As you know, on this long drive to Louisiana, I’ve listened to Christopher Hitchens’s memoir, “Hitch-22,” and been challenged by it in several ways. Mostly the challenges are along the lines of, “How can you like a man who says these things?” and the more pleasant, “How can you not like a man who says those things?” But having finished the book last night, on the outskirts of Meridian, Mississippi, I’m waking up this morning sensing that there’s one aspect of his book, and his outlook, that will linger with me a while.

The most consistent quality I detect in Hitchens’s character was a loathing of bullies (a quality that did not prevent him from behaving like one on occasion, though in one instance he recounts with remorse, he led a group of left-wing student thugs who shut down a Tory minister’s speech at college). I love this short anecdote told by Jane Mayer, recounting his embarrassing members of a supposedly anti-Semitic country club in Florida. This resonates with me at a fairly deep level, though I only wish I had even the tiniest portion of Hitchens’s rhetorical power to deploy against them. Though, let me note before I go further, I heard him once use his gifts in a way that struck me as, well, bullying. Back in 2002, he argued on the radio about some religious topic with a friend of mine, a man who was not a journalist or a public person, but a simple, pious Catholic who objected to some position of Hitchens’s. My friend was soft-spoken and respectful, and Hitchens made a fool of him. It was painful to listen to, ugly, and unwarranted. Hitchens had clearly made his mind up that this stranger, because he was a believing Catholic, deserved no respect or mercy, and Hitch didn’t give it to him. It was like watching Muhammad Ali beat up a postman, and did Hitchens no credit. To witness that kind of power — moral force and matchless articulation — deployed against a deserving target was an awesome thing to behold, but to see it used against someone who is weak and undeserving of such contempt was much less edifying. Given that Hitch was a moralist above all else (he was even moralistic in his immorality), the temptation to divide the world into Good and Bad, and to make no exceptions (except when it suits you, as he did quite rightly in Borges’s case), is a terrible temptation to abuse power.

But I digress. Anyway, I had not realized until listening to this book how despicable the Argentine junta was in terms of its human rights violations. For some reason, I was under the (false) impression that this was a facet of Chile under Pinochet. I know so little about Latin American history that I thought the imprisoned and tortured dissident journalist Jacobo Timerman had been Chilean. In fact, he was Argentine, and Argentina’s history of right-wing torture and human rights abuse appears to have been as bad as Chile’s under Pinochet. Last night before going to sleep, I spent some time online reading about what was called (by the junta itself!) the “Dirty War,” and confirmed, generally, the things Hitchens said about the place.

The tortures they subjected their prisoners to included forcing children to watch their parents tortured, and vice versa. They would in some cases insert starving rats into the orifices of prisoners. Think about those things for a moment. Of course they did many, many more things that most decent people couldn’t dream of. The thing is, the generals did these satanic acts under the guise of cleansing the country of atheistic Marxist rabble. Truth to tell, there really had been left-wing terrorism; the generals didn’t come from nowhere. As we know from history, when radical left-wing governments have taken power, they’ve done the same thing. There is something in our nature that renders us capable of all manner of disgusting evil once we’ve decided that our cause is sufficiently righteous. Hitchens says in his book that religion is responsible for that, but I don’t know how any remotely honest accounting of history can sustain such a judgment.

The point I want to bring up here is how unsettling it is to confront the role the Catholic Church in Argentina — unlike the Church under military dictatorship in Chile or Brazil, for example — played in justifying and sustaining this regime of torture. From a 2007 NYT story:

In Argentina, however, there was a much tighter relationship between the clergy and the military than existed in Chile or Brazil. “Patriotism came to be associated with Catholicism,” said Kenneth P. Serbin, a history professor at the University of San Diego who has written about the Roman Catholic Church in South America. “So it was almost natural for the Argentine clergy to come to the defense of the authoritarian regime.”

Those days may be over. After he finished his testimony on Monday, Father Capitanio was surrounded by a sea of elderly women from the Mothers of May Plaza, a group that has pushed successive Argentine governments for answers since the dirty war began in 1976. They wore white scarves in their hair bearing the names of family members who disappeared. Dabbing away tears, they clung to the priest, kissing him on the cheek and whispering their thanks.

Father Capitanio said that he felt that a weight had been lifted — and that he was not alone. “Many men and women of the church, bishops as well, have come to agree with my way of looking at the reality of the church’s role,” he said. “We have much to be sorry for.”

 Indeed. Again, it must not be forgotten that in other places — I’m thinking of El Salvador’s martyred Archbishop Oscar Romero, killed by right-wing death squaddies while serving celebrating mass, or Poland’s Father Jerzy Popieluzsko, killed by the communist secret police — churchmen have bravely stood up to criminals in power. But this is how it’s supposed to be. When one finds members of the clergy, and the institutional church, collaborating with the bullies (to say nothing of bullying themselves, as in the child sex abuse scandals worldwide), it is — well, it is to me — deeply unsettling.

I know. I know. This is the history of the human race, and the Church is nothing if not human, as well as divine. One cannot be naive about this sort of thing. Yet I do find this knowledge extremely difficult to live with, as a committed Christian. I find that confronting this kind of knowledge makes me more skeptical of church authority. This is something I’m going to have to think through carefully, not quickly. As regular readers know, I strongly believe that we have to have authority, and I believe as a matter of well-considered faith that the apostolic church has particular authority. But how does one reconcile that with the plain fact that in various times and places, actual men who have been in positions of religious authority have used that authority to commit, or to in other ways facilitate, monstrous crimes?

Inevitably one points to Judas, the betrayer, who was part of the flock. One also points to Peter, the denier, who repented. This is right — they are the models for us about how the human element of cowardice, self-aggrandizement, and collaboration with murder have been with the Church from its very beginning — but it is also intolerably glib, how quickly Christian apologists are to resort to these figures, as if they were talismans warding off painful and difficult thoughts about the Church’s collaboration with satanic evil. (And do understand, when I say “the Church,” I’m talking about all Christian churches, not just the Roman church; only God knows how many pogroms against Russian Jewry, for example, that the clergy of my own tradition may have blessed).

It is far too easy for a Hitchens to look at the role the Church played in the Dirty War, or the child sex abuse cases, and say, “See? Ah ha, that’s how they all are.” That is a lie, and a particularly nasty one. Yet it is also far too easy for we Christians, especially we who find ourselves on the political and cultural right, to turn our mind’s eye away from the appalling sight, because the implications of these deeds for our settled beliefs are too radical to contemplate with ease.

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30 Responses to The Church and the Dirty War

  1. Tikhon says:

    “But how does one reconcile that with the plain fact that in various times and places, actual men who have been in positions of religious authority have used that authority to commit, or to in other ways facilitate, monstrous crimes?”

    I think this is the heart of your lengthy, albeit earnest post. You already know the answer to this question, Rod.

    Sin.

    It is not a weak answer or a glib response. It is, unfortunately, the truth. And yes, even our beloved Church is infected with it, which is why we must struggle till the day we die to live our faith.

    What of them? Those who are entrusted with the care and cure of others? Let God, in His mercy, deal with them, as He has dealt mercifully to me, a sinner.

  2. John T says:

    Rod,

    Take a look at what is happening as we speak in Russia today. Much of the persecution is at the instigation of religious leaders.

    For instance: See Forum 18 aricle

    http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=601

    “The head of the missionary and catechism department of Yekaterinburg and Verkhoturye Orthodox diocese, Fr Vladimir Zaitsev, has pressured Sverdlovsk Regional Railway into cancelling a three-day congress of 5,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. It was due to happen in a railway-administered stadium, and Fr. Zaitsev requested, in a letter publicised on local state TV and seen by Forum 18, that the congress be barred.”

    “Forum 18 News Service notes that internal government documents, from a wide geographic spread of regions, reveal that the campaign is co-ordinated at a high level”

    http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1478

    http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1426

    Over one thousand cases of harassment and mistratment have been documented.

    http://www.jw-media.org/rus/incidents_map_e.htm

  3. MMH says:

    Re. recognizing the need for authority while realizing that many people in authority have abused that authority, what we always need to keep in mind is that only God is the ultimate and complete authority; to every other authority, we give conditional assent. We follow authority as long as authority follows God, or at least as long as it doesn’t go against God or anything else we hold fundamental. No human institution, and as you note the Church is a human institution, even if it’s also divine, should have our unqualified support.

  4. Todd says:

    “I strongly believe that we have to have authority …”

    The piece you are struggling with is the lack of accountability. Lawlessness is part of the modern condition: politics, economics, and even celebrities. When people in authority operate without boundaries, this is what must be resisted. And if such a thing is going to look less like a dictatorship, Wall Street, and a monarchical church, and more like a democracy, a well-regulated economy, or a religious order, then so be it.

    “As we know from history, when radical left-wing governments have taken power, they’ve done the same thing.”

    The problem is when radicals are in control, not any particular breed of radical.

    At this rate, Rod, you may yet end up a liberal. Just don’t go overboard on it, eh?

  5. Neil says:

    I think that the interesting question is whether men and women in religious authority, however necessary, face a specific danger of collaborating with evil.

    My suspicion is that the answer is positive and the source of this danger is clericalism. Here, borrowing from an old article by Charles Taylor, I’ll define clericalism as the refusal to see any theological significance in “secular” history, nature, culture, or, generally speaking, the “world.” (The “world,” of course, is associated with the laity.)

    The only important things, then, are “clerical”: the power and influence of the Church and fighting battles that can be sufficiently defined in metaphysical terms (Catholicism vs. liberalism or Marxism).

    These “clerical” concerns overshadow merely “temporal” concerns – the good of the church is more important than legal obligations, the grand metaphysical battle is much more fascinating than the unfortunate physical suffering of some victims, and so on.

    And the consequences can be horrific …

  6. Mont D. Law says:

    [It is far too easy for a Hitchens to look at the role the Church played in the Dirty War, or the child sex abuse cases, and say, “See? Ah ha, that’s how they all are.” That is a lie, and a particularly nasty one.]

    The problem with this is it conflates the individual with the organization. That there are good communists doesn’t make communism good. The fact Oscar Romero died defending the poor doesn’t automatically accrue to the church which stood with the government and appointed Romero to do the same. Authoritarian organizations are always corrupt and abusive whatever their organizing philosophy. It is a feature not a bug. The point is obedience and if it is not freely given, it must be compelled. The fall of the institutional church over the last 100 years the directly linked to the loss of the social, political and moral tools of compulsion.

  7. Rollo Tomassi says:

    warding off painful and difficult thoughts about the Church’s collaboration with satanic evil.

    First, no Christian church can collaborate with evil, that is, if they are truly Christian and truly follow the teachings of Christ. It is always, by definition, dissenting members who do this, as they are dissenting from the very doctrine they espouse.

    There really isn’t much to think about here. One group of people preach virtue in a logical way (religion), while another group (atheists) preach that nothing actually matters outside of personal opinion, that virtue is merely a cultural invention and has no value outside of each person’s emotional response. In a sense, that there is no such thing as evil. When believers do evil, they are denying their very belief. If the atheist does “evil” (what could this mean when cutting off somebody’s fingers has the same logical import as trimming one’s fingernails), he has no reason to feel remorse. Remorse for what? Cutting a bunch of cells? Evil logically matters not to the atheist. It can only have emotional, personal, responses to evil, and thus evil loses any definition. This is why our non-religious culture today slaughters children en-mass and feels nothing because they can’t see it. Ditto with forcible abortions in China. There is nothing but clumps of cells to the non-theist, and it’s a small step to killing 1 yo children who are not self-aware, and so on and so on.

  8. Sean Scallon says:

    Oh I don’t know, Hitchens never seemed particularly bothered his hero Trotsky and his Red Army engaged in many atrocities if not more so than the Argentine generals. Probably because he was more certain it was all for a good cause and breaking eggs to make omlets and that sort of thing. At least we as Christians are not bound by ideology to realize horrible things were done in Christ’s name and must atone for them. We acted like barbarians and we paying for it and will continue to pay for it. But Hitchens, ever the “Trotskiest popinjay” as George Galloway once referred to him, wasn’t so introspective. Not even in death.

    This “Hitch love” across the internet in recent days is truly amazing. I understand the loss of a man of class and letters and brilliance is something to be lamented in our coarse, vulgar and classless world. Unfortunately even people like Hitchens, like all of us, cannot escape from being coarsened by it. For him the nadir was probably reached when he willingly was waterboarded in order to see what it was like. He could yell stop at any time and it would stop. The tortured, done so in the name of the truly Trotskyiest “Global War on Terrorism” could not. Did it dawn upon him that perhaps such evil being used in the name of a good cause was too much? No more than it dawned on the Argentine churchman who supported the fascist junta. So what’s the difference? Hitchens who believed in nothing and anything at the same time could get off scot free from the bloodbath he helped set in motion while the Church, being the Church, cannot.

    I suppose we as mere mediocrities find it easy to admire and worship brilliance in our midst. We sneakingly wish we can indulge ourselves as much as Hitchens did and get away with it with a brilliant column. Indeed, if I were an atheist, I would ask why would the Lord grant such people so many great talents in order for they to mock him in return? Is God a chump? The answer I think would be one’s talent only serve a person only so far. Waste them as one will, and the bill will come due eventually. Maybe not in the speed you would wish but certainly by God’s time. And for Hitchens, who basically drank and smoked himself to cancer at age 62, time’s up.

    Do I speak ill of the dead? Only if it’s “fair and balanced”. So I leave you with Alexander Cockburn’s memory of Hitchens during those halycon days back the Nation:

    “What a truly disgusting sack of shit Hitchens is. A guy who called Sid Blumenthal one of his best friends and then tried to have him thrown into prison for perjury; a guy who waited till his friend Edward Said was on his death bed before attacking him in the Atlantic Monthly; a guy who knows perfectly well the role Israel plays in US policy but who does not scruple to flail Cindy Sheehan as a LaRouchie and anti-Semite because, maybe, she dared mention the word Israel. She lost a son? Hitchens (who should perhaps be careful on the topic of sending children off to die) says that’s of scant account, and no reason why we should take her seriously. Then he brays about the horrors let loose in Iraq if the troops come home, with no mention of how the invasion he worked for has already unleashed them.”

  9. Ron Jaworski says:

    The usual criticism of the South American Church was not that it defended corrupt regimes, but that it was politically passive–that it usually didn’t take political sides.

  10. John Haas says:

    “There is something in our nature that renders us capable of all manner of disgusting evil once we’ve decided that our cause is sufficiently righteous.”

    Nicely put. Reminds me of Larry McMurtry’s quote:

    “If we know anything about man, it’s that he’s not pacific. The temptation to butcher anyone considered undesirable seems to be a common temptation, not always resisted.” Larry McMurtry, OH WHAT A SLAUGHTER, 2005

  11. Turmarion says:

    Just for full disclosure, I am a Catholic, and a practicing one, and one who entered the Church as an adult, and thus has no excuse. 😉

    It is no coincidence that the most staunchly and fully Catholic countries have also been the most extremely (and violently) anti-clerical countries when the power of the Church declined. Look at France, Mexico, and Spain, for some of the most obvious examples. In all cases, the Church allied itself with the ancien régime, and thus became the target for violent backlash (murder and exile of priests and religious, repressive laws, etc.) when those regimes were overthrown. In Spain, of course, it was temporary, since Franco wrested power from the Republicans–but in the decades since his death, observance has declined again.

    The most recent example is Ireland. Many have considered the remarks of government figures against the Church, in light of the abuse scandals uncovered there, to be excessive. However, the Church, during most of the last couple of centuries was the one bulwark against British oppression, and was absolutely unquestioned in its authority. Well, we all know about “absolute power”, and once more, it’s not surprising what the result is.

    In the pre-Constantinian Church, authority was was demonstrated by bishops and priests who died for the Church and who acted as true servants of the Body of Christ, often in opposition to secular authority. I’m not making the argument to the degree that many of the more conspiracy-minded to, but there is something to be said for the notion that the Church, both East and West, in their own ways, made a deal with the Devil in accepting “respectable” status as the state religion, and that the concept of Christendom was a road which, while inspired by noble intentions, was ultimately a dead end.

    Perhaps it is salutary for the Church to be so pummeled in a post-Christian world. Maybe it is the start of a period of purification (as Chesterton suggested in a different context regarding the so-called Dark Ages) that while painful and disorienting will ultimately result in a Church that exercises spiritual authority in a way more consonant with her Head. We can but hope.

  12. Lord Karth says:

    Mr. Dreher writes: “But how does one reconcile that with the plain fact that in various times and places, actual men who have been in positions of religious authority have used that authority to commit, or to in other ways facilitate, monstrous crimes?”

    One acknowledges the basic Reality: This is what Human beings do. And they’re actually pretty good at it—it’s one of the few things they do well.

    Left wing, right wing, atheist, Catholic, Orthodox, whatever. It’s what people do. One of the main functions of Church is to serve as Divine reminder that it does not necessarily have to be that way, for any particular individual at any given time.

    Never mind that old saw about “God playing dice with the Universe”; God, in His role as Creator, plays dice with each and every one of us. Some of us come up sevens, more of us come up snake-eyes. Most of us come up threes and tens, with eight as His point. That’s what free will does: it lets us load the dice, should we choose.

    Another of the main functions of the church is to give Humans the strength to realize just exactly how fallen their race is, and how fallen they are as individuals, and to keep trying to carry on anyway. Or, to put it another way, the Church reminds us of a certain central truth. As R. Heinlein put it: “Of course the game is rigged ! [By Humans themselves–LK] But step up and play anyway—if you don’t bet, you can’t win.”

    Your servant,

    Lord Karth

  13. David J. White says:

    I’m thinking of El Salvador’s martyred Archbishop Oscar Romero, killed by right-wing death squaddies while serving mass

    Archbishop Romero was murdered while celebrating Mass. I assume this was just an inadvertent slip on your part. (Since you were Catholic for 13 years, I know that you know the difference between celebrating(or saying) Mass (what priests and do) and serving Mass (what altar boys do).)

    The fact that there were such different levels of collaboration between the Church and the government in Argentina (and, for that matter, Franco’s Spain) on the one hand, and Chile and Brazil on the other hand, is an example of how the institutional Catholic Church, worldwide, is often far less monolithic than it might appear.

  14. Noah says:

    I find that confronting this kind of knowledge makes me more skeptical of church authority. This is something I’m going to have to think through carefully, not quickly. As regular readers know, I strongly believe that we have to have authority, and I believe as a matter of well-considered faith that the apostolic church has particular authority. But how does one reconcile that with the plain fact that in various times and places, actual men who have been in positions of religious authority have used that authority to commit, or to in other ways facilitate, monstrous crimes? … And do understand, when I say “the Church,” I’m talking about all Christian churches, not just the Roman church

    The vast majority of native-born Americans, whatever their confessional affiliations, are small-p protestant in their relation to religious authority. Your comments above, I believe, show that you are as well. The Reformation genie cannot be put back in the bottle — and I don’t believe that, deep down, most Christians, even most Catholics and Orthodox, would really want that to happen.

    We should keep in mind the distinction between authoritative and authoritarian. The pastor, whatever the color of his robes, who is humble, who grounds his teachings always in the Scriptures, who shows courage in confronting evil (whether inside the church walls or in the larger society), who leads by example, and does not privilege himself over his flock (as Jesus did not), has “apostolic authority.” Authoritarian churchmen, by contrast, demand acquiescense based on the prestige of their institutions, try to overawe their flocks with theatrics (this can happen in a cathedral or a stadium megachurch, BTW), and tell concerned laymen, in so many words, that This is The Way It Has Always Been, and “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.”

    In the end, we have a High Priest, and he is Jesus.

  15. JustMe says:

    I love this short anecdote told by Jane Mayer, recounting his embarrassing members of a supposedly anti-Semitic country club in Florida. This resonates with me at a fairly deep level, though I only wish I had even the tiniest portion of Hitchens’s rhetorical power to deploy against them. Though, let me note before I go further, I heard him once use his gifts in a way that struck me as, well, bullying.

    This is no surprise. My experience with people is that even when they’re mean to someone you think deserves it, you generally find that they are perfectly capable of being mean to people who don’t deserve it. And eventually they’ll decide to turn that same meanness on you, too.

  16. caroline says:

    ” it is also intolerably glib, how quickly Christian apologists are to resort to these figures, as if they were talismans warding off painful and difficult thoughts about the Church’s collaboration with satanic evil.”

    so very true right along with “we are all sinners.”

    What gets to me is how all the prayers, the meditations, the retreats, the rosaries, the Masses etc. etc. can exist in the same people who do some of these dastardly things. If that’s all the fruit one has to show for the pieties…it’s the dissonance I can’t wrap my mind around.

  17. Elias says:

    To borrow a phrase from the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, there are things we will understand only on “the far side of the cross.” Pope John Paul II, an opponent of the Iraq war, invited Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz to the Vatican for meetings in the spring of 2003. The photographs from those encounters look terrible: the Holy Father, welcoming a corrupt politician from a pariah state. The inevitable (and intended) result of this papal stunt was to increase Iraq’s international legitimacy at a time when the U.S. was trying to undermine it. Christopher Hitchens criticized this, I recall, in an article for Slate.com. But suppose the Holy See had instead hosted meetings with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and blessed Amercian tanks just as Pope Sixtus V blessed the Spanish Armada. Either way, the Holy See would have been acidly criticized, and some of the criticism would have drawn blood. As I understand Church foreign policy during the Cold War, they pretty much 1) stayed out of routine secular politics and b) nominally supported any government that allowed the Church to carry out its apostolic mission. After its horrific experience during the Spanish Civil War with the democratically-elected POUM, I cannot blame the Church for resisting, a mere thirty or so years later, similar developments in Latin America. Would Allende have murdered priests, monks, and nuns, as the democratically-elected Marxists in Spain did? I can’t blame the Church for not waiting to find out. Marxism is explicitly atheistic. Everywhere Marxists have ever gained power — from Russia to Spain to Vietnam to elsewhere — they have ruthlessly extirpated Catholics and their institutions. None of this excuses mortal sins committed by Pinochet, members of his government, or the military, all of whom will be judged by God. But I would advise discretion in analyzing the Church’s response to Marxism in Latin America, especially when reading the works of an author as virulently anti-clerical as Christopher Hitchens was. May he rest in peace and may you and your family have a blessed Advent.

  18. Andrew Gilbert says:

    I think Chile’s atrocious human rights record after Allende was overthrown is so much better known in the US because Pincohet embodied the regime, where Argentina during the Dirty War was run by a junta of faceless military men (faceless at least to North Americans). But Argentina’s record exponentially worse in sheer numbers, with some 2,500 killed and disappeared in Chile vs some 12-20,000 in Argentina (the estimates vary widely). Argentina’s regime also perpetrated a series of unthinkably evil acts on families, torturing and murdering mothers and stealing their newborns to place with families allied with the military. Some adults are still coming to terms with the fact that the people who raised them were complicit in the disappearance of their parents.

  19. Kit Stolz says:

    Thank you.

    One question: You called Peter a denier who repented. I don’t know the Bible well, having been raised outside the church, but I have another sort of denier — the climate change variety — in mind, and wonder if Peter’s life story might offer some insights into that human condition. If so, where should I look? The Gospels?

    Thank you again for that deeply thoughtful essay.

  20. Mitchell Young says:

    Not the main topic, but isn’t a stunt like Hitchens pulled in that country club (demanding special treatment, in this case a kosher menu), a pretty good reason to justify WASPs preferring to keep the clubs they founded to themselves?

  21. JonF says:

    Re: The vast majority of native-born Americans, whatever their confessional affiliations, are small-p protestant in their relation to religious authority.

    Even in the Middle Ages people questioned religious authorities when said authorities behaved in a manner inconsistent with the Gospel. Luther was not the Church’s first critic.
    And I fail to find anything on the Gospel that says we shouldn’t question. Were we not warned against false leaders seeking to lead the Church astray? Weren’t we told to use discernment? I’m sure there have been plenty of bishops thinking they ought be above criticism, just as plenty of kings thought as much, but that is their message not the Lord’s.

  22. Turmarion says:

    caroline: What gets to me is how all the prayers, the meditations, the retreats, the rosaries, the Masses etc. etc. can exist in the same people who do some of these dastardly things. If that’s all the fruit one has to show for the pieties…it’s the dissonance I can’t wrap my mind around.

    “I can’t endure the thought that a man of lofty mind and heart begins with the ideal of the Madonna and ends with the ideal of Sodom. What’s still more awful is that a man with the ideal of Sodom in his soul does not renounce the ideal of the Madonna, and his heart may be on fire with that ideal, genuinely on fire, just as in his days of youth and innocence. Yes, man is broad, too broad, indeed. I’d have him narrower.”

    –Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

  23. sdb says:

    Some of the blame for the church’s excess falls to the laity – or at least they shouldn’t be considered merely innocent bystanders. While St. Paul is explicit about submission to one another and to ecclesial authority, he also demonstrates that such authority is not absolute. He commends the Bereans for testing his claims against the scriptures, he publicly confronted Peter over his hypocrisy with the gentiles, and he provides guidelines for how the laity are to confront ecclesiastical authorities in the very epistles admonishing his readers to submit to authority.

    This doesn’t mean that we are each our own authority, rather our ecclesiastical authority must be accountable to the laity. This demand for accountability requires certain responsibilities. We must know our own traditions, scriptures, history, and the contemporary stances of our church. Showing up to a service a couple of times a year, being utterly ignorant of our scriptures and catechisms (or whatever repository exists for our particular denomination’s teachings), and just generally being unengaged is not ok. We are all members of a body and have a role to play. When we don’t do so the entire body suffers (to adapt Paul’s metaphor).

  24. Robert says:

    Let’s go back to the Holocaust. The Military Channel is doing a wonderful series on Hitler’s willing partners. Look for example at Croatia and what happened there ghastly horrible atrocities largely uncriticized by the church. After the war, there as in much of Europe the war criminals escaped through the now well documented “rat lines’, the Catholic church enabled escape routes that the Vatican had to know and approve of. Will we ever know precisely why the Pope(s) approved of this, went along with this?

    We can speculate can we not? Pius XII was obsessed with communism and considered it the worse of the two evils stalking Europe. He hoped to be a “honest broker” between Germany and the United States. The problem is that the Vatican in general saw itself as a “country” or some form of a country instead of being purely what it should have been, a church, the moral voice for a continent. Once you become a country, you make compromises that you as a church cannot legitimately make. Everyone ourselves included, looked horrible after the war in the way we dealt with the Holocaust but the Catholic church couldn’t afford to. Those rat lines simply had no reason, no legitimate basis. The Church needed to make a clear moral statement and it didn’t. It failed miserably as Pius himself did during the war. (Read the book “Under His Very Walls”.)

    Tito, wanting to prosecute the war criminals found that in large part courtesy of the Church, they had gone to South America. He settled for the archbishop who ended up spending a few years in jail.

    Pope John Paul years later, part of that anti-communist triumverate including Reagan and Thatcher, declared the archbishop a martyr. NO. We realize that yes, Tito was a communist. So what. The archbishop was not some anti communist hero. He had been in bed with horrible people. He is anything but a saint. By now Paul knows perfectly well what the Church did after the war. This is not the time to dishonor the memories of the victims further. Make some other political statement, not this.

    And this is just one of many such examples.

    The Church too often loses its way doesn’t it not? It fails to understand what it is here for? Popes forget who they really are as did Pius XII. We note that Catholic France had no problems whatsoever putting its Jews on the trains to Auschwitz as did other Catholic countries and that there was no outright condemnation by the Vatican, no threats of excommunication for those who participated. And today we too often see that the Church has simply not absorbed those horrible lessons.

    The next reformation if there is to be one has to be zero tolerance for evil within itself. No more excuses for excesses such have seen in the past. With the Inquisition, the jihadist crusaders, the indulgences, all of it, its less than sterling record during the Holocaust, along with the sex abuse scandals, the Church must decide what it’s real priorities truly are.

  25. Bradley P. says:

    Keep this up, Rod, for it is the way to Truth. “As many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ,” says the Apostle Paul. Put Him on, do battle against falsehood both externally and internally, and there find transcendent peace.

  26. Jay says:

    It is far too easy for a Hitchens to look at the role the Church played in the Dirty War, or the child sex abuse cases, and say, “See? Ah ha, that’s how they all are.” That is a lie, and a particularly nasty one.

    I wouldn’t make that mistake. But I do look at these sorts of things (or the way the Catholic and Orthodox and Lutheran churches largely looked the other way during the Holocaust, for instance) and say “These institutions have no moral authority over me or anything much to say about how I live.” And I’m not sure why I should think that point of view is unfair.

  27. John M. says:

    The church does truly have sins to answer for in Latin America. It was this blending of military/governmental/ecclesial power that led to the development of the supposedly “marxist” liberation theology movement. And it was Pope John Paul II, the anti-communist crusader, who crushed that movement and let the conservative hierarchy in Latin America suck up to the military and civil authorities. He actually told Archbishop Romero, when he went to Rome to plead for the Pope’s support against the right-wing government in El Salvador which was supporting the death squads, that “he had to watch out for the Communists.” Romero supported the poor, and denounced both right-wing and left-wing violence.

  28. JonF says:

    Re: or the way the Catholic and Orthodox and Lutheran churches largely looked the other way during the Holocaust, for instance

    The Bulgarian Orthodox Church was largely responsible for saving Bulgaria’s 100K+ Jews. When the fascist Bulgarian government (a Nazi ally) started rounding up the country Jews for transportation to the camps the Church strenuously objected, to the point where monks and other believers joined the Jewish detainees where they were being detained, and the archbishop preached a sermon denouncing the deportation from the steps of St Alexandr Nevsky Cathedral, which the government had shuttered against him. Ultimately faced with a rebellion getting out of control the government backed down, and Bulgaria was the only combatant country in continental Europe to finish the war with a larger Jewish population than when the war started.

  29. Thymoleontas says:

    Mr. Dreher,

    Hitchens praised the systematic and brutal slaying of 20 million Orthodox Christians in Russia alone.

    If one condemns the holocaust, the pogroms, and the dirty war–as is right–a rational human being with any integrity must also condemn Bolshevik brutality.

    Contrary to popular belief, Hitchens was no humanist. And I’m not sure why there is any praise for Hitchens coming from an Orthodox Christian.

  30. Atheist says:

    “It is far too easy for a Hitchens to look at the role the Church played in the Dirty War, or the child sex abuse cases, and say, ‘See? Ah ha, that’s how they all are.'”

    I for one have never heard Hitchens say, ‘See? Ah ha, that’s how they all are.'”

    The point Hitchens, Atheists and for that matter Luther make about the Catholic and all Chruch’s who claim divine authority is that the claim of divine authority itself creates the conditions for the corruption.

    There is a saying. “Authority corrupts and absolute authority corrupts absolutely.” And what is divine authority other than absolute authority.

    The claim was made that sin explains the barbaric acts of Christians against their fellow man. But I would argue that it is not sin but rather a self- and sometimes biblically justified belief in ones righteousness.

    But the fact is no human institution is divine. The church is no different than any other human institution. Divine Authority belongs to God alone, said the Luther.

    And each of use have a right to access Divine Knowledge and Divine Authority.

    But we as humans should be ever conscience of the fact that we are human. And in our righteous motivated actions we should err on the side of do no harm and live and let live.

    Why, because God must be the final judge. He gave us free will and it is not up to us to deny free will to our fellow men regardless of our fears for their souls.

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