Sunday, July 22, 2018

Rod Dreher writes about the Cardinal McCarrick coverage, it seems that was with Harvey Weinstein, so with McCarrick, it was an "everybody knew" situation

What I knew at the time I made those phone calls was that McCarrick forced unwilling seminarians to share his bed at the beach house. I didn’t know that he raped priests. This, I guess, is why the lawyer could characterize my story as “embarrassing, but not criminal.”

What I don’t know is whether or not the people who went on that mission to Rome knew that McCarrick was guilty of more than unwanted touching. The two settlements with McCarrick accusers came later. I hope that all of them today are thinking hard about who and what their continued silence on the McCarrick matter is protecting.

Here’s the point: The Church knew. The Vatican knew. What is crucial for you to understand is that the Vatican advanced McCarrick to the cardinalate even though it had been warned about the kind of man he was. It let McCarrick take the lead in speaking out on sexual abuse, even though it knew he was himself an abuser. The Vatican knew what it had on its hands, but sat back while Uncle Ted said things like this, from a Boston Globe story in April, 2002:

Over the last several days and weeks, prominent church opinionmakers, including two cardinals, have suggested that the clergy sexual abuse crisis is a relatively minor phenomenon that is being turned into a major scandal by the media and others with an ax to grind.

Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington, for example, told The Washington Post this week that some newspapers are having a ”heyday” with the issue.

”Elements in our society who are very opposed to the church’s stand on life, the church’s stand on family, the church’s stand on education … see in this an opportunity to destroy the credibility of the church,” he said. ”And they’re really working on it – and somewhat successfully.”

They knew that Theodore McCarrick molested priests and seminarians, but they allowed him to rise to the inner ring of the Church hierarchy anyway. Why do you think that is?
Dreher shifted from Catholicism to Orthodoxy, as he's recounted a few times.  He has written that he was advised to never imagine that in becoming an Orthodox convert he was switching to the church that had fewer controversies or abuses.  That should advisedly serve as a more general warning that you should never imagine that the team you just joined has fewer atrocities than the one you just left.  It's a point I'm likely to keep hammering at on account of the time I spent at Mars Hill.  If someone like Driscoll can shift from saying he's a Calvinist when he wasn't initially back to not really endorsing Calvinism then the potential take-away isn't the formal dogmas by themselves but how people treat people.  A demagogue is someone who will tell you that what you believe makes all the difference in how you treat people as a matter of "ideas have consequences".

Alternatively a nebulously defined "love test" is not necessarily going to be an improvement.  Any sufficiently shocking shock jock can claim to flip the middle finger to this or that "puritan" and present themselves as the more truly human alternative.  But ... Weinstein's Hollywood was not in the ideal position to condemn Catholic abuses as if from a platform of moral superiority, was it?  After decades of looking some other way on the matter of a Weinstein or even a Bill Clinton the question of where the outrage is supposed to be founded upon in the age of Trump is not necessarily a moot point.  This isn't a matter that can be dismissed simply as "false equivalence".  It can still be said that the Trump who ended up in office was still a Trump who was, somehow, a reality television show star and fixture.  So perhaps, whatever the open secret may happen to be, the entertainment industries are not looking like they are in the best position to be against what someone who at some level has been one of their own has managed to do.  How you treat people is certainly important but it can seem that the scandals of the last decade with men and power across the conventional red/blue, right/left divides suggests that the most dangerous thing we can do is imagine some kind of spectrum exemption. 

Which is why it isn't a big shock to consider that one of the warnings in the New Testament is that you watch your life and doctrine closely.

I've been thinking about this kind of thing since the demise of Mars Hill in the 2014-2015 period and I'm not  optimistic that people who left and became activist for social or political causes are not, at heart, still ultimately cultists.  The most dyed-in-the-wool of them are probably most convinced they have repediated the cultist ways of the past because of what they are fighting for now even if how they are fighting for those causes might show they have not changed at the level of the heart.   Mark at some point perhaps thought that by dint of simply not being Catholic he wasn't going to be part of a church culture that could silence abuse and exploit people  If he ever did think such a thing then the irony of how Mars Hill rose and fall anchored to his brand and celebrity might be the stuff of a book ... perhaps a book someone else can write at this point. 

The temptation people will have is to switch over to whichever team embodies the opposing ideals of whatever group they decided they had to leave.  The trouble is human cruelty and capacity for atrocity are not dependent on ideological checklists.  People can be bad when it suits them and while institutions can slow down that tendency institutions can, obviously, protect and conceal bad behavior.   If the Catholic Church has had a much, much better paper trail this is hardly any indication any Protestants or Orthodox or atheists or any other self-identifying group is necessarily better.  It has begun to seem as though the Hollywood that can revel in stories of people rejecting the systemic and systematically covered-up abuses of the Roman church in film over the last thirty some years still knew about what Harvey Weinstein was up to. 

Evangelicalism, whether its progressive or reactionary form, is not in a position to really presume superiority.  That any hacks like Mark Driscoll and Rachel Held Evans have careers at this point in 2018 speaks unfortunately to the level of products the Christian industrial complex is willing to shill.  For that matter ... I'm not that awestruck by the New Atheist side of things.  A Christopher Hitchens can negatively impress me in much the same way a Mark Driscoll can negatively impress me.  Atheism doesn't preclude chauvinist remarks any more or less than theism does. 

that's the nature of the age we seem to live in.  Merely turning out to be right that group X is rife with abuse and lies and secrets hardly means that Group Y is any better. What we seem to be discovering in the post-Weinstein moment is that the entertainment industry that looked down on the institutional abuses and cover-ups was the pot calling the kettle black.  I'm not even convinced that the entertainment industries are necessarily going to ever et better.  The codes of conduct may be changed and some things, we can hope, will get better ... but I have the gloomy suspicion that the ways in which people are exploited will be transformed and commuted without necessarily going away. 


Cal of Chelcice said...

I think it's worth making a distinction between institutions being better or worse and people being better or worse. It's one thing to say that we're all sinners, either liberated and being healed, or enslaved, at different points of the spectrum. Putting any man in a position of power can corrupt, whether as megachurch pastor or cardinal. That's all fine and good, but here's where we ought to assess institutional differences as mechanisms for dealing with human sin.

Sure, Orthodoxy may have its own problems, but it *may* be better than Rome's institutional arrangement because of how power is managed. People have written books about how Rome's curia is structured to foster an elitist, secret-keeping, culture of back-door deals, closeted skeletons, and a Renaissance-court politics. All of those things might be deeply destructive, fostering destructive tendencies and sins that other institutions can't properly do. A Baptist pedophile might be just as sick as as a Roman Catholic pedophile, but there isn't the organizational mechanisms to protect him or empower him in the same way (though there might be mechanisms that create a greater possibility of abuse of power).

In terms of government, as much as James Madison was a dirtbag, and the Constitution a fundamentally aristocratic document, the concept of Federalism, as it was explained in the Federalist Papers, was designed to diffuse power sufficiently. Whether it accomplished that in its American instatiation is not relevant, but here is an institutional arrangement that is designed not so much to optimize efficiency or benevolence, but minimize tyranny and destruction. I find that a superior arrangement, as it takes Human failing seriously and tries to mitigate it. It assumes abuse, and tries to nullify it so that it doesn't happen. No one is ever powerful enough to seize the upper-hand. The pragmatism can be a sliding scale to assess which power structures are "better" to deal with the reality of Human wickedness.

In terms of the Church, I think it's a shame that most Christians I talk to seem almost oblivious about the qualifications for overseers and deacons that Paul lays out. There's always a focus on doctrine, preaching ability, sometimes liturgical skill, but there's usually not much in terms of rigorously vetting people's ethical composure. Ever since the Donatists there's been an unhelpful minimizing of ordained officer's moral composure and character. And even so, we've also empowered ministers to the point of being the focal point of church life, what I condemn as clericalism or the professionalization of the faith. Not that people can't abuse these privileges of office (people can abuse anything), but the fact that most of the qualifications laid out in the NT are almost totally ignored strikes me as genuinely bizarre, and yet symptomatic of people who want to turn churches into engines of power and prestige.

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

Fair points. I was mainly thinking about how formal structures aren't automatic insurance against abuses happening.

BUT with that out of the way, I do agree there are forms of church governance and power structuring that we should prefer because they make it less likely abuses can occur but also ensure that where corruption occurs it can be localized.

My preference for Presbyterian or congregational polity is because I think that those are healthier approaches than the top-down episcopal approach. I was thinking mainly in terms of the lack of apparent real-world contrast between a predation-with-concealment dynamic that's shown up in reportage about the Catholic Church and Hollywood. I'm definitely for modes of federalism, to borrow that term, in church governance.

My relatives who left Protestantism became Orthodox and, frankly, I prefer that they went to Orthodoxy than Catholicism as a matter of a belief that the autocephalous approach reduces the likelihood of top-down culture-wide or organization-wide suppression of news about abuses. I think even Dreher might argue that just because Orthodoxy doesn't have fewer scandals doesn't mean that there isn't a benefit to containing abuse X to church Y rather than having the entire web of churches complicit in a cover-up.