The National Catholic Review
James Martin, SJ

Suddenly everyone is an expert on celibacy. Suddenly everyone is an expert on the priesthood. Suddenly everyone is an expert on gay priests. Or more accurately, suddenly everyone is happy to talk about the Catholic Church, no matter how little they know about Catholicism.

Maureen Dowd, in a hateful column in The New York Times (3/24), declared that celibacy is the cause of the church’s sexual-abuse scandals, since celibacy appeals to men who are running away from their sexuality. Though only a small percentage of priests have been accused of sexual-abuse crimes, Ms. Dowd sees no need to offer any proof for her claim. But in the current climate, this kind of sloppy journalism is the norm: one can say whatever one cares to about the church. Speculation passes for serious criticism; anti-Catholic stereotypes abound.

The newly minted church scholar Frank McCourt, author of Angela’s Ashes, announced in Time (4/1) that celibacy is a sick rule.... Celibacy is unnatural...it’s almost sinful. For good measure, when asked how to solve the church’s current problems, he said he would bring back the Latin Mass.

Finally, Hendrik Hertzberg, in the lead Talk of the Town article in The New Yorker on April 1, loftily addresses the problems facing the church. His lead sentence is: When a man (always a man) becomes a priest in the Roman Catholic Church, he takes vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Of course this is false. Only priests who are members of religious orders take vows of poverty; diocesan priests receive a salary. (Where were those legendary New Yorker fact-checkers?) It is hard to take seriously an article on Catholicism from someone who makes such a fundamental mistake.

Mr. Hertzberg’s error would be laughable if it didn’t point up the widespread laxity of journalistic standards when it comes to the current crisis. But even more disturbing is what follows in the article. From this incorrect premise the author concludes that since one accused diocesan priest owned a vacation home, priests live their vows in a dishonest way. So beginning with his false premise, Mr. Hertzberg gives birth to an easy and hurtful new stereotype: the dishonest priest.

One of the more frustrating aspects of the media’s coverage of the sexual-abuse scandals is the ignorance displayed by usually intelligent commentators. Perhaps it’s the fault of the church for not explaining itself better. Perhaps it’s a hint of anti-Catholicism or Schadenfreude. Perhapssince in our culture celibacy is considered ridiculoussome consider it acceptable to pass along what in other contexts would be qualified as either rumors or stereotypes. Perhaps pundits assume that despite their ignorance of basic facts about Catholicism, they still know what’s best. Or perhaps all four factors are at work. In any case, the number of stupid comments made by the media about Catholicism is astounding.

I am not saying that people do not have a right to their opinions (which they do), or that the church is not in need of serious reform (which it most certainly is), or that some of these topics do not need to be discussed (which they do). Rather, I wish that more enlightened Catholic observers would lead the way. I wish, for example, that more U.S. bishops would publicly offer their perspectives on the crisis (as Archbishop Harry J. Flynn does in our issue this week). I wish that more Catholic priests would pen articles clarifying salient points of the crisis (as James F. Keenan, S.J., has done in The London Tablet). And I wish that more committed Catholic laypersons would write about their ideas for reform (as did Lisa Sowle Cahill in The New York Times).

In short, I wish the discussion could be framed not by media pundits slinging around stereotypes and half-baked opinions, but by informed Catholics. As helpful as the media have been in exposing this crisis, their obvious ignorance makes it almost impossible for them to offer a coherent solution. It is time for our own expertsbishops, priests, brothers, sisters, theologians and, especially, committed laypersonsto step up to the plate and offer solutions. Because when it comes to the future of the church, it’s up to us, not to The O’Reilly Report.

James Martin, S.J., an associate editor of America, is author of In Good Company: The Fast Track from the Corporate World to Poverty, Chastity and Obedience.

Comments

Don & Pat Rampolla | 4/29/2002 - 12:50pm
Regarding the issue of priest pedophilia. We’ve read many statements including those of John Paul II, Bishop Wilton Gregory and in this issue Archbishop Harry Flynn. What we find missing from these are the simple words “I’M SO SORRY FOR MY PART IN THIS”. Below is a letter we’ve sent to John Paul suggesting that he should be the first one to do this in order to start the process of purification of which he speaks.

April 29, 2002 Pope John Paul II The Vatican Rome, Italy

Dear John Paul,

In regard to pedophile priests you have recently stated to the victims “I express my profound sense of concern and solidarity”. You also stated in part “We must be confident that this time of trial will bring a purification of the entire catholic community…”.

What is missing from all this are the simple words “I’M SO SORRY FOR MY PART IN THIS”.

John Paul, in 1993 you had a chance to prevent, or at least to attempt to prevent, the growth of this problem. But you chose to tiptoe your way around it by an insipid reference to “certain cases of scandal given by members of the clergy”. Further you basically encouraged church leaders to sweep the problem under a rug by stating “…one cannot acquiesce in treating moral evil as an occasion for sensationalism”.

John Paul, you have done so much good for the world that we could not for a moment believe that you deliberately chose to exacerbate the problem of priest pedophiles being allowed to continue to molest young people. However through your decisions you did contribute in a big way to this problem; it really doesn’t make any difference that you were ill advised by those around you, the final decision was still yours. Therefore if there is to be any purification of the community it needs to start with you. It doesn’t take a trained psychologist to realize that the simple words “I’M SO SORRY FOR MY PART IN THIS” would ease much of the pain and forestall much additional criticism. This would also make it easier for leaders like Bernard Law to say the same.

Regarding the pain that has been caused, it is not just the victims of the pedophiles, and the families of the victims, to whom you owe an apology. Consider the thousands of faithful Catholics who have made great financial sacrifices to help build up the physical structure of the church in America. The millions of dollars spent in the past to hush up the victims, and the multimillions of dollars which will be spent to settle current law suits, are coming from the pockets of these people. And in the long run the outlay of these millions of dollars will hurt an incalculable number of poor people by subtracting from the money available for corporal works of mercy in this country.

John Paul, we sincerely hope that you will consider seriously what we suggest. Most people in this world already recognize that at the lowest levels of the Catholic Church there is a genuine personal commitment to “the fundamental option for the poor”. This is so amply illustrated by the unsung work of religious and lay people in every corner of the globe, and by the well known work of people like Mother Theresa. Now there is an opportunity, with your words “I’M SO SORRY FOR MY PART IN THIS” to show the world that this commitment exists also at the highest levels, in practice not just in theory.

We’re sending a copy of this to our brothers Bernard Law and Wilton Gregory.

Sincerely, Your brother and sister, Don & Pat Rampolla

Joan E. Burke | 4/28/2002 - 10:48pm
In response to the letter written by Jane H. Presto of Davis,CA, all I can say is AMEN, sister!

Jane H. Presto | 4/25/2002 - 7:07pm
Father James Martin speaks of the ignorance often displayed in the discussion of celibacy and the priesthood since the recent pedophilia scandal began. Father Martin's points are, I believe, accurate and justified. But, as a woman who has been married for 33 years, what struck me as I read the article is how the Catholic clergy has both defined and legislated the most intimate aspects of marriage based on no experience and only secondhand knowledge. When Pope Paul VI did invite married people to be involved in the discussion of birth control, their opinion was ignored in the final Vatican teaching on the subject.

Father Rosetti in his article "The Catholic Church and Child Sexual Abuse" (April 22, 2002) comments on the Church's "clear and controversial teachings in areas of human sexuality ..." and how the current furor in the Church about the priesthood and celibacy is possibly due to the pent-up anger many American Catholics feel about these teachings. I would like to suggest that American Catholics are not only angry about these teachings themselves but also about not having anything to say about these teachings and being treated as if their knowledge of their vocation as married people is not respected by their unmarried, male clergy. The resentment and anger many priests now feel as people ignorant of the priesthood and celibacy speak with authority on their vocation is the same resentment and anger married people feel when they listen to people ignorant of marriage speak with authority about their vocation. My hope is that one of the positive results of this current tragedy and scandal in the Church is that we all, priest, religious and laity, will emerge with a deeper respect for the sanctity of all Christian vocations and the people who live them.

Sister Mary Grace Flynn | 4/15/2002 - 3:18pm
I certainly haven't seen every thing written on the subject of the present crisis in the Church, but it seems to me an area that has been neglected in the listing of possible causes for the problem is Carl G. Jung's theory of "The Shadow." Each of us has his/her dark side, usually unconscious, that which Jung called the repressed instinctive side of our personalities, which consists of all the tendencies which are incompatible with the conscious Christian attitudes and impulses and which we tend to reject in ourselves. It behooves us to do the inner work of making the unconscious conscious, to realize that for every virtue we may think we possess, it's opposite is within our psyche and will surely out if we do not accept it and suffer consciously the conflict which such acceptance brings. In other words, it is the human condition and Jung even suggests that when Christ speaks of the least of His brothers and sisters whom we must accept and love, He may be suggesting that I may find "the least of all the brethern, the poorest of all beggars, the most insolent of all offenders, yes, even the very enemy himself--that these live within me, that I myself stand in need of the alms of my own kindness, that I am to myself the enemy who is to be loved--what then?" There is no simple answer to the problem, but shadow work is not simple and may at least hold a key to some of what is happening in our Church--and not just in the priesthood!

PATRICK SULLIVAN | 4/13/2002 - 9:14am
James Martin, S.J., notes that "suddenly everyone is an expert on celibacy." I hope I read more substantive defense of the concept of celibacy in your magazine.

I personally do not support celibacy, but cannot claim to be an expert, and am not overly conflicted recognizing the authority of the pope on anything.

I expect that celibacy will change this century. There are too many exceptions already, and RCs recognize married priests in Orthodox groups, so it clearly will be accepted.

That is not to deny the benefits of celibacy, and certainly the error in much of the press in blaming celibacy for the pedophilia. That discussion was WELL articulated by Bill Reel in Brooklyn's Tablet a few weeks ago.

I wish Reel's point that this is much more about homosesuality had been addressed in Fr Martin's article.

In many ways, I will make the case that Bill O'Reilly should not be dismissed as was done. Although brazen, etc, he is an ally in bringing out the truth. The journalism which is corrupt is the problem, as here indicated by its failure to attack the homosexual advances on young men by priests.

The church is still colluding with the media to attack merely the tip of the iceberg, pedophila, and ignore the crux of the matter, gay pride in both secular and clerical garb.

If the church does not root out gay priests, as the pope appears to be pushing, do not expect any help from the media to even report on the gay issue.

Richard Rood | 4/18/2002 - 8:17am
I was moved by the following letter which I forwarded to several of my "e-mail" correspondents. It elicited responses which indicated the feelings of some of my fellow Catholics. Perhaps you will also benefit from what the letter writer and my respondents have said. Original note- "Usually someone comes up with something not "off the cuff" but expressed after consideration over a period of time. The quote below helps my thoughts over today's media circus. I trust it will help you too.

'I am deeply saddened by the reports of child abuse by Catholic priests, but my faith has not been shaken. My faith is not based on the idea that every priest is perfect. My faith is in God and in a church that does far more good than evil. and my faith remains strong. I continue to pray for the victims of the abuse, for the abusers and for the church as a whole.' A letter from Emily Engel, Gainesville, FL; printed in Time Magazine's April 22nd, 2002 edition." A response to my note - "Hi, I appreciated the quote you sent re events surrounding the scandal in the church. Will hold onto my faith as much as possible but am appalled at the arrogance of the clergy who put our church in such an unfavorable light and have hurt their brother priests. Our last two bishops in Palm Beach County had to resign in disgrace. I have a hard time accepting their EGO in accepting a See when they were aware of a cloud hanging over their own reputation. The stories in the Palm Beach Post (an ultra-liberal paper) have been explicit and frequent re this scandal while they supported Clinton in his quest for innocence during the White House scandal. Both situations are an abuse of power by individuals in positions of high power. I have been saddened by the scandal here and throughout America and confess that my respect for clergy is less than it had been, though I have never held them in blind adulation. Oh, for the return of innocence!"

Another response to my note - "well said" Richard Rood

Don & Pat Rampolla | 4/29/2002 - 12:50pm
Regarding the issue of priest pedophilia. We’ve read many statements including those of John Paul II, Bishop Wilton Gregory and in this issue Archbishop Harry Flynn. What we find missing from these are the simple words “I’M SO SORRY FOR MY PART IN THIS”. Below is a letter we’ve sent to John Paul suggesting that he should be the first one to do this in order to start the process of purification of which he speaks.

April 29, 2002 Pope John Paul II The Vatican Rome, Italy

Dear John Paul,

In regard to pedophile priests you have recently stated to the victims “I express my profound sense of concern and solidarity”. You also stated in part “We must be confident that this time of trial will bring a purification of the entire catholic community…”.

What is missing from all this are the simple words “I’M SO SORRY FOR MY PART IN THIS”.

John Paul, in 1993 you had a chance to prevent, or at least to attempt to prevent, the growth of this problem. But you chose to tiptoe your way around it by an insipid reference to “certain cases of scandal given by members of the clergy”. Further you basically encouraged church leaders to sweep the problem under a rug by stating “…one cannot acquiesce in treating moral evil as an occasion for sensationalism”.

John Paul, you have done so much good for the world that we could not for a moment believe that you deliberately chose to exacerbate the problem of priest pedophiles being allowed to continue to molest young people. However through your decisions you did contribute in a big way to this problem; it really doesn’t make any difference that you were ill advised by those around you, the final decision was still yours. Therefore if there is to be any purification of the community it needs to start with you. It doesn’t take a trained psychologist to realize that the simple words “I’M SO SORRY FOR MY PART IN THIS” would ease much of the pain and forestall much additional criticism. This would also make it easier for leaders like Bernard Law to say the same.

Regarding the pain that has been caused, it is not just the victims of the pedophiles, and the families of the victims, to whom you owe an apology. Consider the thousands of faithful Catholics who have made great financial sacrifices to help build up the physical structure of the church in America. The millions of dollars spent in the past to hush up the victims, and the multimillions of dollars which will be spent to settle current law suits, are coming from the pockets of these people. And in the long run the outlay of these millions of dollars will hurt an incalculable number of poor people by subtracting from the money available for corporal works of mercy in this country.

John Paul, we sincerely hope that you will consider seriously what we suggest. Most people in this world already recognize that at the lowest levels of the Catholic Church there is a genuine personal commitment to “the fundamental option for the poor”. This is so amply illustrated by the unsung work of religious and lay people in every corner of the globe, and by the well known work of people like Mother Theresa. Now there is an opportunity, with your words “I’M SO SORRY FOR MY PART IN THIS” to show the world that this commitment exists also at the highest levels, in practice not just in theory.

We’re sending a copy of this to our brothers Bernard Law and Wilton Gregory.

Sincerely, Your brother and sister, Don & Pat Rampolla

Joan E. Burke | 4/28/2002 - 10:48pm
In response to the letter written by Jane H. Presto of Davis,CA, all I can say is AMEN, sister!

Jane H. Presto | 4/25/2002 - 7:07pm
Father James Martin speaks of the ignorance often displayed in the discussion of celibacy and the priesthood since the recent pedophilia scandal began. Father Martin's points are, I believe, accurate and justified. But, as a woman who has been married for 33 years, what struck me as I read the article is how the Catholic clergy has both defined and legislated the most intimate aspects of marriage based on no experience and only secondhand knowledge. When Pope Paul VI did invite married people to be involved in the discussion of birth control, their opinion was ignored in the final Vatican teaching on the subject.

Father Rosetti in his article "The Catholic Church and Child Sexual Abuse" (April 22, 2002) comments on the Church's "clear and controversial teachings in areas of human sexuality ..." and how the current furor in the Church about the priesthood and celibacy is possibly due to the pent-up anger many American Catholics feel about these teachings. I would like to suggest that American Catholics are not only angry about these teachings themselves but also about not having anything to say about these teachings and being treated as if their knowledge of their vocation as married people is not respected by their unmarried, male clergy. The resentment and anger many priests now feel as people ignorant of the priesthood and celibacy speak with authority on their vocation is the same resentment and anger married people feel when they listen to people ignorant of marriage speak with authority about their vocation. My hope is that one of the positive results of this current tragedy and scandal in the Church is that we all, priest, religious and laity, will emerge with a deeper respect for the sanctity of all Christian vocations and the people who live them.

Sister Mary Grace Flynn | 4/15/2002 - 3:18pm
I certainly haven't seen every thing written on the subject of the present crisis in the Church, but it seems to me an area that has been neglected in the listing of possible causes for the problem is Carl G. Jung's theory of "The Shadow." Each of us has his/her dark side, usually unconscious, that which Jung called the repressed instinctive side of our personalities, which consists of all the tendencies which are incompatible with the conscious Christian attitudes and impulses and which we tend to reject in ourselves. It behooves us to do the inner work of making the unconscious conscious, to realize that for every virtue we may think we possess, it's opposite is within our psyche and will surely out if we do not accept it and suffer consciously the conflict which such acceptance brings. In other words, it is the human condition and Jung even suggests that when Christ speaks of the least of His brothers and sisters whom we must accept and love, He may be suggesting that I may find "the least of all the brethern, the poorest of all beggars, the most insolent of all offenders, yes, even the very enemy himself--that these live within me, that I myself stand in need of the alms of my own kindness, that I am to myself the enemy who is to be loved--what then?" There is no simple answer to the problem, but shadow work is not simple and may at least hold a key to some of what is happening in our Church--and not just in the priesthood!

PATRICK SULLIVAN | 4/13/2002 - 9:14am
James Martin, S.J., notes that "suddenly everyone is an expert on celibacy." I hope I read more substantive defense of the concept of celibacy in your magazine.

I personally do not support celibacy, but cannot claim to be an expert, and am not overly conflicted recognizing the authority of the pope on anything.

I expect that celibacy will change this century. There are too many exceptions already, and RCs recognize married priests in Orthodox groups, so it clearly will be accepted.

That is not to deny the benefits of celibacy, and certainly the error in much of the press in blaming celibacy for the pedophilia. That discussion was WELL articulated by Bill Reel in Brooklyn's Tablet a few weeks ago.

I wish Reel's point that this is much more about homosesuality had been addressed in Fr Martin's article.

In many ways, I will make the case that Bill O'Reilly should not be dismissed as was done. Although brazen, etc, he is an ally in bringing out the truth. The journalism which is corrupt is the problem, as here indicated by its failure to attack the homosexual advances on young men by priests.

The church is still colluding with the media to attack merely the tip of the iceberg, pedophila, and ignore the crux of the matter, gay pride in both secular and clerical garb.

If the church does not root out gay priests, as the pope appears to be pushing, do not expect any help from the media to even report on the gay issue.

Richard Rood | 4/18/2002 - 8:17am
I was moved by the following letter which I forwarded to several of my "e-mail" correspondents. It elicited responses which indicated the feelings of some of my fellow Catholics. Perhaps you will also benefit from what the letter writer and my respondents have said. Original note- "Usually someone comes up with something not "off the cuff" but expressed after consideration over a period of time. The quote below helps my thoughts over today's media circus. I trust it will help you too.

'I am deeply saddened by the reports of child abuse by Catholic priests, but my faith has not been shaken. My faith is not based on the idea that every priest is perfect. My faith is in God and in a church that does far more good than evil. and my faith remains strong. I continue to pray for the victims of the abuse, for the abusers and for the church as a whole.' A letter from Emily Engel, Gainesville, FL; printed in Time Magazine's April 22nd, 2002 edition." A response to my note - "Hi, I appreciated the quote you sent re events surrounding the scandal in the church. Will hold onto my faith as much as possible but am appalled at the arrogance of the clergy who put our church in such an unfavorable light and have hurt their brother priests. Our last two bishops in Palm Beach County had to resign in disgrace. I have a hard time accepting their EGO in accepting a See when they were aware of a cloud hanging over their own reputation. The stories in the Palm Beach Post (an ultra-liberal paper) have been explicit and frequent re this scandal while they supported Clinton in his quest for innocence during the White House scandal. Both situations are an abuse of power by individuals in positions of high power. I have been saddened by the scandal here and throughout America and confess that my respect for clergy is less than it had been, though I have never held them in blind adulation. Oh, for the return of innocence!"

Another response to my note - "well said" Richard Rood

Recently in Of Many Things