The Church

December 20, 2004

Institutions Under Siege

I posted this over on Anchor Rising, but it's clearly a matter of interest to Dust in the Light's audience, and it's short enough that I thought I'd just copy the whole thing here.

Having read "Hendricken administrator arrested on indecent solicitation charge" in the Providence Journal, I think I'd have written the headline somewhat differently. This sounds most newsworthy as a success story. The relevant information comes in paragraphs seven through ten of the fourteen-paragraph piece:

Sheldon had been placed on paid administrative leave from the school last month because of allegations of a "breach of professional conduct," Brother Thomas R. Leto, school president, said at that time.

The action was taken, Brother Leto said then, after he had been made aware that Sheldon may have taken some inappropriate actions on the Internet.

Brother Leto said that he and the school principal were directed to a Web site, where they saw Sheldon's picture. They decided to immediately place him on leave.

School officials then contacted the Diocese of Providence, who referred the matter to the state police. Bishop Hendricken High School, an all-male Catholic school run by the Christian Brothers, is affiliated with the diocese.

Look, on a human level, people who incline a certain way will be drawn toward environments that stoke their inclinations. On a spiritual level, evil will be relentless in its attempted infiltration of that which points toward the divine. The important question, on either level, is whether the institution manages to stop potential threats before they manifest.

We must be wary of the opposing tendency, however, which is to trample over justice and charity toward those whom we suspect in our rush to be safe. In this instance, it looks as if the balance was properly struck.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:02 AM

November 17, 2004

A Catholic War on Terror

In my piece on NRO answering the USCCB's ten questions for Catholic voters, I wrote the following:

... if we are to take up the bishops' call to "humanize globalization," we must develop a radically new understanding of the global community — as one of people rather than of ruling classes. War can be a defense of foreign people from their own leaders. An international body, therefore, that is not internally democratic and whose members are not accountable to their people cannot be deemed beyond scrutiny. Circumstances may arise in which our nation must reject the suspect resistance of the United Nations in order to force regime change elsewhere, and it will not always be possible to draw lines between our own self-interest and the humanitarian needs of those we liberate.

Judging from Joseph D'Hippolito's recent piece on FrontPageMagazine, my opinion may not count as dissent for all eternity:

Rome also appears more willing to advocate a more assertive military presence against jihadist terror, within limits governed by international law. In his La Stampa interview, Sodano hoped that the United Nations would add a new principle to its charter: "the possibility, even the duty of 'humanitarian intervention' in extreme situations in which human rights are trampled upon within a country." ...

"International human rights and humanitarian law oblige governments to provide for the security and well-being of all those under their jurisdiction," said Tomasi, Rome's former diplomatic representative to Ethiopia and Eritrea. "If, however, a state fails to or cannot take this responsibility ... then the international community can and should assert its concern, step in and take on this obligation."

Joseph cites some indication that the legitimacy of this "humanitarian intervention" could extend to stopping the march of Islamofascism. The more difficult barrier for the Church, however, may be its view that the authority that such regimes have forfeited can only be arrogated by a superseding bureaucracy — specifically, the United Nations.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:23 PM | Comments (1)

June 23, 2004

What's in a Scandal Story

Over among the comments on Domenico Bettinelli's blog, Rod Dreher has been wondering whether it's "outrage fatigue" that has kept the Dallas Morning News's series on the international movements of priests accused of abuse from getting the attention he believes it to deserve. I responded that the problem may be more that there's no real news to the discovery that abuse was (to some extent) not restricted to the United States, and as I suggested might be a problem before the series began, there isn't much investigation about the why to make more of the what worth raised anxiety.

Today's iteration, as the worst so far, provides a good example of the various factors that may be keeping the heavy investment of the DMN from paying off as well as I'm sure the paper expected. Reading it, I couldn't help but feel that the reporters hadn't managed to find as much as they thought their global travels would reveal.

Overall, the story is just odd. The priest, Yusaf Dominic, was young and perhaps not particularly talented. He was ordained in Pakistan — information that immediately derails the mind to more pressing matters — and found his way to London by the early '80s. Thereafter, he moved from country to country again, winding up back in England. In 1996, two young men came forward to accuse him of having molested them in 1984. He was arrested, a priest bailed him out, he went to a "clergy treatment center," and he skipped the country — back to Pakistan. Since then, he hasn't stayed still for long, moving around the world, relying on suspicious cover provided by his home base's bishop.

There's no mention of any further incidents, after 1984, and the Dallas Morning News only tracked down one of the accusers, of whose tale the reporter offers very little to give any sense of the form of the abuse, even in the article's "The human toll" section. The allegation appears to involve a single night, when the boy was nine; to the priest's plea that the accusation is false and had something to do with money, the alleged victim says only, "That's B.S."

As I suggested, there's less here than in the other stories, but they've all had a similar feel of expecting unstated premises to be accepted, as if they all pull up short of something, for whatever reason, and assume the reader will fill in the blanks. In other places, they dig up and point to anecdotes that are difficult to see as damning.

In this vein, today's piece spends seven paragraphs explaining that it "is a crime in Britain even to agree to indemnify someone who is liable for a bail payment." After Dominic skipped the country, the diocese paid the money that the priest who had bailed him out of jail had posted. Maybe the Church officials knew that the action wasn't licit; maybe they did it for some reason other than that the liable priest would have had difficulty coming up with $3,600. I don't know, but none of the incriminating possibilities seem required by the facts.

The most dramatic aspect of the story, which Rod noted in the aforementioned comments, is that a church in Newark housed Dominic during the same summer that the American bishops instituted their "zero-tolerance" policy. But here, again, there simply isn't enough of a concrete nature to get worked up about. We get no specific dates, and we hear that his presence there was, above all, "odd" from an administrative perspective. The diocese apparently sent a background check form to the archbishop in Pakistan, but he never returned it, and Dominic cut his trip at around the two-month mark "because of problems with his religious worker's visa."

In short, the worst we can confidently claim is that there was more confusion around this priest than there ought to have been — including among civil authorities — and he slipped through some cracks. It would seem that the hierarchy in Pakistan played some role in the abscondence, but reporter Brooks Egerton gives the reader no reason to take quotes and insinuations at face value. Before the piece has even gotten rolling, Egerton brags that the "Dallas Morning News tracked [Dominic] down after Scotland Yard failed." Such unnecessary commentary makes it very difficult not to believe that the entire article has been crafted to fit Egerton's preferred storyline, perhaps with visions of recognition and rewards.

All of this — the vague or missing details, the sense of similarity to stories already heard, the distance of incidents in time and place, the lack of internal counterpoise, the wall before the why of the larger problem, and the distrust-instilling heavy hand of the reporter — weighs this series down. It does so much more, in my opinion, than any "scandal fatigue." The experience of reading the stories, multimedia presentation notwithstanding, is akin to hearing one son's bathetic tale of an exotic scrape while finally beginning to catch one's breath after having accompanied the other son to the emergency room. Is that fatigue or perspective?

Terry Mattingly thinks (or appears to think) that the lack of response is a conspicuous silence largely attributable to factors external to the stories themselves and the reportage. As "a cynic might say":

This is not a sexy story anymore. And the Boston Globe owned the old story, two years ago. The Globe has the Brand Name nailed down.

The U.S. bishops have done something and discussing whether they did the right things gets complicated. We are headed into an election year and the sacramental status of Sen. John Kerry is getting the Catholic ink. People are tired of the story and it does not sell newspapers, magazines or books. The Catholic left has reasons to be silent and so does the Catholic right. We don't have sexy art, yet.

These factors come into play to some degree (although I'm skeptical about the brand-name idea), but I still think the minimal splash has more to do with the nature of the series (so far) than with readers' predisposition to ignore or downplay it.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:04 PM | Comments (3)

June 21, 2004

Conflicting Ambitions

Patrick Sweeney disagrees with the notion that some American bishops are making noises about John Kerry's receiving communion "to curry favor with the current Pope, or a possible future Pope, Cardinal Arinze." And to be honest, I don't even see that as the clear message of the piece by Joseph D'Hippolito to which Patrick is responding. On the one hand:

Such concerns provide an opportunity for ambitious prelates to curry favor with Rome. Tom Roberts, editor of the liberal National Catholic Reporter, cites Newark Archbishop John H. Myers as an example.

"Myers fits this papal administration's template for upward career mobility," Roberts wrote. "Staunchly conservative, he is a prolific pastoral-letter writer, a soldier in a campaign against the prevailing culture and someone for whom, given the nature of those letters, there are no unanswered questions or shades of gray."

But on the other:

One Catholic state senator said he would leave the church. Gov. James McGreevey, a former altar boy, said he would neither receive communion publicly nor let the church influence his positions.

Myers retreated.

"We have an understanding that I won't personally criticize [the governor]," Myers told the New York Times. "And we are working together on a lot of issues, like providing social services to the poor and helping people with HIV."

In other words, Myers chose retaining influence with politicians to asserting the Vatican's position.

If Joseph's point were entirely that bishops are acting from some motivation other than doctrinal fidelity, I'd suggest that he's being a bit too cynical, but that he raises legitimate points for discussion. He takes his argument a step farther, however:

The controversy ignores the fact that the number of abortions has been declining in the U.S. through private initiatives, such as a greater emphasis on abstinence. Since constitutional or judicial changes appear unlikely, private-sector solutions offer the greatest hope.

One can't tease apart private initiatives and the Church's actions vis-à-vis public figures; Joseph misconstrues the purpose of denying communion to Kerry. The move is (or would be) primarily an assertion of Church teachings. The action that requires public rebuke, in other words, is less Kerry's actual votes than his flaunting of vocal support for abortion in contravention of what adherence to his religion requires. The focus with which Joseph closes his piece misses the heart of the matter:

Suppose all the American bishops ordered the priests under their authority to deny communion to Kerry. Suppose those priests complied. Given Kerry's ideology and voting record, would he really forsake his views on abortion for the faith he claims to profess?

More importantly, would one unborn child be saved?

He's right, in the paragraph before this, that many bishops could probably offer more public support to groups that pull on the positive side of the struggle against abortion, and priests could stand to speak more about sexual and reproductive morality. Even so, rebuffing Kerry at the altar, in its way, itself supports these groups' efforts by making the Church's position clear and reaffirming not only that opposition to abortion is required of us all, but also that it is an important call to answer.

Would one unborn child be saved by such decisive actions? Absolutely.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:58 AM | Comments (10)

June 19, 2004

Abuse, Anger, Pain, and Pulitzers

Well, Rod Dreher has succeeded in whipping up pre-release buzz in the Catholic blog neighborhood for the bitter fruits of the Dallas Morning News's year-long investigation of the Roman Catholic Church abuse scandal around the globe. One reporter has already been on NPR, and the paper is apparently looking for prominent nationwide coverage.

Whether or not DMN timed the story for this effect, and I believe Rod that it didn't, it surely won't be lost on the major media that the news comes at a time when the devotion of the Democrats' presidential candidate, John Kerry, to the teachings of his Church is being questioned and at a time when the Church stands as one of the central supports of such moral issues as abortion, genetic research, and same-sex marriage. As Lane Core suggests, interested parties might want to register with DMN's Web site before the lines form.

Fr. Wilson — who is, if I'm not mistaken, good friends with Rod — wasted no time, after Friday's Morning Edition, in defending the newspaper from recriminations that hadn't yet been made:

How rude of the Dallas Morning News to look under the bed at the chaotic mess that had been swept out of sight. It is still common to hear a certain type of Catholic sneer at the reporting on the Scandal with dismissive references to the 'anti-Catholicism' of the Boston Globe or the Dallas Morning News; "You know, Father, they're no friends of ours. They hate the Faith," I've heard time and again.

Surprising that the DMN reporters, given their extensive exposure to the life of the Church and the antics of our fathers in God, aren't edified into the full communion of Holy Mother Church, isn't it?

Yes, I'm sure the news department was overflowing with weekly Mass-goers and on-the-cusp converts in the mid-'90s. Equally, I'm sure the 200 priests will be placed within the proper proportions, with some admirable, if not heroic, profiles of other priests to leaven the impression. I'm sure the data will be carefully and clearly delineated along lines of degree — not inflating the worst incidents through inadequately qualified inclusion among broader statistics — and drawn along an accurate timeline. And I'm sure some effort will be made to give an full sense of the victims — how many were seven and how many were seventeen, for example. In short, we can only wait and see whether the DMN reporters — and all of the other reporters around the world — will give some indication of awareness that the bad tidings that they bring will be painful to the core of millions of people.

To be sure, we Catholic believers must accept this trial. If it is meant for us to live through painful times, then let us grit our teeth and get on with it. If we must express our faith through an acrid fog, let us plunge in. Hopes are high that this is all just part of expelling the stain of dark days from the Church. Mark Shea calls it "the Great Enema." Domenico Bettinelli adds a sound effect: "The giant flush you hear is the Big Enema going global."

Personally, as much respect as I truly do have for all of the above, and admitting that they are much better informed on matters pertaining to the Catholic Church, I'm not, well, I'm not optimistic. Taking them as a group, it hasn't seemed to me that the bishops, with a "zero-tolerance" policy and an investigatory commission, have behaved, thus far, in such a way as to suggest that the information that is apparently forthcoming will push them over some edge of responsibility.

I come to this conclusion for two reasons. First, the actions already taken have not suggested full cognizance of personal culpability in acts supremely offensive to God. There has been a bit too thick an aversion to consequences. Second, from a worldly perspective, strong stands on principle generally require either absolute confidence of blamelessness or proximate exposure of something that will really reorder one's life for the worse.

As appalling as it may be, I don't think any number of indications of administrative malfeasance — even directly attributed and undeniably proven — will spur institutional response. We live in a Western culture in which people believe that it absolves Pontius Pilate of blame to portray him as only having crucified our Lord out of cold political interests. Credibility will be lost, yes, but position and prominence can be preserved through a knee-high wall of extenuating circumstances.

If there is to be a purge, the deeper cause of the corruption will have to come bubbling to the visible surface. And as Rod Dreher notes in a comment to a different post on (Jun 17, 04, 12:01 pm), the media is complicit, this time, in keeping the matter submerged:

... your comment did bring to mind something a Fox News staffer told me at the Dallas bishops' meeting two years ago. I told this person that Fox should find and interview Michael S. Rose, whose "Goodbye Good Men" had just come out, and who could illuminate a key aspect of the scandal that most media wouldn't touch. The staffer told me that they had orders from the very top of the network not to touch homosexuality in their reporting from Dallas.

For Catholic laypeople, the pervasive infiltration of sin into the Church would bring the outrage. For the public at large, for whom the acts, if consenting, would be largely ignored or excused, the hierarchy would have been proven guilty of the greatest crime known: hypocrisy.

Without a public revelation about the why, more of the what of the long-running abuse scandal will be about as effective as airing unwashed linens. The neighbors will gawk, but the only people shamed will be those who must walk among them.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:04 AM

March 5, 2004

Here Comes the Attack

Well, I had pretty much decided just to be a little sad about and pray for the soul of Marc Paige, who wrote to the Providence Journal with the all-too-easy (and all-too-foolish) linkage of the Pope's statement about protecting marriage and the abuse scandal. I was still content to leave it alone even when, upon looking for more info about what the Pope said, I discovered that Mr. Paige is a GLAD board member, Jewish, an HIV positive AIDS activist ("The reality is that three-quarters of high school students have sex by the time they graduate,'' Paige said. "They need to know how to protect themselves."), a prolific letter writer, and apparently a resident of Fort Lauderdale, to boot. But that's all to be expected.

What inspired me to write this post was a tangentially related piece titled "Inapproriate mingling of religion and justice system in Rhode Island," by RI Superior Court Judge Stephen Fortunato. It's all pretty standard nonsense:

This is dangerous territory into which the attorney general and the chief justice intrude as they breach the "hedge or wall" that Roger Williams said must separate church and state. The pronouncement that one needs a religious faith and that without it one is "dead" is a theological opinion, not a legal one. Liberty of conscience permits anyone to hold any faith they wish, but judicial officers should not proclaim their views from a church pulpit provided to them solely because they hold public office. Does anyone believe that if Frank J. Williams and Patrick C. Lynch were private citizens who did not hold important statewide appointed and elective offices, they would be invited to speak on matters of faith to any congregation?

Standard, that is, until one comes to this non sequitur of a paragraph:

However, one can fairly inquire as to what Judeo-Christian principles justified the theft of land from Native Americans, allowed slavery and later Jim Crow, denied the vote to women, permitted child labor and justified the locking up of Japanese-Americans for no reason other than the color of their skin and the land of their ancestors. More currently, what Judeo Christian principles allow the incarceration of human beings without charge, without trial and without counsel. What Judeo-Christian principles support laws that let some people accumulate vast fortunes, while others work for substandard wages?

This is a man who parses the law for a living? He was arguing against the notion that "the Founding Fathers huddled over the Bible or other religious tracts in designing our government," so I'm not sure what one is supposed to take from this paragraph. As a matter of the language, it looks like he's arguing that the fact that all of those things were justified means that our society isn't Judeo-Christian in nature. Somehow, I think he means to imply the opposite... although that would imply that our society is Judeo-Christian, and worse off for being so. Or is he arguing that it isn't, but would have been better off if it were? Or is he just throwing in a bunch of bogeymen so he can shout "Ha!," stamp his foot, and then leave the room thinking he's won?

Whatever the case, once again, we've got a representative of the elite class flattening our actual intellectual history and assuming that it therefore matches his attenuated ideology. Our foundation clearly makes use of a struggling balance between reason and faith, which is why we've done so much to end longstanding oppressive practices that Fortunato seems inclined to attribute to one side only.

What a shame that the good judge's point is that civic figures oughtn't exercise their freedom of speech when it comes to religion.

Marc Comtois explicitly makes a point that I only implied regarding Fortunato's historical tangent:

Fortunato accuses Judeo-Christian principles of falling short in many areas when, in fact, the opposite is true. The abolitionist movement was firmly rooted in New England churches and eventually brought an end to slavery. Need I remind Fortunato that Dr. Martin Luther King was a Reverend? I'm not going to attempt to counter all of Fortunato's attacks, but all of the examples cited by Fortunato have been addressed, one way or another with varying degrees of success, in an attempt to correct past misdeeds. Americans have a conscience, this conscience isn't a result of some rationally and humanistically moral "immaculate conception." Rather, it is based on the Judeo-Christian beliefs of our country's founding generations, the same beliefs that Fortunato chooses to belittle and downplay.

There's so much work for Rhode Island conservatives (a small group that includes myself and Marc) to do.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:43 PM | Comments (1)

February 22, 2004

More Perspective on Abuse

The Diocese of Fall River gave us a preview (PDF) of the abuse statistics that are about to hit the media, and I have to say, after years of scandal, they actually aren't as bad as one would have expected from the coverage. Keep in mind, of course, that this is only one diocese, and for context, consider that Fall River was among the first to be hit by the scandal and was the diocese in which Bishop O'Malley earned his reputation as a fixer, so to speak.

Out of 1,353 priests serving since 1954, 32 were the subject of allegations — 2.37%. In total, there were 216 allegations. Unfortunately, the diocese didn't note how many were ultimately substantiated. The bulletin insert also doesn't include such information as the ages or gender of the children.

Now, here's the eye popper: only six of the alleged incidents occurred after 1980. That means that 97.2% of all accusations involved abuse happening during the great cultural convulsion of the Seventies, Sixties, and late Fifties. Moreover, all but 10% — all but 22 allegations — came to light after 1990, which is when the diocese began investigating and addressing the problem.

Of course, any abuse is too much, and of course, the Church oughtn't attempt to absolve itself by pointing a finger at the culture. But it is certainly significant that, at least in our diocese, the problem had largely abated well before action had been taken and before the extent of the problem was known.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:50 PM

January 14, 2004

Striking Balances on Turmoil

In an addendum and the comments of a pre-redesign post, I expressed reservations about Joseph D'Hippolito's piece in the Jerusalem Post. Those reservations no longer apply to a version that Joseph has placed with

"I feel pity to see this man destroyed, being treated like a cow as they checked his teeth," Martino told reporters assembled Dec. 16 for the Vatican's World Day of Peace message.

Many prominent Catholics, such as Michael Novak and the Catholic League's William Donahue, say Martino was not speaking for Pope John Paul II or for the Catholic Church as a whole.

Nevertheless, Martino's comments cannot be divorced from the Vatican's opposition to the war, which reflects a complex mix of competing factors -- from the pope's fundamental worldview and geopolitical goals to latent anti-American and anti-Israeli attitudes among the hierarchy.

In its current form, the piece captures the blend of reactions that I have to the hierarchy's role on the international stage over the past few years, and it's well worth your time to read.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:58 AM | Comments (3)