Sunday, September 16, 2012

One facepalm after another, laissez les mauvais temps rouler!

So okay, yeah, this post is a little behind ... but I'd started writing it before my imternet service went out of commission a little over two weeks ago.

So the good news is that Oakland Bp. Salvatore Cordileone, the incoming Bay City archbishop, is going to face no ecclesial penalties for Saturday night's [9/1/12] DUI charge.  Of course, this is no comfort for the Catholic Church's detractors, who would just as soon impale a bishop's head on a stick for jaywalking as for treason, murder, grand larceny or opposing gay marriage.

"Huh?  Bishop who?  That's old news!  Let's get to what you have to say about that no-good, dirty, rotten *#&!$ Fr. Benedict Groeschel!"

Frankly, there's really nothing I can say.  For one thing, the National Catholic Register took down the interview with Fr. Groeschel, so I can't read the quotes in context.  According to Bill Donahue, Fr. Groeschel "hypothesized how a young person (14, 16 or 18, as he put it) could conceivably take advantage of a priest who was having a nervous breakdown."  I don't know, though, because I can't read or judge it for myself.

Does it matter, anyway?  The narrative has already been hammered into place; indeed, it was forged ten years ago, long before the Penn State scandal and the accident that injured the 78-year-old Franciscan's head.  As far as the world's concerned, Fr. Benedict was defending predator priests.  Period.  Paragraph.  End of revelation.

All these triangles can't be priests.
Not that arguing Fr. Benedict's injuries and his age would be all that much better; that would be simply labeling him senile as well as morally complicit in grave evil.  (He's not, but let it go.)  He's past mandatory retirement age; now dismiss your servant, and let him fade amidst the ruins of a priesthood full of good and holy works, his epitaph the same words he spoke about Sandusky: "this poor guy".  One more victim of the Long Lent of 2002.

I can empathize with Jen Fulweiler's anger that the "pedophile priest" trope is taking attention away from child molesters in other venues, such as public schools.  (Go to, type in your address, then look at all the triangles denoting registered sex offenders pop up.)  Her argument is eminently sane, entirely coherent ... and nonetheless irrelevant.  As long as anti-Catholics get some atavistic pleasure out of beating us with that stick, beat us they will.

Understand, I'm not suggesting we throw Fr. Benedict under the bus.  Although that wouldn't be beyond us.  Convert David B. Currie wrote in Born Fundamentalist, Born Again Catholic that "Evangelicals have a reputation for 'shooting their wounded'."  Well, we shoot our wounded too; usually we just do it inside the walls of the Church, leaving the body inside so it doesn't attract attention.  Anyway, all things taken together, Fr. Benedict is a very good priest, fully deserving of our support.

But look: Even given that his scenario involved a man undergoing a nervous breakdown and a boy past the age of reason (and thus morally responsible for his own acts), the best we could argue from that is diminished capacity, not complete exculpation.  Props to Fr. Benedict for trying to point out that, apart from legal presumption, adolescents aren't a priori innocent.  Nevertheless, no one is obligated to act on another's attempt to seduce him/her, be the seducer adult or sub-adult; innocence or lack thereof is irrelevant.  And for every teen trying to bed some poor jerk whose emotional weather has disoriented his moral compass, there are at least a couple dozen predators using their charm and power to subtly — or even not so subtly — coerce young people into sex.

At the same time, I don't think we'd have to work very hard to save Fr. Benedict's reputation if there'd been no cover-ups, no foolish decisions to place "cured" sex offenders back among the general population.  Yeah, predators have been (and are) public-school teachers, Little League coaches and Boy/Girl Scout leaders ... but dedication to a life of holiness is not part of those job descriptions.  Oddly enough, despite everything, I think the majority of non-Catholics want priests to be examples of personal holiness just as much as do Catholics; I think that, in this age of jaded, materialist ennui and rampant anomie, people still crave something clean and good as a sign of hope.  So when our priests and bishops fail, they fail not just us but everyone who wants a tangible reason to believe.  And because we set high standards, when we fail we must expect to have those standards thrown back in our faces.

Father Benedict has issued an apology, stating, "I did not intend to blame the victim. A priest (or anyone else) who abuses a minor is always wrong and is always responsible. My mind and my way of expressing myself are not as clear as they used to be."  

That won't be enough for some people, because for them there's a lot more at stake than just some hurt feelings or offended sensibilities.  What they want is some kind of acknowledgment that Fr. Benedict's remarks prove the Catholic Church is evil and needs to be destroyed.  The conclusion doesn't follow from the premiss ... but does logic matter anymore?  

In the face of the omnipotent "predator priests" narrative, does reason itself matter anymore?