Teddy the K

TeddytheK2Yesterday, Ted Kennedy . . . ah, you’ll never believe this one no matter how much I explain it. Let’s go to the AP:

In a rare personal attack on the Senate floor, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy accused Sen. Rick Santorum on Wednesday of being self-righteous and insensitive for a column he wrote three years ago linking Boston’s liberalism to the sex abuse scandal in its Catholic diocese.

Santorum, R-Pa., wrote in the July 2002 column for Catholic Online that promoting alternative lifestyles feeds such aberrant behavior as priests molesting children.

“Priests, like all of us, are affected by culture,” Santorum wrote. “When the culture is sick, every element in it becomes infected. While it is no excuse for this scandal, it is no surprise that Boston, a seat of academic, political and cultural liberalism in America, lies at the center of the storm.”

I searched in vain to find the column in question on Catholic Online (if a GetReligion reader finds it, please post the link in comments). A cynic [That's you! -- ed.] might say that Kennedy took this long to bring up the piece because Santorum wasn’t up for reelection in 2002.

The only quibble I would have with the AP’s coverage is when the reporter tried to squeeze a comment out of the governor of Massachusetts: “Mitt Romney, a Republican who — like Santorum — has been mentioned as a possible presidential candidate in 2008, called the remarks unfortunate but did not ask for an apology, said spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom.”

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  • Erik Nelson
  • Michael

    And Santorum repeated the same line in an interview this week with the Boston Globe. When asked whether he had shifted positions, he said no.

  • Megan B.

    I have to say that although Kennedy’s timing is a little ridiculous, Santorum’s comment just infuriates me.

    I mean, it’s not even grounded in reality. From the comprehensive report commissioned by the US Bishops: “Our analyses revealed little variability in the rates of alleged abuse across regions of the Catholic Church in the U.S. — the range was from 3% to 6% of priests. … The consistency of the findings in dioceses across the United States is remarkable.”

    Of course Boston has been at the center of the hailstorm, but among other things, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut are the three states with the highest percentage of Catholic residents in the United States. Throw Cardinal Law into the mix (and I don’t think you can blame his behavior on any cultural liberalism), and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure this out.

    Blaming “cultural liberalism” for these terrible events is just another way to avoid taking real responsibility within the church for the sickening things that happened. It’s always someone else’s problem. Must have been the gays, you know how wanting to get married is just like encouraging child abuse. Or maybe those people against the “culture of life” (wait, that doesn’t apply to the Catholics). The liberals made me do it!

  • Megan B.

    Voice of the Faithful posted a response on their website.

    “Senator Santorum’s comments reflect an ignorance of the facts and an refusal to recognize the effects of sexual abuse on thousands of innocent people. Research studies by the Catholic Chruch documents a tragedy of vast proportions, affecting every diocese in the United States. We ask that Senator Santorum work to prevent sexual abuse instead of pandering to sociological biases and falsehoods.”

    - – J. Post, President, VOTF

  • Erik Nelson

    Well, the comments specifically about Boston are probably off. But his comments specifically about moral relativism deserve more attention than Megan B. seems willing to give. Santorum isn’t saying the church isn’t responsible for what happened. Not at all. But he is pointing to cultural trends which, if taken to their logical conclusion, can conceivably be seen to contribute to such trends.

    Megan B.’s comments, then, show the same attitude she criticizes Santorum for. Cultural liberalism didn’t contribute to the problem at all, she argues. It’s the church’s fault! Well, sure. But there’s enough blame here to go around. Try engaging Santorum’s argument rather than dismissing it so blithely.

  • Erik Nelson

    Ok, that was a very unclear first paragraph. What I was saying was that cultural relativism’s logical conclusions could very well magnify the trend of sexual abuse. This isn’t a far-fetched argument.

  • Erik Nelson

    As for Megan’s second comment above, Santorum nowhere says anything that disagrees with your assessment of the tragedy of abuse.

  • Michael

    Cultural trends which probably exist in Santorum’s own state, Pennyslvania, as well as Mass. Yet, he fails to take a cheap shot at his own constituents.

  • Megan B.

    Eh. I actually do contest (though not blithely) the contention that “cultural relativism” leads to child abuse. The only way it makes sense if you assume that these so-called moral relativists have no basis for any of their beliefs: only then might they approve of gay marriage one day and child abuse the next. It makes as much sense to me to say that they might approve of gay marriage one day and approve of eliminating all taxes the next. And we all know /that’s/ not going to happen in Massachusetts. :)

    The point is that I think “moral relativism” is a red herring. What people often really mean when they accuse a liberal of moral relativism is actually just “you have different morals than I do”. Liberals, of course, are about 95% to blame in bringing this problem on themselves by their language about “tolerance” being the highest ideal. But very few liberals when pressed are actually moral relativists. In fact, I have never met one, and I sure have met a lot of liberals. Most feel very strongly about what /they/ consider moral issues, like, say, women’s rights, anti-poverty legislation, AIDS funding, etc. And from that perspective, it is nonsense to argue that their beliefs about gay rights have anything to do with an embrace of child abuse.

    I will add that I think if anything people here in Boston are far more convinced of the evil of clergy child abuse, and more aggressive in pursuing a solution to the problem, than those who have seen this at a distance. Liberals like to think that the basis of their politics is a genuine love for others, and on that basis see preventing child abuse as a non-negotiable, not something that might accidentally fall by the wayside if we don’t watch out.

  • dan doyle

    Being in Boston when this pederasty scandal came to light, I wouldn’t say its that unfair. The Diocese of Boston had a very liberal hierarchy, especially Cardinal Law. This may come as a surprise to some, but there are a lot of homosexual bishops in America and there has been a tendency to promote homosexuals into the priesthood and to deny promotion to conservative priests that resist the homosexual subculture in the seminaries. “Archbishop” Rembert Weakland is a case in point. But here in Boston, “Cardinal” Law and his predecessors just shifted gay predator priests around. Pre-1960s those who were openly homosexual or emotionally unstable would not have been allowed into the seminary, or would have been kicked out.

    Perhaps it was a coincidence that now defrocked priest Shanley was a sexual predator and also a homosexual rights advocate. Maybe. But if there are any Catholics here from Massachusetts (or anywhere else for that matter), when was the last time you heard a sermon about sexual morality?

  • dan doyle

    I don’t know if anyone here noticed, but the pederasty scandal in the diocese of Los Angeles dwarfs whatever occurred in Boston. Yet the Los Angeles Times has been starangely quiet about the whole thing, and has levelled virtually no criticism against Cardinal Mahony, the man who presided over the what promises to be the biggest abuse settlement. Why? Could it be Cardinal Mahony is such a huge liberal and has snuffed out orthodoxy in his diocese?

  • Michael

    According to the Washington Post, the worst diocese in the scandal was Covington, Ky., hardly a hotbed of liberalism

  • AlyD

    dan doyle said:
    “This may come as a surprise to some, but there are a lot of homosexual bishops in America and there has been a tendency to promote homosexuals into the priesthood and to deny promotion to conservative priests that resist the homosexual subculture in the seminaries. “Archbishop” Rembert Weakland is a case in point. But here in Boston, “Cardinal” Law and his predecessors just shifted gay predator priests around”

    Dan, excuse me if I am wrong, but are you implying that homosexual bishops or priests are necessarily pedophiles. I do think both are outside God’s design for sex but I don’t think they are the same thing. One involves consenual adults, the other abuse of child(ren). Please clarify.

  • http://www.joe-perez.com/ Joe Perez

    Jeremy: You said you have a quibble with the AP asking Romney for a comment. I don’t get it. Why?

    What I found amusing is that Santorum says something so extreme and patently ridiculous that he gets a hailstorm of criticism from virtually every Massachusetts politician with not a Republican in sight to come to his defense, and the GetReligion blog uses this news story as an opportunity to … what? … tweak Ted Kennedy for commenting on it! he he he I hear a Hall & Oates song: “out of touch, out of touch”

  • http://www.joe-perez.com/ Joe Perez

    Erik: Thanks for the link to the Santorum article. Fascinating! The part I found most laughable was his line that leaders should combat “an array of ‘isms’-moral relativism, cultural liberalism-inside and outside of the Church.” Somehow I don’t think he REALLY intended to include Catholic-ism as one of the evil isms that needs to be attacked, but that’s technically, literally what he said (INSIDE the Church). Here, here on that one, Rick.

  • dan doyle

    Let’s get something clear: homosexuality and the inclination to abuse children are not the same. Many persons with varied inclinations do not have the vile urges to abuse children. But let us be clear and honest about the nature of the abuse situation here in America. The John Jay report indicated that over 80% of the victims were males. Most of these males were pubescent boys and teens. The abuse problem has an unmistakable homosexual character.

    The percentage of homosexuals in the American priesthood exceeds the percentage of homosexuals in the American population by an order of magnitude. Clearly something is amiss. Where a group that is described by an institution as being “intrinsically disordered” makes a bee-line into that institution out of proportion to their number in the general population, then it begs many questions.

    Someone mentioned the diocese of Covington KY, and cited the Washington Post as the source of it being the worse. Could you please define worse? Worse in terms of money paid out, worse in terms of number of victims, worse in terms of number of abusive priests? I will take your word that this Kentucky diocese bears some grotesque superlative, but I invite you to find a diocese with a bigger settlement than Orange in California. Or perhaps it will be exceeded by the storm to erupt from LA? I contend that the worst is LA, and you should look into Cardinal Mahony. He doesn’t get much bad press, but it isn’t for a lack of trying.

  • Tom R

    Megan, good point about liberals not being moral relativists. I’d tweak it this way: For liberals, in most cases, their moral absolutes focus on what society should permit or encourage. Whereas for conservatives, their moral absolutes focus on what individuals should do or not do. So, for liberals, “choice” is usually the highest value, irrespective of how it’s exercised. Liberals see tolerance as a virtue because it restrains the state, or society informally, from coercing individuals, and coercion is always a presumptively bad thing, which can be justified only when it prevents greater coercion.

    So liberals don’t see it as in any way inconsistent to say “I personally would never want to abort a foetus or marry someone the same sex, but I would never dream of preventing others from doing so.”

    But for conservatives, to use a much-repeated jibe, this is like saying “I’m personally opposed to slavery and segregation, but…” In their view, either something is wrong, or it is right, or it is morally neutral, for states and individuals alike. The category of “X is so bad that I would never ever do it, but not so bad that we should legislate against it” is not on the conservative radar.

    Conservatives see public/ governmental morality as flowing “upwards” from, and as an analogy and an extension of, individual morality (with some limitations based on scale, where the coercion involved to translate private morality into public would be excessive — eg, punishing adulterers or repealing no-fault divorce).

    Liberals, on the other hand, see public/ governmental morality as sharply different in kind from private morality because the latter involves coercion based on imposed moral judgments.

  • Tom R

    [Aaargh. Doug/ Terry/ Jeremy, cd u pls remove those italics and bolds, then delete this message? Thanks, Tom R]

  • http://myroblyte.blogspot.com NBR

    Santorum’s comments in that article are pretty interesting for a number of reasons. The whole idea that because there are a lot of colleges in Boston, the whole region is somehow contaminated with “cultural relativism” is ridiculous. I used to live in a working-class neighborhood in Allston and believe me, there weren’t many relativists around. (Though, like Megan B., I think “relativism” is basically a strawman here anyhow. After all, Santorum has practically built his public persona around the words “moral absolutes.”) Santorum’s facile equation — viz., academic culture = liberalism = moral relativism — doesn’t convince me either.
    But the real point is a characteristic kind of conservative anti-intellectualism. Note how Santorum lumps together colleges and Catholic seminaries (as ivory-tower liberal strongholds, insulated from the real concerns and values of the Volk), while praising Focolare, Opus Dei, and the Neocatechumenate. Turns out that for Santorum, too much book-larnin’ turns you into a pedophile, presumably by destroying your confidence in simple, traditional verities.

  • Tom R

    Addendum: Actually it would be perhaps more accurate to say that for conservatives, the biggest stumbling block to translating all private morals into public law is not the JS Mill-ian aversion to coercion (sorry if that sounds like Vanilla Ice!), but the Hayekian fear of a centralised authority choosing the wrong answer and imposing it uniformly across all of society.

    For conservatives, there is such a thing as a right answer, but giving anyone the power to impose it risks ending up with them imposing the wrong answer instead. (The same national court or legislature that could ban abortion or uncompensated takings in every State could also punish the Boy Scouts or Bob Jones Univ for their politically incorrect views). It’s not the uniformity as such, but the risk of wrongness, that makes conservatives into Burkeans or Hayekians.

    For liberals, by contrast, any answer that is uniformly imposed (and that interferes with intensely-held private preferences) is by definition going to be the wrong answer, even if it’s one that you would voluntarily adopt for yourself without anyone forcing you to.

  • http://myroblyte.blogspot.com NBR

    Oh, and regarding Kennedy’s timing … No mystery there, I think. If I understand right, the whole blow-up over the 2002 column is a result of its being quoted in a Philadelphia Daily News column about three weeks ago (6/24, by Jim Baer — online here, registration required.) Seems like there’s been a flurry of discussion of this article ever since then.

  • http://www.ecben.net Will

    Of course, it was the Democrats who made Romney’s religion a campaign issue… about the time they were shouting themselves hoarse denouncing Republicans as “the party of hate”.

  • http://bunniediehl.worldmagblog.com Bunnie

    Moral relativism is certainly a problem. If only Santorum and other RCs could see that an enforced celibacy has some effect on who chooses to enter the priesthood. And that folks who want to prey on children or live freely in a homosexual community might find such a “celibacy” ideal.

    I mean, Lutherans wrote about the sexual deviancies of the RCs as a reason for permitting clergy to marry. In other words, when the Lutherans permitted marriage 500 years ago, it was precisely because of sexual violations of children and women then (and because there was no Scriptural basis, but I digress).

    I don’t think moral relativism, or, hell, even Boston were around then.

  • http://lawnrangers.blogspot.com/2005/07/boston-catholics-liberalism.html kumar

    I agree that Santorum painted with too broad a brush. In his criticism of Catholics who repeatedly fail to uphold the Church’s teachings on Christian sexuality, linked to liberalism, Santorum should have restricted his remarks to Chappaquiddick Ted.

  • Tom Breen


    Glad to see anti-Catholic bigotry is alive and well. The percentage of Catholic priests accused of sexual misconduct is roughly the same as clergy of other denominations – married clergy, that is. It’s also a lower than the percentage of public school teachers accused of sexual misconduct. Do you have a pet theory about how blackboards and having summers off contribute to the “sexual deviancies” of teachers?

  • Erik Nelson

    Bunnie’s comment above is slightly wrong. It wasn’t because of sexual deviancy that Lutherans (and others) allowed priests to marry. It was because reformers didn’t see a biblical foundation for a celibate-only priesthood. They saw the sexual deviancy as a sign that the tradition was wrong. I agree (being a protestant). Yet there is also sexual deviancy among married priests in my own tradition (anglicanism). So it’s not just a matter of the celibate priesthood. The question is, then, what else is it?

    Santorum is simply offering his own opinion about what may be contributing factors to this trend. Personally, I think Santorum is right on this point – that the lack of a shared commitment to specific values in our culture opens up the possibility for some to justify their sexual deviancy. Santorum is not saying that liberals or even moral relativists are child molesters. What he is saying is that the breakdown of a common, shared ethic combined with culturally widespread antipathy toward universal values has intensified human sin.

    Santorum should be more careful to not use liberalism and moral relativism interchangably as he did. But the underlying argument is, in my opinion, sound. Remember, this is his own church he is taking to task. Is it any surprise that he is making a critique of the sin of his church from the teachings of his church?

  • NateB

    2 points:

    I’ve always thought the simplest, best explanation was that pedophiles born in a given population will tend to actively seek out positions that give them authority over children. This would seem to explain why there’s no known disparity between the number of pedophiles among priests as compared to teachers or other ministers.

    If we agree about the above, it raises the obvious question as to whether our culture is actively doing anything to encourage them in this by being too tolerant – specifically, are gay men (who are tolerated) more likely than the rest of the population to be pedophiles (who, currently, are not well tolerated). I do not know if there are any statistics on that; people who think that men buggering each other is great seem to humbug the idea and vice-versa. But, regarding the wider issue of cultural permissiveness, if it’s fine for a man to play the part of a woman in the sexual act, why should it be wrong for a consenting minor, cat or anything else to fill the role? If we are going to toss out traditional morality (whether in favor of mere relativism or a New objective morality) it becomes a perfectly fair question, don’t you think?

  • http://myroblyte.blogspot.com NBR

    NateB, is that argument intended facetiously? The notion that if sodomy is OK, then anything is OK presupposes that all that matters is the mechanics of the physical sex act itself and nothing else. The thing that differentiates sex between two consenting male adults from sex betewen an adult and a minor is that we don’t believe that minors are truly capable of consenting to sex acts of any kind. Your comment seems to hinge on the idea that certain kinds of physical acts are OK and others aren’t. The current strictures on pedophilia have nothing to do with limiting physical acts, though; they have to do with the mental and emotional ability of a minor to consent to sex. Needless to say, cats can’t consent to sex with humans either. So, no, I don’t see how it’s a fair question, to be honest.

  • SEV

    Uhm, before you smear the Senator you might want to do a little research. Kennedy didn’t just dig up these statements out of the blue. The press has been writing about it for about a week. Santorum was asked if he still agreed with his prior statements, and AFTER he said he did, only then did Kennedy make his statement. He’d be a pretty lousy Senator if he didn’t, don’t you think?

  • James Kabala

    The comments by Santorum were absurd and unjustfiable. Dioceses where pedophilia has been a major problem include some dioceses in “blue” areas (Boston; Fall River; Springfield, Mass.; Albany; Milwaukee; Los Angeles), but also many “red” (Lafayette,La.; Dallas; Evansville; Covington; Louisville; Omaha; Phoenix; Tucson) or ambiguous (Santa Fe; Springfield, Ill.; Spokane). Hardly any American diocese hasn’t been touched by the scandal at least a little. And as much as I would like to regard the whole thing as the fault of liberals, Cardinal Law was invariably regarded by both sides as a conservative before the scandal. When he tangled with Cardinal Berardin over the latter’s infamous “common ground initiative,” Law was praised by a name in a New Oxford Review ad, surely a rare honor from that caustic publication.

  • http://onlinefaith.blogspot.com C. Wingate

    It’s hard to believe Cardinal Law was so infected with “moral relativism” that he thought what was going on in his diocese was OK. Not at all: he acted like a man who knew what was going on was shameful.

  • http://bunniediehl.worldmagblog.com Bunnie

    Tom Breen,

    Thanks for the ad hominem attack, but it is possible, actually, to appreciate the RC church without supporting, say, forced celibacy.

    Erik Nelson,

    I wrote as well that the lack of Scriptural support for celibacy was one of the reasons why Lutherans permitted their priests to marry.

    But if you take the Lutherans at their own words, they wrote in the Augsburg Confession (those texts that explain what Lutherans believe and confess) that the gross immorality of priests was a reason to permit priests to marry. Article XXIII: Of the Marriage of Preists *begins* as follows:

    Despite the great infamy of their defiled celibacy, the adversaries have the presumption not only to defend the pontifical law by the wicked and false pretext of the divine name, but even to exhort the Emperor and princes, to the disgrace and infamy of the Roman Empire, not to tolerate the marriage of priests. For thus they speak. [*******Although the great, unheard-of lewdness, fornication, and adultery among priests, monks, etc., at the great abbeys, in other churches and cloisters, has become so notorious throughout the world that people sing and talk about it,******* still the adversaries who have presented the Confutation are so blind and without shame that they defend the law of the Pope by which marriage is prohibited, and that, with the specious claim that they are defending a spiritual state.

  • http://bunniediehl.worldmagblog.com Bunnie

    Actually, this whole portion of the explanation of why Lutherans condemn forced celibacy is worth reading for anybody who thinks that pedophilia in the priesthood is the result of moral relativism or is a recent innvoation. Even just for journalists who want a little bit of perspective:


  • tmatt

    Hey, are any of you interested in MSM coverage of religion news?

    Just checking.