Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Kneeling Before the World

Inside Catholic

by John Zmirak

Last week, I interrupted my series of reflections on the Seven Deadly Sins to accommodate the elections. Let's hope that my dire predictions turn out to be alarmist, even hysterical.

Much as I'd like to jump right back on the horse, and ride through the happy fields of Greed, or among Envy's icy crags, I think it's fitting to spend this week reflecting on where American Catholics are and how we got here: a gray, intermediate place halfway between the exercise of power and the pressure of persecution. It's called Irrelevance. It feels like a straight jacket and smells like formaldehyde, and we'll be thrashing around inside it for years to come. Let us use that empty time to clear our heads and get our story straight.

Various writers here have wondered aloud why American Catholics seemed to care so little about the sanctity of life; why American bishops and priests, as a whole, were such unreliable allies. Those essays have offered cogent answers, but none was complete. My own diagnosis of the self-defeating Catholic liberalism that enfeebles even the orthodox failed to plumb its lowest depths.

For that it took Philip Lawler, whose book The Faithful Departed is the most important work about the Church to appear in the last two decades -- since Anne Roche Muggeridge's sobering masterwork, The Desolate City. Lawler's book took enormous courage to write; its naming of names and relentless spade-calling of spades has made Lawler many enemies, and the book has been banned from the shelves of some Catholic bookstores. (From now on, when I visit such a store, I'm asking them about Lawler; if they won't sell his book, they’ll lose my business.)

What are they all so afraid of? The truth, it seems. Lawler points out that while less than five percent of American priests have been accused of sexual abuse, some two-thirds of our bishops were apparently complicit in cover-ups. The real scandal isn't the sick excesses of a few dozen pedophiles, or even the hundreds of priests who had affairs with teenage boys -- the bulk of abuse cases. No, according to Lawler, it is the malfeasance of wealthy, powerful, and evidently worldly men who fill the thrones -- but not the shoes -- of the apostles. In case after case, we read in their correspondence, in the records of their soulless, bureaucratic responses to victims of psychic torture and spiritual betrayal, these bishops' prime concern was to save the infrastructure, the bricks and mortar and mortgages. Ironically, their lack of a supernatural concern for souls is precisely what cost them so much money in the end.


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