The Catholic Church Scandal And the Herd Mentality of the Press

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To read the grand jury report in Pennsylvania about the child abuse committed by priests within the Catholic Church is to read a diary of evil. Through these men Satan has preyed on Christ’s bride. The story is a familiar one. It goes back more than a decade in pattern and practice.

The story is also one of a failure of a free press. I know the press has, through various media outlets, championed itself as the hero of this story. The media always makes itself out to be the hero that put the spotlight on the story. They even made an Academy Award winning movie about the press pursing the Catholic Church abuse scandal in Boston and called it “Spotlight.”

The supposedly free press in the United States tends to not be free, but bound by a collective group think of liberal prejudices. Those prejudices drive the herd when it comes to analyzing situations. The collective, conventional wisdom that shapes how so much of the press covers these stories causes the press to not only bypass relevant lines of inquiry, but shame others who dare explore those lines. The subject must be changed at all costs because to raise the issue is to hurt feelings. This has been a consistent problem both in terms of the scandal in the Catholic Church and in American politics as a whole.

As Mary Eberstadt wrote on June 17, 2002, in the Weekly Standard, we can call this the “elephant in the sacistry.”

There is no outbreak of heterosexual child molestation in the American church. In the words of the late Rev. Michael Peterson, who co-founded the well-known clergy-treating St. Luke Institute, “We don’t see heterosexual pedophiles at all.” Put differently, it would be profoundly misleading to tell the tale of Rudolph Kos–what he was and what he did–without reference to the words “homosexual” and “gay.”

Of course, as the bishops and many other savvy observers of the debate will also know, just such distortion has become commonplace–indeed, is the literary norm–in the daily renditions of what the tragedies in the Church are actually “about.” The dominant view in the press right now–what might be called the “anything-but-the-elephant” theory–reads like this. Whatever the scandals may appear to be about–as it happens, man-boy sex–they are actually about something else. “It should be clear by now,” as the New York Times put it in a classic formulation, “that this scandal is only incidentally about forcing sex on minors.” Similarly, the New Republic: “We all know that the sexual abuse of minors is horrific; but somehow the bishops did not react with horror. That is what truly shocks.” And the New Yorker: “The big shocker has been not so much the abuse itself–awful and heartbreaking though it is–as the coldly bureaucratic ‘handling’ of it by hierarchs like [Boston’s Bernard] Law and the current archbishop of New York, Edward Cardinal Egan.” And, for good measure, the New York Review of Books: “The current scandal is not a sex scandal.”

Some writers do draw attention to the elephant–but only in order to dismiss it. Here is A.W. Richard Sipe, for example, a psychiatrist and former Benedictine monk who is as widely quoted as any other authority on the scandals: “It’s not a gay problem; it’s a problem of irresponsible sexual behavior and the violation of boundaries” (emphasis added here and below). Here is a Jesuit writing in the English Catholic magazine the Tablet: “The problem is not the abusing priests’ homosexuality, but rather their immaturity and their abuse of power.” Thereby has developed what might be called the cultural imperative of the scandal commentary–the proposition, as the president of the gay Catholic organization Dignity put it, that “Homosexuality has nothing to do with it.”

That was written in 2002 and applies to this even now. To be sure, in the more than 1000 page grand jury report there is example after example of priests abusing girls and young women. No one can or should deny that.

But these reports are overwhelmed by the numbers of young men and boys abused by homosexual priests, who can not be so easily contained just in the label of pedophile, but were fairly explicitly homosexual.

In the Diocese of Erie where 41 predator priests were named, one priest fondled boys repeatedly and provided list of 41 possible victims.

37 predator priests were named in the Diocese of Allentown and, again, most of the victims were boys.

In the Diocese of Pittsburgh, 99 predator priests were named and the grand jury found at least four of them were grooming and abusing boys. One teenage boy was forced to post as Christ on the Cross while naked for the entertainment of the priests. Those priests collected pictures of the boys for an extensive child pornography collection.

Of course, we are not supposed to say such things. We are not supposed to point out the number of boys and girls who grow up and identify as gay after sexual abuse. We are not supposed to talk about the gay priests who protect each other in seminary and promote each other through the ranks of the Catholic Church. We are not supposed to call male priests who preyed on young men “homosexual,” but are to treat them solely as pedophiles when they so clearly were more than that.

The pattern is remarkably consistent now for decades. Celibacy and the lack of married priests play far less of a role in the nightmares of abuse than homosexual priests living and openly engaging in homosexual acts while protecting one another within the priesthood.

Catholic doctrine, unless most Protestant churches, believes that homosexuality itself is disordered, but not a sin. Only the homosexual sexual act itself is a sin. I would suggest the Catholic Church should rethink this. At the very least the public, the press, and the church should be discussing the network of gay priests who protect and promote each other and have done so for decades all while engaging in sexual behavior the church’s teachings forbid.

We cannot do that however, because it would breach norms within the press herd. Activists would scream about homophobia. Heck, they are screaming about it.

Likewise, protestant denominations like my own Presbyterian Church in America, that continue to flirt with the idea of accepting self-identified gay Christians with claims to chastity as a normal expression of faith should be careful how they proceed. When we allow people to define themselves by their sexual proclivities and treat those proclivities as normal, they have a way of spilling over into areas they should not. To identify as a homosexual or gay Christian is to identify as more than a person of faith and to weave into one’s faith a world view and orientation that is anathema to God’s design. But good luck pointing that out.

A free press does not matter here because the free press is, on this subject, a herd that sees the problem staring us all in the face and still cannot approach it honestly. It is far easier to label those of us who point out the truth as “homophobic” or other labels. Mary Eberstadt, writing from 2002, should get the last word even here.

[T]oday’s ideological sensitivities must not be allowed to trump what ought to be a universal effort to protect the young. Much about human sexuality remains a mystery, and we may never know why men who abuse children do what they do. But if humility is now required of Catholics, so too is backbone. If it takes shutting down certain seminaries to protect boys of the present and future, close them now. If vocations to the priesthood should be so far reduced by stringent screening for abuse victims that American Catholics have to travel 50 miles to Mass, let them drive. And if protecting children means reopening the uncomfortable question of what makes sexual orientation, that too is a sacrifice that everyone should be willing to make. There is more than enough for all of us to do, Catholic and non-Catholic. As John Paul II said, this mission is society-wide.

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Erick Erickson
By Erick Erickson

Erick Erickson

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