One of the most surprising aspects of the reaction to the return of the clergy sex abuse scandal has been the way some commentators, especially those on the Left, have used the crisis to advance causes that do not actually have much to do with the underlying problems. My colleague Father Martin has already explained below that celibacy is not the source of this problem, and ending the requirement for clerical celibacy would not end the scandal. But, what has my back up this morning is the argument that because of the scandal, the entire hierarchical structure of the Church should be overturned and the most extreme liberal interpretation of Vatican II be accepted.
Exhibit A is an article in yesterday’s Boston Globe by Mr. James Carroll. In the first paragraph, he tips his hand by calling Pope Benedict an "enabler bishop" which is something in contention not proved, at least not proven beyond the "show trial" quality of justice that the blogosphere metes out. He goes on to accuse the Pope of "Catholic fundamentalism" in which the papacy functions the way the Bible does for Protestant fundamentalism. Carroll gives a brief history lesson about the emergence of the modern papacy that is a tissue of inaccuracies.
Carroll writes, for example, "In the past, bishops were elected by local churches." Certainly, the Vatican’s role in the selection of bishops has become steadily more pronounced in the past two hundred years. But, the role of the Congregation of Bishops and the nuncios in the selection of new bishops did not replace elections by the local church; it replaced nomination by local government. And, one of the principal causes of the Vatican’s enhanced role in the selection of bishops was the emergence of the civil doctrine of church-state separation. That fact, alas, does not fit into Carroll’s imagined plot of reactionary bishops frustrating the effects of the Enlightenment, so it goes unmentioned. But, if Carroll really prefers the old way, let him imagine the kind of bishops that would have been nominated by the U.S. government during the eight, long years of George W. Bush’s presidency.
In another section of his essay, Carroll writes: "Vatican II was a step toward the democratizing of the Catholic Church, which is why Catholic fundamentalists have been seeking to undo it ever since. Fundamentalist-in-chief has been Joseph Ratzinger." I have searched the documents of Vatican II for evidence of this "democratizing" step Carroll perceives. It is not there. The phrase "People of God" is reclaimed, but the reclaiming is from the Hebrew Scriptures not from the Enlightenment. As well, anyone with even a cursory awareness of Ratzinger’s writings would know that such a simplification of his thought is beyond unfair. Ratzinger certainly is more skeptical of modernity’s claims than Carroll who approaches "democracy" and "the laity" with the same discriminating sensibility exhibited by my St. Bernard when he approaches his dinner. Ratzinger is no fundamentalist: His writings constantly face, they do not evade, the bumps in the modern road, the challenges of social and cultural pluralism, the complexities of dialogue in an age that is, after all, marked by relativism, the ugly, genocide-laden history of modernity. And, it would be strange indeed to find any bishop who shares Carroll’s commitment to a liberal, Protestant ecclesiology, which is a fine ecclesiology to have, just not a Catholic ecclesiology.
Timothy Shriver, chairman of Special Olympics, writing in the Washington Post yesterday, had a similar, albeit less grandiose, take on what the scandal demands. He writes that the Pope and bishops must "convert their culture to one that is centered on loving God from the depths of their souls and to leading a church that is as much mother as father, as much pastoral as theological, as much spiritual as doctrinal." It sure seems to me that the Pope who wrote those beautiful homilies last week was "centered on loving God" and I utterly reject as facile and misguided these false dichotomies between being pastoral and theological, and between spiritual and doctrinal. For a Catholic, the sources of our spirituality are our doctrinal claims: You don’t make a crèche unless you believe in the doctrine of the Incarnation, you don’t pray the rosary unless you accept the doctrine of the Virgin Birth, and you do not invoke the protection of the saints, nor light a candle at their statues, unless you believe the dogmatic claims about the Communion of the Saints.
The sex abuse scandal is horrific and it should not be hijacked for ideological purposes. Some conservatives use the scandal to bash gays. Now, some liberals use it to advance their ecclesiological agenda. Shame on them both. We honor the victims by addressing the real and the root causes of the scandal, not by making the same tired arguments about Vatican II that were being made before the scandal ever happened.