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Katie van Schaijik

Where’s the wrath? (2)

Aug. 2, 2009, at 5:03pm

Below is the 2nd part of the comment thread begun under the previous column: Where's the wrath.

Rhett Segall • Aug 8, 2009 - 10:00 am

Like Scott, I have taken the Virtus program and signed a consent form to have my background checked for criminal behavior.

While I agree with Teresa that there is a sense of “dumbing down”, I do think that’s trumped by the necessity of getting a handle on the pedophile situation’s roots in the Catholic community. It’s sort of like insisting that everyone going on a camping trip have a first aid course-you have to go over some pretty basic stuff. More recently (I teach theology at Catholic Central HS, Troy NY) the dioceses sent a list of “good touch, bad touch” guidelines to the teachers. Pretty common sense stuff!

But this, while relevant, begs the key inquiry Katie began with-where’s the holy wrath? Katie felt, I believe, that my position vis a vis convicted pedophiles, i. e., full canonical and civil penalties, was not enough because it did not manifest the outrage the vile deeds called for.

Here perhaps we must agree to disagree. Actions in this case does speak louder than words, although words are also very important. I suspect that Scott is right that Both JP11 and BV1 Have made clear to the Bishops their outrage.

Again I ask “What more can be done?”  Have the culprits names bold printed in every issue of the diocesan paper?  Require priests in their Sunday homilies say the names of the culprits and ask God to curse them?  Have the culprits wear a red “P” emblazoned on their garments?

What would Jesus do?

There is a situation that arose a few years back in the Amish community that has relevance to the question of wrath. You will recall Charles Roberts entered an Amish school house and killed 5 girls, ages 6-13, execution style, before killing himself. The Amish mourned and forgave but did not condemn the culprit. A father of one of the girls said: “He had a mother and a wife and a soul and now he’s standing before a just God.”

My impression is that the anger was repressed and this was not only spiritually harmful but physically and emotionally too.  But what else could have been done? At least not feel ashamed of their anger, admit it and leave it to God

Katie van Schaijik • Aug 8, 2009 - 12:59 pm

No, I don’t agree to disagree.  I insist that everyone agree with me!
JUST kidding. :) 
I have some thoughts in reply, though, Rhett, and will try to get to it later today.  Now I’m off to pick up kids at camp.  I haven’t forgotten that I also owe you a response on the Von Hildebrand/Sheen comparison.  I’ve been making notes, but finding it difficult to gather enough leisure to write at any length.  Summers are busy when children are small.

Katie van Schaijik • Aug 10, 2009 - 5:48 pm

Rhett, a few points (welcoming, as always, your feedback):

“While I agree with Teresa that there is a sense of “dumbing down”, I do think that’s trumped by the necessity of getting a handle on the pedophile situation’s roots in the Catholic community.”

I’d be interested in hearing more of different readers’ sense of what the roots of this crisis are.  I have a lot of sympathy with Podles’ idea (offered in the early part of his hair-raising, heart-rending book, “Sacrilege,” which I’m reading under a sense of obligation this summer) that there is a long-standing and widespread legalistic tendency in Catholic culture and ethos, perhaps particularly among clerics.  He traces it to late medieval nominalism. 
I don’t suppose he and I would see eye to eye on the relative merits of Franciscan and Thomistic metaphysics, but I do think he nails something true on this point.  Part of the problem in the sex abuse scandal is that grave sins have been treated as mere violations of law.  Many priests and bishops seem to have conceived of their role as being mainly to provide the sacraments and administer the practical affairs of the Church.  They don’t seem to take holiness or evil quite seriously. It’s all just a matter of confessing wrong, receiving absolution, and moving on.  There has been far too little sense of morality as having to do with the interior structure of reality, and of sins as inflicting serious injury on others.

“Katie felt, I believe, that my position vis a vis convicted pedophiles, i. e., full canonical and civil penalties, was not enough because it did not manifest the outrage the vile deeds called for.”

Don’t forget that my post on this subject was in response to a Vatican official who seemed to make a point of stressing that the Church’s response to this was one primarily of “sadness.”  You and Scott speculate that the wrath was expressed behind closed doors.  I ask, why?  I mean, have you any grounds for believing that wrath was expressed, apart from your sense that such great Catholics in authority must necessarily be wrathful?  And if it was, why behind closed doors?  Are the victims—is the rest of the Church—not entitled to see and hear it?
Do you agree that the Church seems intent on modeling an anger-free response to evil?  And if so, do you not see a problem with this?  I think, with Podles, that a false fear of anger may be one of the roots of the problem under discussion.

I have to say, I intensely dislike the “What would Jesus do?” line of moral reasoning.  God’s ways are not our ways.  Jesus was constantly surprising not just the pharisees, but his closest friends and disciples.  We don’t know what He would do in any given situation.  We only know that it would be super-humanly perfect; that it would be motivated by love; that it would be free of all taint of evil.

I share your worry that the forgiveness expressed by the Amish in the face of ghastly murders might have been premature and carries the danger of repression.

“But what else could have been done? At least not feel ashamed of their anger, admit it and leave it to God.”

I hesitate to predict what should be done in such situations.  My thought is rather that the right interior response will put a person at the disposal of the Holy Spirit, who will prompt him or her in the right direction for him or her.  What I oppose is theoretical responses: viz. “I say this or do that because I am a Christian and this is what Christians should say or do in such situations.”

Anger • Aug 11, 2009 - 10:46 am

Dear Katie,

I am very interested in what you say about a legalistic attitude toward sin such that there is not enough pondering of the personal aspect of what sin involves. I hadn’t thought about this enough in terms of wondering why some priests who are liturgically glorious yet never preach about sin claiming that “everyone knows when they have sinned and if they don’t confess it, it’s too bad but we don’t have to dwell on it. Aside from the reaction to Pharisaism in this laxity there could also be a subtle legalism such as you describe - not seeing how sin represents an attitude toward others not just a lapse out of hedonism.

Rhett Segall • Aug 11, 2009 - 2:33 pm

Katie,

As to the relationship between Nominalism and legalism I don’t know.  It seems obvious that the Bishops’ initial response to the pedophile reports was tainted with legalism. By that I mean they seemed to be saying that the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the privacy of the confessional was enough to handle the situation. I think the scandal was rooted in a clerical, male culture in which candidates for the priesthood, with its mandatory celibacy, were not properly veted for the necessary psychological maturity such a vocation demanded.

I’m surprised at your discomfort with the maxim “What would Jesus do”? It is right at the heart of Christian morality, often stressed by DvH. I think, further, that it is a most applicaple principle, relevant to such issues as racial prejudice, sexual prejudice, consumerism, militarism and, yes, holy wrath.

Katie van Schaijik • Aug 11, 2009 - 3:11 pm

Have you got references for DvH using the WWJD formulation?  It seems so unlike him. 
I find it highly problematic.  First, because we do not what Jesus would do in a given concrete situation and should not presume that we do.  Was any of his earthly actions predictable, even by his closest disciples?  Were they not rather characterized by a note of the unforeseeable, almost the unimaginable?  Did he not constantly startle and confound friends and enemies alike?  And haven’t the saints throughout history done the same?
Secondly, Jesus is God; we are not.  We cannot do and ought not attempt to do whatever He can do.  We do not stand in the same relation to the Father, or to other souls.  We are not Omnipotent or Omniscient; nor are we the Redeemer of the World.
I find the question, breathed in fear and trembling, “What would You have me do, Lord?” much closer to the center of Christianity.  He knows us in all our individuality, our background and temperament, our strengths and weaknesses, our hopes and aspirations, plus the full import and bearing of each situation we face (most of which is hidden to us).  The Holy Spirit searches our hearts and prompts us from within.
As I see it, the “imitation of Christ” classically understood, gets at the idea you want but without any of the presumptuous tendencies of the “WWJD?” formulation.

Scott Johnston • Aug 11, 2009 - 11:16 pm

I think the scandal was rooted in a clerical, male culture in which candidates for the priesthood, with its mandatory celibacy, were not properly veted for the necessary psychological maturity such a vocation demanded.

I can partly agree with this, but it needs more filling in. And celibacy has little to nothing to do with it (A minority of priests—those attracted to boys—committed a majority of the abuses. Heterosexual priests are far less likely to sexually abuse minors). The statistics of the abuse cases compiled by the national review board that published the 2004 report on all the known cases of abuse (occurring between 1950 and 2002) they could get data on revealed that the largest proportion of priest abusers were homosexual men who targeted and abused adolescent boys. Specifically, 81% of the victims were male.

Here are some selected quotes from the report:

In American society as a whole, sexual abuse of minors appears to be far more widespread than earlier thought. According to some estimates, one out of every four women and one out of every seven men experienced some form of sexual abuse as minors. Most abuse occurs in families.

The number of priests who engaged in sexual abuse of minors and the number of victims of that abuse changed dramatically during this time period. Although there were reported acts of sexual abuse of minors in every year, the incidence of reported abuse increased by several orders of magnitude in the 1960s and 1970s. After peaking in the 1970s, the number of incidents decreased through the 1980s and 1990s even more sharply than the incidence rate had increased in the 1960s and 1970s.

The majority of the victims were males between the ages of eleven and seventeen. The number of reported male victims in this age group increased from 353 in the 1950s, to 1,264 in the 1960s, to a peak of 2,129 in the 1970s. The number then decreased to 1,403 in the 1980s and 363 in the 1990s. The number of girls who have been the victims of sexual abuse by priests has varied much less over time. The total number of female victims between eleven and seventeen when the abuse began peaked in the 1960s at 305 and has decreased every decade since then.

The survey data are consistent with statements made by clergy, lawyers, psychologists, and psychiatrists, indicating that the problem of clergy sexual abuse of minors by priests significantly increased in the 1960s, peaked in the 1970s, and decreased thereafter.

According to the survey data, 9.7% of the reported allegations of abuse began in the 1950s, 26.1% in the 1960s, 35.5% in the 1970s, 22.6% in the 1980s, and 6.2% began between 1990 and 2002. . . . Priests ordained in the early 1970s were more likely to have been accused of sexual abuse of a minor than priests ordained in any other period.

To see the full report, go to
http://tinyurl.com/pee5zh

Notice the huge difference of reported abuse in the 1970’s compared to the 1990’s.

So, a large majority of the priestly sexual abuse scandal involved homosexual priests abusing boys in the 1960’s, 70’s, and 80’s, peaking in the 70’s and declining after this, with a sharp decline in the 90’s.

Scott Johnston • Aug 11, 2009 - 11:41 pm

Here is one more excerpt from the same report which I think will be of interest:

Why did so many priests sexually abuse minors? Although it is not possible to pinpoint any one “cause” of the problem of sexual abuse of minors by priests, there were two overarching contributing factors:

  * Dioceses and orders did not screen candidates for the priesthood properly. As a result, many sexually dysfunctional and immature men were admitted into seminaries and later ordained into the priesthood.
  * Seminaries did not form candidates for the priesthood adequately. As a result, seminarians were not prepared for the challenges of the priesthood, particularly the challenge of living a chaste, celibate life.

So, it is evident that of the “sexually dysfunctional and immature men” referred to above, the vast majority of these men who would go on to commit abuse, were homosexual. The proportion of dysfunctional and immature men among heterosexual priests was far, far smaller.

Go back to the numbers in my previous comment. If you were to eliminate all the homosexual abuse of minors cases and retain only heterosexual abuse cases between 1950 and 2002, you would notice two things: 1) the overall abuse numbers would drop hugely, and 2) the explosion of abuse from the 60’s into the 70’s would disappear. Heterosexual abuse cases did not have an explosive rise and fall but remained low and at a fairly constant rate.

What does this indicate? Among other things, that perhaps the single most effective, and quickest way, to dramatically lower clergy sexual abuse, is to 1) make sure strongly homosexual men do not enter the priesthood, and 2) ensure better formation in human sexuality and celibate chastity for men in seminary.

And, indeed, in my observation, both of these are very much happening, and have been for some time now.

Katie van Schaijik • Aug 12, 2009 - 6:50 am

Scott, while I love priestly celibacy, I don’t think it’s quite true to say that because it was mostly a problem of homosexuality, celibacy had nothing to do with the scandal. 
I think it’s undeniable that the celibacy rule made priesthood an attractive vocation for homosexuals.  It was a socially respectable way of not being married.
Wouldn’t you agree?

Bill Drennen • Aug 12, 2009 - 10:43 am

Maybe Katie but Scott is still correct in the higher sense because just because something is harder or requires something hard does not mean that failing to live up to the hard thing is in any way due to the requirement itself does it?

That’s just like saying people are failing to climb the mountain because it’s just too high.

No, they should not be climbing if they are not up to it. The mountain itself is unchangeable. There will always be those souls with the grit to climb it. Let the others stay in the valley or choose an other mountain.

Scott Johnston • Aug 12, 2009 - 12:09 pm

I wasn’t thinking of this angle, but only of the fact that a celibate life itself does not necessarily cause a man to be more tempted to sexual sin than a non-celibate life. An unchaste person is unchaste, whether he is trying to be celibate or not.

Yes, you are probably correct in that the priesthood is attractive to some homosexuals as a respectable way of not being married. And this goes back to the importance of thorough evaluation of candidates.

Katie van Schaijik • Aug 12, 2009 - 10:54 pm

Agreed.

Scott Johnston • Aug 12, 2009 - 1:25 am

I’d be interested in hearing more of different readers’ sense of what the roots of this crisis are.

As the statistics on clergy sexual abuse of minors show and which I have given in other comments, the primary answer to this is homosexuality.

Other contributing factors would include the rapidly changing American culture toward greater sexual license, an overly rigorist and legalistic attitude in seminary formation in the years before Vatican II, poor and too little attention to a sound, holistic and appropriately human formation in chastity.

there is a long-standing and widespread legalistic tendency in Catholic culture and ethos, perhaps particularly among clerics.  He traces it to late medieval nominalism.

I think this is true, with the caveat that the legalistic tendency is diminishing among the younger generation—clergy first, then laymen. This change is happening among the young, JPII generation of priests, and small pockets of laymen here and there—for example, Franciscan U grads. Pinckaers put a great deal of blame upon nominalism for 20th century Catholic legalism. The moral theology prof at DHS also taught this. It involves the (inevitable?) consequences of rooting morals in a dictate from authority which is taken as good not because it accords with what is understandable as the inner nature of goodness itself, but simply because it is promulgated by the authority. A corrective is to see that morals are grounded in the very nature of the good itself. Created things have natures, teleologically ordered, and human life’s nature is ordered to the good which is that which when attained brings about ever greater flourishing of one’s being as human. Virtue is integral, as the inner power which enables one to grow ever closer toward one’s own best fulfillment as a human being.

It’s all just a matter of confessing wrong, receiving absolution, and moving on.  There has been far too little sense of morality as having to do with the interior structure of reality, and of sins as inflicting serious injury on others.

I agree somewhat, but with a caveat that this sort of attitude is one of the dangers of priestly life that if it has become a factor, it probably did not happen quickly, but slowly crept up and grew little by little over the years.

In the case of priests who eventually end up in a serious crisis of vocation I don’t think I would be exaggerating to say that every older, respected, holy priest who has spent lots of time counseling brother priests (e.g. Fr. Groeschel, Fr. Basil Cole, OP) whom I have heard speak of this always—always—give the following as THE most serious reason (not the only one, but the single biggest factor) for priests experiencing an increasing absence of evangelical fervor for the priestly life: They stopped praying. That’s it. Nothing very intellectual. Over and over again, I have heard it said by those in a position to know from direct experience, that the common denominator for priests who eventually end up getting into trouble or leaving the priesthood, is that they stop having a regular prayer life. This is an essential lifeline to Christ which as it leaves their life they lose their fire and love for priestly service.

Scott Johnston • Aug 12, 2009 - 2:22 am

have you any grounds for believing that wrath was expressed, . . . And if it was, why behind closed doors?

JPII summoned the U.S. Cardinals to Rome in April, 2002, for an unscheduled emergency meeting after the scandal broke. I heard later through third parties (Dominicans with Rome connections) that JPII was very angry with them at this meeting.

As far as behind closed doors, isn’t it an accepted general principle that we “praise in public, punish in private”? When it comes to something really serious, don’t parents prefer to speak to a child privately rather than in a public setting? Would a parent speak to a son or daughter about sexual sins in front of other siblings? This sense of preferring privacy, especially when the matter is grave, just seems to be a common instinct.

Also, chastising others in public is humiliating. Even when justified, people still have a right I would say, not to be humiliated/put down in public. In the case of those in high leadership positions, scolding them publicly can damage their authority with their subjects. In the military, for example, if a general were to dress down one of his colonels in front of the colonel’s men, it could very likely have the effect of harming the colonel’s ability to properly exercise his authority over his men in the future, for their respect for him as a leader would have been damaged. A good general wants to swiftly correct and even punish his inferiors when necessary. But he does so privately, because ultimately he wants his officers to become better and more effective leaders of their men. Scolding them in public is counterproductive to this end.

Katie van Schaijik • Aug 12, 2009 - 6:33 am

“As far as behind closed doors, isn’t it an accepted general principle that we “praise in public, punish in private”?”

No, I don’t think so.  I mean, that might be good advice for parents reprimanding children for a fault.  But it certainly can’t be considered a general rule of ethics, or else we’d have to condemn the prophets and the Apostles and the Church fathers and innumerable saints.  Also Jesus—for publicly dressing down the pharisees.

Humiliating or not, a public reprimand is sometimes called for as part of re-establishing justice.  Secondarily, it can have a crucial pedagogical value for the whole community.  The mortification may also have a needed purgative effect on the wrongdoer.

Bishops who were complicit—either actively or by omission—in the abuse of children by priests have no right not to be publicly humiliated.  Their victims rather have a right to public vindication and redress. 
In my opinion, the bishops’ authority—the moral authority of the whole Church—was much more drastically undermined by the clerical habit of self-protection under the guise of “not causing scandal” than it could be by a full and proper public accounting of the matter.

The idea that such things should be handled privately and behind closed doors is what allows perpetrators to remain in undeserved positions of power and influence.

The need for a public airing increases dramatically when the victim is weak and socially powerless in comparison with the wrongdoer.

Bill Drennen • Aug 12, 2009 - 10:49 am

Katie, I think it depends on the level of sin and failure involved.

If Jules was correcting one of your kids in a way you thought was a bit harsh or off in some way you most likely should speak to him in private later and then let him modify his direction to the child himself or apologize if he needs to later. It would be wrong for you to publicly undermine his authority while he is disciplining your child unless the abuse rises to such a level that justice demands an immediate protest.

I think we all have different thresholds here but I do tend to agree with you that the threshold in this case justifies a public rebuke.

Katie van Schaijik • Aug 12, 2009 - 11:00 am

Of course.  My claim is not that every wrongdoing should be handled in a public way, but that some should—or at least that part of the handling should be public.  And that claim is just one aspect of the larger claim that there is a serious dearth of holy wrath in contemporary Christian life, preaching and teaching.
Wrong-doers are treated with compassion and gentleness and kindness and concern.  Angry victims are admonished and for their uncharitableness and lack of forgiveness; they are urged to “understand” and forgive and move on.
I know a lady influential in Catholic circles where wrongs were happening.  She didn’t want to hear about them.  “I don’t like to be around bitter people.”
In my experience this is maddeningly commonplace.

Bill Drennen • Aug 12, 2009 - 11:16 am

As to the roots of the crisis we have to include the effects of an unauthentic interpretation of Vatican II, in particular with respect to discipline and orthodoxy in the church, when Catholic academics felt increasingly unbound by Church teaching.

Let us also recall that the “years of legalism” in the church had no such crisis to deal with and priestly vocations flourished.

I think it is true concluding from what you say, that an authentic interpretation of Vatican II incorporating personalist ethics will in fact lead to taking sin MORE seriously not less.

In a sense we can say that the strictness of the past was too external, yet it was effective. In our current times we need more internal accountability which will lead us back to orthodoxy but it will be an orthodoxy based on the full “weight of glory” we have as persons.

The Church however should not be lax in applying discipline where needed along with the freedoms we enjoy from Vatican II. The crisis I think can be traced to elements of failures in both directions.

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