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By Diogenes (articles ) | Jan 16, 2005

The USCCB has sent the bishops a draft Charter for review and comment. A copy has been acquired (as they say) by Off The Record. Check out the paragraph below:

6a. While the priestly commitment to the virtue of chastity and the gift of celibacy is well known, there will be clear and well-publicized diocesan/eparchial standards of ministerial behavior and appropriate boundaries for clergy and for any other church personnel in positions of trust who have regular contact...

Put aside the question of what it might mean to "commit" to a virtue or a gift, and take note of the general thrust. Is this the language of men who see mortal sins of unchastity as intrinsically evil? Phil Lawler proposed the following parallel:

Suppose you're a layman, hired by a mid-sized corporation, and you find a passage in the employee manual to this effect: "We know you guys all love your wives (yadda yadda), but here are the standards of behavior for when you take your secretary out to lunch."

Point taken. Such a policy would be an exercise in cynicism.

Take it a step further: if a husband commits adultery, his wife's outrage comes not from his "crossing boundaries" -- it's not a question of poor judgment -- it comes from the fact that he betrayed her. She doesn't reproach him for contravening standards; it's his heart that's wrong. Were he to excuse his adultery by speaking of it as "misconduct," she would brain him, rightly.

In a public organization like a business or a law firm, where no shared morality is presumed, the vocabulary of "misconduct" and "inappropriate behavior" may be a necessary expedient. But what does it say about ecclesiastics who adopt the jargon of "boundaries" in addressing sins of sexual impurity (not to mention seduction and predation)?

On one hand, no blame attaches to the person who stays just inside a boundary (in the case of running backs and tennis players, it's meritorious to operate close to the edge). In terms of sexual boundaries, however, anyone who lingers at the border does so because his heart is already on the other side. Even if he succeeds in not crossing, he is committing adultery (et cetera) in his heart.

On the other hand, though a child might profitably use boundaries as provisional guides to decency, they exist in order to be replaced by true understanding. Only a moral imbecile would continue to use a boundary to guide his conduct in preference to a moral norm -- and that because he was incapable of comprehending the human good that the moral norm enshrines. You swat Shaggy with a rolled-up newspaper when he comes into your bedroom because you don't expect a dog to grasp the principle in virtue of which the bedroom is off-limits. He's not up to blame, so you give him boundary-inhibitions instead.

So why, in speaking of Catholic clergy, does the USCCB fall back on the cant of "appropriate boundaries"? -- language not only unsuited to the circumstances but frankly bizarre in conjunction with the words "priestly commitment to the virtue of chastity." Only one answer makes sense: that in their heart of hearts, the authors -- though shocked by the swatting they got for clergy abuse -- cannot themselves grasp or articulate the reason why they took a newspaper across the snout.

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Show 8 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: opraem - Jan. 19, 2005 10:55 PM ET USA

    the us catholic conference and our bishops still don't get it. they paid for, promoted and protected serial child rape for twenty years. anything less than obedience to their vow of chastity is forbidden behavior. if they sin, a good confession is the first step to recovery.

  • Posted by: AveMaria580 - Jan. 18, 2005 7:00 PM ET USA

    It certainly doesn't address the gross immorality of the issue but what I find really asinine is telling someone to observe the boundaries. It is the identiy of a thing that determines the boundaries. I a person doesn't know the identity-first made in the imag of God-they will never observe boundaries because they won't be able to find any. Without a clear understanding of identity boundaries become fluid or even non existant.

  • Posted by: - Jan. 18, 2005 11:18 AM ET USA

    The comments preceeding are so sound and the article by Diogenes so germane that they ought, without any question, be presented to each and every bishop in the US. There seems to be no possibility of plumbing the depth of the bishop's perverse deliberate avoidance of binding Catholic morality on themselves or their clergy. Now, let's be practical - how about fasting and abstaining from fine food on every Friday for holy bishops. We sure need them - en masse?

  • Posted by: Vincit omnia amor - Jan. 17, 2005 11:53 PM ET USA

    sTrANgE. But, TYPICAL.

  • Posted by: - Jan. 17, 2005 2:38 PM ET USA

    Aaargh!!! Tell me again why we need the USCCB with its Task Forces and Workgroups? Were St. Paul around today I could hear him paraphrase Bobby Jones about the young Jack Nicklaus: "They speak a language with which I am not familiar." We need the clarity of a 1Corinthians: "...neither fornicators, nor idolators, nor adulterers, not the effeminate, nor sodomites, nor thieves...shall inherit the Kingdom of God."

  • Posted by: shrink - Jan. 17, 2005 1:22 PM ET USA

    From the Terminology section of the John Jay Report: "Boundary Problem Inability to maintain a clear and appropriate interpersonal (physical as well as emotional) distance between two individuals where such a separation is expected and ecessary. Boundary problems can be mild to moderate, such as a therapist or teacher developing a personal relationship with his/her student or patient; or, they may be severe, as in the development of an intimate relationship."

  • Posted by: - Jan. 17, 2005 10:23 AM ET USA

    I believe the "why?" in the last paragraph is answered most succinctly by saying that they have not yet been converted to Catholicism, even though, hypocritically, they presume to "govern" Catholics.

  • Posted by: Ignacio177 - Jan. 17, 2005 9:12 AM ET USA

    Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote of "language games". Defined groups of people have habitual ways of talking: chemist talk like chemists, sports writers talk like sports writers, the USCCB talks like.... because Catholic Culture has lost its common language.

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