Action Alert!

sanitized for your protection

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Nov 16, 2007

At the First Things blog, Patricia Snow has some thoughtful remarks on a Virtus workshop she attended called "Protecting God's Children for Adults," created by the National Catholic Risk Retention Group (an infelicitously named enterprise if ever there was such). A husband and wife facilitation team guided participants through the instructional materials and tried to make sure no one drew the wrong inferences therefrom. Writes Snow:

If the guidelines from Hartford encouraged me by their balance, this video depressed me. After the first segment, when the husband facilitator was disabusing us of the myth that child abusers are primarily homosexual, I raised my hand and said that that might be true generally, but, in fact, in the crisis in the Church, the acts of abuse were primarily homosexual acts, which was why Rome was taking a fresh look at the seminaries.

The man stared at me. He seemed confused and uncomfortable, so I mentioned the John Jay report and Fr. Richard John Neuhaus' columns in First Things, at which point he brushed me aside, saying quickly, "Well, this isn't about the Church. The Church is taking care of itself." Not about the Church?

Bad manners, Patricia my dear, to draw attention to the embarrassment Mary Eberstadt calls The Elephant in the Sacristy. Such workshops are, in part, lessons in an etiquette of ignoring the obvious. A well brought up dinner guest knows not to mention her hostess's disfigurement. A properly instructed Catholic knows better than to notice that the Church perps are usually not soccer moms and the victims are usually not girls. In default of careful indoctrination, badly behaved persons may blurt out the truth in such terms as did the aforementioned Richard Neuhaus on one memorable occasion:

Between men who want to have sex with adolescent boys and men who do not want to have sex with adolescent boys, the former are more likely to have sex with adolescent boys.

See what I mean? Your standard chancery apparatchik can't blow smoke sufficient to cover that scale of pachyderm, and it takes a skilled Virtus facilitator to instill the right inhibitions so that the wrong questions don't get asked. Whence it must be admitted that the motives of those who hand out the protection program contracts are not always, perhaps, as pure as the driving Snow:

Driving home, I was more discouraged than I have ever been since becoming a Catholic, even more discouraged than by the abuse crisis itself. How did it happen, I wondered again, that a specific problem demanded such a global solution? If catechists abusing children were a significant problem in the Church, surely the media would have alerted us? It might be commendable for the Church to try to educate everyone about the problem of sexual abuse, but is it prudent? Is it the best use of resources?

In his little book A Brief Reader on the Virtues of the Human Heart, Joseph Pieper distinguishes between true and false prudence: between the clean, impartial, and upright faculty of the spirit that transforms the knowledge of reality into the accomplishment of the good, and false prudence, or excessive cleverness, that is always in some sense "tactical," always anxiously concerned with its own survival.

Into which category did the workshop I had just attended fall? Was it an appropriate, constructive response to a problem, or was it an evasion, a defensive strategy, or a public-relations maneuver?

How did it happen, asks Snow, that a specific problem demanded such a global solution? The obvious answer is that the bishops -- when gathered in plenary session with their triathlete-rolfing confreres -- had no appetite for the kind of reforms that might turn out to be too well-targeted. Better to go with the carpet-bombing approach in the hope everyone hears the detonations but no miter gets knocked from an episcopal head. "The Church is taking care of itself," the Virtus hack insisted, and, from the perspective of suitably cynical clericalism, it's hard to disagree. As the Vice-President Elect of the USCCB said just the other day, when taxed with his knowledge of three incidents of homosexual impropriety on the part of a seminarian:

"It would have been grossly unfair not to have ordained him."

That young priest was indeed ordained -- how's that for risk retention? -- and is currently doing prison time for molesting five boys (not that their gender was a factor).

Please stand for the Creed.

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