Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Benedict XVI in Germany, My Take: Scandal, Abuse, and the Cross

Before getting back to my take on what the Pope said: Yes, I know about the pedophile priests. Moving on.

Pope Benedict XVI is back from his trip to Germany. He talked about what's been going on, and what's coming, while visiting his homeland.

I was going to write a post about what the Pope said, and my reactions: and noticed that it was overly-long. Even by my standards. Cutting it into manageable chunks, I got the start of seven posts. This is the third, the rest aren't finished yet:
  1. "Benedict XVI in Germany, My Take: Hope, Confidence, and Looking Forward"
    (September 27, 2011)
  2. "Benedict XVI in Germany, My Take: Liberation, Transformation, and Getting Personal"
    (September 27, 2011)
  3. "Benedict XVI in Germany, My Take: Scandal, Abuse, and the Cross"
    (September 28, 2011)
  4. "Benedict XVI in Germany, My Take: Harlots and Pharisees, Agnostics and Routine Believers"
    (September 29, 2011)
  5. "Benedict XVI in Germany, My Take: Dissent, Conversion, and Knowledge"
    (September 30, 2011)
  6. "Benedict XVI in Germany, My Take: We're Not About 'Joyless Saints' "
    (October 1, 2011)
  7. "Benedict XVI in Germany, My Take: 'Where God is, There is a Future' "
    (October 3, 2011)
Now, Pope Benedict XVI, the Cross, and getting a grip:

Scandal, Abuse, and the Cross

"...He recognized that the scandal of clerical abuse was often obscuring the Church's preaching of the 'scandal of the cross.'

" 'A dangerous situation arises when these scandals take the place of the primary scandal of the Cross and in so doing they put it beyond reach, concealing the true demands of the Christian Gospel behind the unworthiness of those who proclaim it.'..."
(CNA (September 25, 2011))

"Scandal of the Cross:" It's Not Crazy Talk

The "scandal of the Cross" isn't the sort of thing folks are likely to hear in everyday conversation. It's pretty obvious that the Pope was talking about the Cross that Jesus died on. He's not saying that it's "scandalous," in the supermarket-tabloid sense of the word. I think this is a pretty good discussion of what "scandal of the Cross"1 means:
"...In Biblical language, scandal signifies a trap, that which causes a fall, therefore something which causes one to falter, which endangers faith. But we would point out that depending on its origin and depending on the capacity and disposition of the one scandalised, the significance of the scandal differs entirely. For the believer the scandal of the Cross is to be adored. This scandal is not a counter-witness, on the contrary it is the source of the greatest witness. ..."
("Counter-Witness and Scandal," Georges Cottier, Jubilee 2000 Magazine (June-September 1996))

Latin, Language, and Communication

This isn't a criticism of Pope Benedict XVI, or the Vatican: but I think some folks who understand Latin, a dialect of contemporary English, and several other languages, sometimes forget that the rest of us aren't quite as savvy. There's what "secret" and "invention" mean, for example.2 And that's another topic.

The Cross: It's a Big Deal

As a practicing Catholic, I take Jesus and the Cross very seriously. When my Lord died on Golgotha, and didn't stay dead, He cleared accounts for me and every other human being who ever lived, or will live. There's quite a bit in the Catechism of the Catholic Church about the Cross and:
  • That set of links isn't a complete index
  • I've got the teaching authority of "some guy with a blog"
Next, what I think about the scandal of clerical abuse, news, and getting a grip.

Evil is Not Nice

In my considered opinion:
  • Sexual abuse is
    • Not good
    • Bad
    • Wrong
Abuse, mistreatment of any kind, is particularly bad when committed by someone in a position of trust or authority.3

Since I'm going to express counter-cultural opinions about recent events, that declaration of belief seemed advisable.

Another point: emotion and reason don't play well together. It has to do with the way our brains are wired.4 Which brings me to:

Reality and the News
- or -


Remember last year, when it felt like pedophile priests were everywhere? In the news, at least? And that Thomas Nast, Maria Monk, and Chick Publications were right about the Catholic Church?5

(From Thomas Nast Portfolio, Ohio State University, used without permission.)
Look out! Here come the Catholics!

For those who may have been off the planet during the last year or so, a quick review, in Q & A format:
  • Reality
    • Q. Was there a problem involving priests and sexual abuse?
      A. Yes
      • Q. Was this a bad thing?
        A. Yes
    • Q. Did some bishops shield abusers?
      A. Yes
      • Q. Was this a bad thing?
        A. Yes
  • Imagination
    • Q. Were all Catholic priests abusing every underage boy?
      A. No
      • Q. Is this an excuse for even one case of abuse?
        A. No
    • Q. Were all Catholic bishops covering up every scandal?
      A. No
      • Q. Is this an excuse for even one case of abuse?
        A. No
      • Q. Is this an excuse for any evasion of responsibility?
        A. No
    • Q. Did the Pope run this vile conspiracy?
      A. No
      • Q. Is this an excuse for even one case of abuse?
        A. No
      • Q. Is this an excuse for any evasion of responsibility?
        A. No
      • Q. Does saying a conspiracy exists mean there really is one?
        A. No
The reality of clerical abuse was a bad thing. One case of a priest abusing one of his flock would be a bad thing.

But reality doesn't seem good enough to sell papers. The actual number of priests accused of abuse was notoriously absent from most coverage. As for what investigations into abuse revealed, that may have been insufficiently dramatic.

Again: one case of abuse would have been one too many. Clerical abuse is not good. It is bad.

Sex, Conspiracy, and Lizard Men


Then there's the 'age and sex' angle to the story. A number of the abuse cases did not involve preteen boys. Again, I am not trying to excuse abuse.

'Pedophile priests' and abuse of impressionable young boys was the theme of the day. It wasn't the whole picture, though. The Church was also dealing with priests who had indulged in a more traditional 'professor and the coed' sort of misconduct.

Do I think it's okay for an older man, particularly one in a position of trust and authority, to sexually abuse a younger woman? No: certainly not. There's a fancy word for the 'old lech' scenario, by the way. Not that having a five-dollar word for some behavior is an excuse. I've discussed ephebophilia before.6

Do I think it's 'normal' for a man to notice women? Yes.

Feeling physical attraction toward a healthy young woman is one thing. Acting on it is something else, and the Church sets a higher standard: Matthew 5:27-28.


There might be a vast conspiracy: one involving everyone in the Catholic Church from the Pope, all the way down to some apparently-harmless janitor who is not who he seems to be. That could make a whacking good story.7

Sadly, some priests and bishops really were involved in "a secret agreement between two or more people to perform an unlawful act." (Princeton's WordNet) As I've noted before, that's bad. Very bad.

The idea that the entire Catholic Church was - and is - involved in a vast conspiracy to hide the truth? I suppose it's possible.

Lizard Men!

It's also possible that the "Jesuit priests of Baal" actually exist: and that they're really shape-shifting, space-alien lizard men. Possible, barely. Likely? No.8

Assumptions, the Vatican, and Statistics: Prepare to be Bored

In some circles, 'everybody knows' that the Vatican is the headquarters of a global network: teeming with myriad myrmidons; an illimitable labyrinth of corridors, archives, crypts, vaults, and ancient locked doors.

There's a little truth to that assumption. The area around Saint Peter's tomb has seen a lot of construction and remodeling in the 17 centuries since Emperor Constantine turned it over to the Pope. As a result, the area we call Vatican City is a complex of buildings, parks, and walkways housing everything from Saint Peter's tomb to the Holy See's Web servers.9

It's an impressive place. But it's not very big. The Vatican City State covers 0.44 square kilometers: about 7/10 the area of the National Mall in Washington DC.10. The folks who live and work there aren't terribly crowded: the population is about 1/5 that of Sauk Centre, the small central Minnesota town where I live. They enjoy a milder climate: and that's yet another topic.

Getting back to the deplorable matter of clerical abuse, and assumptions about the vast hordes of bureaucratic functionaries at the Vatican: The Holy See simply doesn't have a very big staff. Not for an outfit that spans the globe.

For example, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDC) is a sort of watchdog agency. Their job is "to promote and safeguard the doctrine on the faith and morals throughout the Catholic world." Among other things, they're the ones who go through reports of clerical abuse.

They've got a staff of nearly four dozen.

Let's put that number in perspective:

Catholicsapprox. 1,100,000,000
Priestsapprox. 400,000
Vatican City State832
CDF staff45
Sources: "World," The World Factbook, CIA (last updated August 31, 2011); "Holy See (Vatican City)," The World Factbook,CIA (last updated August 31, 2011); "Should I stay or should I go?," Timothy Radcliffe, The Tablet (April 10, 2010)
(And see "Frequently requested Church Statistics," CARA Services, Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, Georgetown University)

Again, I'm not making excuses. But with 1,100,000,000 Catholics, 400,000 priests, and 45 folks back at headquarters shoveling through paperwork about all of the above - maybe it's not so surprising that abuse allegations didn't always get handled in time for the evening news.

Particularly allegations from a country that's been churning out anti-Catholic screed from day one.

"It's the Things We Know That Just Ain't So"

Two quotes, and I'm done for the day:
"It ain't so much the things we don't know that get us into trouble. It's the things we know that just ain't so." (attr. humorists Mark Twain,11 Artemus Ward, Kin Hubbard, and Will Rogers; inventor Charles Kettering; pianist Eubie Blake; baseball player Yogi Berra (once, by Al Gore))
And a quote I've used quite a bit recently:
"There are not a hundred people in America who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions of people who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church - which is, of course, quite a different thing."
(Bishop Fulton Sheen,12 Foreword to Radio Replies Vol. 1, (1938) page ix, via Wikiquote)
More posts in this series:
Other related posts:
In the news:

1 As I've said before, I've got the authority of "some guy with a blog." The Holy See's website has background on the scandal of the Cross, including:
2 The words "secret" and "invention" come from Latin. What they mean has shifted a bit in the last couple thousand years:
3 Despite what America's dominant culture assumes, the Catholic Church disapproves of:
4 Not too long ago, researchers discovered that when a person experiences strong emotions, most of the frontal cortex goes offline.

That seems to explain why folks who can think clearly under stress are criticized for being 'cold' or 'uncaring.' It's also why I'm cautious about making decisions when my emotions are engaged:
5 In a way, anti-Catholicism is as American as apple pie. But not as healthy.

I've looked at this dark facet of our culture, and getting a grip, before:
6 You're not likely to run into the words "ephebophilia," or "chronophilia," unless you're involved in psychiatry or psychology:
"...It is one of a number of sexual preferences across age groups subsumed under the technical term 'chronophilia'. Ephebophilia strictly denotes the preference for mid-to-late adolescent sexual partners, not the mere presence of some level of sexual attraction. In sexual ethics, it may be defined as a sexual preference for girls generally 14–16 years old, and boys generally 14–19 years old...."
("Ephebophilia," Wikipedia)
Wikipedia?? This is one of the articles that cites its sources.

Again, I think abuse by someone in a position of trust and authority is particularly egregious. When the abuser is a Catholic priest, the offense is - in my view - even more rank.

I think, however, it's a good idea to know what the facts are, even in emotion-drenched situations :
7 I like some tales of vast conspiracies: as long as the author realizes that it's fiction. When 'conspiracy theory' beliefs mix with public policy, the results aren't quite so entertaining:
8 There's a huge difference between "possible" and "likely."

For example, "Jesuit priests of Baal" might really exist: Jesuits are real; Baal, or Baʿal, or בעל, for example, really existed: as a Semitic word for "master," and part of the name of a king of Edom (Genesis 36:38). "Baal" is also how we spell the name/title of an alleged deity whose worshipers caused quite a lot of trouble. (Judges 6:24-32, 1 Kings 18:18-40, 2 Kings 10:18-28)

But renegade Jesuits, who decided to dust off some long-defunct ersatz deity? Not at all likely, I think.

Even less likely are space aliens of the Star Trek variety. My opinion. They're too human: necessarily, given the limits of budget and technology.

On the other hand, we're discovering that life on planets other than Earth is possible. As for how likely it is that 'we are not alone?' We're not even close to having enough data for a reasonable guess, again in my opinion.

My take on extraterrestrial life and conspiracies, in part:
9 The Vatican City State is less than a century old. "The Vatican" is the English version of Ager Vaticanus, a marshy area on the right bank of the Tiber River. That was thousands of years back. Quite a lot has happened since Republican Rome. More:
10 Source:
11Here's the Mark Twain quote that apparently grew into the longer saying:
"It isn't so astonishing the things that I can remember, as the number of things I can remember that aren't so."
("The Oxford Dictionary Of American Quotations," Hugh Rawson, Margaret Miner (2006), page 415, no longer available online (June 6, 2012))
According to an excerpt from "The Quote Verifier: Who Said What, Where, and When" (Ralph Keyes (2006)), Twain biographer Albert Bigelow Paine said that Twain was paraphrasing a remark by humorist Josh Billings. (June 6, 2012)

12 I think the Fulton Sheen quote is spot-on accurate, and used it in three recent posts:

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Background:Posts in this blog: In the news:

What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.