Crisis Magazine 2002

Sed Contra: Delivering Bad News

Deal W. Hudson
October 1, 2002

Some Crisis readers may be startled by the lead story in this issue, “The Price of Priestly Pederasty.” They might argue that such a story damages the Church’s reputation and hurts the Church’s evangelical outreach. While such arguments are plausible, they also can undermine Catholic journalism and its benefits if they are used to discourage serious reporting.

As publisher and editor of a Catholic monthly, I don’t enjoy telling stories like this month’s main feature. The pattern of pedophilia among Catholic clergy may not be statistically greater than among any other group of adult males, but its presence in the Church, along with its financial and spiritual impact, should not be ignored. Why? Because it has to stop. We hope our overview of this unhappy chapter in recent Church history will encourage religious and lay leaders to take whatever measures are necessary to minimize these occurrences.

An independent Catholic monthly has a different response to its readers than a diocesan newspaper. A diocesan newspaper is owned by an archdiocese and is managed by an archbishop. A diocesan paper prints Catholic news but, as the house organ of a diocese, cannot report on episodes embarrassing to the bishop and his diocese.

Independent Catholic magazines and newspapers like Crisis have more journalistic latitude, which should be used for the benefit of the Church and its readership. The Church encourages Catholic journalists who do not work directly for a bishop to report and opine on events that cause all of our discomforts.

Having been part of a movement that decries the influence of the liberal media, I am surprised to find myself asserting the rights and prerogatives of a journalist to publish bad news about the Church. We have come to expect regular Catholic-bashing in the secular media. Perhaps this is one reason why many Catholic journalists have shied away from controversial stories in the past: Their initial impulse is to offset the negative bias of the mainstream media.

Good news inspires, but the lesson it teaches is rarely remembered for very long. Bad news, like the pain of a pulled tooth, burrows more deeply into our consciousness. Call it penitential, if you like.

Independent Catholic magazines and newspapers should demand more from their editors and reporters. Armchair musings on the state of the Church do little to encourage positive change in the Church and its various institutions. How many times are we going to be subjected to large-scale critiques of the Church from G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis wanna-bes? I hate to say it, but we need more reporters and fewer philosophers in our business.

My one reluctance in publishing this story is my sympathy for our bishops. Our bishops are held responsible for every mishap that occurs within the parishes, schools, hospitals, and social service organizations of their dioceses. Not only do they have to manage hundreds, if not thousands, of personnel; they also have to run a large nonprofit enterprise that makes payroll every week. Thus, bishops and their staff are expected to be experts in business practices in addition to theology, morality, politics, liturgy, and even architecture.

Our cover story sends a message to all diocesan administrators that the screening of future priests and their seminary formation must be monitored more closely. It must be recognized from the outset that pedophilia is a disorder different from homosexuality and, according to present evidence, much more difficult to alter or control. Pedophilia cannot be “managed” just by placing someone in a new environment.

There are those who argue that in certain dioceses a laxness toward certain “lifestyles” has caused this situation. If there is indeed a general climate of sexual permissiveness among the clergy, this will only aggravate any inclination toward pedophilia.

Looking forward, the situation must be remedied and—to judge from all the evidence I’ve seen—is being remedied. Some dioceses have longstanding procedures regarding screening and treatment; others have learned the hard way.

We can all hope that the worst of this story is in our past and pray that a lesson has been learned.

Sed Contra: Better Late Than Never

Deal W. Hudson
October 1, 2002

Representatives of a group called Voice of the Faithful (VOTF) started appearing in the media—mainly the Boston Globe—in the months following the revelations about sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Boston. Initially, the group appeared credible. I know many faithful Catholics added themselves to the organization’s mailing list, hoping the lay group would challenge the bishops to stop ignoring the deeply rooted problems that led to the scandal. Close inspection of VOTF’s Web site, however, gave me serious doubts about the sincerity of its “centrist” label. Where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire, and the folks at the helm of VOTF have created a huge smoke screen for their dissenting agenda.

My doubts about VOTF were confirmed when I saw the roster of speakers invited to its first conference, which took place in Boston on July 20. As I noted in our August 8 e-mail special report, “When Wolves Dress Like Sheep,” the conference participants were Call-to-Action types who espouse everything from women’s ordination to the creation of an American Catholic Church.

Our e-letter evidently hit a nerve with VOTF—its next newsletter responded to our charges by apologizing for its conference invitation to the former head of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States and by affirming its loyalty to the teaching of the Church. (Sadly, its response didn’t address the many other points we made.)

Incidentally, our special report also elicited a number of e-mails from VOTF members—some of whom attended the Boston conference—corroborating our view that VOTF’s declaration of fidelity is a ruse. We read stories from VOTF members who felt unwelcome after they raised questions about the loyalty of the conference speakers. The questions themselves were met with evasion and hostility.

Sound familiar? Anyone who has entered a room full of dissenters is familiar with the experience. These bait-and-switch tactics have been used by Catholic dissenters for decades. I don’t understand why they can’t be more straightforward. Why must they feign fidelity and dupe fellow Catholics into supporting their crusade to change the teachings of the Church?

Of course, their answer to this is always “dialogue.” Dialogue, they say, is integral to Catholic teaching, and their only agenda is to foster “open discussion.” But why call for dialogue about teachings that the Church says cannot be changed? A call for dialogue on settled issues is itself a symptom of dissent.

What’s needed now isn’t dialogue but teaching. Bishops and priests need to address this crisis in the Church by explaining to Catholics in the pews the nature of the priesthood and the reasons for its tradition of celibacy. If the average Catholic heard this preached from the pulpit on a regular basis, then groups like VOTF would be seen for what they are.

Bishop William Lori of the Diocese of Bridgeport, Connecticut, and Bishop William Murphy of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, New York, has courageously acted to bar VOTF from using Church property for their meetings; other bishops will surely follow suit. In the meantime, some priests are inviting VOTF into their parishes. Have they been fooled, or are they, like VOTF, taking advantage of the present confusion to undermine Church teaching? What happens when the laity, without the backing of the bishops, challenge the decisions of priests who invite VOTF into their parishes? Not much.

It certainly doesn’t help that the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops invited former White House Chief-of-Staff Leon Panetta to sit on the Keating Commission, which oversees the implementation of the policies on sexual abuse adopted in Dallas. Panetta was firmly in favor of former president Bill Clinton’s vetoes of the bill outlawing partial-birth abortion. The message Bishop Wilton Gregory sends with this appointment is that someone like Panetta is considered a Catholic in good standing in spite of his refusal to protect unborn life.

No wonder Catholics are confused and dispirited. No wonder they fall under the influence of vigorous and loud groups like VOTF: Such groups promise leadership where there’s a leadership vacuum. It’s time for the bishops to fill it.

Sed Contra: More Than a Mood

Deal W. Hudson
July 1, 2002

In our recent “Christianity From the Outside” symposium (May 2002), Emmy Chang remarked that she is tempted by faith when she feels expansive emotions—the sight of a dearly loved friend makes her ready to believe that God exists. Yet she worries about a faith that is undermined by subjectivity and “conclusions that are arrived at emotionally.” She has a point.

If the 18th century is described in textbooks as the “age of reason,” the 20th century may one day be described as the age of sentimentality. Emotions have usurped the place of ideas to such an extent that many of us have reacted by trusting emotions less and less.

But just as many of us, including nonbelievers, find ourselves considering the possibility that God exists when we are face-to-face with what we love most. When human desire starts rolling, it doesn’t want to stop with partial satisfaction—it naturally seeks completion in perfect love.

Take the risk of love, for anybody or anything, and you risk following wherever love takes you.

It is difficult to base an “argument” for God on the experience of love because emotions appear to lack an “objective” ground. And let’s face it: Most displays of religious enthusiasm don’t exactly bolster one’s confidence in what believers profess to believe. On the contrary: Hyperemotionalism suggests insecurity, a lack of reasoning, and the need for self-validation.

People commonly, and regrettably, describe faith as a “feeling,” and many seem to believe it is nothing more. If we polled Catholics on this issue, I would guess that nine out of ten would describe faith as some kind of emotional state. The confusion is rampant.

Faith is an “exercise of thought” (Fides et Ratio); its content is both personal and propositional, beginning with the person of Jesus Christ and spreading out through the creed and the entire “sacred deposit.”

Of course, once you consider certain truths to be absolute and a certain person to be the Son of God, how could emotions not play a role in the dynamics of your faith? Faith is not cold-blooded.

When Sinead O’Connor tore up a photograph of the Holy Father on Saturday Night Live, millions of Catholics were predictably outraged. I myself was livid at an unwarranted public attack on the head of my Church. Conversely, when the teaching of the Church is unexpectedly supported in the public square—whether by our president or in a Hollywood film—I, like all Catholics, am delighted.

In this sense, emotions are signposts: They can signal when we are on course or when we make a wrong turn. They also indicate, though not perfectly, what we care about and what we don’t.

But the meaning of emotion cannot be reduced to that which we already know, a reflection of our personal status quo. Emotions can play a role in recommending a purpose beyond what we already have consciously in mind. If emotions were purely self-referential there would be no surprises in life—no “falling in love,” for example.

Though they are not themselves concepts or propositions, emotions can help to convey a concept by forcing it to our attention. The philosopher Jacques Maritain struggled to describe this phenomenon in his Creative Intuition in Art and Poetry with the idea of “intuitive pulsions.” These pulsions, he argued, are emotions used by intuitive reason; through them, our very nature speaks.

Heightened emotion may open someone to consider a notion—such as, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God”—in a fresh way. Intensity and passion provide no certainty of truth. But in putting up our guard against the culture of sentimentality, we might make the opposite mistake of aspiring to a state of pure, disembodied, intellectuality.

The poet Wordsworth offered good advice in “Preface to Lyrical Ballads” when he argued that the best poetry was based on emotion “recollected in tranquility.” I think that most converts, including myself, find that emotion does often incite recollection, the result being not a poem but a new life.

Sed Contra: The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Bishops

Deal W. Hudson
June 1, 2002

The April 24 communiqué from the meeting of the U.S. cardinals at the Vatican is really an agenda for the June meeting of the U.S. bishops in Dallas. Although the communiqué failed to spell out a “zero tolerance” policy for first-time sex abusers, its intent is clear: The communiqué, along with the public statements of several cardinals, calls for a complete overhaul of priestly discipline in regard to homosexuality.

Will the U.S. bishops take action? If so, how decisively? And will addressing homosexuality in the priesthood be enough to right the wrong that has been done?

The bishops’ June meeting should be a day of reckoning for the Catholic Church in the United States. If the bishops appear blasé and plead for a “long view” of the issues, the cause will be set back years more than it already has been.

To rebuild the trust of U.S. Catholics in the Church and its leaders and to make reparations to the victims left in the wake of this scandal, the bishops need to address several points at their June meeting:

1. The bishops should make it clear that this is a crisis and that they are not conducting business as usual. Powerful men don’t want to admit their mistakes; they often resort to wiggle words such as “oversight” and “misunderstanding” to explain their actions instead of risking blunt honesty. But without honesty, there can be no trust.

2. The bishops should adopt a penitential posture rather than exhibit the predictable solidarity of mutual denial. Powerful men never want to start over; they want to be seen as building on their accomplishments rather than admitting that an entire set of policies has to be ripped up and replaced.

3. The bishops should publicly acknowledge in unambiguous language that seminaries have graduated actively homosexual priests who prey on minors. The communiqué recognized this fact but did not use the word “homosexuality”: “Even if the cases of true pedophilia on the part of priests and religious are few…almost all the cases involved adolescents and therefore were not cases of true pedophilia.” To uncover and eliminate the homosexual subcultures that have flourished over the past 40 years, the communiqué courageously called for an immediate “Apostolic Visitation” of the seminaries.

4. The bishops should not be intimidated by the charge that they are “scape-goating” homosexuals. All they have to do is a point to the nature of the sex abuse that predominates in the news accounts. One habit that the bishops must change is the unwillingness to challenge dissent. Dissent on matters of sexual morality goes hand-in-hand with the toleration of homosexual activity.

5. The bishops should instruct their priests, in the words of the April communiqué, to “reprimand” dissenters openly, especially on issues of sexual morality and orientation. The risk is great, but it must be taken. A media firestorm broke out when Msgr. Eugene V. Clark spoke openly about the problem of active homosexuals in the priesthood from the pulpit of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. So what? Catholics deserve to hear from their priests the truth that they are taught to believe in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

6. The bishops should invite laypeople with the sound expertise to help with the psychological formation and management of priests. It is understandable that the bishops should want to consolidate and protect their power. But when the clergy create a monopoly on information and influence, this is called “clericalism.” Vatican II supposedly put an end to clericalism by calling on laymen and -women to use their expertise in communications, teaching, finance, and management in service of the body of Christ.

The trouble with this, of course, is that dissenters are saying the same thing. But the solution is simple: Bishops need not include among their lay advisers those who dissent from Church teaching and want to use their access to change doctrine. Laypersons can offer the benefit of their expertise without challenging the bishops’ prerogative over matters of faith and morals.

7. The most important thing the bishops can do is to apologize to the victims of sex abuse and to ask for their forgiveness. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of sexually abused Catholics whose main image of the Church is a leering and groping priest. Clearly, the bishops must make a special effort to mend their wounds.

Sed Contra: More Stories, Fewer Lectures

Deal W. Hudson
April 1, 2002

In November, Crisis will celebrate its 20th anniversary. Since I arrived here six years ago, Crisis has become more a genuine magazine and less a journal—gradually publishing more articles based on original reporting. While this is expensive and requires more editorial attention, you have let us know that this is what you want. And we’re happy to comply.

Being a philosopher by training, I didn’t set this course naturally. Like many Catholics concerned with the direction of the Church, I assumed that the independent Catholic press existed primarily to argue in favor of the doctrines being ignored or side-stepped by the clergy. Since the clergy rarely speak about the defense of life, for example, it’s up to Catholic editors and writers to fill the void.

And fill that void we have, to the point of near exhaustion. You can hardly pick up a Catholic magazine that doesn’t tell you that we live in a culture of death that must be overcome by a culture of life, as conceived by Pope John Paul II. Variations on this theme are found throughout the Catholic press—sometimes brilliant and insightful, other times predictable and repetitive.

No doubt these articles must be written. The only trouble is that too many of them only tell us what we already know. For Catholic journalism to flourish, what we need—desperately, I might add—are writers willing to investigate the concrete circumstances of the Church and culture today, and write about these in imaginative, accessible prose.

Some readers of the Catholic press have been fooled into thinking that they’re not getting profundity unless they feel thrown in over their heads in intellectual jargon. But good journalism doesn’t feel heavy; it doesn’t give the reader the impression of being weighed down by intellectual gravitas. Good journalism has a lightness that keeps the reader’s eyes moving across lines and down paragraphs as he waits for the payoff—that moment of insight when the narrative illuminates the mind, not with an abstract principle but with the “moral of the story.”

Well-told stories, in the final analysis, are far more influential for most people than reasoned arguments.

Don’t get me wrong: Philosophy does have an important place in journalism. However, a “magazine” should contain something more. Those who call this a “dumbing down” simply don’t understand the full spectrum of journalism. For reasons I cannot fathom, they’d rather read a truly dumb-downed lecture from the bowels of a professor’s hard drive than a living story based on a reporter’s firsthand encounter with people and places.

But a magazine, of course, isn’t only about solid reporting. We’re fortunate at Crisis to have superb columnists—Michael Uhlmann, Robert Royal, Terry Teachout, Robert Reilly, Rev. George Rutler, Rev. James Schall, and Ralph Mclnerny—who wear their immense learning lightly.

In the months and years to come, we’ll continue to move forward with ever-improving writing, design, and editorial scope. Crisis circulation continues to grow, with each passing month reflecting, I think, your positive response to our editorial product.

A recent questionnaire answered by over 1,000 readers indicate that 44 percent of you read “all or almost all of the issue.” Sixty-nine percent of you spend at least one hour with the magazine. And perhaps most telling of all, over half of you share the magazine with at least one other person. Readership surveys are not an exact science, but they do provide a basic vantage point from which to evaluate our work.

Nothing feels better to the Crisis staff than knowing that the magazine we work on every day is being thoroughly read and enthusiastically recommended by those who receive it. You have our sincerest thanks and we promise to continue on the upward path you’ve set for us.

Sed Contra: Zogby’s Catholic Poll Misses the Point

Deal W. Hudson
January 1, 2002

The Jesuits usually take pride in being up-to-date. Sadly though, their association with a recent poll of Catholics shows they’re willing to employ some truly outdated methodologies.

Pollster John Zogby was commissioned by Le Moyne, a Jesuit college in Syracuse, New York, to conduct a series of polls measuring Catholic attitudes. On November 16, the early results were released and published on page 4 of USA Today. Guess what Zogby found out? A majority of Catholics disagree with Church teaching on contraception (61.2 percent), priestly celibacy (53.5 percent), and women’s ordination (52.9 percent).

Zogby released these numbers without making any distinction between Catholics who go to Mass regularly and those who don’t. This despite the fact that he has admitted that Mass attendance makes a big difference in the opinions of Catholics. Yet, for whatever reason, he keeps this difference to himself. That is, except on the issue of the death penalty, where those who attend Mass are more opposed than those who do not.

Three years ago, Steve Wagner conducted a similar survey for Crisis, with one important exception: He made the distinction between religiously active and inactive Catholics central to his analysis. The results were clear: Catholics who attend Mass weekly have a significantly different attitude profile—a 6 to 12 percent difference—from those who don’t, especially on issues like contraception, abortion, and the male priesthood.

Making this simple and obvious distinction would have reversed most of Zogby’s conclusions.

Wagner also discovered a correlation between Mass attendance and the steady migration of Catholics toward the middle and right of the political spectrum. Zogby’s raw numbers ignore this significant phenomenon.

For example, if only 31 percent of self-proclaimed Catholics identify with the Republican Party, how does Zogby explain the 47 percent of Catholics who voted for George W. Bush in the 2000 election? And, of course, he completely ignores the more significant number—the 57 percent of religiously active Catholics who voted for Bush.

The Crisis Catholic vote survey received wide comment in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and the Washington Post. Reporters fastened onto the distinction between practicing Catholics and non-practicing Catholics, while veteran commentators like Robert Novak and Michael Barone applauded the work.

The only negative voice came from (surprise!) Rev. Andrew Greeley in Jesuit-run America Magazine. He complained that the Crisis survey was wrong to use Mass attendance as the sole criterion of religious activity. What other criteria Father Greeley had in mind, he didn’t say.

Father Greeley, Zogby, and the scholars at Le Moyne all share a common agenda. William Barnett, a professor of religious studies at Le Moyne, hints at it: “People like the pope, but don’t want the pope telling them what to do in the bedroom.” Indeed, all the news coverage of the Zogby survey underscored the gap between many nonpracticing Catholics and the Holy Father on key issues.

Zogby himself thinks that pressure from dissenters may soon change Church teaching: “There are signs that Catholics might nudge the Church in new directions.”

His assumption—one presumably shared by those who commissioned the poll—is that the Church must conform herself to majority dissent (even where a pseudo-majority is manufactured by bad polling). This is a real shame. Observing the widening gap between religiously active and inactive Catholics provides an important lesson: Participation in the sacramental life of the Church makes a substantial difference in a person’s values and beliefs.

Certainly, it’s important to know what inactive Catholics are thinking. Nevertheless, by refusing to distinguish them from those who regularly encounter the Word of God at Mass, agenda-driven pollsters create confusion and ambiguity where there should be clarity and truth.

Sed Contra: Lessons From Two Decades as a Catholic

Deal W. Hudson

Twenty years ago this month, I was received into the Catholic Church. The late Archbishop Thomas Donellan of Atlanta had given Rev. Richard Lopez permission to perform my confirmation privately. Father Lopez chose the chapel at Our Lady of Perpetual Help, the cancer home run by the Hawthorne Dominican sisters, where, some years earlier, Flannery O’Connor had sought to recover from the lupus that eventually took her life.

At the time, I thought of confirmation as the end of a journey that started in earnest with my acceptance of Jesus Christ twelve years earlier at a Southern Baptist Church in Texas. Silly me! In truth, it was the continuation of a journey that is, literally, unending.

If I ever write a book about my conversion, it’ll begin with this sentence: “This is a story of a convert who has never stopped converting.”

Rereading the short essay I wrote about my conversion for Homiletic and Pastoral Review in April 1989, I’m struck by the celebrative tone of a Protestant convert still giddy from dis-covering the stores of Catholic wisdom.

While I remain very much an enthusiast—especially on the subject of St. Thomas Aquinas and his great interpreters—the occasion of my 20th birthday as a Catholic inclines my mind toward another issue: how the Church flourishes in spite of its conflicts, quarrels, and imperfect practitioners.

I’m not sure why I expected life among Catholics to be peaceful. Maybe I felt so privileged to be a Catholic I assumed everyone else felt the same. I wasn’t prepared for the many cradle Catholics I met who bore the faith of their parents like a mill¬stone. Everything distinctive about the faith—priesthood, pope, sacraments, Mass, morality—was viewed back-ward, as an obstacle, rather than a guide to happiness.

I’ve often found that our clergy fail to counter this attitude with boldness. Instead of arguing creatively for the advantages of Catholic teaching over other worldviews, they grant the premise that the faith is needlessly restrictive and look for ways to make it more fashionable. The disastrous result has been chronicled too many times in these pages to need repeating.

Pope John Paul II, of course, has ceded nothing in the debate. Instead of adopting fashion, he has done the hard work of revealing the beauty and discursive power of the Catholic tradition—something that was supposed to be impossible in the present age.

His teaching is now infusing the minds of seminarians around the world. As they enter parishes, they’re bringing a renewed and inspiring vision of what it means to be a Catholic in the modern world.

I also was surprised, and still am, by all the fighting among so-called conservative or orthodox Catholic groups. Hardly a season passes without an attack by one group or leader on another, and the complaint is usually the same: Someone is not “Catholic” enough and must be exposed.

The “Protestant principle” is at work here. Once a group defines itself as “pure” or “true” Catholic, it must continue to root out the defects of others to justify its identity. Inevitably, these groups grow smaller and smaller, because few believers can be found who measure up completely. In short order, the only “true Catholics” will be meeting in someone’s basement.

Something is being done about this. The Catholic Leadership Conference founded four years ago is comprised of leaders from more than 125 organizations who meet yearly in Philadelphia to find ways to collaborate. It’s harder to see horns on the head of your fellow Catholics who you’ve gotten to know face-to-face.

Father Lopez taught me during my two years of instruction (yes, it took me longer) that the Church was in the grip of the Holy Spirit. Over the years, I’ve found myself going back to that simple teaching. We who serve the Church are not the ones who do the work—He does. And the Spirit works best when we get out of the way.

The best advice I’ve received in recent years is to “let the Spirit blow through your work.” Many things make this difficult, pride most of all. Yet if we’re to be lifted up into the life of God, we cannot lift ourselves.

This is the reason why Catholic converts don’t need their arms twisted—the Church has invisible and visible resources enough to bring them home. And this is why after 20 years in the often tumultuous life of the Church, this convert thanks God for the graces of his journey, which are surely beyond his ability to count.