Philosophers and Catholicism and Buddhist abuse (updated)

Michael Ruse has a good piece this week in the Huffington Post on the Catholic Church. In it he describes that after a period of strong, perhaps (English) cultural disdain for Catholicism, he grew to respect the Church, if only for the many great minds it produced. But the latest scandal, and the revelations (going back many decades) that are coming out, have him rethinking his respect for this institution. 

I read Ruse a few years ago in my MA Philosophy days and even exchanged a couple emails with him at a time when he was being attacked (I thought wrongfully) by “New Atheists.” I recall appreciating his gentle approach to religion, while strongly attacking Intelligent Design in Darwinism and its Discontents and The Evolution-Creation Struggle. While carrying the heavy intellectual stick of the philosopher, Ruse has a great skill as a historian in his ability to step aside and let a great story unfold.

While I haven’t followed the current scandal particularly closely, I do find myself agreeing at the present with Ruse when he says

“Let me say at once that, unlike Dawkins, I don’t necessarily want to see this as the end of religion or even of the Catholic Church in some form. I stress that although I cannot share the beliefs of Christians, I respect them and applaud the good that is done in the name of their founder. But I do now think that as presently constituted, the Catholic Church is corrupt and should be eradicated.”

While not wishing to get embroiled in the drama – read Ruse and the letter he cites – I do feel it incumbent upon me to voice an agreement with those words.

I still consider myself a bit Catholic, by birth and upbringing, and I know that the Church is a huge, broad organization. Like Ruse I am humbled by many of its greatest minds. And I know it could not be without a great depth of spirit and produce a man like Father Thomas Merton. But I also know that the current Mertons in the church are hard to come by, they are out there and doing wonderful things for their communities, but too often they are kept silent by conservative structures that harm the church and everyone near it.

Glad to have ‘jumped ship’ years ago on Catholic practice, into some strange amalgam of Buddhism and academia, I now watch much of this from the sidelines. Yet I know that many within the church are struggling. I hope that each of them can find a healing and fulfilling path through or out of this.


Update: James over at The Buddhist Blog has a very interesting post today that is worthy of addition here:

Sexual Abuse Isn’t Just a Catholic Issue.

I may be wrong on this but it seems rare to hear of a sexual abuse scandal in the Buddhist world but there has been one brewing for some time now in the American Zen circle:

“This article, among other revelations, presents a face of Zen not ordinarily visible to the general public. That is, how well known Zen rōshis and leading Zen figures spoke and acted; or failed to speak and act, in the face of deeply troubling allegations and really severe problems. Thereby, the article also points to the underlying interests of these rōshis.

Interesting questions arise as to the extent to which this mirrors the Catholic scandal.  To me it seems almost identical, though on a smaller scale.  The Buddhist Channel, which first reported on this last week, links to a letter eerily similar to the one discussed above by Ruse. The Wikipedia article on Shimano claims that:

In 2004 Eido Shimano Roshi received the prestigious Buddhism Transmission Award from the Japan-based Bukkyo Dendo Kyokai Foundation given to individuals who have made a significant impact on the dissemination of Buddhism in the West;[3] this same organization produced a two part TV documentary on Eido Shimano Roshi and Dai Bosatsu Zendo Kongo-Ji.[4]

So we have the same institutional failure to act and indeed a promotion (though not all within the same institution, a marked difference between the two cases). As James says, this is serious. And, just like the Catholic scandal(s), we hope that the victims can find peace. 

Both cases do show the humility and/or fear of the abused to be silent. The question now seems to be what will the institutions do?  The Zen Society, where Shimano is still listed as abbot, has no mention of the scandal or recently released papers. Perhaps I am missing some important announcement on their part somewhere, but for now, they’re looking an awful lot like the Catholics.

  • Stamati

    ah damn. my zen teacher is a student of his. this makes me feel worse about getting instruction from my local zendo. damn.

  • Stamati

    should i worry about this? what should i do, do you think?

  • vesper

    I generally agree with Ruse. I have sympathies with religion, but just can't find myself following any one path…in large part due to hypocrisy. I have Catholic friends, but many of them find themselves on the "fringe" so to speak. I would call them mystics instead of devout. I think the hierarchy of the church is one of the main problems.

  • Buddhist_philosopher

    Stamati – I'm not sure. It's a lot of second-hand news to me. If I were you I'd talk to my teacher. If that seems uncomfortable, talk with some fellow students or someone else who knows you and others involved. It's up to you how much you want to take upon yourself: do you work through it, or just step outside it? I don't know. Many people wiser than I can recommend more specific things, but I imagine the best suggestions will come from those who know the full details and someone to whom you feel comfortable talking with. Miss Vesper – Ditto on agreeing with Ruse. For me, "Buddhism" is a convenient label for most of what I do and believe. Yea, hierarchy institutionalizes "place" and title rather than focusing on individual deeds and equality. It can be okay if there is accountability, but for the Church that's never been a strong suit.

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