Sed Contra: Inside the Pandora’s Box

Deal W. Hudson
January 1, 2003

It goes without saying that if priests had kept their vow of celibacy there would be no sexual-abuse scan­dal. But we still hear the claim, from Voice of the Faithful and others, that celi­bacy is somehow the fundamental cause of the crisis. How does such an obvious contradiction get so much attention in the media and take hold of the public mind?

To put it bluntly: The months of scandalous headlines have opened a Pandora’s box of complaints from Catholic dissenters and anti-Catholics. The scandal has united the Church’s enemies within and without.

What makes fighting this formi­dable coalition so difficult is that it marches under the banner of “democ­racy.” Dissenters say the laity should be able to vote on priests in the parishes, bishops in the chanceries, and con­troversial Church teachings. Anti-Catholics say that sexual abusers are incubated in a hierarchical, authori­tarian structure where there is no pub­lic accountability or scrutiny.

A recent op-ed in the Los Angeles Times (December 6, 2002), written by philosopher Crispin Sartwell, put the common complaint this way: “Many Catholics think that the problem of abuse can be solved by internal reform of the church. But the idea that the institutions of the church could be made transparent and accountable is incompatible with the basic structure of Catholicism, which is a hierarchy—a pantheon of intercessors, from priests to saints—empowered by God to interpret his will to the world:’

Saying that democracy is the cure for corruption in the Church is almost as absurd as arguing that the elimina­tion of celibacy will end sexual abuse. Since when did the election of political representatives ensure their virtue? How often have we seen an electorate willfully return a scoundrel to office?

Those of us who defend the Church’s teaching is not against democracy any more than those of us who defend unborn life are against “choice.” The key is in the distinctions that must be made when we use these words. Dissenters never start admit­ting distinctions because they know that the argument will be lost.

I experienced this firsthand when I went to Boston recently to meet with truly faithful Catholics who were united in their opposition to Voice of the Faithful. We first met at the 11 a.m. Mass at the cathedral led by Cardinal Law. There were protesters outside the cathedral, so I decided to listen to what they had to say. However, I was quickly recognized and a dispute appeared inevitable.

When some members of Voice of the Faithful accused me of misrepre­senting them, I asked them to clarify what they really stood for. One spokesperson, Jan Leary, said all they wanted were three things: for bishops to report all allegations of sexual abuse to civil authorities; an assurance that the ten-year statute of limitations would not shield abusers; and total transparency of diocesan records regarding abusers.

I told her that we were in total agreement on these procedural mat­ters. “Why,” I then asked her, “if this is all you want, do I hear so many mem­bers of the VOTF challenging Church teaching?” She seemed not to under­stand the distinction between proce­dure and doctrine, because she then accused me of not listening to her.

The distinction is a simple one, but crucial for Catholics in understanding the vocation of the laity. The expertise of laypersons is welcome in the Church, but it cannot undermine the authority of the bishops in matters of faith and morals. There is no doubt that lay expertise is badly needed in chanceries around the country at a time when bishops have made blunder after blunder both in management and public relations. Bishop Gregory’s decision to create a National Review Board was an important step, both symbolically and substantially, toward bringing bishops closer to lay experts who have not been complicit in the bad decisions of the past. (It’s regret­table that some bishops have taken umbrage at some of Governor Keat­ing’s comments—the board is doing good work, and we need to move on.)

The Church is a mystical reality and a historical institution. As a his­torical institution, the Church needs the expertise of the laity. The “sacred deposit” of faith has been entrusted to our bishops; however, there will never be a day when Catholics vote on it. Priestly celibacy is the most visible reminder that the Catholic Church stills believe in a truth that is not sub­ject to public opinion or the democra­tic process. No wonder it’s being attacked.

By Deal Hudson

Deal W. Hudson was born November 20, 1949 in Denver, CO, to Emmie and Jack Hudson, both native Texans. Dr. Hudson had an older sister Ruth, and eventually, a younger sister, Elizabeth. Emmie Hudson, Ruth Hudson and Elizabeth Hudson now live in Houston, TX; Jack Hudson passed away some years ago. The late Jack Hudson was a captain for Braniff Airlines in Denver at the time of Dr. Hudson’s birth. Later the family moved to Kansas City when his father joined the Federal Aviation Agency. From Kansas City, the Hudson family moved to Minneapolis, then to Massapequa, NY, and finally to Alexandria, VA, where they first occupied a home overlooking the Potomac River adjacent to the Mount Vernon estate. After a year, the family moved to a home on Tarpon Lane a few houses up the street from the Yacht Haven boat docks. Dr. Hudson attended Mt. Vernon Elementary School from grades 4 to 6 and has a special gratitude for the teaching of Mr. Hoppe who first told him was a ‘smart lad.’ Having moved with his family to Fort Worth, TX in 1960, Dr. Hudson attended William Monnig Junior High and Arlington Heights HS. In high school, Dr. Hudson was captain of the golf team, editor of the literary magazine (Guerdon), and performed the role of Peter in the ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ during his senior year. Dr. Hudson graduated cum laude with a major in philosophy from the University of Texas-Austin in 1971 where his undergraduate advisor was Prof. John Silber. His teachers at the University of Texas included Prof. Louis Mackey and Prof. Larry Caroline. Dr. Hudson minored in both classics and English literature. Dr. Hudson lived in Atlanta from 1974-1989, where he attended Emory University, receiving a Phd from the Graduate Institute for the LIberal Arts. He also taught philosophy at Mercer University in Atlanta from 1980-89. In 1989 Dr. Hudson and his family left Atlanta when he was hired to teach philosophy at Fordham University in the Bronx. Dr. Hudson taught at Fordham, and also part-time at New York University, from 1989 to 1994. Dr. Hudson first came to Atlanta in after graduation from Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS) with an M.Div. While at PTS, Dr. Hudson managed the Baptist Student Union at Princeton University and became its first director. Dr. Hudson also was licensed at a minister in the Southern Baptist Convention at Madison Baptist Church in Madison, NJ. Dr. Hudson’s primary area of study at PTS was the history of Christian doctrine which he pursued with Dr. Karlfried Froelich. In 1984 Dr. Hudson was received in the Catholic Church by Msgr. Richard Lopez, with the special permission of Archbishop Thomas A. Donnellan, at the chapel of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cancer Home in Atlanta. Dr. Hudson has been married twenty-five years to Theresa Carver Hudson and they have two children, Hannah Clare, 23, and Cyprian Joseph (Chip), 15, adopted from Romania when he was three years old. The Hudson family has lived in Fairfax, VA for more than fifteen years, after having lived five years in Bronxville, NY and a year in Atlanta, GA, where Theresa and Deal were married.

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