Rod Dreher

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Conversion & Reconciling Narratives

Interior of St. Seraphim Orthodox Cathedral in Dallas, where my faith was rescued (Vladimir Grigorenko photo)

A reader named Chrisacs posted on the thread about why some Catholics leave the Catholic Church, and why others stay. Because I’m trying hard to keep that comments thread one for storytelling, not debate, I chose to take his good questions below, sincerely asked, and put them in another thread. I invite readers to engage below, but please, be respectful. I’m going to police the thread closer than usual.

Chrisacs writes:

What a great article with great posts above. Many thanks for the testimonials.

For those who left the Faith, may I ask how you reconcile your new beliefs? I understand the circumstances of leaving (pain, hurt, boredom, cynicism, relevance, poor pastors, hypocrisy, etc) but what I respectfully can’t understand, but I’m trying, is how after leaving the Church you can accept tenets of faith contrary to what you previously believed? Did you never really believe nor understand the fundamentals of Catholicism, is environment and delivery more important, is pastoral style tantamount or does the presbyter secrecy, hypocrisy and self protection outweigh your beliefs? Eastern Orthodox and RC have significant theological differences (the Holy Spirit and papal primacy for example). Knowing this, how do you reconcile or is to more a journey and if it is how do you deny one and be open to the other?

In keeping to the authors ground rules, I’ll answer no questions posed; I’m not here to debate or evangelize. Please help me understand how this is an intellectual and not an emotional decision, or is it?

I’m confident that everybody’s got their own story. Here is mine, in a very concise version. Regular readers have read this before, and can feel free to skip it.

Catholic doctrine, and faith in Catholic doctrine, kept me Catholic for several years, despite everything within me wanting to run the other way. A knowledge of church history also helped a lot. It got to the point, though, writing about the scandal, where I was being consumed by anger. I knew the bishops were lying. It chewed at me like a cancer to read stories about how many of them, like Mahony of L.A., helped child-raping priests flee abroad to escape prosecution. In 2004, The Dallas Morning News reported:

Catholic priests accused of sexually abusing children are hiding abroad and working in church ministries, The Dallas Morning News has found.

From Latin America to Europe to Asia, these priests have started new lives in unsuspecting communities, often with the help of church officials. They are leading parishes, teaching and continuing to work in settings that bring them into contact with children, despite church claims to the contrary.

The global movement has gone largely unnoticed — even after an abuse scandal swept the U.S. Catholic Church in 2002, forcing bishops to adopt a “zero tolerance” policy and drawing international attention.

Starting this week and continuing in coming months, we report the results of a yearlong investigation that reaches all six occupied continents. Key findings include: Nearly half of the more than 200 cases we identified involve clergy who tried to elude law enforcement. About 30 remain free in one country while facing ongoing criminal inquiries, arrest warrants or convictions in another.

Most runaway priests remain in the church, the world’s largest organization, so they should be easier to locate than other fugitives.

Instead, Catholic leaders have used international transfers to thwart justice, a practice that poses far greater challenges to law enforcement than the domestic moves exposed in the 2002 scandal.

Police and prosecutors, however, often fail to take basic steps to catch fugitive priests.

Church discipline, such as the U.S. bishops’ new policy, doesn’t keep all offenders out of ministry. Dozens of priests who are no longer eligible to work in this country have found sanctuary abroad.

Things like this would appear in the newspaper, and … nothing would happen. People in the parishes just carried on as if this it weren’t happening. I found this maddening. I had two little boys at the time. I was tortured — the word isn’t too strong — by the certainty that if a priest had raped one of my sons, my bishop likely would have treated my wife and me as the enemy, and might even have helped my child’s rapist escape abroad. I knew that most of them saw the scandal as a public relations problem, and that even the best of them were too timid to clean out the Augean stables. I came to believe that all of them lied as a matter of course. Remember, I knew the truth about Cardinal McCarrick in 2002, and I had to read and listen to him go on and on with his lies.

Since becoming Catholic in 1993, I had learned not to expect anything of parish life. Bad sermons, lousy music, banality, mediocrity — this was normal. If you got better than that, be grateful. But don’t expect more. I became deeply fideistic, in a way, just to hang on. I kept telling myself that no matter what, Christ was in the Eucharist, and that’s what mattered. My Protestant friends find this hard to understand, but at no point did I ever consider going back to Protestantism. For all its failings, I found the case for Catholicism, and the history of Christianity, far stronger than any Protestant claims.

As regular readers know, finding out that a priest who was growing close to our family was in fact an accused molester was what broke my wife and me. We had chosen to go to a parish that had conservative bona fides, even though we had to drive 45 minutes one way on Sunday mornings. We were finding a home there. And then we made that discovery by accident. We learned that this assistant priest was working off the books, and that the pastor had welcomed him into the parish and put him to work in ministry, despite his background. The pastor and the parish council chose not to tell the local bishop, or the congregation.

My wife and I thought we couldn’t be fooled. But we were. We went back to our old parish, but we were zombies. I was so angry by then that I routinely left the church during the sermons, walking around outside praying my rosary. My only experience of the faith was anger and anxiety, and it was constant. It was toxic. It was destroying my ability to believe in Jesus. On the day my wife came to me in tears and told me that “for the first time in my life, I feel like I’m losing Jesus” — well, I knew then that we couldn’t go on like this.

We started attending an Orthodox parish just to be in the real presence of the Eucharistic Christ — the Catholic Church teaches that the Orthodox have valid sacraments — even though we knew we were not permitted to receive communion. The atmosphere was very, very different there. It felt like a church, not a sacrament factory. Now, I’ve been to Orthodox parishes that felt like sacrament factories, so I know it’s possible. But this parish was not like that. At all. The priests took the pursuit of holiness seriously, and so did most of the congregation. And the liturgy — well, it was like something from another world. After a few times there, I confessed to my wife that this was what I thought Catholicism would be when I converted.

I give you all that background because it’s important to answering your question.

We reached the point where we had a decision to make. I shouldn’t speak for my wife, but in my own case, I wanted to leave for Orthodoxy. But I couldn’t just walk away. There was all that doctrine, which I believed. I began reading both Catholic and Orthodox apologetics, comparing and contrasting their ecclesiologies. It was a draw. I would read a Catholic book, then say yes, the Catholics are right. Then I would read an Orthodox book, and conclude otherwise. It was driving me crazy. I wanted a clear answer.

(One thing I did learn, that I had not known: how dodgy the procedure in Vatican I was for formally declaring that the Pope is infallible under certain conditions. I had never looked into it, and had simply accepted that everything the Catholic Church taught was true, because it had sole teaching authority. I didn’t realize how Pius IX strongarmed infallibility through the council. It shook my trust.)

It finally occurred to me that I was approaching all this in a flawed way — in a purely intellectual way. Did I really believe that life in Christ was essentially about assenting to propositions and doctrine? I guess I did. I had to, because how else would I have justified staying faithful to a Church where parish life was so spiritually dead? I had trained myself to affirm doctrinal truths in the face of a great deal of evidence that these truths didn’t make a difference in the lives of more than a few of my fellow Catholics — most of all the bishops.

I had been learning through my exposure to Orthodoxy that conversion of heart is the primary thing. God wants the mind and the heart — but the heart is more important. As a Catholic, I recoiled from that, thinking of it as anti-intellectual. But my understanding of the Orthodox teaching was superficial. Plus, I’d heard it said that Orthodoxy is a way that has an institution attached to it, whereas Catholicism is an institution with a way attached to it. That was a glib saying, but it fit my experience. I had always assumed that Orthodoxy was Catholicism with Byzantine characteristics. That’s not really true. The ethos is different in a number of ways that are not worth bringing up here.

The point is, Orthodoxy had started to change my way of thinking about life in Christ. Orthodoxy taught that the end goal of every human life, the thing we all must strive for, is theosis — complete union with the Trinity. (That teaching is explained here.) It became clear to me that for reasons having to do with the condition of the Roman church in this time and place, and having to do with my own brokenness — the overwhelming anger over the scandal, and my total inability to trust the institution — I saw no way I could achieve theosis by remaining Catholic.

(I have tried over the years to be clear that my loss of Catholic faith had a lot to do with my own intellectual pride, which led me to overintellectualize the faith; that is my fault, not the Catholic Church’s.)

I asked myself: what is the truth that saves? Is it a doctrine? No, it is Jesus Christ, who was and is God incarnate. It came to me that I no longer believed that my salvation depended on being subject to the Roman See — and in fact, given how spiritually desolated I had become, my salvation probably depended on me breaking that communion.

When I made the decision to become Orthodox, I prayed, Lord, I hope I am doing the right thing. I am going on faith here, and if I am wrong to do this, I beg for your mercy on my soul. 

That’s how I justified it to myself. It was messy, and it is messy — I agree! It will not satisfy strict intellectuals. I know that by that same logic, someone could justify leaving Catholicism for Protestantism. There was a time in my life when I would have judged them harshly for that. I can’t do that anymore, and don’t have any desire to. I know from experience how fragile we all are. There’s a reason why the Lord taught us to pray “lead us not into temptation.” Still, the fact that Orthodoxy shares deep apostolic roots with Catholicism, and the same sacramental mindset, made it easier to consider Orthodoxy as an alternative. In fact, it was the only alternative. If Orthodoxy didn’t exist, or there had not been an Orthodox parish nearby, we probably would have remained Catholic … or I would have quit going to church altogether.

The thing is, if I had waited until I had all the intellectual pieces sorted out before becoming Orthodox, I might not have done it. I mean, I might just wasted away spiritually, until something died within me, and I quit searching. This was a real concern. We all have to live, to get on with our lives. In my case, I had children to raise. It weighed heavily on my mind and my conscience that at the rate we were going, my children would grow up seeing their father and mother consumed by anger, distrust, and cynicism about religion. If those children grew into adults who left Christianity behind because of our own example, that would be on my soul forever. It was unfortunately easy for me to conjure a scenario in which our family remained formally Catholic, but in our hearts had left Christianity. From my work as a journalist, I knew how precarious it would be for those of my children’s generation to hold on to a real faith as America de-Christianized. This was a factor in my thinking. You can call that “emotional” if you want, and it surely was. The loss of my children to Christ would be the worst thing I could imagine for them. Our family was headed into that spiritual death trap.

You don’t see me advocating publicly for Orthodoxy because I know that I have no credibility on that front. I had gone all in for Catholicism, in a very public way, and lost my faith in a very public way. I will have to spend the rest of my life repenting from overintellectualizing my faith, and having to resist my tendency to retreat into abstraction. This is a constant temptation of mine, though it’s gotten a lot better for me over the last decade or so. You can find Orthodox apologists everywhere on the Internet. There’s nothing wrong with being an Orthodox apologist. But that kind of thing is a trap for me.

Don’t get me wrong: doctrine is vitally important! But it is not God; it is a clear signpost on the way to union with God. Without knowing what I was doing, I had made an idol of the Catholic institution. I can recall in my early years as a Catholic, making a point to emphasize in conversation with secular people that I was a Catholic Christian — implying that I was not one of those unintellectual Evangelicals. See what I mean by intellectual pride? Spiritual pride too. I’m ashamed of myself for ever thinking that way about the faith. Again, that was my fault, not Catholicism’s fault. I’ve met some Evangelicals over the years who are prideful about Evangelicalism in the same way I was about Catholicism. This is a chronic condition in young male intellectuals, especially converts. It set me up for a big fall — but God brought good out of it. I am so very grateful to be Orthodox. I was proud to be Catholic, and that was a fatal flaw.

In talks, I sometimes warn Christians — Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant — not to be like I once was. Don’t ever take your faith for granted. Don’t ever think that just because you assent to doctrine that your faith is built on a solid rock. I used to think that I would be able and willing to die as a martyr to the Catholic faith, but when I was put to the test by the bishops and priests of the Catholic Church, I failed. I was prepared to die as a Catholic, but it turned out that I couldn’t live as one. By the grace of God, I won’t make those same mistakes as an Orthodox Christian.

I’ll stop here. I’m eager to read other people’s answers to Chrisac’s questions. Please be kind to each other.

UPDATE: It occurs to me that on the “emotional” versus “intellectual” distinction, it would have made as much sense to ask a man gripping the handle of a cast iron skillet over a hot flame how he reasoned himself into letting go.

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The Church: Why She Left, Why Others Stay.


Melinda Henneberger (Kansas City Star screengrab)

Catholic journalist Melinda Henneberger has left the Church. She writes today of her anger at watching the US Catholic bishops gather in Baltimore this week to talk about the scandal, only to have the rug pulled out from under them by Pope Francis. Excerpts:

Let’s not be hasty, right? It would be funny if it weren’t so tragic. Yet apparently, these men need a code of conduct to know not to shield rapists. And they need time to reach universal consensus on a proposal that would simply ask bishops to promise not to lead a “double life.”

No one can accuse me of being hasty. But after a lifetime of stubborn adherence on my part and criminal behavior on yours, your excellencies, you seem to have finally succeeded in driving me away. I’m not even sure there’s such a thing as a former Catholic, but I’m about to find out.

My hopes for this Baltimore confab weren’t ever high, because fool me 6,000 times, shame on you. But that 6,001st time, well, I’m just all out of willingness to be conned into believing you who’ve so long seen the devastation of innocents principally as a PR problem are ever going to change.

Like others who’ve had more than enough of your betrayals and arrogance and perpetual surprise about having coddled child rapists, I haven’t been back to Mass since June. That’s when a man I thought I knew pretty well, a man who unlike other church leaders amid the abuse scandals of 2002 seemed to understand the depth of the damage done, was himself disgraced.

She’s talking about Cardinal McCarrick. She goes on to write with incredulity of Cardinal Sean O’Malley’s response:

It’s inexplicable,” O’Malley said of the transgressions of so many bishops even in recent years. “I mean, anybody at this point in history who would not understand the consequences of not embracing zero tolerance and transparency — I cannot understand that.’’ The men who run the church continue to think so well of one another that I sometimes wonder if they have met.

Yep. It’s that “affective relationship” that corrupt Cardinal Mahony said yesterday at the meeting was so valuable, and needed to be strengthened.


I am a true-believing, rosary- and novena-praying graduate of St. Mary’s Elementary School, the University of Notre Dame and  l’Université catholique de Louvain in Belgium. I covered the Vatican for the New York Times and was a fellow at the Catholic University of America’s Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies. I never thought it would come to this.

Read the whole thing. 

Well, I feel her pain — at least I felt it in 2006, when I left under similar circumstances. Catholic intellectuals can’t figure out how one can do this, if you’ve got the arguments straight in your head. What jumps out at me in Henneberger’s column is that she does not offer an argument for leaving. She just leaves. Can’t take it anymore. Doesn’t even feel obliged to give an argument. She’s worn out.

I get this. It’s like being married to a chronic alcoholic who is succumbing to drink. You may love your drunk spouse, but you can no longer live with them, and be party to their destructive and abusive behavior. The marriage eventually ceases to exist as a real thing. You may remarry someone else (e.g., find a spiritual home in another church, as I have done, and have been very happy there), but if you’re like me, you will never fully trust your new spouse, or yourself, given how much you trusted your first love.

Or, you might think of it as being the child of a raging alcoholic. A reader on another thread put it like this:

The church right now is like a family Christmas Party where Dad is drunk, barfing everywhere, insulting everyone, using profanity – and everyone at the party feels obligated to behave as if nothing is the matter. Everything is normal. If dad tells me to stick my bare butt out the window at the neighbors who am I to question? Who am I to judge?

We can’t criticize Dad or the uncles we never see when we have to move but show up for every party and are urging Dad to get even more wasted.

The Catholic clergy is calling out for an intervention. But no one besides Cousin Vigano, who has to hide in the garage, is willing to say anything. And until someone is willing to state what is obvious to everyone the situation can not get any better.

And the party will keep getting more raucous until the neighbors call the cops and have everyone thrown in jail.

You may cut your ties with your dysfunctional family, and move away from them, but you don’t forget them. You can’t forget them. You mourn for them, maybe, and you want to see Dad get treatment and everything to work out. But you know you have to get out of that maelstrom before it sucks you under.

Readers, I don’t want to have a thread on whether or not someone should leave the Catholic Church. What I would like to hear are stories from Catholics who did leave, and Catholics who thought seriously about leaving, but who chose to stay. 

No arguments, just stories. Got it? No arguments, no hostile judgments on those who left or those who stayed. Just tell your story. I won’t publish argumentative statements.

UPDATE: Guys, I’m serious about not publishing comments on other people’s narratives. I’m not trying to be mean here; I just want to do the best I can to keep the comments thread from devolving into debate and argumentation. Please don’t post those kinds of comments.

There are a lot of good accounts below, but this one, from this morning, really got to me. The Catholic Church expects this layman to carry a heavy cross — and it is right to do so — but the faithless, sexually corrupt priests and bishops made a mockery of him. It’s infuriating:

I’m currently thinking about leaving.

I’m a gay Catholic who has tried to remain faithful to Catholic teaching on sexuality and am appalled by the widespread homosexual scandals in the Church.

I spent most of my 20s (the time of life most other people are settling down, finding a life partner) living celibately because I believed the Church’s teaching. Whatever happens in the future, I can never get that part of my life back. And now I find out that the priests and bishops who were egging me on were involved in one huge decades-long gay orgy the whole time! Or, if they weren’t involved themselves, they were covering up for their friends who were! I feel like the victim of a cheap con trick.

I’m not sure if I still believe the Church’s teaching on sexuality. I pray to be faithful to God’s will, whatever sacrifice that requires of me. But, either way, I find it difficult to see how I can remain a Roman Catholic.

If I enter a same-sex relationship, then I will effectively be treated as excommunicated by the Church (unless I go to some awful liberal pro-gay Jesuit parish, which I couldn’t handle).

If God is indeed calling me to celibate, how on earth is staying in the Catholic Church as a gay man going to help me do that? When the “shepherds” to whom I would have to submit myself — the men whose preaching I would be hearing, who would be hearing my confessions and advising me on growing in holiness, giving me spiritual direction — many of them are leading gay double-lives?

I sin, too. I’m not claiming to be holier-than-thou. I have sympathy for the bad priests. But its precisely because I’m a sinner that it would be complete madness to continue to hand over the rudder of my spiritual life to such men. Sure, my faith was never in priests and bishops to begin with, but the hierarchy is an essential enough part of the Catholicism that its basically impossible to function as a Catholic when you have no trust in it.

So I’m looking into Anglicanism and (more tentatively) Eastern Orthodoxy.

There are other issues I have with the Church but this is the one that really sticks in the craw for me.

UPDATE.2: A reader e-mails me her amazing story:

I’m a recent convert. It hasn’t even been a year since I was received into the Church. That means I converted after 2002. After the films Spotlight and Doubt. After Tim Minchin’s foul, NSFW The Pope Song pretty much summed up what non-Christians thought about the Catholic sex-abuse scandal. (I listened again before writing this, and still by and large agree with the song’s sentiment, if not the language.) So the bulk of the scandal was something I was familiar with before it even occurred to me to convert.

So why walk willingly into this corrupt and perverted human institution for the sake of the faith it is supposed to protect? Why stay? I think it is because I spent years in liberal communities in which sex abuse and harassment was tolerated to an alarming degree. Where it doesn’t matter how many youth come forward with stories or sexual abuse and harassment, because we aren’t going to discriminate against someone based on prudishness. Where explaining that a man kissing you on the lips without your consent made you feel uncomfortable gets you a lecture about how people have too many hangups about sex, and after all, people today are absolutely starving for human touch and connection. I mean, he’s a nice guy, let it go. Hug a tree.

I’ve had gay men grab my body in a sexual way without my consent. I’ve had gay men expose their genitalia to me and ask me to touch it. What can you say in response to that kind of harassment without being labeled a bigot? When someone behaves in a predatory way, labeling themselves as polyamorous is a sure way to keep anyone from calling them out over it. There are types of abuse that aren’t even viewed as abuse because it is ideologically inconvenient, and communities will move heaven and earth to protect progressive predators.

Spending time in other religious communities, witnessing, experiencing, and hearing countless stories of sexual abuse, has numbed me a bit. Before I even considered joining the Catholic Church I was very aware that the reason that other religious and spiritual communities aren’t experiencing the same level of public scandal has to do with how they are structured.

The rate of predators in the Catholic Church is on par with the rate of predators in the general population. That statistic is often used to downplay the scandal. In truth, it should heighten it, because it should make us very aware how prevalent the problem is in our country. The Catholic scandal is stunning simply because the Church as an entity is so well organized and the data so accessible. If you were to take a geographic area, say New York City,and shift the religious lens, would you be able to paint as clear a picture of sex abuse?

Statistics tell us that the Hassidic Jewish community has the same rate of abuse, but that story is harder to tell due to organizational and cultural differences. Shift the lens to progressive activism. Remember the rape problem during the Occupy Wall Street protests? There are no clear organizations or leaders in this case to point the finger at, or sue. Shift the lens to pagan/New Age/occult/burner communities. Again, no large organizations or clear community leadership structures to point to, but this actually means predators are more likely to go unnoticed, or, because of cultural attitudes towards sex, be protected by the community they are harming. Shift the lens to the Amish. There have been plenty of reports of the abuse coverup in Amish communities, but when the communities are themselves small the story tends to stay small. Shift to Hollywood, the military, cable news, the Olympics…  and you keep finding the same story in different settings.

I’m not saying this to diminish what is happening in the Catholic Church. Rather, I think what is happening in the Catholic Church is a mirror of our culture. A big hypocritical, monolithic mirror that genuinely believes it can outwait the “PR problem” of sex abuse. Quite literally a good ol’ boys club primarily concerned with protecting its own, headed by a sullen, snarky oldboy who really wishes the media would focus on him pretending to be gay-friendly rather than expecting him to actually do his job.

I am beyond furious with Pope Francis. When it comes to the bishops I sincerely believe we should throw the bums out and start over. It’s time to flip over the money-changer tables in the temple. It’s time for a revolution from within. I think the laity should tell their parishes that they refuse to financially support their diocese until they see real reform. I think every parish in the United States should vote with their checkbook. The bishops don’t want a PR problem? 69 million Catholics remaining in their parishes but redirecting parish funds away from their bishops is a bigger PR problem. 24,000 parishes in the US announcing that the funds they would normally submit to the diocese are going to homeless shelters this Advent because of the scandal is a much bigger PR problem.

So if I’m angry enough to advocate mutiny, why do I stay? Because the Catholic faith is true, and beautiful, and good, and real. It is a wholly separate thing from the human institution. I also stay because there are really wonderful, sincere, genuine, trustworthy priests trying to do God’s work. There are so many good, brilliant, compassionate individual Catholics who inspire me every day. So many vibrant parishes full of mercy and faith where I have felt God’s actual presence among the flawed but striving faithful.

The scandal is big. The problems affecting Catholic institutions are huge. The culture of Catholic exceptionalism is pervasive. The bishops and cardinals have totally lost touch with reality, and there is no reforming the majority of them.

But as overwhelming as the problems are, the Body of Christ is bigger. We forget that, I think. Good Catholics outnumber the bad, every single day. Good Catholics have to get loud, have to get angry, have to put their foot down. This is not a time for councils, reports, suggestions, asking for permission. This is a time to demand resignations from Church leadership. They have proven themselves incapable and unwilling to do their job. Because their boss is incapable and unwilling to do his.

If the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church is a mirror of the sex abuse problems in our country, then it is the Catholic Church’s obligation to demonstrate the moral, just, and Christian response to these problems.  Which means we need a Pope willing to take an unapologetic moral stance and hold every single bishop to the same standard.

If you can’t be celibate, then you don’t get to wear a collar. Plenty of laity go without sex every day. Go without sex for years, often not of their own choice. It’s not impossible. Homosexuals don’t get a pass on this. They are human beings capable of self-control, just like the rest of us. Have you noticed the tendency in the media to paint them as being unable to control their sexuality? The French drama The Churchmen is a good example of this incredibly demeaning tendency. Pedophilia or preying on vulnerable adolescents or adults should be an automatic expulsion from holy orders. Zero tolerance.

We need a Pope willing to be ruthless in defense of the faith. Willing to demand resignations, to endure bad press, to even shrink the institution of the Church in order to reform it. We need a surgeon Pope, who doesn’t worry about hurting the cancer’s feelings but cuts it quickly out. And we need a laity who will loudly support this Pope in holding their own bishops accountable. Allowing the problem to fester is not merciful or compassionate or Christ-like. There is a constant thread throughout Christian gospel, tradition, and theology that is utterly ruthless when it comes to the truth. In our current situation, I don’t think it is un-Christian to pray for a ruthless Pope.

I am in love with the Catholic faith and the truth it illuminates. I pray for a Pope like this. I’m ready to be a lay person who supports him. This is why I stay.

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Why Catholic Bishops Can’t Solve The Crisis

James Grein, who claims Cardinal McCarrick molested him as a child, into adulthood (EWTN News screengrab)

A Catholic reader writes about the USCCB’s meeting, calling it “utterly pathetic and depressing.” More:

The lecture from [retired L.A. Cardinal Roger] Mahony is simply beyond belief.  The fact that he had the temerity to speak at all is bad enough; the fact that no one rose to challenge him shows the depth of the clericalism you diagnose.

Has the word “homosexuality” even been uttered apart from the squishy remark by [San Francisco Bishop Salvatore] Cordileone and the indirect reference to [pro-gay celebrity Jesuit] James Martin? Even then, it’s only in a ‘sociological’ or empirical way, whether they should commission a new study to determine whether homosexuality is a causal factor in the abuse.  Must we await a pronouncement from “science” in order to know or say anything about this?

This completely misses the more basic point and the deep root of people’s anger.  It is not that homosexuality necessarily inclines one disproportionately toward abuse, though I have seen this charge invoked from the left as a way to de-legitimate those who are raising questions about homosexuality in the priesthood. Still to my knowledge, no one who is serious is making this claim, despite the fact that the instances of abuse are overwhelmingly homosexual.

It is rather that the open secret of pervasive, barely acknowledged homosexuality in the priesthood and among the bishops imposes a double life and compulsory dishonesty on the entire Church, making it all but impossible to think deeply or speak truly about the crisis of faith at the root of this thing, not to mention the more proximate causes of abuse.

If we were at all serious even about the diagnosis of clericalism, we would take a hard look at the connection between pervasive homosexuality among the clergy, the pervasive dishonesty which necessarily accompanies it, the self-referentiality of the bishop’s deliberations and the apparently irresistible temptation to substitute procedural and managerial thinking for real theological introspection.  What relationship might there be between this open secret and the superficiality of our responses?  In other words, we ought to think about the deep relationship between homosexuality and clericalism.  They are not the opposites that they are made out to be.

It has become a public mantra (and one hears this from both sides), that we shouldn’t “use” the abuse crisis to advance a theological agenda.  And I agree if by “theological” what you really mean is “political”, which is, sadly, most often the case — especially on the left.  But this is the quintessence of managerial thinking:  to reduce the abuse crisis as a brute fact and treat it as a discrete problem admitting of a discrete fix–if only we can get the right policies and structures in place.  Whereas I maintain that we cannot even really understand the crisis of abuse if we treat it “merely” as a crisis of abuse and refuse to understand it theologically.  We have to look inward (and upward), and I don’t know whether we remember how to do that.

Yes. The problem is not homosexuality or clericalism, but the way the two depend on each other. Even the “good” bishops who perfectly well see the problem of unchaste gay priests (and perhaps bishops) can’t bring themselves to talk about how it is killing the Church, because their clericalism is such that they won’t speak ill of each other.

Meanwhile, yesterday in Mississippi, the Department of Homeland Security raided the Diocese of Jackson’s offices in connection with an investigation of an allegedly HIV-positive priest who is suspected of bilking parishioners. The claim is that Father Lenin Vargas (really, that’s his name) told parishioners that he had a rare form of cancer, and was being sent by the diocese to Canada for specialized treatment. He set up a Go Fund Me to help pay his bills. In fact, he was being sent to Canada for psychological treatment of some sort. From the newspaper account:

One of the informants said Vargas actually went to Southdown Institute of Toronto, Canada, which among other things, is a sexual addiction facility for priests.

In March 2015, the Diocese of Jackson furthered Vargas’ cancer story by sending out email to priests in the diocese. Two informants said they believe the diocese was aware of Vargas’ diagnosis when he was sent to Canada.

“The Diocesan email stated that Vargas would be leaving for extensive treatment in the near future, and that he would be gone for a few months. What the email failed to state was that Vargas was not going away for cancer treatment. As a result, Vargas continued to raise money for his supposed cancer treatment. Your affiant (Agent Childers) believes the email was sent in order to perpetuate the cancer story, to hide Vargas’ HIV condition and protect the Diocese of Jackson  from negative publicity,” the affidavit said.

In addition to the GoFundMe account money, St. Joseph parishioners and others donated more than $33,000 to Vargas and most of the money was spent on personal expenses. Two informants said that as of this year, Vargas was still claiming he had cancer.

If this account proves true, then the Diocese of Jackson not only let this creep con parishioners with his fake cancer story, they also let an HIV-positive, sex-addicted priest minister to people. Some spiritual father he is!

This is why many Catholics don’t trust bishops. Can you blame them?

UPDATE: Meanwhile, Father Martin praises Pope Francis for queering the Church. Excerpt:

The Jesuit priest noted that Francis’ words and actions show the pope’s commitment to advancing homosexuality within the Church. “What Pope Francis says and does, right?” he said. “What he says about LGBT people and what he does in terms of who he appoints,” he added.

Martin’s statements about Pope Francis deliberately appointing “gay-friendly” bishops and cardinals — such as Joseph Tobin — become all the more significant when read alongside statements made by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò in August about Pope Francis going around normal processes to make such appointments.

About this, Viganò wrote: “The appointments of Blase Cupich to Chicago and Joseph W. Tobin to Newark were orchestrated by McCarrick, Maradiaga and Wuerl, united by a wicked pact of abuses by the first, and at least of coverup of abuses by the other two. Their names were not among those presented by the Nunciature for Chicago and Newark.”

There’s video of Father Martin’s entire presentation at the link.

UPDATE.2: The more I think about it, the angrier this makes me.

If the information in the Homeland Security affidavit filed on Friday proves true, then Bishop Joseph Kopacz knowingly allowed an HIV-positive priest who was so compulsive about sex that he required medical treatment to serve in a parish. If I were a parent of altar boys in that parish, I would be at the chancery waiting to have it out with the bishop when he returned from Washington.

Mind you, there have been no allegations that Father Vargas had sex with minors, so that presumably gets him a pass under the Dallas charter. But how would you feel about your son serving as an altar boy under that HIV-positive sex maniac? How would you feel about the fact that your bishop considered a priest like that fit to serve as the spiritual father for your parish?

What kind of bishop even thinks that way? Ever, much less after 2002. What kind of bishop has the nerve to expect his people to trust him after something like this?

You think new guidelines and procedures would protect the laity from a dirty priest like Father Vargas, when even his bishop considers him fit for ministry?

From the paper: “Childers’ affidavit said the diocese had knowledge of Vargas’ felony and concealed it by not making it immediately known.” Yes, keep it all hidden, Your Grace. Make sure the people don’t know how corrupt your class is.

Bishop Kopacz had better hope that the allegations in the affidavit don’t hold up in court. Otherwise, he’s going to have to deal with the white-hot anger of Mississippi Catholic mothers and fathers.

Relatedly, behold the legalistic mind of a pro-gay Prince of the Church at work yesterday in Washington:

UPDATE: From a reader:

I was a parishioner at St. Joseph while Fr. Lenin was there but right before his “cancer” diagnosis. He always seemed so nice at mass, confession, and other times I met him, although he seemed disorganized sometimes. He seemed rock-solid on orthodoxy, was traditional and solemn. I remember his first Sunday there, people admired him because he would not eat at the pancake breakfast after the early morning mass because he had to say the next mass soon and so was still fasting. He wore a cassock, which I heard people say was an indication he was solid. He posted to Facebook about the recent scandals and was fairly forceful. It’s really a shocker. He was even stealing money from the collection plates, according to the Starkville Daily News.

UPDATE.2: Man. What a sorry lot.

Too afraid to upset Pope Francis by asking him — merely asking him! — to explain to the faithful how that pervert McCarrick, the pope’s great friend and ally, got away with it.

UPDATE.3: A reader comments:

I’m someone with (some) inside knowledge of this situation, not so much in the current moment, but of the background and history. I was present for Fr. Vargas’ ordination in Jackson. The year he was ordained, it was the culmination of a recruiting effort some years prior where three Mexican seminarians were brought into the diocese.
The vocations director at the time when the seminarians were brought into the diocese later left the priesthood and was laicized after an addiction to pain killers proved to be too much for him to overcome.
All three of those seminarians, whose ordinations I attended, have had some sort of scandal since then, with Fr. Vargas being, it seems, the worst case. One has left the diocese and the ministerial priesthood, though I’m unsure of his status currently (i.e. if he’s been laicized). The other had a scandal with an adult woman, but has since returned to ministry.
On the whole, looking back now, it seems a person probably unfit to be selecting seminarians picked three men who have, to put it mildly, all struggled to live the life befitting someone called to the priesthood of Jesus Christ.
The reason I write here is to comment on another aspect of the scandal you raised recently, namely the geographical solution and the recruitment of foreign seminarians.
You see, after Fr. Vargas was ordained, he led the effort to recruit more seminarians from Mexico. He seemed to me perfect for such a job at the time: he was very articulate, excellent in both English and Spanish, and seemed a consummate professional, the very type of person you’d want to help get more seminarians into a diocese with such a small number of priests and seminarians.
But now I can see what you pointed out: the danger of selecting seminarians from another country as there may be a less effective screening process. I don’t doubt for one second that the seminarians were given some sort of screening, but who would have been the person to persuade the bishop for a final decision? Almost certainly the best bilingual priest they had at the time, Fr. Vargas.
I don’t know, since it’s been a few years now since I moved out of the diocese, what became of the seminarians Fr. Vargas recruited, and I don’t want to impugn all foreign vocations. God knows the Jackson diocese would have nearly no priests at all without the sacrifice of so many Irish priests who came to their service decades ago, and I’m sure there are some fine priests and seminarians at the moment who came from Mexico.
But it still remains that you can look at Fr. Vargas’ situation as something which goes beyond his own perfidy. The vocations director who recruited Fr. Vargas and two other Mexican seminarians had his own issues, and one wonders how things might have turned out if a more solid priest had been the one responsible for finding the foreign vocations, rather than a man who would soon be selling insurance.
Another thing: the former vocation director who had a major role in Fr. Vargas coming to the diocese left his parish suddenly, never to return. The parish in question? Fr. Vargas’ own, in Starkville. Pray for that parish. They’ve had it rough over the last 12 years.

UPDATE.4: A reader finds this letter from Fr. Vargas to his parish back in August:

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Bishops: Brothers In A Dysfunctional Family

Corrupt L.A. Cardinal Roger Mahony in a 2013 deposition (Anderson Associates screenshot)

I’m reading Catholic News Agency editor J.D. Flynn’s excellent Twitter coverage of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ meeting, and it’s really depressing, though in an enlightening way. Everybody’s mad at the bishops, and believe me, I get that. Yet reading through the coverage, which includes quotes from the questions the bishops are asking of each other about how to police themselves on sexual misconduct, I keep thinking about how futile the effort is bound to be. I hope I’m wrong about that, but Flynn’s real-time coverage makes me wonder what on earth a bishop who earnestly wanted to do the right thing could possibly accomplish within the bounds of the Catholic institutional structure.

I’m seeing some serious questions asked by bishops (reported by Flynn), but before I get to them, let me share this series of tweets with you, referring to comments by the Archbishop of Miami:

Good. Grief. Let me tell you something about outrage, and Wenski’s archdiocese. Here’s a link to the long, ugly Gawker report about “the Catholic Church’s secret gay cabal” (their headline), centered on the Archdiocese of Miami.  (NSFW.) Most of this happened under the previous archbishop; Wenski was sent in to clean things up. And maybe he has done that! But reading that 2011 account of the rampant homosexual corruption in that Archdiocese before Wenski got there in 2010, it’s a wonder that the Catholic Church in Miami has any credibility at all, much less communicants. If people aren’t outraged by what’s been happening, they aren’t paying attention. After McCarrick, the Don Corleone of the Church’s lavender mafia, no American bishop should be whining about the outrage industry.

More episcopal cluelessness, this a hundred times worse:

If Cardinal McCarrick was the Don Corleone of the lavender mafia, then Cardinal Mahony of Los Angeles is the Don Barzini. It is hard to overstate how rotten Roger Mahony’s record on sex abuse is. In 2013, the Washington Post editorialized, correctly, that Mahony is lucky to have avoided prison. More:

His continued prominence reflects the culture of impunity in the Catholic Church a decade after its tolerance and complicity in the abuse of children was exposed. The church has adopted policies intended to avoid fresh outrages, but it also has fought to protect supervisors who shielded criminal molesters.

Cardinal Mahony is a prime example. Even after his archdiocese reached a $660 million civil settlement with more than 500 victims of abuse in 2007, he and the hierarchy did everything in their power to avoid individual accountability. As recently as last week, church lawyers tried to keep secret the names of top officials and parish priests implicated in abuse cases. Fortunately, a California judge ordered disclosure of the relevant church personnel files.

That triggered publication of some 14,000 pages, including notes between Cardinal Mahony and a top aide showing that they repeatedly transferred abusive priests out of the country and the state to evade investigators and publicity. The cardinal also cautioned against exposing abusive priests to therapists who might be legally obligated to report their crimes.

The New York Times reported on the Mahony documents at the time. Excerpt:

Rather than defrocking priests and contacting the police, the archdiocese sent priests who had molested children to out-of-state treatment facilities, in large part because therapists in California were legally obligated to report any evidence of child abuse to the police, the files make clear.

In 1986, Cardinal Mahony wrote to a New Mexico treatment center where one abusive priest, Msgr. Peter Garcia, had been sent.

“I believe that if Monsignor Garcia were to reappear here within the archdiocese we might very well have some type of legal action filed in both the criminal and civil sectors,” Cardinal Mahony wrote.

Monsignor Garcia admitted to abusing more than a dozen young boys, most of them from families of illegal immigrants, since he was ordained in 1966, and in at least one case he threatened to have a boy he had molested deported if he talked about it, according to documents filed in court.

He was never criminally prosecuted, and has since died.

From a 2013 Los Angeles Times piece on how Mahony covered up abuse:

Mahony and his aides selected therapists who they knew wouldn’t report abuse to authorities, and urged suspected molesters to remain out of state to avoid police investigations and lawsuits. Mahony ordered one priest who had admitted preying on as many as 20 children to stay away from California “for the foreseeable future” to avoid prosecution.

Inside the Los Angeles Police Department’s Sexually Exploited Child unit, detectives had come to think of clergy cases as a footrace against the chancery. When a tip about a priest came in, the starting gun went off.

“Even if it was at the end of the day and we were supposed to go home, we knew we were at the starting post,” said Det. Dale Barraclough, who spent 20 years in the unit.

LAPD policy was to notify the archdiocese when an investigation was underway. But once the church was informed, Barraclough said, “we knew that the suspect, 99% sure, that he was going to be out of the country or out of state.”

Detectives begged parents not to inform the church and held off telling their own supervisors, Barraclough said in an interview, buying time to talk to witnesses, track down other victims, and seize toys and photos from rectories.

Officers often lost the race. In early 1988, police learned that a visiting priest allegedly molested several boys over nine months before fleeing to his native Mexico. In an effort to identify all the potential victims, detectives asked for a list of altar boys at two L.A. parishes.

Mahony was adamant that the roster not be provided: “We cannot give such a list for no cause whatsoever,” he wrote to aides in an internal memo.

Det. Gary Lyon became fed up and poured out the story of Father Nicolas Aguilar-Rivera to a Times reporter. Lyon told the newspaper that church officials knew the priest was leaving the country but contacted authorities only after he was gone. Now, Lyon complained, they were preventing police from identifying the children who may have been harmed.

Right, so this is the retired cardinal archbishop who dares to show up at the USCCB meeting and talk about the need for the bishops to focus on their affection for each other, and to consider asking each diocese to build a “house of prayer” for priests! The narcissism is boundless. In 2007, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles — led by Mahony from 1985 until his retirement in 2011 –settled all outstanding priest sex abuse cases for a record $660 million. Back in 2002, I remember conversations I had as a journalist with prominent Catholics in L.A. who feared that Mahony would pay anything to avoid having to testify under oath, and who were busily trying to move archdiocesan monies for charities and philanthropic works into accounts that Mahony couldn’t touch. Mahony never did testify about his leadership of the LA Archdiocese.

Canon lawyer and journalist Ed Condon correctly characterizes Mahony’s intervention today:

Does anybody doubt that if Bernard Law was still alive, and had come to this meeting, not a single bishop would have rebuked him in public or in private? Has even one bishop read the riot act to Cardinal Mahony? Or does their “affective relationship” preclude such unpleasantness.

True story: a Catholic layman I know saw a conservative bishop in the airport, headed to the 2002 Dallas meeting. The layman greeted the bishop, and said, “I’m glad to see that there will be at least one good bishop at this meeting.” The conservative prelate snapped, “They’re all good bishops.” He wasn’t joking.

What if the heart of the self-governance problem is this “affective relationship,” which obliges the righteous bishops to stay silent in the face of bad bishops’ corruption? One can easily understand their fear of the US Church becoming a disaster zone of warring factions, where the informal schism that has existed for a long time becomes clearer and sharper. But being nice and pretending that everything is just fine has brought them to this sinkhole, where they have no credibility left.


That’s because McCarrick is a condensed symbol of the entire crisis. He was a serial predator whose predation (of seminarians) was not much of a secret, for a long time. Yet he rose to the most elite level in the Catholic Church. He presented himself publicly as a faithful and irenic churchman, and, when the scandal broke in 2002, he took the lead public relations role as the voice of institutional reform. But he was a lying hypocrite — and without question more than a few bishops knew that he was a lying hypocrite. Nobody said anything. Nobody did anything. Such was the bishops’ affective relationship to each other. So, a lot of laypeople now have this crazy idea that the bishops are presiding over a racket — that the pursuit of holiness is boob bait to keep the laity comforted and distracted.

Sixteen years after Dallas, and they still cannot figure out how to govern themselves. They still give cretins like Roger Mahony a place of respect.

“Respectful pressure.” One understands this; it’s the Pope he’s talking about. But at what point does “respectful” amount to a kind of capitulation? These men have been so “respectful” of each other and the pontiff that they have allowed the house to burn down but haven’t raised their voices out of fear of being impertinent. Maybe the problem is not the lack of procedures and policies, but the lack of moral courage, of character.

John Allen writes:

One quick take-away is this: If the February summit was already high-stakes, those stakes have now grown exponentially. For the Vatican to ask the bishops’ conference of the fourth-largest Catholic country in the world, and one deeply scarred by the crisis at the moment, to wait three months before taking meaningful action suggests the February meeting better deliver something dramatic, or, at least in this country, there will be blood in the water.


In much American media discussion on Monday, casual references to “the Vatican” standing in the way of the U.S. bishops abounded. However, the plain truth is that under Francis, the traditional structures of the Vatican have lost most of their power in favor of personal leadership by the pope himself.

Sooner or later, the question will become not where “the Vatican” stands, but the pontiff himself.

Francis’s response to the Viganò allegations is an answer: he’s going to stonewall, portray the bishops and himself as victims, and continue to issue empty proclamations. Given the fact that the Catholic Church is a monarchy, it is hard to know what American bishops who are sick of the filth and the institutional rot, and who have a clear idea of the nature of this crisis, can do in the absence of effective leadership from the pope.

I can’t see how this crisis gets resolved. If you see a clear path forward, by all means let’s hear it. I believe that the Catholic Church will endure, but that those lay Catholics who are still around when the crisis ends will be those who took some form of the Benedict Option to strengthen themselves and their families while the moral authority of the Church’s institutional leadership collapsed. This thing is going to get a lot worse before it gets better.

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The Lost Boys

Where have the Millennial Men gone? From Bloomberg:

Nathan Butcher is 25 and, like many men his age, he isn’t working.

Weary of long days earning minimum wage, he quit his job in a pizzeria in June. He wants new employment but won’t take a gig he’ll hate. So for now, the Pittsburgh native and father to young children is living with his mother and training to become an emergency medical technician, hoping to get on the ladder toward a better life.

Ten years after the Great Recession, 25- to 34-year-old men are lagging in the workforce more than any other age and gender demographic. About 500,000 more would be punching the clock today had their employment rate returned to pre-downturn levels. Many, like Butcher, say they’re in training. Others report disability. All are missing out on a hot labor market and crucial years on the job, ones traditionally filled with the promotions and raises that build the foundation for a career.

OK, wait: this guy is only 25, and father to more than one child; he is unmarried and living at home with Mom, and won’t take a job he believes to be beneath him? What a loser.


Weary of long days earning minimum wage, he quit his job in a pizzeria in June. He wants new employment but won’t take a gig he’ll hate. So for now, the Pittsburgh native and father to young children is living with his mother and training to become an emergency medical technician, hoping to get on the ladder toward a better life.

… Butcher has a high-school diploma and a resume filled with low-wage jobs from Target and Walmart to a local grocery store. He’s being selective as he searches for new work because he doesn’t want to grind out unhappy hours for unsatisfying compensation.

“I’m very quick to get frustrated when people refuse to pay me what I’m worth,” he said. His choosiness could be a generational trait, he allows. His mother worked to support her three kids, whether she liked her job or not.

“That was the template for that generation: you were either working and unhappy, or you were a mooch,” he said. “People feel that they have choice nowadays, and they do.”

Who gives Butcher that “choice”? His mother, allowing him to mooch? He complains that he is not paid what he’s “worth,” but how much is a young man worth who has two children (who live with their babymama) to support, but who is fussy about jobs? I wonder if he grew up with a father in the home.

Butcher is a deeply unsympathetic figure, so much so that it might be too easy to ignore the huge social problem captured in this graphic:


That’s a staggering number. What accounts for it? More:

It’s difficult to pin down whether the demographic wants to remain on the sidelines or is kept there by a dearth of attractive options. They could be choosing to stay home or enroll in school because well paying, non-degree jobs in industries like manufacturing are fewer and further between. But it isn’t clear why lost opportunity would hit young men hardest.

Read the whole thing. 

The article says that opioid use and a preoccupation with video games could be factors. It doesn’t mention pornography use, but it might have done.  Anecdotally, I’ve heard of middle-class, even upper middle class, males who are failing to launch. Also from the article:

“At some point, you can have a bit of an effect of a lost generation,” according to David Dorn, an economist at the University of Zurich. “If you get to the point where you’re turning 30, you’ve never held a real job and you don’t have a college education, then it is very hard to recover at that point.”

It is possible that the members of that Lost Generation will live on welfare, and anesthetize themselves with drugs and porn. Another real possibility: a demagogue will mobilize them politically for invidious purposes.

If we don’t want either outcome — and we shouldn’t — then it seems that what we as a society are generally doing now with regard to masculinity is the wrong thing. We have lost the ability to discern between manliness and machismo, between strength and thuggery. Is there anybody other than Jordan Peterson who is trying to speak liberating truths to young men like those who are at risk for dropping out? Gilbert T. Sewall, writing earlier in TAC about Jordan Peterson’s popularity, said:

Peterson insists that limits, sacrifice, and suffering color all human experience. He gives advice on how to listen, see, think, pay attention, and be self-conscious. 12 Rules for Life explores the opposing forces of chaos and order—and the gray scale in between. Humans like chaos, Peterson points out, and the novelty and promise of change. But order, not freedom, brings redemption from misery, even if it demands self-recognition of limits. In an era when youth are urged to dream crazy, Peterson gives levelheaded advice on how not to dream crazy—or at least keep crazy contained. What he writes is thus closer to the ancient moral treatises than contemporary self-help, with traces of the Tao and Seneca.

Peterson asks his audience not to beat up on itself. Yet he demands it pull its oar with a minimum of self-pity. He restates perennial questions, what it means to be human and free. Roll with human experience, he advises, it’s a good bet. “It is reasonable to do what other people have always done, unless we have a very good reason not to,” he writes. “It is reasonable for people to become educated and work and find love and have a family. That is how a culture maintains itself.” Such predispositions render Peterson a genuine conservative, concludes political philosopher Yoram Hazony in a Wall Street Journal appraisal.

Men do big things, Peterson suggests, building houses and writing books, because they crave female approval. Women inspire men. Collaterally, women seek capable, attentive, protective men. Men and women need each other. Men and women together love, build families and communities, and enforce rules and beliefs to secure order against chaos, and they fail when the rules and beliefs that undergird them collapse or prove unenforceable. Rules are not inhibiting, he reminds permissive parents terrified of being tyrants, and childhood creativity is “shockingly rare.”

Social symbols, heroes, languages, and shared folkways create coherent societies with agreed-upon mores. Contemporary cultures ignore behavior shaped by eons of biological adaptation at great peril.

Economics have a lot to do with this situation, of course, but my intuition tells me that the root of the problem with Butcher and his generation is fatherlessness — which is itself a crisis of masculinity. Now that my father is gone, and I am a father of three, I am so very, very grateful that he inculcated in me particular virtues that have helped me raise my kids. The value of work, of personal responsibility, and of standing as best you can on your own two feet. My dad, who grew up poor, had something of a chip on his shoulder about wealthy people, but also had visceral contempt for any man who would not work. (In fact, his suspicion of the wealthy was because he thought they were getting away with something by not having to work as hard as others.)

He never made much money, but he was proud that he had earned everything he had. “The world doesn’t owe you a living,” he used to say to my sister and me — this as an incentive to study and work, to learn self-discipline, and never to take anything for granted.

My father wasn’t always easy to live with, heaven knows, but had I grown up without him in the household, I might be lost today. My mother loved me dearly, but I had figured out at a young age how to manipulate her tenderness to get what I wanted. Had I not had a father in the home, I could have talked her into supporting most anything I wanted to do, because her affection for her children was so strong. She softened my dad’s sternness at times, and for that I will forever be grateful. But he balanced her in ways that were mostly healthy for us kids. Isn’t it like that in most families? Having three kids of my own, I can see clearly how a lack of either a mother or a father would put enormous challenges in front of my children — and on the single parent.

How do we as a society compensate for having deprived so many young men of real fatherhood? Is that even possible to do at the level of society? I don’t think my dad (born in 1934) was altogether unique in his generation. Men back then, at least in the South, had a pretty clear idea of what being a man meant. It was a code of honor. It was seen as shameful not to live up to it. My father grew up in an impoverished Depression-era household. His own father missed most of my dad’s childhood, because he had to be on the road making money to send back to support his family. My dad missed his father a lot, but also respected him for making the sacrifices to keep food in their mouths. I think there was no one my father hated more in this world than a man who won’t take care of his children. It’s hard to grow up in a household like I did and not have instinctive contempt for young men like Nathan Butcher.

I doubt that the scorn of moralistic people like me will do the hundreds of thousands of Nathan Butchers of the world much good. But part of me wonders if there is any motivating factor capable of reaching these young men stronger than shame. At what point is the compassionate thing to do to say, “Get off your ass and get a job, and stick to that job, even if you hate it. You can’t be a boy forever”?


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Campus Ideology Migrates To Culture

Yale professor Nicholas Christakis tries to defend himself against SJW mob triggered by Halloween costume debate

I’m reading Heather Mac Donald’s excellent new book The Diversity Delusion: How Race And Gender Pandering Corrupt The University And Undermine Our Culture. Whenever I post about the kinds of topics Mac Donald discusses in the book, inevitably certain liberals say that I’m making a mountain out of a molehill. But as Mac Donald documents repeatedly, what happens on campuses is not rare, and it does not stay on campus. These ideological fads pervade corporate life, government, media, and elsewhere.

Here’s a passage that gives you a good idea of her argument:

Academic theory leapt again from the university to the real world with the Obama administration’s 2016 ruling that public schools must allow boys, bearing their full complement of male genitals, to use girls’ bathrooms and locker rooms if they declare themselves female.

For two decades, a growing constellation of gender studies, queer studies, and women’s studies departments had been beavering away at propositions that would have struck many people outside academia as surprising—such as that biological sex and “gender” are mere ideological constructs imposed by a Eurocentric, heteronormative power structure. Even though skeptical journalists have regularly dived into the murky swamp of academic theory and returned bearing nuggets of impenetrable jargon and even stranger ideas, the public and most politicians have shrugged off such academic abominations, if they have taken note at all. (Senator Marco Rubio’s deplorable jab at “philosophy majors” during his 2016 presidential run demonstrated how clueless your typical politician is about the real problems in academia.)

But a pipeline now channels left-wing academic theorizing into the highest reaches of government and the media. The products of the narcissistic academy graduate and bring their high-theory indoctrination with them into the federal and state bureaucracies and into newsrooms. Even the judiciary is affected. The opinion of the federal district court striking down California’s Proposition 8 (declaring that marriage was an institution uniting men and women), for example, was steeped in the women’s studies notion that marriage originated as a way to impose a subordinate “gender” role on females.

The most notable aspect of this latest public eruption of academic theory is how quickly the new academically driven moral consensus was formed. The current wave of nonacademic transgender activism began in the spring of 2015, when TheNew York Times ran a full-page editorial declaring the oppression of the transgendered one of our most pressing civil rights struggles. The Times then followed up with a series of news stories documenting the plight of the “trans community.” Now, a few years later, any parent with qualms about having his twelve-year-old daughter share a locker room with a fourteen-year-old boy is branded as the equivalent of someone advocating a return to whites-only water fountains. An issue that didn’t even exist a short time ago is now completely settled in the minds of the cultural elite; anyone who opposes the new regime is simply an atavistic, benighted bigot. (In February 2017, Trump’s Education and Justice Departments rescinded the Obama transgender bathroom rule on the ground that it went beyond the scope of Title IX and had not complied with administrative rule-making procedure.)

How short are the memories of the politically righteous! In the 1970s, Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg pooh-poohed as sheer demagoguery the idea that the Equal Rights Amendment would require co-ed bathrooms, her implicit assumption being that such an arrangement would, of course, be preposterous. In 1991, the Michigan Women’s Festival expelled a transsexual woman on the ground that she was, in biological fact, a male. The First International Conference on Crossdressing, Sex, and Gender at California State University at Northridge in 1995 maintained separate bathroom facilities for males and females, causing a protest by trans activists. Gay-rights activist and historian Martin Duberman stormed out of a gender-theory presentation. Now those early advocates for gay and women’s rights would be lumped into the same category as segregationists.

There are several corollary takeaways to the present day. First, we have learned that the trans movement trumps feminism, just as Europe’s reaction to the mass Muslim sexual assaults of New Year’s Eve, 2015, revealed that multiculturalism trumps feminism. Given the constant caterwauling about “rape culture” by campus feminists, one would have thought that feminists would have opposed allowing males’ use of facilities frequented by unclothed or otherwise vulnerable females. But apparently, the claim that college campuses are awash in serial “rapists” waxes and wanes in salience, depending on context. It now becomes merely another sign of redneck bigotry to suggest that a heterosexual male (i.e., a rapist in waiting) or a sexual pervert may take advantage of the new trans rules. Wellesley and Smith Colleges have twisted themselves into knots deciding whether the “trans” category trumps the favored status of females. They concluded that being trans cancels the disability of being male and, in fact, elevates the trans “female” to the highest rank on the victim totem pole.

Second, we have learned that all academic high theory bears watching. The conceptual roots of gender theory lie in 1970s-era deconstruction and poststructuralism, with their pretense to having obliterated the traditional categories of Western epistemology and metaphysics. From Jacques Derrida’s purported “deconstruction” of the privileging of the spoken word over the written sign, and of presence over absence, it turned out to be not so big a step to the alleged dismantling of the biological difference between male and female.

Third, we notice that all colleges matter when it comes to the generation of corrosive high theory—not just the Ivy League. The University of Iowa, for example, jump-started the field of queer studies in 1994 with a conference on queerness.

Finally, we see that narcissistic students are now coequal drivers with their professors when it comes to rapidly evolving victim theory. By one count, there are now some sixty categories of gender identity, many of those developed by students struggling to find some last way to be transgressive in an environment where their every self-involved claim of victimhood is met with tender attention and apologies from the campus diversity bureaucracy. How those sixty categories will play out for public policy remains to be seen.

The ultimate agenda here, however, is to destroy any last shred of female modesty that might stand in the way of the total normalization of casual promiscuity, in obedience to the sexual-liberation movement of the 1960s. Many girls are embarrassed to be seen naked by other girls. Now, however, they are being told to swallow their inhibitions if a boy is in their bathroom or locker room. This can be achieved only by adopting a stance of utter indifference to the powerful, primal taboos around nakedness and sex—in other words, to adopt the sad sexual crudeness of the stars of Sex and the City or of Lena Dunham. And according to progressive elites, any parent or school official who disagrees is standing in the way of moral progress. One shrinks to contemplate what the academy is cooking up next.

Please, buy this book.  Heather Mac Donald is a herald of common sense, but also something close to a prophet calling out an ideologically-driven culture that is dead-set on self-destruction.

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The Dead End Of Winsomeness Alone

Isabella Chow: winsome, but with a spine of steel (via her Facebook page)

I’m a conservative and a Christian, and indeed a theologically conservative Christian — but I’m not angry about it. My natural approach to life is Chestertonian. That said, I have no illusions that personal kindness or a pleasant demeanor will dissuade those who hate us from doing so. They hate us not because of the way we believe, but because of what we believe. Despite what some well-meaning middle-class Christians think, winsomeness is not a winning strategy.

Andrew Walker of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission writes about the case of Isabella Chow, the UC Berkeley Christian student who is to all appearances an icon of winsomeness. Doesn’t matter: the ideological fanatics want her gone. Walker:

But Chow did not launch into a barrage of missives against the LGBT community. In her prepared remarks, she even spoke out against discrimination and hate against the LGBT community.

Chow is the very definition of class, dignity and civility. She’s a model for what faithful Christian discipleship looks like in the public square. There is no foaming-at-the-mouth hatred for anyone. She loves everyone; she just did not want to violate her conscience.


[T]his story is a reminder that no amount of cultural sophistication or intelligence will absolve the Christian from being seen as a backward-thinking bigot. I say this because there’s an evangelical temptation that believes that if we can just communicate orthodox beliefs in the right way, if we can appear as nuanced as possible, then those on the other side of the aisle will see us as goodwill, reasonable actors. We’re tempted to think that finding the right aesthetic or tone will resolve the underlying tensions that exist when Christianity confronts the world with an ethic that the world does not want to hear. We think we can have our cake and our popularity, too. Chow is a living example of how this approach is naive.

Winsomeness as the utmost priority for Christian faithfulness in the public square will leave individuals with no place to go when this kind of witness still earns us the reproach of culture. As Chow’s example demonstrates, we should be willing to share our convictions without the fear of what reprisal will come.

Be gracious. Be winsome. Be civil. Be polite. Of course, never be less than these things, but at the same time, realize that to be a Christian, more may be required of you, like sharing what’s on your conscience and being willing to pay the price for it. Your kindness will still get you in trouble.

Read the whole thing. Walker goes on to praise Chow for her grit; she’s not planning to resign, no matter what her despisers demand. The Daily Wire reports on what she’s suffering:

“Over the past couple of days, I’ve learned a lot about the viciousness of online harassment. If people want to attack me, it’s much easier for them to whip out their phones and tweet a scathing remark that will gain likes, comments, and reshares,” Chow said. “It takes a lot more courage to send me a personal message or email with direct threats or insults, and even more courage to look me in the eye and say the same slurs that they so casually use on social media. Even though vocal opponents have largely avoided me on campus and in personal communication, it doesn’t mitigate the pain of hurtful words that I see on social media every day.”

Chow said she stands by her comments and does not plan to resign.

Chow has also been voted out of the Publications and Media Board without being granted a meeting to defend herself. “I’ve also been disaffiliated with pretty much every publications/media club on campus, almost all without a heads up or before I had the chance to speak with club leaders that I’ve worked so long with.”

Chow also provided The Daily Wire with the following statement:

For me and the church here at Berkeley, free speech is an issue that has been highlighted, but it’s not the primary issue at stake here. As one of my staffers put it, this is “people issue” – people who feel hurt and unable to reconcile how the traditional Christian worldview can profess to love LGBTQ+ individuals while disagreeing with their lifestyles and the promotion of their identities. Even if the church continues to be misunderstood and slandered, our responsibility is not to shout our beliefs loudly above the noise, but to emulate the unconditional love and truth of Jesus.

As tumultuous as the past couple weeks have been for me, my deepest prayer is that the church in Berkeley and beyond would increase dialogue regarding the intersection of faith and the LGBTQ+ community. We do not have to agree 100% theologically or practically, but must recognize that the LGBTQ+ community has been shunned and hurt by the church for too long. I recognize that behind all the anger and backlash are wounded hearts and traumatic narratives that only God can redeem. I pray that the Lord would use my story to shed light on how the church can better love the LGBTQ+ community while not compromising His truth spoken in love.

That young woman is heroic in her courage, for not backing away from her convictions despite being made to suffer for them, and in her refusal to return hatred for hatred. She’s winsome, but she has a spine of steel. Wonder if progressive Christians will defend her… .

A couple of years ago, a professor at a conservative Evangelical college told me that the overwhelming majority of students there are products of youth group culture, in which they are taught that Christianity is primarily relational. They come to the college and are more or less in a bubble for four years. When they get out into the world, and encounter people who rebuke them, saying that Christianity is “mean,” they don’t know how to respond, having been discipled to believe that winsomeness is next to godliness.

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Straight Fire At Notre Dame

Cardinal Ted McCarrick delivers 2008 Notre Dame commencement address. University president refuses to rescind disgraced prelate’s honorary degree (Univ of Notre Dame Youtube screengrab)

In this scorching letter to the editor of the Notre Dame Observer, a sign that the younger generation of Catholics is not prepared to keep its head down while the Church’s leadership class excuses its own sins and failings. Father John Jenkins is the president of the University of Notre Dame:

I must say at the outset that I am a loyal son of the Church, and it is because of my love for her that I cannot stay silent regarding Fr. Jenkins’ recent comments about the clerical sex abuse crisis. Fr. Jenkins demonstrated clearly that he either doesn’t recognize that evil stalks our world — which is extremely awkward given that he is a Catholic priest — or that he is is willfully blind to it.

Both conclusions are horrendous, and he must swiftly and contritely retract his tone deaf remarks, recently made in an interview with Crux, an online newspaper devoted to covering the Catholic Church, and beg the forgiveness of the Church, if he is to avoid further scandalizing the faithful, victims or otherwise.

Fr. Jenkins implores us to resist the “[un]helpful tendency” to cast as “monsters” the perpetrators of systematic child rape and serial sexual abuse, such as those exposed by the August 2018 Pennsylvania grand jury report. He is speaking specifically of ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, once a prince of the Church and successor to the Apostles, who for years repeatedly sexually abused the seminarians left in his care. Such abuse was an “open secret.”

Ines San Martín, the reporter conducting the interview, writes that it is “befitting” of Fr. Jenkins to find “complexity” in the wickedness perpetrated by his fellow clerics because he is an “Oxford-educated philosopher.”

Is this a joke?

There is nothing “complex” about what has happened here at all. Priests, who are commanded to tend to their parishioners as a shepherd to his flock — caring for them, accompanying them in their joys and sorrows, witnessing as Christ to them as they journey to their eternal home and protecting them — sexually abused the most vulnerable in their charge, children and men like McCarrick, when they weren’t debasing themselves by abusing others, systematically covered it up.

Frankly, only an “Oxford-educated philosopher” could possibly see anything in this heinous mess other than a thick coating of demonic filth, a filth that now covers the Body of Christ and obscures her God-given mission: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (Matthew. 28:19). Institutions that churn out moral illiterates, bereft also of common sense, do not deserve our respect, regardless of how “prestigious” they are. “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Matthew. 8:36).

There is nothing “nuanced” or “ambiguous” about this tragedy. Rather than give of themselves fully — spiritually, mentally, emotionally and physically — these priests selfishly indulged their own twisted, sinful desires and abused those they were to love, even unto death — like Christ.

Instead of living out Our Lord’s sacrificial words, words they repeated each time they celebrated the holy sacrifice of the Mass — “For this is My Body, which will be given up for you” — they chose instead to act out predatory words, placed in hearts by Satan and allowed to take root there because of their sloth and woefully insufficient fear of the Lord: “That is your body, taken and trashed by me.”

Jesus has a stinging denunciation for men like this, for those who cover up their crimes and wicked sins and, I’m sure, for those who excuse it all, dismissing it with sophisticated but, ultimately, deeply hollow, jargon, as Fr. Jenkins has done: “It is impossible that scandals should not come: but woe to him through whom they come. It were better for him, that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should scandalize one of these little ones” (Luke. 17:1-2).

Repent, Fr. Jenkins. Rather than play “footsie” with evil, do your sacramentally commanded duty as a priest, and fight it with all your strength.

Deion Kathawa

Notre Dame Law ’20

That, my friends, is what you call a hot take. A few months ago, Father Jenkins declined a request by alumni to rescind the honorary degree Notre Dame bestowed upon McCarrick in 2008.

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Lady Barbarian Gets A Blowout

NARAL president Ilyse Hogue, speaking at the 2016 Democratic National Convention

The New Yorker catches up with Ilyse Hogue, the president of NARAL (National Abortion Rights Action League), as she’s getting her hair done between campaign stops for Democrats. Excerpt:

Since taking her job, in 2013, Hogue has come to appreciate the role that image plays in her work. “When I came in, it was still the Bush years, and D.C. was so straitlaced. It was suits and monochromatic colors.” She tried dressing the part before deciding that, she said, “conforming to these prescribed roles is the problem.” Now she believes in wearing “whatever makes you feel good.” At the salon, she had on a midi skirt, black heels, and a shirt that read “Pro-sciutto & Pro-Choice & Pro-secco.” She held up an accessory made by a supporter, a handkerchief bearing a map of Texas with the words “Wave Goodbye to the Patriarchy” along its border. She twirled her wrist, like a sailor leaving shore.

She also makes a habit of getting her hair done before speaking engagements. “Part of that is me feeling good, and not bedraggled,” she said. She tucked her chin down as a hairdresser separated sections of her chestnut hair and secured them with barber clips. Drybar offers a menu of nine hair styles, like the “Southern Comfort,” which features a Stepfordian lifting of the roots, and the “Manhattan,” a smooth, flat-ironed look apparently best suited for walking beneath skyscrapers. Hogue selected the “Cosmo-Thai”—loose curls, beachy vibe—and smiled. “It’s my go-to,” she said. “It’s not too styled but not too messy. Kind of like me.”

Read the whole thing. Coming up: Mohammad Bin Salman’s death squad leader gets a buzzcut.

Meanwhile, have you seen this Planned Parenthood ad?

These people. I swear.


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What If The Catholic Crisis Is Unsolvable?

A priest e-mails with sympathy for Pope Francis:

Some thoughts for you on the recent developments at the USCCB meeting:

It is my understanding that the Holy Father told Dinardo that they should not do anything at all when he met with them in Rome. The Holy Father told them just to have a retreat and to wait for the February meeting. Dinardo and the executive committee moved ahead with their plans anyway.

The USCCB didn’t send Rome some of their documentation for until Oct. 30th. When dealing with issues related to the episcopacy Rome obviously has the final say. To give them such short notice on issues of episcopal governance and accountability and expect that there may not be problems is shortsighted.

This is a worldwide problem and it is only beginning to mushroom across the globe. the US is actually in a far better position that most countries. Perhaps the Holy Father wants to address it globally and wants everyone on the same page? Is that really a bad thing? And is four more months going to really change anything?

Everything the bishops were going to do were worthless anyway. An accountability statement? How sad is it that bishops would have to sign something saying they wouldn’t be immoral? Lay oversight? Meaningless. Only the Holy Father has oversight over bishops. It will never happen. Rome will never approve it. A reporting mechanism to the nuncio? Also meaningless. That still doesn’t protect a priest who reports his bishop if that nuncio is friends with said bishop. Or if it gets to Rome and the accused bishop has friends in Rome. The priest is still exposed and not protected in any way. For laypeople that dynamic is different, of course.

In short, the bishops weren’t going to do anything of real substance at this meeting anyway. Anything they were going to do was PR or would not likely have been approved by Rome anyway. Read the statement from the nuncio. For the bishops to treat the Church like some kind of secular business is misguided at best. And it is. Lay people can be just as corrupt as clergy and often are in secular society. Why should we capitulate to the demands of people who want endless investigations? To what end? Why is it a “good” that everything is publicly known? Why does the entire world need to get to the bottom of the McCarrick situation? I realize that’s the secular standard. But what would knowing all of the details help the majority of Catholics? And why should the US bishops put into place a who new system of procedures and processes because of one guy? The more I think of it the more it seems like it could be overkill. This is what people clamor for today a disproportionate response.

I think the Holy Father may actually be helping the US Church by making us slow down and actually take more time to consider the best way forward. Is it really the wrong thing to take more time and decide the best path? I mean, really, what initiative were the bishops going to do this week that was going to restore trust? No one trusts them anymore. Neither laity nor priests. Their credibility is shot. No one cares! The investigations are going to run their course and the consequences are going to be delivered to us no matter what the bishops do over the next few years.

Finally, the whole idea of these lay boards is just another way of bishops offloading their responsibility to do their jobs. They know what they are supposed to do. It’s no mystery. They have all of the mechanisms to do it. What they need is the will. Some will have it and some will not.

Along those lines, Ed Condon, who is both a journalist and a canon lawyer, wrote this really interesting piece for The Spectator before this morning’s shock news. Condon writes about the proposed document the bishops were expected to sign, pointing out that it’s pretty worthless. Excerpts:

Other parts [of the document] focus on the personal lives of the bishops themselves, asking them to undertake, among other things, ‘to practice the virtue of chastity,’ not to lead ‘secret’ or ‘double lives,’ not to use their positions for the sexual coercion of subordinates, and to ‘not engage in physical, psychological, personal, or sexual harassment of any person.’

The standards are meant to be a public rededication by the Church’s leadership. The draft notes that ‘ordination does not make us perfect,’ and a ‘clear framework of the Church’s expectations for bishop’s personal conduct’ would be a useful measure.

Behind closed doors, many of the bishops are furious at being asked to put their names to a document some see as a hollow PR gesture. Some have privately noted that, far from sending a message of contrition, it confirms the worst fears of Catholics: that as a body their leaders need to have the basic moral tenets of their office spelled out for them.

That is damning. More:

While resentment is simmering among some dedicated bishops, who feel they are again being asked to provide safety in numbers for their misbehaving peers, they concede — publicly and privately — that the document would not exist if the picture it painted were not a good likeness of at least some of them.

Well, there you go. Their failure to police each other, to insist on collegiality and bella figura when some of their colleagues were groping, buggering, setting diocesan lawyers on victims and their families, and lying to everyone about it — well, that falls on all of them. Who can possibly pity them? Remember that back in 1985, every single bishop received a copy of the confidential Doyle-Mouton Report, warning them that child sexual abuse was a huge problem within the Church, and that they had better act to stop it or it would be a catastrophe.

More Condon:

The example of Archbishop McCarrick, and the mounting evidence that Church authorities ignored reports of his misconduct for years, underscores the truth of the Standard’s introduction when it says that the bishops ‘have clearly failed in trying to police ourselves.’

One bishop I spoke to posed the obvious question: what bishop currently leading a sexual ‘double life,’ despite his oaths of office and the teachings of the Church, is going to suddenly reform because they signed a piece of paper?

‘What? This time they’re going to mean it, and I am supposed to act like this is going to change something — for them or me?’

That’s a solid point, actually. More on that in a second. First, I urge you to read this Catholic News Service piece double-bylined by Condon and J.D. Flynn, analyzing today’s events at the bishops’ meeting. The directive from the Vatican is said to have come from the Congregation for Bishops, on which sit Cardinal Donald Wuerl and Cardinal Blase Cupich — two close Francis allies. Look at this:

Cupich, some observers have noted, seemed prepared with comprehensive thoughts on the matter while most bishops, including DiNardo, seemed still to be processing the news.

Sources close to Wuerl have given CNA conflicting reports. One source close to the cardinal told CNA that he did not believe Wuerl had been involved in the decision. But another Washington source told CNA that Wuerl had advance notice of the decision from Rome.

Both cardinals will now face questions from their American peers about what involvement they had in the decision and what, if anything, they did to push back against it.

Flynn and Condon write that the draft document did have some canonical problems, and that bishops recognized that, but were hoping to work them out in discussion — but Rome short-circuited that debate. More:

Even more puzzling is Rome’s decision to prevent a vote on the proposed Standards of Episcopal Conduct. The draft text of this document, circulated with the proposal for the independent commission, contained no clear canonical novelties beyond a reference to the independent commission itself.

Several officials who spoke to CNA about Rome’s intervention told CNA that while the Vatican was known to be concerned about the proposed independent commission, it was especially surprising that the Vatican’s veto-in-advance included the draft standards for episcopal conduct.

Asking the bishops to solemnly promise not to lead a sexual “double life” and to honor basic obligations of the clerical state seemed hardly controversial; most criticism of the code of conduct has been that it was insufficiently demanding. By spiking the document, the Congregation for Bishops seems to be discouraging the bishops from even having a discussion about their own behavior, or a promise to reform it.

Many of the bishops in Baltimore told CNA that they are angry at what they see as an attempt to stop them debating the sexual abuse crisis at all, and confused about the reasons for it. Already frustrated that their request for an Apostolic Visitation into the McCarrick scandal was denied, several bishops are asking why the Congregation for Bishops seems now to be discouraging them from even talking about the elephant in the conference hall.

I think Archbishop Viganò gave us a pretty good idea of why that might be the case. He told us so.

What if this problem is unsolvable? As the anonymous priest I quote above points out, only the Pope has authority over bishops. Bishops don’t have authority over each other. If the Pope is unwilling to hold bishops accountable by removing them from office when they fail, there’s nothing that can be done.

And, following Condon’s remarks, when the entire conference of American bishops are reduced to considering making a promise in writing to live like good Catholics (and Rome won’t even let them do that!), that’s a declaration of moral bankruptcy.

Personnel is policy. If you have Catholic bishops who are determined to live double lives, and/or to turn a blind eye on priests in their dioceses who are doing so; if you have bishops who will not call other bishops to account for immoral behavior; and if you have a Roman pontiff who is willing to allow them all to get away with it — then no laws, statements, or procedures will stop them.

Good laws and strong policies cannot compensate for bad or weak men. That being the case, there’s no end in sight to this slow-motion self-destruction of the Catholic institution. It has been said that one definition of institutional corruption is to know what is wrong but to be unable to fix it. This crisis is the ecclesial equivalent of AIDS: small infections that a healthy body could deal with are eating this morally immunocompromised episcopacy alive.

UPDATE: Reader Mac61:

There may be no other ecclesial community to go to. The way I see it, it’s checkmate: you have the words of eternal life, where else would I go, etc. But there will be no fight in the United States. Some might withhold money, but there will be no fight. Maybe 50 years from now there may be a pope with the moral courage to confront the filth, corruption and complacency in the Church, but I doubt I will have any living Catholic descendants. Also, point taken from the priest who emailed: the laity fell into heresy and corruption as well — just not as much child rape and cover-up: that seems to be more of a priest and bishop thing. The Argentinian Captivity continues, but of course the blame for this abomination falls upon John Paul and Benedict. Let us never forget the many abuse victims who took their lives. Rome has blood on its hands.

…but I doubt I will have any living Catholic descendants. Man.

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