Berry my head at wounded prose. Me on Berry on JPII - elements of stylin, obscenely long tangents, some contra Rod strands of thought because in all things I seek to be his dialectical opposite, and other useless ephemera.
Those two half gallon growlers last night left me feeling a bit strange this morning. Fortunately I have the gear needed to deal with that. Well, OK, I had to borrow some items from my nephew and niece.
The Nation came in the mail yesterday, with a cover story on JPII - The Shame of John Paul II: How the Sex Abuse Scandal Stained His Papacy by Jason Berry.
I'm writing this post not because I have any interest in religion, but only because a story in The Nation peaked my interest.
Being a mostly laid off worker, I stopped paying for the Nation ages ago and they still send me their magazine most of the time and still let me onto their website. It's like you can't stop being a subscriber if you ever subscribed. That might annoy some people but I think it better than the outrageous amount of money The Progressive charges customers for writing that is even worse than one finds in The Nation. The Progressive cut me off the moment I thought of not renewing my subscription, and on that rare occasion I want to read an article of theirs online they want me to pay $45 and offer one of my children's organs. One would think that the progressives at The Progressive would offer a discount for those unemployed workers they claim to care so much about, but, surprise, surprise, all 400 of their readers are locked into income via their tenure, and it never occurred to them that an unemployed factory rat might actually read their rag. Bourgeois liberal filth.
OK sorry for that tangent.
Berry does not once mention the fact that JPII came from a country where one of the ways the state attacked its adversaries was to trump up charges against someone deemed an enemy of the state - and that one of the most routine character assassination ploys involved accusing the enemy of the state of being a homosexual. The Nazis did the same with their Sittlichkeitsprozesse intended to bring the Catholic Church into disrepute. Berry does not mention that persons close to JPII have said that as a rule he dismissed allegations of homosexual activity against bishops and other clerics because of his previous experience with the then communist Polish state. I don't believe that this in any way justifies any particular "policy decision" on the part of JPII, and, yep, it seems like an argument custom made for a red baiting American Catholic conservative audience, but fair is fair folks and any writing concerning what JPII did and didn't do concerning the sex scandals might-should mention this fact.
I will also say this - Berry, perhaps unwittingly, paints something of a good picture of BenXVI. He notes the efforts Ratzinger made trying to bring the hammer of Church justice to Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado, founder and long time head of the Legion of Christ and notorious sex abuser. As Berry puts the narrative, Ratzinger tried to administer justice but was twarted by Vatican politics, but BenXVI brought the hammer down almost immediately (by papal standards) after becoming pope. Berry never draws this conclusion, but the narrative he paints leaves no other conclusion to be drawn.
On the first page of the article Berry quotes Richard McBrien, that master of understatement. In the quote in question McBrien asserts that the Roman Catholic sex scandals are "the greatest crisis to confront the Catholic Church since the Reformation on the 16th century." Whatever. I would think that the fact that most Catholics in Europe stopped going to church a generation or two ago a slightly bigger crisis for the Catholic Church than the sex scandals.
This is my fundamental take on the sex scandals: there is an elephant in the room which Berry and critics akin to him always seem to ignore. It is now well documented and indisputable that an alarming number of bishops at every level of Church bureaucracy protected sex-abuser clerics and actually facilitated the abusers by allowing them to continue to get into positions which made the abuse possible. But for all that the institution of the Catholic Church nefariously protected sex-abusers, for all that the so-called lavender mafia ruled with its limp fist, the statistics on both pedophilia and clergy sexual abuse within the RCC are on par with what is seen in other Christian groups and in other organizations which have a lot of adults working with a lot of children. Catholic priests do not and have not abused at higher rates than we see with males across the board. It would seem to me that any depiction of the Catholic Church as a haven for abusers should have to make this point - that if there was some sort of despicable intent on a systemic level to maintain a haven for sex abusers - such an intent did not actually succeed at making the RCC any more a haven for such persons than the next large religious body happens to be. If the Catholic bishops were incompetent at being good guys, which they were, they were also in this arena incompetent at being bad guys, as their bad guy numbers are not any higher than anyone else's.
So back to the article, we are told by Berry that JPII was a "staunch traditionalist on sexual issues and theology." Yeah, the theology of the body Pope is a staunch traditionalist because anyone to the right of Matthew Fox is a staunch traditionalist. Please. Where is Berry getting this JPII as trad language?
And then Bry calls the Legion of Christ an "archconservative religious order." Conservative in the nomenclature of most Catholics writing in English today is to the left of traditionalist. That nomenclature can be learned by talking to Catholics with a knowledge of the spectrum of contemporary Catholic thought, but, you know, it could also be learned by using this vehicle of Catholic Church gnosis known as Google. So Berry paints JPII a trad and the Legion as conservative. Being a journalist must be so damn easy brereezy.
Next we learn that Fr. Marcial Maciel, former leader of the Legion, was "the greatest fundraiser of the modern church." OK, winning the world for Bourgeois Jeezus by winning the elite is straight up sick in my book. And of course the Legion is flowing in cash. [After reading this article I looked up the Legion website and found it as disturbing as I suspected - not least because of the whitewash over the sexploits of the Legion's founder and other troubling aspects of their past. One has to go to the Our History page on their site to get any mention of it. Funny that nothing is said of the Maciel debacle on the FAQ page.] So, sure, I'm no fan of the Legion - but I couldn't help but chuckle when reading this line about Maciel being the greatest fundraiser of the modern church. Why? Not that I dispute the data, had there been any offered - though I think it somewhat ridiculous to think we can know who is doing the most fundraising in a group with 1.2 billion people in it. No, the reason I had to laugh was that another Nation writer, Christopher Hitchens, asserted that his arch-nemesis Mother Teresa was the greatest fundraiser of the modern Church. He asserts this in his book The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice, which started out as essays in The Nation, and Hitchens also ties his target to a vast network of Vatican corruption. The people that The Nation dislikes are always top notch fundraisers. Got it.
Moving along we encounter the ditty that Ratzinger is "a moral absolutist who had persecuted liberal theologians." Because everyone knows that Ratzinger is a Kantian, as we see with his recent treatment of the moral nuances involved with the question of condom use on the part of male prostitutes.
I wonder if we as a society could ever come to a common understanding of the term persecuted. It seems that Berry is following the usage of the term persecuted one finds in academia, where getting assigned an office 4 feet further from the restroom than your colleague's office is considered persecution.
I'm a few years shy of 40, but I vaguely remember when persecution required something that actually hurt another human being -- pulling someone's fingernails out and then dipping their raw fingers in battery acid is definitely persecution. Waterboarding is persecution. Placing a person in prison might be persecution. Firing a person is surely sometimes persecution. Excommunicating people after years of paperwork warnings and dialogging and bureaucratic hand-wringing doesn't seem so much like persecution. Being asked for a clarification of positions is not persecution. Being told that you can no longer call yourself a "Catholic theologian" when despite this you still keep your tenured teaching position in a Catholic institution and can one day get paid to write a memoir about your persecution is not persecution. Those things might be annoying, but is every annoyance caused by someone in a power structure within an institution you belong to an instance of persecution?
I say all this as someone with sympathies for Gustavo Gutiérrez, of course. Despite his former "persecution," whatever that means, Gutiérrez remains a priest in the Catholic Church. I just saw a picture of a baptism he did of the kid of some CW's in the most recent Houston CW paper. He seems like a happy fellow. I mention Fr. Gustavo because twice in the article Berry chides JPII and Ratzinger for going after liberation theology.
Now that liberation theology is as dead a horse as possible, it is safe to paint Gutiérrez a quaint old man with silly dated views on things, and BenXVI thus far seems like he will let that old dog lie. If I were BenXVI I would have a hell of a lot more respect for Gutiérrez than a gobshite like Hans Küng, as Gutiérrez does not have the long record of stabbing former friends (or adversaries, for that matter) in the back in the manner that Küng does.
Anyway, if you can look past the sillinesses like those above, Berry does have a few gems.
For instance, when Berry is discussing his 1997 article done with Gerald Renner reporting on Maciel's sex abuse, he reports on the responses he got from Maciel's ideological allies in the RCC:
William Donohue of the Catholic League responded immediately with a letter to the Courant, scoffing at the allegations. The order set up a website, LegionaryFacts, which charged the accusers - and us - with fomenting a conspiracy against Maciel. Father Richard John Neuhaus, an influential Catholic conservative and editor of the journal First Things, called the accusations "scurrilous" and proclaimed Maciel's innocence "a moral certainty." William Bennett, a national lecturer on ethics who later became a CNN analyst, also voiced support for the Legion. Harvard law professor Mary Ann Glendon, who lectured at the Legion university in Rome, derided the accusations and praised Maciel's "radiant holiness." George Weigel, a biographer of John Paul, weighed in for the Legion, too.
Berry follows this up later in the article with:
The LegionaryFacts website disappeared after Maciel's 2006 punishment; none of the conservative ideologues who had so staunchly defended him apologized to the victims, though George Weigel, who has a research chair at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, called for a Vatican investigation of the Legion in 2009. [This was long after large amounts of damning information concerning Maciel's decades of abusing young men under his authority had been made public and verified.]
Berry then notes that Weigel excuses JPII's neglect of dealing with the Legion's trouble by asserting that JPII was "ill served by associates and subordinates who ought to have been more alert to the implications of [Maciel's] cult of personality... Despite the negative implications of John Paul's reputation that some of [his] critics quickly drew, what was at work in this scandalous affair was deception in the service of the mysterium iniquitatis" Berry continues:
- the mystery of evil. That's it folks. The pope who took on the Soviet empire was duped by the "mystery of evil." Nothing about Sodano pressuring Ratzinger. [Cardinal Sodano is the Vatican hack who got in Ratzinger's way of pursuing Maciel.] Dziwisz, Weigel concludes, "was susceptible to misreading personalities." [Dziwisz was JPII's secretary at the Vatican and the man who took bribes in return for getting the rich and powerful near the pope. Dziwisz was given a lot of money by the Legion, which in turn got the
Legion into good graces with JPII - or so the Berry narrative paints things.]
This really hit close to home because, uh, I have been guilty myself, in a former blog life, of betting really bad on the wrong bishop. He was enemy to my enemy and friend to some of my friends, so I sang his praises like Rod Dreher waxing on about his latest religion. Then he turned out to be a destructive controlfreakisiarch with the world's biggest martyr complex. Maybe I should issue a public apology. Naah, Berry is a bit of a prude. And nothing written on blogs actually means anything, right?
Hypocrite that I may be, there is little more enjoyable than to see such an outlandishly self-confident pundit like RJN (Buckleyesque pomposity in Roman black and white) getting things so unbelievably wrong. I suspect as years go on we will have more and more evidence of RJN's lack of discernment concerning his allies. Not that anything will top some of the things he wrote concerning Dubya's supposedly good and Christian character back in the early days of Dubya's administration.
The case of the Legion being a source of some of the worst abuse documented in the recent Church scandals perhaps undercuts the argument that liberal theology or lax praxis are related to increased incidents of sexual abuse. Berry's reminders of the confidence Maciel's ideological allies had in their man should warn all of us of the danger in assuming that "one of ours" can't possibly be that sort of person.
These things can be tricky. A friend just emailed me today and asked me if I thought that a repressed homosexual traditionalist pathology is a driving force in a small American religious group with which I am familiar. Whew. I think I'll end on that note.