Saturday, March 13, 2010

Parental Choice . . .

What's left of the left's political soul, after selling most of it to the abortion industry, has been mortgaged to the teachers' unions. When the principle of "choice" -- conjured to legitimize the first sale -- is mentioned in terms of the second, it immediately becomes a cruse. There are many obvious and petty reasons for this, but one of the more subtle ones is this: Some of the best alternatives to public school education -- which produce much better results with far less cost -- are Catholic schools, and there is always a slight chance that children attending these schools will pick up a few points of basic moral theology which might very well complicate their moral acquiescence in the abortion on demand regime of Roe v. Wade, on the continuation of which one of our political parties has placed all its chips. 

That aside, the economic argument for choice is compelling. The scholars at the Cato Institute is to be congratulated for doing, if you'll pardon the expression, their homework on this issue.


Doughlas Remy said...

Gil, your endorsement of Catholic schools comes at a time when yet another priest sex abuse scandal is erupting--this time in Germany. Here is the full story from the Associated Press (March 3).

This apparently is big news in Germany right now. The Suddeutsche Zeitung devoted more than 10,000 words to it in a single edition in early March.

You can read Andrew Sullivan's take on these revelations here and here.

Gordon said...


Isn't that the perennial question: how could we turn the education of our children over to the Catholic Church without them being immediately sodomized by a mass migration of elderly Bavarian choir directors?

Doughlas Remy said...

Indeed. It would be more encouraging if the Church were to accept responsibility and undertake a re-examination of (1) its policy of mandatory celibacy for priests, and (2) its teachings about homosexuality and same-sex marriage. Imagine a world in which young gay Catholic men do not face stigmatization from their own church and are encouraged to marry and form stable, loving unions. Imagine a world in which priests may marry and raise families. Such a world seems very remote from our present one, where Catholic youths face ostracism if they identify as gay and yet cannot in good conscience marry women to allay suspicions. The priesthood, which has traditionally attracted a disproportionate number of gay men, only attracts more under these circumstances, and many of them are in denial about their sexuality and about their commitment to the celibate life. Indeed, many of them, I suspect, are drawn to the priesthood precisely because it offers them cover while introducing them into what they may view as an association of their own kind. It all seems like the perfect recipe for the kinds of problems the Church is now facing. More careful "screening" of applicants is a band-aid over a deep wound. Structural reform is needed, and even high-ranking officials of the Church are beginning to advocate it. (e.g., Vienna archbishop Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn)

Gordon said...


My last remark was a joke — or it was intended as such, which makes it a failed joke. But I understand your take on this. I was outside and indifferent to the Catholic Church for 41 years. I assumed that the only reason a man became a priest was to hide from a conflicted sexual identity. During the one Mass I attended (for a college religion class) before twenty years later knocking on the door of St. Monica’s, asking to be let in at any cost, I wondered only which mysterious defect led this young, athletic priest to give up the sexual privileges those of us coming of age in the 70’s considered basic to life. Was it the culturally induced inability to face his homosexuality or, on the other hand, a gruesome hunting accident?

So if I disagree with you it’s not because I wouldn’t have made the same argument only a few years ago.

That said, where do you get idea that Catholic celibate misconduct exceeds that of non-celibate clergy, not to mention those in the secular “helping professions”? (otherwise, what would be the point of suggesting Catholic School puts children more at risk?) I will agree that the priest who molested a boy is more damnable than the Baptist preacher, 6th grade teacher, Episcopal Bishop, Scout leader, high school PhysEd teacher, friendly neighborhood mechanic, and line cook who molested or raped people in my life. Certainly. But, aside from the press, where do you get numbers that suggest that a child in a Catholic School is more, rather than less, likely to suffer sexual abuse than his or her public school counterpart? (I would site the work of a certain University of Penn sociologist but most of my books were stored in California so I could escort my mother to the end of her life in Florida)

I would also suggest that the thinking in the Catholic Church about sex is far more bold and provocative than the pallid bromides about “preference” outside. Read the newer translation of JPII’s Theology of the Body. I might disagree with him on significant points, but read James Alison’s books and essays. He’s a gay Catholic theologian of Girardian and orthodox Catholic leanings.

Doughlas Remy said...

Gordon, I wasn't suggesting (in my first comment) that Catholic schools put children "more at risk" than other schools. I was questioning Gil's blithe endorsement of Catholic schools at a time like this. If I were the Catholic parent of an 11-year-old child, these recent waves of abuse scandals in the Church might have me asking, "Where will my child be safe from abuse?" It can no longer be assumed that one's child will be safer among the clergy of one's own faith. Furthermore, I question whether Gil should recommend an institution that has still not effectively addressed its child abuse issues.

I don't read every single one of Gil's posts, but I try to at least scan them, because I am interested not only in what he chooses to highlight but also what he chooses to ignore. We've heard it said by many critics of the Church, since these scandals began to surface, that the problem of child abuse in the Church is both systemic and structural. The Church's resistance to change--and in many cases its denial, obfuscation, and evasion of responsibility--are identified as leading causes of the problem. I can't say for sure that Gil has never addressed this issue, but there's little doubt that it is low on his agenda. Events unfolding in the Catholic church during the past two weeks are of monumental importance and need to be addressed. I would have expected a Catholic blogsite like Gil's to be all abuzz with reactions to the latest news. Instead, there has been silence, as if nothing were happening in Germany or at the Vatican.

I am well aware of the more progressive strains of Catholicism. I was listening just yesterday to an interview with Garry Wills, and I've read his books as well as those of James Carroll, Andrew Sullivan, and James Alison. (Alison, Gil, and I are all members of COV&R). In fact, many of my own ideas about the need for reform in the Church are from these writers. You can read my review of Carroll's "Toward a New Catholic Church" here.

Pope Benedict (formerly Cardinal Ratzinger) is of course heavily implicated in the current scandal. It seems the more I read about him, the less I like him. In 2001, Pope John Paul II gave Ratzinger's department (The "Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith," formerly known as the "Inquisition") responsibility for investigating charges of child rape and torture by priests. So what policy would you have expected Ratzinger to implement regarding disclosure of evidence to civil authorities? Well, maybe I have been living in a liberal democracy for too long, but I would have expected Ratzinger to inform bishops that failure to report child rape and torture is a criminal act. Instead, Ratzinger issued a confidential letter to every bishop, reminding them of the seriousness of another "crime"--though a purely "in-house" one: That "crime" was the reporting of rape and torture to civil authorities. The bishops were utterly forbidden to share any evidence with legal authorities, on pain of excommunication!

You can read more of this story here, in an article from The Observer.

Gordon said...


“Ratzinger issued a confidential letter to every bishop, reminding them of the seriousness of another "crime"--though a purely "in-house" one: That "crime" was the reporting of rape and torture to civil authorities. The bishops were utterly forbidden to share any evidence with legal authorities, on pain of excommunication!”

I’m sure you intended to mention that this penalty of ex-communication would apply to a priest who reported any information, such as the confessing agent not paying a parking ticket, because it involves disclosing the contents of a Confession. I know you’re not overly familiar with canon law, but c’mon, anyone who goes to movies has some inkling of how serious Catholics take the rules surrounding Confession. If we throw out this right to confidentiality, I’ll assume the same applies to lawyers disclosing confidential communications with their clients. If not, why not?

And I read the Observer piece you linked. I have no objection to building an article around advocacy groups hostile to the Church, but it’s a bit dated. The major issue is doubt surrounding Benedict’s prosecution of Maciel and the Legionnaires. Obviously, the answer five years later was that he did pursue it aggressively. The only thing lacking was digging up Maciel and subjecting his corpse to The Inquisition.

It seems to me that you’re just faulting Gil for not seeing the world the way you do. His priorities are different. Indeed. He is shocked by things you don’t find extraordinary — like a safe school czar approving events for 14 year olds that include the proper techniques for fisting, the degradation of intellectual and moral clarity in our media and schools, or the murder of more than a million children every year. What if I showed up in your comboxes and stomped my feet angrily because you kept ignoring the abortion holocaust? What would the point of that be, other than to assert my moral superiority.

The truth is, there are enough issues to go around.

Doughlas Remy said...

Gordon, what interests me in this discussion is how much you and Gil do not want to have it, how fierce is your solidarity with the magisterium, and how comparatively weak is your concern for the victims of these abuses. You’re hardly deficient in outrage, but it’s directed only at anyone who would criticize your Supreme Leader or suggest that serious reforms are needed in the way these cases are handled. Those who advocate for the victims or expect contrition from the Pope are described as “hostile to the church,” and the church and the Holy Father are treated as the real victims. It’s a classic pattern, and it is why the Catholic leadership, in Garry Wills’ words, has been completely discredited over recent years.

In this country, all states have reporting laws requiring all those working in the various helping professions (social work, psychology, religion, teaching, counseling, medicine, etc.) to break confidentiality and report any child abuse suspicions to law enforcement or child protection agencies. If the Catholic Church has internal confidentiality rules that prevent the reporting of child abuse, then those rules should be revised immediately. I don’t care if they are based on a tradition that goes all the way back to Moses. I have no doubt that Catholics take their confessional confidentiality seriously, but I am proposing that they take child abuse even more seriously. 10,667 victims of abuse over the last 50 years in the U.S. (according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops) is 10,667 too many. I am in solidarity with those who are calling for deep reform, not just quick fixes.

It’s no secret that Gil does not see the world in the way that I do, or that I have faulted him for many of his positions and for his slanders of Kevin Jennings (See below). He has a right to his opinions and his priorities, but we are in a public sphere (the Internet itself) where I also have a right to challenge him in whatever way my conscience prompts me to do. I assume that is the purpose of an open forum of the kind that Gil has created. I consider my own blogsite to be equally open, and you are welcome to come stomp your feet there as much as you like. It’s a great American tradition.

Assertions of moral superiority are the meat and potatoes of sites like this, so why fight it? It would be like asking Starbucks to stop serving coffee.

*When I see evidence that Jennings “approved” a fisting demonstration for 14-year-olds or that he “advocates the sexual exploitation of children,” I will be on his case for it. See my article about this, here.

Unknown said...

Cut the crap, Gordon.  All that Ratzinger did with his confidential pronouncement was to admit his own culpability in the perpetuation of an ongoing crime. If pastor penitent privilege is sacrosanct, it is so precisely to protect the congregant from having his sins aired in public, that's why he's assured of its confidentiality, otherwise he wouldn't confess his sins.  It is not to protect the priesthood from ongoing sexual abuse when they are the agents of it or to provide them with a safe haven from which they can avoid criminal prosecution for real and sickening abuse under the perverse and ongoing protections of the church.  The whole idea of ex-communication carries with it the torturous notion that you are excluded from God's infinite grace by virtue of church censure.  Dens of thieves and whited sepulchers aside, what a nifty little system for perpetuating endless abuse.  If you're pederasted and sodomized by a priest over and over again, for years at a time, and warned to remain silent, what recourse do you have to terminate that priest's vocation so he wont do it again?  Or to demand that the consequences be something other than a slap on the wrist in the form of some vast charade of musical chairs involving endless reassignment and shuffling from parish to parish?  Is this what you get for being the victim of a crime?  Spiritual condemnation by the very people guilty of the abomination?  Being screwed twice, first by the priest, and then by being blackmailed by the inane assurance that you will be outside the agency of God's protection via theological fiat for telling the truth?!  What a cozy little trick.  It's apparently better in the eyes of your beloved Pontiff to court God's displeasure by living a vile lie that destroys children psychologically and emotionally, then to risk as a victim the displeasure of men in white robes who claim to know him.

As for the the safe school czar, what is this endless fascination with Russian and Slavic Emperors and autocrats?  Who acts more like a Czar and a law unto himself, beholden to no one?  The head of the Roman Church, or the assistant deputy secretary at the Department of Education?  If Kevin Jennings were guilty of the things for which he is endlessly and redundantly accused and slandered, he would be in prison.  See the difference here?  When people break the law, they're held accountable for their crimes and put away.  Has Mr. Jennings molested any children?  Facts, please. As director, Jennings has focused on matters relating to teacher safety, classroom discipline and bullying.  Are any of those things against the law?  Facts, please.  He must be doing something right:  He even has Fred Phelps, the Westboro Baptist Church and its whack jobs after him.

Regarding women who abort, most of those who do, CHOOSE to have them. We even have laws that protect their rights.  Whether you condemn the practice, consider it a shocking degradation of moral clarity, or manage to allow for a different point of view that isn't couched in holocaust terminology or instant rebuke, how many children choose to be sodomized by a priest in exchange for their silence?  Not too many, I would think.

Gordon said...


I’m confused by what you said about the victim “being screwed twice, first by the priest, and then by being blackmailed by the inane assurance that you will be outside the agency of God's protection via theological fiat for telling the truth?!”

Are you saying that you think the penitent would have some obligation not to divulge the crime perpetrated by a Priest in confession?

A penitent has no obligation to protect any misconduct on the part of a priest, in the confessional or anywhere else. I think you’re confusing the usual penitent/pastor confession with the more occasional situation of a priest confessing to another priest. That is the only situation in which one priest's confession of a crime cannot be reported by the priest who hears it. Just as he is barred from repeating anything I tell him, no matter how heinous.

“The whole idea of ex-communication carries with it the torturous notion that you are excluded from God's infinite grace by virtue of church censure.”

Uh, no, it means you can’t receive communion or claim that your life represents the Catholic Church (though you’re still expected to show up for Mass). It has nothing to do with a man’s ultimate destiny. Before I entered the Catholic Church I would have defined "excommunication" the same way you do, so I guess it's just part of our collective culture.

“Regarding women who abort, most of those who do, CHOOSE to have them.”

And pedophiles CHOOSE to abuse children. What case are you trying to make exactly?

Gordon said...


Honestly, I’m glad you’re outraged about any abuse. No victim should be without an advocate.

But you’re badly misreading my position.
I abhor the behavior of the Catholic hierarchies in Boston, Milwaukee, parts of California, and everywhere else where abuses were covered up. Since, as I told you before, I carried the standard anti-Catholic prejudices with me when I entered the Church — and it was at the height of the Boston scandal — I made this a subject of intense research early on. The best and most reliable information I came across was by Philip Jenkins, Penn State Professor and non-Catholic, in “Pedophiles and Priests: Anatomy of a Crisis” (2001). He’s a Sociologist and he compared the incidence of sexual misconduct between celibate and non-celibate clergy, then between Catholics and the secular component of the helping professions (teachers, counselors, coaches, etc.). The results damning: there was no difference between celibate and non-celibate clergy, and only a slight difference between Catholic priests and the rest of the helping profession (BTW, priests were less likely to offend). It’s damning because Priests should be moral leaders, not “statistically indistinguishable” in committing sexual abuse.

Jenkins also put me on guard about different factions within the Catholic Church. The abuse and cover-ups occurred almost exclusively in two parts of the Church: hyper-conservative circles like the Legionnaires (Maciel) and that Pius X group, and the liberal, progressive wing of the Church (mostly those who came of age in the 60’s and 70’s with the same disasterously wrong headed sex-ed I was raised with). What they had in common was treating sex as either no more than an instinctual drive that must be satisfied, or a blank slate that our generation would bravely fill with their “etchings.” The distance between these people and John Paul II (with his theology of the body that makes sexuality the greatest mark of God’s image in man) or Benedict XVI couldn’t be greater.

So, yeah, I’m pissed off at Catholics for sexual scandals. Just not at the Catholics you don’t like. You say you’ve read about Benedict; I have not, but I have read the man himself and he is every bit as brilliant as Rene Girard. Also as open and decent and good. So save the stuff about us Catholics marching in lock-step the “Supreme Leader.” I considered it a gift from God that the Catholic I trusted most became Pope.

Doughlas Remy said...

Gordon, an afterthought to our earlier exchange about Gil’s choices of topics: In questioning his choices, I may have been picking up my cue from him. He has been complaining about what he calls the “pom-pom” media for some time. See, for example, yesterday’s post “Stop the presses...” where we read,

This amazing headline on CNN: “Red River Hits Key Mark: Still Rising.” Disappointingly, it just a story about the rainy weather in Fargo, North Dakota. For a second there I thought the leader of the pom-pom media had recovered its journalistic impulses and was about to spill the beans on the machinations of the Obama administration. For signs of that, the weather related question is: when will hell freeze over?

Andrew Sullivan spotted another flood yesterday: See "The Pope: Drowning, Not Waving," here. We’ll see if hell freezes over before Gil addresses this crisis.

I just caught your response (above) and will try to reply soon.

Unknown said...


The church is supposed to be a refuge and a sanctuary from the world, not a leading source of its anguish. It was my initial understanding on reading the breaking stories that priests were coercing their victims into silence as well as their fellow priests, via threats of excommunication for revealing what they know. I don't know what excommunication means to the average Catholic, but considering how children have been shamed into silence for years before coming forth with their stories, it doesn't surprise me to imagine they felt imperiled spiritually by being candid. Victims very often feel they are to blame for what happens to them, because they are too conflicted to make sense of it.

Pedophiles may indeed choose to abuse children, but the incentive for doing so is not decreased when they are given apparent impunity within an institutional setting, and are protected from lasting consequences by their own membership. As for communion privileges, If priests are aware of sexual misconduct by other priests against their parishioners, I believe they have an obligation to place the survival of their church at a higher premium than the vocation of the offender. The store can't survive if you let bad employees poison the customers. Ecclesiastical apparatchiks, worried only about the public image of the Church, are missing the real crisis.

Writes James Carroll at The Daily Beast, "The nearly universal response of church authorities to these crimes, rising to the level of the papacy itself, is so consistently to protect the abusers and re-victimize the victims as to qualify for the crime of co-conspiracy." The church, he notes, has consistently classified clerical abuse of children as a "horrific crime," but also as "a secret of the Holy Office." He thinks the coverup culture shows a longstanding "at least passive expectation that sexual frustration would drive some priests to behave badly," while the climate of sexual repression drove priests to single out the vulnerable--children--rather than women. But the result of this entire system? The Church has allowed "priestly abusers to become serial rapists"

Michael Sean Winters writing in the New Republic said, "There is a reason the Church hierarchy fears honest discussion: It fears it will expose a crisis of belief. There is a pervasive sense within the Church that no one really believes its teachings on sexuality anymore--not the laity, not even the clergy. In a strict hierarchy, no one wants to say the emperor has no clothes. When discussion is not permitted, and honest questions avoided, the Church must assert its teachings on the basis of "authority" alone; and if those teachings do not cohere with the people's lived experience, a regime of hypocrisy and indifference arises that does more to undermine "authority" than any honest discussion possibly could.

The Church's lack of credibility on questions of sexual ethics is especially disheartening because the Church has a lot to say to a culture in which sexuality is dehumanized, commodified, and generally seen as less than the beautiful thing the Catholic Church's best theology insists it is."

Gordon said...


I don't disagree in principle with anything you said. But there's something you need to know about the sources you're quoting.

I read a lot of Carroll and Winters, along with their circle: Gary Wills, Eugene Kennedy and Father Richard McBrien and the whole Catholic “progressive” camp. I would have preferred to find their analysis of Catholicism wise and insightful, because that would have allowed to enter the Church and not change very much. But after nine years of reading Catholic history and seeing things as they are on the ground, I can’t.

Ironically, when Carroll pins the bad behavior on “sexual frustration” he simple reiterates the very model of sexuality that led to most of the abuse. It was the seminary classes between 1968 and 1974, his generation with it’s assumption that what counts as sexual liberation is simply “doing what comes natural,” that committed most of the abuse, that shredded the lives of thousands of children, mostly adolescent boys. I didn’t see the Catholic version when I was growing up, but there was no shortage of the teachers in my public schools offering “tutoring” awkward and frail young boys. It’s that expression/repression model that encouraged the entire culture to explore what is now illegal: “inter-generational” sex. It has completely fallen down the memory hole that for a while such things were only frowned upon by the “uptight.”

So when Carroll and Winters criticize the hierarchy for doing what the school system did, for winking at misconduct the way the whole culture did, I’m with them 100%. The clericalism that fostered this needed to be uprooted. But what they’re not telling you is how central their own ideas were in creating the problem.

As you said, the Church should be a "refuge and sanctuary" not a source of the world's "anguish." But it can only do that when refuses to simply reflect the world's shallow understanding of sexuality. A good start would be for all Catholics to read JP II's Theology of the Body.

Doughlas Remy said...

The following letter was sent to The Daily Dish in the last few days. It is from a professor of religion at a Jesuit university:

I’ve been thinking about the way the child abuse situation is playing out, and I’ve realized that one of the unaddressed problems in this situation is silence.

I’m not just talking about the silence of those who knew horrible things were happening and didn’t report it to civil authorities. I’m talking about the silence that has created this warped culture in the first place.

I’ve spent much of my life around Catholic priests, and teach religion at a Jesuit university. In dozens of conversations with priests, it is clear that so many of them don’t believe in an exclusively male priesthood, don’t believe in the church’s teaching that homosexuality is a “disorder,” reject the church’s absurd claims about masturbation, and some (though a smaller minority) don’t believe in the necessity of a celibate and chaste priesthood. But they keep their views to themselves. They remain silent.

The truth is that this silence is a form of acquiescence to the illusion of an asexual institution. And it is this illusion that has created this problem in the first place.

People who feel compelled to molest children either enter the priesthood with the sincere hope that they can escape their sexuality altogether, or as a shield to enable their predatory behavior. The disproportionate extent to which this predatory behavior has taken place among gay men is only a function of the disproportionate degree to which the priesthood is the world’s biggest closet, and young gay men are encouraged to enter it as a way to “escape” their “disordered” tendencies (so yes, while same-sex child molestation can and does happen with otherwise heterosexual men, in a population in which a third?, a half?, or more? [it’s bound to be speculative] of the men are gay, it shouldn’t be surprising that a higher proportion of the predatory behavior will manifest itself in molestation of boys.

And to pretend that eliminating homosexuals from the priesthood will solve the problem is not only comical—it’s like a politician promising to clean up Washington—but will only assure the church is doubling-down on the fantasy of asexuality. It makes the invitation to predators even more appealing!).

If all of those priests who whispered in private conversations about their disapproval of the formal teachings of the Church regarding human sexuality were to make themselves known, and begin to work to publicly change the Church, who knows what the result might be? It wouldn’t be pretty, but it would be a start to an honest dialogue. Of course, this is a culture that values obedience over honesty, submission over truth telling, and it is set up in such a way to assure that deviating from this value structure will lead to great personal loss. But at a certain point, once we see the costs of this warped structure, isn’t it morally incumbent on the silent to speak?

I’ve always felt that “Silence=Death” was among the most powerful slogans ever. In the case of the Church, silence sometimes equals death, but it always equals pain, suffering, and the destruction of human souls whose lives will never be the same as a result of these acts.

So, yeah, keep stickin’ it to Ben XVI and his crew….but maybe, like MLK used to say of those who silently bent to the will of oppressors, the solution rests with them.