — that many priests and bishops have dissented from Church teaching in principle and practice over the last several decades. I have met priests who were not only almost certainly active homosexuals but flagrant critics of Church teaching on sexual morality. In many, but by no means all, cases (e.g. Fr. Shanley in Boston), a sexually perverse and abusive priest was also an open advocate of a liberal sexual morality.

    But let me underscore: I could know every ethical code in the world and be unaffected by any of them. I could know what is Good and still be evil and do evil. Ethics pertains to practice, to action, and it is not mere knowledge but habit (or hexis) that makes for virtuous living. If the priests of the Church had truly believed (or rather, if they had willed) what they were in fact obliged to believe and will, they would never have done what they did.

    You further state: “Knowledge of Catholic moral doctrine then seems insufficient in quelling all sexual infractions. Perhaps the cause of the AIDS problem is moral, just like the cause of many traffic accidents is speed, but I doubt you would criticize use of “technocratic” seatbelt.”

    The unstated implication is that condoms would be a good “seatbelt” whether or not Catholic morality also were helpful in stopping AIDS. But the use of condoms affects how one thinks and wills and creates a different moral climate from one formed on Catholic moral doctrine –the end of Catholic teaching, after all, is not primarily the combatting of AIDS but the provision of a formal criterion for action that will lead to a good, happy, and complete human life.

    If the use of seatbelts actually resulted in the increased incidence of speeding and accidents, if it led people to neglect other aspects of their lives and that of their families to allow for continous driving (to pursue the analogy you propose), then I think one would very justly question the moral and social benefits of seat belts. Fortunately, driving is in most respects a good or morally indifferent activity and a seat belt makes it safer to do. It makes for a poor analogy with sexual activity, which is so steeped in consequence that every aspect of it has moral implications. Wearing a seatbelt when driving doesn’t change one’s selfhood; wearing a condom to fornicate has immense social consequences. In many circumstances, we know it increases promiscuity, including incidences of “unprotected sex,” and so increases rather than retards the spread of disease.

    I could go on. I continue to marvel at the phrase “exposure to Catholic sexual morality.” I just can’t imagine what psychological and moral theory it implies!

  19. Rod, James, good work both. One of you is overall a bit more convincing, but both the essay and the comment are fine generous work, and I think that is what should be highlighted here. So, this Presbyterian’s prayers go out to both of you, that you might continue in strength in addressing these spiritually-trying controveries when need be. Somehow appropriate reading for Good Friday.

  20. To cut through that condescending lecture: The problem I see with your argument is that is seems to prioritize stopping proliferation of the AIDS disease (one that orphans thousands of children a year) as being less important than adopting the Catholic Church’s prescribed “action”.

    Admittedly, having one sexual partner would clearly help infection rates, but I believe it would be naive to to even hope that all of Africa will one day be completely monogamous. As a previous poster offered, the Catholic church is few steps away from the WHO, yet is it really necessary to decry the use of condoms? To me it seems only destructive, why not push for monogamy as the primary solution and leave well enough alone when it comes to condoms.

    And as much as I do not want to incite another treatise, I have yet to understand how a person wearing a condom can transmit AIDS. Your argument is indirect at best. I see adultery or some amount of sexual promiscuity as inevitable, but I suppose it is not in Church’s best interest to offer contingency plans.

  21. James, thanks for the clarification, but alas, I am not persuaded by your essay, which seems to me to needlessly abstractify (if that’s a word) the central issue here. A general critique of Eros and Modernity — however much I share your views — as an answer to the problems revealed by the sexual abuse scandal obscures more than it illuminates. You write in the essay:

    The Church has seen as much; She has taught it. She stands ready to elaborate the entire truth of the Gospel if we will grant Her, for a starter, only the most polite willingness to consider the claim of …

    Who is “we,” Kemosabe? This short passage, I think, shows what you’re really aiming at in this essay: condemnation of the modern world for its obstreperous refusal to grant the Church “only the most polite willingness” to listen to her teaching. You and I almost certainly agree that the modern world does not want to hear the Church’s message on sexuality, just as you and I affirm that teaching. But what you don’t seem to understand is the audacity, indeed, the insult, of the Church petitioning the world for a hearing about the world’s sexual fallenness and how it must repent of same when the Church has overseen the sodomization of children by members of its clergy, the effective facilitation of same by its bishops, and an ongoing refusal by the Pope to hold even the worst bishops accountable for their gross malfeasance.

    The world is saying, “Before you pick the speck out of my eye, take the log out of your eye.” Is it really so hard to see that the world has a point? The effectiveness of the Church’s witness to this culture on the matter of sex and sexuality has been heavily compromised by the episcopate’s own actions, and its refusal, or at least its inability, to hold itself to account. That is the issue. Anti-Catholicism is not the issue, nor is sexual autonomism. If the world is going to hate the Church, let them hate the Church for being truly holy, not for being pious hypocrites.

  22. Rod,

    “If the world is going to hate the Church, let them hate the Church for being truly holy, not for being pious hypocrites.”

    I think the point is that the world hates the Church because it is Truly Holy, and that the world is pointing out those hypocrisies, no matter how great, not to bring light to the event that gives rise to the hypocrisy, but to tear down the Church.

  23. Kevin H: I think the point is that the world hates the Church because it is Truly Holy, and that the world is pointing out those hypocrisies, no matter how great, not to bring light to the event that gives rise to the hypocrisy, but to tear down the Church.

    I grant that there are people who hate the Church and who are glad to see this happening so they can use it as a stick with which to beat the Church. Shame on them. But if the world loved the Church, would it therefore be obliged to remain silent about these outrageous abuses, and the bishops’ conduct, so as not to compromise the Church’s witness? That seems to be where the logic here leads… and how can that be right?

  24. Kevin, one quick postscript. Let’s say that I’ve been caught beating my children, and that people who hate the stances I’ve taken in my public writing in favor of traditional family values use the news to launch an ad hominem attack those views. Let’s suppose too that feminists use the news as the basis for a stupid attack on the traditional family as an incubator of child abuse. Would it be helpful or illuminating to analyze my crimes in light of the general collapse of the traditional family, and the bad faith of opportunistic critics? Or would that serve to obscure or to distract from the essential problem here, namely, that I beat my children?

  25. Both would be pertinent, Rod. Both analyzes not only could be done, but should be done.

    I understand your apprehension about an essay like mine taking attention away from the actual responsibility for abuse and cover-up, but I thought I gave it first billing. I then proceeded to dilate from there to address questions that radiate from it.

    If my analysis of the broader culture is simply wrong, if you simply disagree with it, then that is one thing. If you think I am obscuring matters that should not be obscured, that is also, as it were, one thing. But if my analysis is right, or at least worthy of consideration, and if I do not set that analysis up as a smoke screen to cover up the smoke of Satan that has clearly already entered the sanctuary, then I don’t entirely see the point of your objection.

    In brief, if what I say is true, I think I ought to say it . . . this is a long enough essay, though, with enough distinct parts that I can see in a number of comments an understandable making of connections where none is intended.

    Your previous comments prompted me to contemplate a bit further the the “we” is and who the “Church” is. I suspect you would agree with me that the witness of the Church on these questions needs to speak forcefully and correctively to many practicing Catholics and, indeed, to many bishops and priests. I’m not a clericalist, as you would say; I don’t think to defend the Church is to defend Cardinal Law and I do think quite often to defend the Church and to give support to the Church’s teaching may be, in fact, a direct criticism of many of its priests (or at least some; I’ve been fortunate to know almost exclusively great priests). Since I’m sure I didn’t address this matter in the essay, I do at least hope nothing I said in the essay suggests the contrary.

  26. Rod’s last post is illuminating. It is exactly the point that some priests behaved badly and some bishops compounded their bad behavior by failing to do the right thing. One father or ten beating his children has nothing to do with fatherhood, and a (very minute few) homosexual (and that’s what most of them were and are) priests has nothing to do with either the priesthood or the authority of the Holy Spirit in the Church. People who do bad things must answer for them, and they will, one way or another. To take this into realms of either existential or spiritual anguish runs exactly counter to the teachings of Jesus, the Bible and the Church. The Holy Father has behaved through all this in an exemplary manner, and the New York Times has not.

  27. It is difficult for me to discern, JMW, what, exactly, you are trying to prove here. The discussion points made by subsequent commentators have been relatively receptive, polite, supportive, maybe a bit contrapuntal, perchance dismissive of one actor’s soliloquy, an aria or even a medley, but certainly not of the entire play. All of you accept the underlying premise that the foundation is on sound footing. The uproar is not about Pope-Roman-Numeral’s behavior. The uproar is that such an organization is in a position to materially matter in the life of a human being in the first place.

    Secondly, I do not agree with your premise that the entire race is in a “race” to see who can get laid, all else be damned. Sure, the young are in that mode, have been for a long time. That’s not where most of us are living, however, and you do an disservice to your argument to bundle us together.

    Thirdly, you litanize the recrudescent Church, how it responded to the various assaults. Turn it around. Look at it from the other side of the keep’s walls. What you see is centuries of self-serving depredation, of unspeakable horrors, of unbearably brutal repression. To suggest that this castle is somehow the last bastion of morality is to don the tall hats and light the spice once again.

    What you are witnessing is not the rejection of Christian morality, but the rejection of man himself as a moral authority. We find ourselves incapable of accepting any answer as “the answer.” The response is nihilism, and the fallback position is not perjury, or to plead the Fifth, but to deny the authority of the court de facto.

    Christianity, and Catholicism in particular, have led us down a dark alley into the cul-de-sac in which we now find the children picking up rocks and pulling the staves off the barrels. They are not coming out as they went in.

  28. Centuries of unbearably brutal oppression? Please keep the PC pseudo-history for those gullible enough to buy it. The RCC has had its problems but its history is far from one of simple oppression, in the 20th century anti-Christian gov’ts have been a lot worse. The church has actually been a bastion of morality and truth compared to those who took on its mantal afterwards, those silly enough to be annoyed at any institutional power for the church are the sort of atomists who are destroying our society and leaving chaos and despotism in their wake as they have done for centuries now.

  29. I would just like to say here that “Atomic Eros” sounds like one of them nightclubs the Republican National Committee takes its potential donors to. Or maybe a strip joint down the road from Fermilab.

    (Yes, I have insomnia…)

  30. I confess I agree. I would have preferred your term, “sexual autonomism,” but the Nietzshean point of my essay was to suggest it is the reductio to the atomic level — to the smallest possible quantum — that sexuality is undergoing that informs our culture. If it were merely a question of liberty or autonomy, then we would be talking about a less aggravating situation (as I suggest in the essay, we would be talking about a situation that conforms to the explicit liberal language of our culture, but I contend that that language conceals a darker and more absolute imperative).

  31. I appreciate this sort of essay and the freely offered (and posted) commentary. I stand apart from the Catholic-Protestant divide (being a Pagan) but I am a child of this culture: Raised and schooled in Upper Darby (’61-’74), residing in for nearly all the rest of the time since and raising a family in Philadelphia. The Church is a fact of life in my society. Its actions and foibles, its engagement in both religious and secular aspects, are as important to me as to any of its faithful, not because I share that membership in its congregation, but because I make the choice to see the Church as one of my partners in this society, and an equal partner with whom I must share both the obligations of citizenship and the effort it takes to maintain that society.

    I apologize, that was necessarily vague, but it seems important to me because I have a fundamental disagreement with Dr. Wilson: Being a player in the modern world cannot also include the moment-to-moment disengagement from it to deal with internal matters that are themselves of the world, connected to the world, and create valid conduits for “backlash” from the rest of us (those “others” that, for convenience, I label non-Catholics).

    You do step up and emphasize the “corporate” nature of the behaviors, and at least allude to the sense of privilege (as in “private law”) that the middle and upper levels of the hierarchy claim. It is proper to exercise their authority, but it is not proper to make decisions (as in the various cover-ups and relocations) that are easily seen as arbitrary by any outsider, let alone just plain wrong, and then claim “persecution” when called out on it.

    I humbly offer an example from my family history. The Church’s policy of non-intervention during WWII did not stop the northern Italian Catholic peasants from saving the lives of my mother and her family and thousands of other Jews who found themselves there, by accident or design. It did not stop a Zagreb priest from giving them forged confirmation papers that allowed them to pass as Catholics when they fled the Ustaše.

    Some of us with significant reasons to be anti-Catholic (writing now as a Pagan) have with that significant sympathy for knee-jerk hostility when dirty laundry is aired. We see, on the ground, in the neighborhoods, the true image you claim to have. All I ask, all we ask, is that your hierarchy step up and do two things: Prove your moral leadership by showing moral integrity and admitting to the mistakes as part of the process of fixing them; go back to those parish priests and laypeople who live the talk, who are doubly injured by such things (having amongst them victims both of the crimes and the negative images it promotes), and be their protectors as any good manager will be when faces with angry customers and clients by taking the heat and paying the price for it.

  32. What is missing here is actually occurring: Organized Marxist slander of the Church in particular and people of Faith in general. That this is coming at Easter should clearly highlight this.

    It is all well and good to talk about traditional American bigotry towards Catholics, but one must take this in an histrical context. This vice was primarliy a 19th centruy and early 20th century one, closely linked to fears of a British and Scots-Irish native population’s fear the large waves of Mediterranean and Central Eurpoepal immigrants of those times. It was fundamentally a touchstone for racial, religious and cultural conflict.

    The Anti-Catholic bigotry of today stems for an altogether different source: Cultural, political and economic Marxism. It fundamentally varies from the early manifestation in that is is part of a planned and organization campaign of direct and indirect political and cultural assault on Western Civilization and not merely an organic social, cultural and racial reaction. In rich irony, this apposition is underlined by the fact that the ideological–and often genetic–roots of a great many of the hard left actually stem from those wave of Central Eurpoen immigrants who brought with them all the political collevtivist vices of Contintetal Europe. In a sense, the nativists’ fears were quite right; they merely saw danger in the wrong place, targeting the wrong actors.

    It is not a different time and a different nation. In truth, this attack on Catholicism is but one facet of the general war of annihilation of the West as a whole, and with it Judeo-Christian tradition. If there are now High Church Anglicans sniffing their nose at Catholics, is is more due to the fact that church has been infiltrated and assimilated by the Left, as have most of the other mainstream denominations, than it is due to the older form of hatred borne by the earlier British stock. The Catholic Church is only one of the more visible, stubborn and richest target in this war, not the only target.

    This cannot be overstated: What has been noted here is that the accusers are in fact hypocrites for out of the other side of their mouths comes support for the worse sort of libertinsim. What is missing in this analysis, and subsequent comments, is the nature of this attack and its ultimate intent: An attempt to undermine political opponents, or, alternately, if one views Marxism as a sort of religion of its own, a sort of secular heresy of Christianity, an attempt to discredit an competing “Faith”. It is not merely the fact that culture and civilization has declined, it is the nature and source of that decadence: Marxism and it various cultural fronts such as Positivism, “Scientific Materialism” and Scientism.

    All one need do is look at Benedict’s enemies in in order to understand the nature of this war, and, have no doubt, war it is.

    Why is the Church held to a different standard? Because it has a different standard than the Left. Had the Church openly supported Marxism then all “sins would have been forgiven”, so to speak, and in fact the Left would be overjoyed to use a spiritually corrupted church to further their unholy cause. The Left complains not about Left wing Lutheran ministers who openly support homosexuality.

    This is the real issue: The enemy is not some amorphous “spiritual decline”, or some spontaneous “objectification” of pleasure by a deracinated West. The Enemy is the Left. It is they who have sent Western Civilization into its spiral. It is they who promulgate this vile vision of the human.

    The Church must stand against them. Closet Marxists, fellow travelers and Marist appeasers in the Church are in the end an even greater danger and evil than sexualy wayward preist. The One are traitors, the other are merely sinners.

    I fear that there are rather more of these villains in the Church than there are catamites and pederasts.

  33. Hattip I’m not sure one can exactly describe all the anti-traditionalist forces as Marxist but apart from that an excellent commentary on the situation.

  34. The Church should listen to criticism when it is warranted, as in this case. Yet she should also be wary of the praise of the NYT’s journalists and their ilk. The Church has seldom been and will not soon be fashionable, as long as she remains herself. To quote Oscar Wilde: “The Catholic Church is for saints and sinners only. If you want to be a respectable man, the Anglican church will do.”

  35. This is a very interesting piece with some key insights; for instance, I love that Dr. Wilson identifies the paradox of our society’s obsession with sex: that the trend is always toward further objectification of the sex partner and portrayal of increasingly perverse sex acts as “no big deal,” and yet the very tenacity with which the borders of acceptable behavior are enlarged belies the power and moral significance of the sexual act. In any debate with someone advocating same-sex marriage or co-habitation (whether same- or opposite-sex), I am always asked to justify what’s so special about sex anyway – why one’s sexual choices should be of any greater significance to government or church or society than one’s preferences at the grocery store. And yet, if there were no greater significance, why would we be having this intense disagreement in the first place? Yes, I got in an argument on Facebook with some people over the nutritional value of applesauce one time, but it still didn’t approach the personal and sensitive level of any discussion having to do with human sexuality.

    What doesn’t seem as obvious to me is his claim that critics of the Catholic Church over the current scandal are acting on a desire to destroy the Church as final obstacle to some imagined society without any sexual boundaries or taboos whatsoever. For one thing, he ignores the fact that many of the Church’s most vociferous critics (in particular, some of the victims of abuse and their families) remain Catholics or at least believing Christians of some stripe and are not arguing for sexual libertinism in the least. Secondly, I find an alternative explanation for the attacks of the Church’s non-believing critics at least as compelling at Dr. Wilson’s: that these critics, in most cases probably without being aware of it, are truly appalled by the spectre of pedophile priests, despite their willingness to accept many other kinds of sexual sin without blinking.

    Dr. Wilson, by showing that Catholic priests are and have been less likely than Protestant ministers and men in the general population to commit pedophilia, seems to equate the sins of these priests with pedophilia elsewhere in society. Of course he is correct in that sin is sin; there is no sin so minor that it can be excused nor so major that it cannot be forgiven. (I’ll leave defining the “unpardonable sin” of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit to others who are better-qualified.) But I think the source of the public outrage in this case is not only general anti-Catholic sentiment (I certainly won’t deny the role that has played in our nation’s history), but the unique position of influence Catholic priests hold over their parishioners, particularly young people. I think we have seen the same outrage, although it perhaps doesn’t register as much because the incidents have been more isolated from one another, in cases of wrongdoing by Protestant ministers who wielded a great deal of personal authority over their flocks, as well as cult leaders, teachers, coaches, and others in positions of extreme authority over children. And yet in most Protestant contexts, there is no equivalent to the confessional, and for the most part we do not regard priests and pastors as sacerdotal representatives in the manner of the Roman Catholic Church. I’m not saying that makes us better, and obviously the vast majority of priests do not take advantage of their position, but I think the opportunity is perhaps more pronounced.

    Thus, I would suggest that the horror expressed by the Church’s critics-from-without is not mere feigned self-righteousness designed to bring down a hated institution, but a genuine revulsion against an extreme form of lack of consent – just as most of these same critics decry rape, incest committed against a young child, and so on. I agree that the line is not firm enough and that those who champion unbridled sexual liberty for “consenting adults” are standing on a slippery slope. But might the seeds of redemption for Western sexuality be planted in the proponents of limitless sex not just by the teachings of the Church (though certainly it must be the Church that waters and tends the seeds), but by the rebellion of their own hearts within them?

    It has been my experience that the sorts of people who revel in the hypocrisy of an individual, institution, or idealogy with the intent not of reforming it or simply punishing it, but of destroying it completely, are not, in fact, its most fervent and dogged critics. They tend to stand back, taking pot shots and getting cheap laughs out of the situation. The critics who throw all they have into the fight and are unwilling to let it go at a dirty joke and a wink tend to be those for whom the issue at hand matters at a much deeper level – perhaps the moral level Dr. Wilson despairs of finding anywhere outside the explicit teachings of the Church.

    I will also add that I am choosing to give Dr. Wilson the benefit of the doubt when he says he is not attempting to excuse in any way the cover-ups perpetrated by some of the Church’s leaders, although I can understand how some of the commenters might have drawn that conclusion.

    – KPE

  36. Oh, I’m sorry, even better yet is the idea that earthquakes arise from original sin. But, of course, there were earthquakes before there were humans, so…? It was anticipation!

  37. “It makes far more sense that people, or at least most people, are raging because the hierarchy of the Church for decades allowed a small number of priests to rape children, and did little or nothing about it, until compelled to by media revelations and public anger.”

    Well, Rod, an ideologue who wants to prattle on about the Church’s “holiness” obviously is immune to historical evidence — despite the fact that, for instance, by the 14th century, basically every single aspect of the Church was up for sale, it was nevertheless “holy.” Such people are obviously immune to evidence, and so no evidence you present will sway them — nor will my pointing out these obvious and well-known facts. Ideologies just are dodges to avoid reality, and so reality is of no use against them.

  38. Gene it is clearly you who is the ideologue who simply wishes to bash the RCC and weigh in on historical and theological matters he clearly has little grasp of. I’m not a Catholic but I certainly realise that the occasional wrong by churchmen is not much of an allegation against the general mission of the church, as any objective person could see. Nor are the existence of earthquakes or animal diseases much in a post-fall world much of an argument against the theological arguments of original sin and providence. Yet more silly, anti-Catholic nonsense.

  39. Now Americans may be safely insulated from this but if you were in Europe or Australia, in the latter the opposition leader is labelled the mad monk for making the most limited socially conservative comments, you would not doubt the level of anti-Catholicism, or indeed anti-Christian bias, among much of the media. Hell if you’d be doing the assignment I was doing on the religious right and the republican party in the US you wouldn’t doubt the level of anti-Christian views in the American academic and media communities(I have yet to find a journal article favourable to the religious right!). If you think the coverage of these scandels doesn’t have anything to do with that then you are very much mistaken. This is not of course to excuse the church, just to realise some of the deeper motives behind the coverage.

  40. Rod et al.,

    I think there is a significant difference between this recent outcry in the media and the earlier outcry in 2002 that you covered in NR. The initial outbreak did indeed bring to the fore serious instances of abuse and inadequate response on the part of many of the bishops in the Church. The first was brave reporting uncovering crimes and cover ups. The recent spate of articles in the Times, however, is based on gross misrepresentations of the facts that must be rooted in some kind of animus against the Church or the Pope. If you don’t want to call this anti-catholicism, that’s fine. But there is definitely ill-will at the bottom of it.

    -AML

  41. “Fortunately, driving is in most respects a good or morally indifferent activity and a seat belt makes it safer to do.”

    I know the comments I’m about to make on this are on an analogy unwisely followed in relation to a tangential comment and therefore doubly tangential to the main themes of this discussion. However I think maybe quite apposite to the themes of FPR?

    Classifying driving as “good or morally indifferent” is itself problematic. I’m sure multiple reasons will readily occur to readers.

    Declaring that a seat belt makes driving safer may appear to be a statement of the obvious. However, reality is often counterintuitive; read John Adam’s “Risk” or any other study of risk compensation. In essence they point out that humans often react to safety measures by behaving in a more risky manner. In the case of seatbelts this appears to have led to more danger for pedestrians and cyclists.

    (I have to say I agree with Edwin about the condoms though.)

  42. “I’m not a Catholic but I certainly realise that the occasional wrong by churchmen is not much of an allegation against the general mission of the church, as any objective person could see.”

    I was not citing “occasional wrong by churchmen” — I was pointing out that the 14th century Church was a cesspool of sin and depravity. That is not an “occasional” wrong. And I am all for “the general mission of the church” — I am just noting that the Catholic Church has often failed miserably to forward that mission. The symbol of “the universal church” is a valid symbol — but to confuse a particular attempt to embody that symbol with the meaning behind the symbol is a serious confusion. And I must assume, since, per your own words, you are not Catholic, that you yourself must reject the identification of the meaning of the symbol “the universal church” with the Roman Catholic Church. Yet Roman Catholic ideologues insist upon that identification — given that you obviously reject it, it is very hard for me to understand what you really object to in my earlier remarks.

    “Nor are the existence of earthquakes or animal diseases in a post-fall world much of an argument against the theological arguments of original sin and providence.”

    OK, Wessexman, can you even read? I never said these things were evidence AGAINST original sin — which is a sound symbol when properly understood as a symbol — I said it was ridiculous for Wilson to claim them as evidence FOR original sin.

  43. I object to your comments linking occasional wrongs to widespread corruption. All men do wrong, the church has hardly been a body particularly corrupt and there is little to nothing to be gained by repeating PC endeavours to make every historical wrong by the RCC a current issue. Why would you bring up this nonsense? Are we going to be treated to shrill commentary on the Inquisition or Crusades next? Have we stumbled onto the HuffingtonPost site by accident? It is not only a dubious position but it is lacks relevance, even if one could make a decent case the RCC has historically erred more than most it would not matter what they did in the 14th century in this discussion.

    Actually the suffering elements inherent in earthquakes and cancer could certainly be used as part of an argument about our world being a post-fall one.

  44. Yes, Wessexman, to introduce actual facts into the discussion is to introduce “nonsense” — it is only your fantasies of what the Church was like that matter, and I sincerely apologize for intruding upon them with my nonsensical facts.

  45. “even if one could make a decent case the RCC has historically erred more than most it would not matter what they did in the 14th century in this discussion”

    Oh, and by the way, Incomprehendingman, Wilson is not trying to claim that the Catholic Church just became “holy” last week or anything — he is trying to claim that it is an eternal possessor of holiness (a key mark of an ideologue — take the real fact of the existence of good and evil and abstract the categories from concrete life, then assign one abstraction to one “side” and the other to another “side”) — and 14th century history certainly is relevant to such a claim.

    But, of course, as I mentioned above, evidence makes no difference whatsoever to an ideologue — what you will do now that you are pinned down on these points is to change the subject.

  46. I’m late in this conversation (as often happens; the internet reacts with a speed – and fury – that I find shocking). But better late than never. I have two rather insignificant cents to contribute.

    I really appreciate this website for the way that it challenges me, for its intellect, politics, and character in general. And I appreciate the same about Mr. Wilson: I’m very interested in your perspective, and I respect it very much. (I hope you’ll forgive me for using you as an example.) I only wish I was capable of understanding exactly what it is you’re trying to say. Perhaps I’m not patient enough or sharp enough to truly understand your writing. Others seem to follow along easily enough. Why is that?

    This is not so much a criticism as it is an observation. Though, I must say, I often feel that the writers on this site – talented and bright as they are – are a little too flowery in language. Whatever happened to being both meaningful and concise? I sometimes wish I could find some frank talk. Some questions, deep and penetrating, yes, but free of all the cerebral, abstract, unnecessarily verbose philosophizing. I’ve not been dumber down by modern media (I hope), but… Could someone just sum up what this essay is ACTUALLY saying in a few paragraphs? It’s simply not clear to me. Am I mistaken in my belief that this is what writing should be: clear?

  47. Yawn. Gene go take these silly and dubious, PC historical comments to the Huffington post or Guardian wheren they belong. No doubt they’ll like to discuss how the Inquisition was the worst oppression ever — Stalin and Mao pale in comparison of course,.

    “But, of course, as I mentioned above, evidence makes no difference whatsoever to an ideologue”

    At least your honest about your behaviour. We have noticed.

  48. “Gene go take these silly and dubious, PC historical comments…”

    Yes, when the facts contradict your ideology, the facts must go!

    “to the Huffington post or Guardian wheren they belong…”

    I love seeing people get told to “go to the Huffington post…” repeatedly here — it’s hard to maintain an ideology without conformity, so those who might disturb the consensus must be driven off.

    “No doubt they’ll like to discuss how the Inquisition was the worst oppression ever — Stalin and Mao pale in comparison of course…”

    And, just as I predicted, here we have the change of subject. Of course I never said anything remotely like this — no money grubbing, lecherous, murderous pope (and there were quite a few who were all three) was anywhere near as evil Stalin or Mao. But since you have no facts to present to counter what I said, by all means, a strawman is your best bet.

    In any case, as Voegelin noted, it is impossible to reason with an ideologue. You will continue to call me names and claim that is “evidence”, I know — I write these remarks for the sake of more intelligent readers who might get something out of learning how to recognize ideology at work.

  49. You like the word ideologue don’t you? That’s cute, it would be good if you used it anywhere near appropriately though. It is you who jumped on the bandwagon of those who randomly try and bring up the church’s dirty-laundry and it is you who is therefore the ideologue and you who is the one having problems reasoning as you have not explained a genuine relevance for your disruption.

    “I write these remarks for the sake of more intelligent readers who might get something out of learning how to recognize ideology at work.”

    Oh so that’s why you keep making silly, ideological comments that explains it, it is hard to see how someone could have seriously made all the comments you have. You’re only one step away from screaming about the inquisition.

  50. As neither a Catholic, nor an anti-Catholic, or anything else that might classify me as an enemy of the Catholic Church (but I am not a “conservative,” so some might by default think I’m an enemy), I agree with this part of Mr. Dreher’s statement:

    “… but the impression I’m left with after reading your essay is that the rage against the Church over all this has to do primarily with people not wanting to listen to and obey the Church’s teaching on sexual morality. Really? It makes far more sense that people, or at least most people, are raging because the hierarchy of the Church for decades allowed a small number of priests to rape children, and did little or nothing about it, until compelled to by media revelations and public anger. Furthermore, almost none of the bishops who oversaw this injustice have been compelled by the church, or even conscience, to pay any price for what they did. That is, frankly, outrageous, and I don’t think you have to be opposed to the church’s sexual teaching, or even a bona fide anti-Catholic, to be angry over that … And the Church hierarchy has no one to blame for this but itself.”

    Mr. Wilson’s essay, I say respectfully, feels like a reach to me; the “reach” being that he’s trying to prove that a historical condition, anti-Catholicism — which he seems to feel is as strong today as its ever been — is more relevant/important regarding this matter than, by my mind, an unequivocal failing by The Church Leadership … and that the Church, rather than holding itself to — I’m not even going to say a “higher standard” — its own chosen standard, is the victim of the liberal standards of a permissive age. I think the statement “More recent data suggests otherwise: a Catholic priest is substantially less likely to commit such an act than is a Protestant minister or a school teacher, and is half as likely to engage in sexual abuse as the average male” might have more meaning if the Leadership had shown actual leadership rather than obfuscation and worse.

    One thing that I constantly ask myself is: what is the true scope of this issue? The cases we have heard about have principally arisen in those wealthy and media-rich nations, places where people are more likely to get at least a public hearing regarding their charges (and I’m not at all saying it’s been easy to get a hearing, for various reasons). But I would not be surprised that in those parts of the world that are rich in neither sense have many stories that will never be heard. I don’t believe that all the places beyond the U.S. and Western Europe were somehow spared. By my mind, scope of this disgrace is much broader than we presently know.

    A final point: my understanding is that it is forbidden for a priest to be a homosexual (or is it only forbidden to be a “practicing” homosexual? I’m not being facetious, it’s a sincere question). Yet, from what I’ve read, there are quite a few homosexual priests and everyone knows it. I’m not equating being a homosexual with being a pederast in any way, but what does it say that the Church looks the other way regarding homosexuality in its priests? Is it the bureaucrats once again making a practical decision, i.e. “We’re low on priests and we need priests; so, let’s have a don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy”? And does the very nature of having homosexual priests run counter to the very core of what the Church is about? My point in raising this: would Mr. Wilson contend that homosexual priests are in the church due to what reason? Liberalism? Anti-Catholic bias? Or some other reason that amounts to an attack on the Church?

    As is often said in legal matters and political scandals: sometimes the cover-up is worse than the crime.

  51. Yes, Wessexman, YOU’RE not an ideologue — it’s someone who mentions facts inconvenient to you who must be one.

    (And yes, I realize that, from the point of view of a cozy dogmatism, anything from another point of view is a “disruption.”)

  52. To offer some concluding reflection in response to many of the insightful and challenging comments appended to this essay, let me draw everyone’s attention back its very beginning. I wrote,

    “As someone who has written in an extended fashion on Benedict XVI, Catholicism, and human sexuality in the past (here and here), it seems appropriate that I should offer at least some comment on the current of bluster and indignation that has fabricated, during these past several weeks, a new sex scandal out of the residue of old ones. A few observations, dilating from news items toward reflection, followed by a concluding commentary:”

    While the commentary has been too various to reduce to any one observation, the ones that have been most charitable and perplexed at once (Rod’s, for instance, or KPE’s) have clearly not taken the final phrase quoted above to heart. This essay is not a single essay, you might say, but a series of observations moving as if by concentric rings away from the epicenter of the awful fact of sexual abuse by priests, out to the larger bureaucratic scandal in which bishops treated priests like assets and evil like an occasion for a “publicity problem.”

    The outward circling continues: to historical anti-Catholicism — a phenomenon many readers associate with Protestantism, even though it is primarily a phenomenon produced by modern Statism (Elizabeth I, after all, had nothing against Catholics religiously, she just didn’t like her subjects to bear temporal allegiance to a “foreign prince.” Anti-Catholicism is not a doctrinal phenomenon but a political one). The historical ferment of Anti-Catholicism, I propose, makes the real incidences of clerical abuse and clerical cover-ups ramify or vibrate in the American and Western imagination more generally; in consequence, what was already bad seems worse: it seems a confirmation and continuation of evils anti-Catholics just assumed was always, already, and everywhere present.

    But leaving the reality of historical (Statist) anti-Catholicism behind, I circle farther out. Recognizing that none of the above could account for the particular lynching to which Pope Benedict XVI has been subject, I refer back to a slow-developing, intense, and painful suspicion of mine: the libidinous orientation of our culture, and its absolutist drive, is remaking our society and, indeed, our moral imaginations so that all things fall before its urge to maximize occasions for sexual activity. Why?

    Because (as I note in the earlier essays to which I linked) sex is (perhaps) the one act that human beings make perform that can never be entirely eviscerated of meaning: it may be mis-interpreted, but its meaningfulness is so inextricable, that it can never be de-interpreted, rendered just another empty element among others in a junk world. Further, it is the one field of human experience over which most human beings retain some kind of autonomy. Few of us have hopes of starting a revolution, owning un-mortgaged property, of killing another person, of living as real political beings, of being caught up in “The awful daring of a moment’s surrender / Which an age of prudence can never retract.” Docile subjects of a managed society, sexual decadence is our wildlife preserve, and the managerial elite does not mind our rutting so long as it remains in the contraception pen (or, if one is black, in the ghetto, where State mechanisms and Planned Parenthood accomplish what condoms and chants to “take back the night” accomplish in our college towns).

    This drive brooks no opposition, because it is a desperate one–a field of last-resort for people with real desires and only one meaningful place to focus them. That focus, however, can only run free if that last “meaningful place” is leveled and rendered unremarkable. And achieving this entails tearing down everything that stands in opposition — above all the long established workable and highly successful traditions of sexual morality of which the Catholic Church, by dint of its formal refusal to budge, remains the last serious voice.

    I then observe that the “theology of the body” has been the major apologetic plea of the Church during the last two decades. What a coincidence or a bit of perspicuity that the Church should prioritize and develop such a teaching in an age overrun with sexual-political energies.

    All this is, as I say at the outset, “dilation.” It is an essay, I have said, but I think the readers can be well excused for not recognizing immediately that it does not proceed as the typical English-language essay. It does not begin with a thesis and systematically support it. Rather, I begin with an event and move gradually away from it through a series of discrete observations until I arrive at the broad phenomenon of the “culture of atomic eros.” Most, but not all, readers who have objected to this essay have done so on the ground that they believed I was making direct causal links between each numbered item. But the only causal links I intended are those I explicitly made in the essay. Points 1-7 could have stood on their own without points 8-13, and I think the reaction would have been considerably different. However, I did not feel I could address 8-13 (on the culture of atomic eros) without first acknowledging the reality of clerical abuse and trying to understand it in itself, rather than in the context of the broader culture.

    Now, I don’t think this would resolve all objects. For instance, what business had I in pointing out that priests are less likely than the typical male to commit sexual abuse? Didn’t that sound like a shameless “ideological” defense of a benighted “patriarchal” institution? But I think most objections will be answered if I simply underscore what, in the introduction to this essay, might have been easily and understandably overlooked: I am making discrete observations and persisted in keeping them numerically separated for a reason — until, that is, my subject became so heavy that I could no longer avoiding proceeding (as I do in 8-13) to a more systematically constructed form of argument.

    I have some objections to what Rod has said in response to all this, but I would rather take them up on an occasion when we can be sure to establish honest disagreement rather than here, where I suspect much of the disagreement stems from the imperfection of the medium I chose for this essay. I didn’t anticipate the uproar caused by its form only because on the three previous occasions when I have moved by discrete numeric sections, only one caused any serious miscommunication (Novel, Myth, Reality). Then again, the poor fellow embroiled in that one, as everyone has seen here, has never forgiven me the insult.

  53. “Yes, Wessexman, YOU’RE not an ideologue — it’s someone who mentions facts inconvenient to you who must be one.

    (And yes, I realize that, from the point of view of a cozy dogmatism, anything from another point of view is a “disruption.”)”

    I’m not a Roman Catholic though, so that’s your theory shot to pieces. It is you randomly bringing up church history, this is a common anti-catholic ideological ploy. But if you aren’t an ideologue that a proper explanation of its relevance would do.

  54. I’m an Anglican who leans towards high Anglicanism but not complete Anglo-Catholicism, in general I consider myself a traditional Christian. I certainly prefer the RCC to Calvinists and extreme Protestants but I prefer Orthodoxy to the RCC and think my own church is best for England.

  55. Since you announced you were not a Catholic many comments ago, Wessexman, I hardly had thought you were a Catholic ideologue. I think you are a traditionalist ideologue.

    I ask your religion to illustrate this point. There is no such thing as “traditional Christianity.” There are a number of Christian traditions, and the one you purport to follow was formed in deadly opposition to the one Wilson is endorsing. The historical facts I mention, which you characterize as “dubious” because you find them inconvenient, WERE THE VERY BASIS UPON WHICH YOUR RELIGION WAS FOUNDED. Wilson’s religion holds that the Pope is the vicar of Christ, and there is no salvation outside the Church. When it was a living tradition, it regarded your religion as an evil heresy. Yours held, when it was alive, that the Pope was the whore of Babylon, and the Church a cesspit of corruption. If you were serious about your “tradition,” you should be denouncing the Catholic Church far more vigorously than me, not defending it!

    But of course, this is a pose. I’ve wandered into “Christian Civilization World,” where people are dressing up as characters from the past for which they feel nostalgia. Instead of fighting bloody battles to wipe out the heretics, the Catholics and Protestants stage little mock fights and then meet for a beer backstage.

    When a tradition is alive, people are not “traditionalists” — they simply follow the tradition. It is only when it is dead or dying, as was, say, the Roman pagan tradition in the first century BC, that we get self-conscious “optimates” who embrace the tradition as a badge of distinction.

  56. And I think your an anti-Catholic ideologue, quite possibly a radical Protestant ideologue. You keep bringing up irrelevancies which is a sure sign. Its quite admirable you haven’t started on about the Inquisition yet though.

    Actually my faith’s founding, that high church Anglicans are actually somewhat ambivalent about, was founded because of the lust and ambition of Henry VIII. When Henry investigated the monasteries he actually found embarrassingly few transgressions there. And please do not presume to tell me what my tradition believes, predictably you have attributed the ideals of the Puritans and Calvinists to it, it is quite clear you have little knowledge of it or Roman Catholicism.

    There certainly is a traditional Christianity, one that links Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, Anglicanism(or at least anti-Calvinist Anglicanism.) and traditional evangelical Lutheranism. Sure there are differences among these denominations but they have a common core enough to be referred to as traditional Christianity.

    “When a tradition is alive, people are not “traditionalists” — they simply follow the tradition. It is only when it is dead or dying, as was, say, the Roman pagan tradition in the first century BC, that we get self-conscious “optimates” who embrace the tradition as a badge of distinction.”

    This says nothing about whether it is a good thing or not to keep them alive.

  57. “And I think your an anti-Catholic ideologue, quite possibly a radical Protestant ideologue.”

    Wessexman, you’d be so wrong. I am a Lutheran, not anti-Catholic at all, and have published several articles defending the Church.

    “You keep bringing up irrelevancies which is a sure sign.”

    Wilson called the Church “holy.” You have yet to explain why CITING THINGS THE CHURCH REALLY DID is irrelevant to the claim.

    “Actually my faith’s founding, that high church Anglicans are actually somewhat ambivalent about, was founded because of the lust and ambition of Henry VIII.”

    So, your tradition is that of lust and ambition? Well, those are VERY traditional activities!

    But, in all seriousness, no friggin’ kiddin’? I’ve taught comparative religions, dude, and knew this since I was about 12 anyway. The question is, “Why did it stick?” And the answer to that is “The abuses of the Church.”

    “This says nothing about whether it is a good thing or not to keep [traditions] alive.”

    True — just like the fact the dodo is extinct says nothing about whether it WOULD HAVE BEEN a good thing to keep it alive. Christianity as an organizing force for civilization died in the wars of the Reformation. We might miss it, but its dead and not coming back.

  58. “Wilson called the Church “holy.” You have yet to explain why CITING THINGS THE CHURCH REALLY DID is irrelevant to the claim.”

    Because offenses of an institution do not necessarily make it unholy. I think the state is divinely sanctioned and yet I also think it currently and historically has got way out of control, there is no necessary contradiction.

    “So, your tradition is that of lust and ambition? Well, those are VERY traditional activities!”

    You misunderstand my point but it wasn’t too important.

    “But, in all seriousness, no friggin’ kiddin’? I’ve taught comparative religions, dude, and knew this since I was about 12 anyway. The question is, “Why did it stick?” And the answer to that is “The abuses of the Church.””

    Isn’t that a complex question without a simple answer? Weren’t the abuses a lot worse in Italy and France where change did not happen. Couldn’t a variety of reasons, including the power of the state, the selling off of church land to a class of gentry who now had reason to support the reformation project for fear of loosing said land, the Germanic temperament and quite a few other factors at least important?

    “True — just like the fact the dodo is extinct says nothing about whether it WOULD HAVE BEEN a good thing to keep it alive. Christianity as an organizing force for civilization died in the wars of the Reformation. We might miss it, but its dead and not coming back.”

    Who says? As far as I can see the West’s only real, viable spiritual and culture tradition is traditional Christianity whether that is traditional evangelical Lutheranism, the RRC, Orthodoxy or Anglicanism and to a lesser extent some of the older sects which are adequate enough if nothing else is available. I don’t see much to be gained by trying to bring in Islam or Buddhism or something like that and I see very little alternative being offered by the modernist and secularists, so I think I’ll stick with traditional Christianity.

  59. […] I was not terribly surprised at the response to the essay, for I have made a more universal and absolute related claim elsewhere; namely, that the approval of homosexuality found in our day is not primarily driven by any actual acceptance of the practice but out of a desire in our age to break down every barrier to sexual license so that the libido may find any satisfaction it should crave without the resistance of law or custom.  While there are many reasons one might support the acceptance of homosexuality or the various parodies of the family the homosexualist movement now promotes, at root lies the general drive of libido dominandi, the desire to reshape reality to conform with the will.  Because the wills of most persons in the modern world are decidedly powerless things, this voluntarist project exercises the most widespread and obvious force in the struggle for “sexual autonomy.”  Most of us are not Nietzsche’s superman threatening to command the heights by force of will; on some level aware of this, we would at least dominate our little pleasure dome, and this desire leads to ideas that might have initially seemed unrelated.  This general condition, I have called the “culture of atomic eros.” […]

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