Addressing Fears of Moral Equivalence

A very good-hearted reader, also upset over the raw anger and contempt for the entire hierarchy some Reactionaries have expressed writes to say:

Like most I have been shocked by the abuse of our children by our priests and the handling of the Situation by our Church hierarchy. I have followed the situation almost daily through Amy Welborn’s Blog, Andrew Sullivan, NRO’s The Corner, etc. What has bothered me about what I read is the deep contempt for the hierarchy by folks who share my same strong Orthodox beliefs. I know many of the bishops and cardinals screwed up, but it seems many are jumping on them for what they see as a lack of leadership on doctrine, etc over these last few decades. Does this not make us as guilty of taking advantage of the Situation as those on the Left pushing for married priests, priestesses, changes in Church teachings, etc?

I don’t think every criticism for those in the hierarchy (Law, McCormack, Egan O’Connell, Mahony, etc.) whose egregious sins of omission and commission appall even pagans is “contempt”. As Flannery O’Connor said, “When people are deaf, you shout.” Clearly, these guys were deaf for 20 years. Orthodox laypeople like Welborn, Dreher, Noonan, et al are now shouting till they are blue in the face to make it clear that Enough is Enough. This is not the same thing as the nasty mail I’ve gotten full of raw hatred for the bishops, Vatican II, the Holy Father, etc. Similarly, naming contemptible actions as contemptible does not constitute contempt for the person who committed the acts. Otherwise, Jesus is guilty of contempt in Matthew 23. Welborn et al are speaking the truth in love. Hard truth and hard love, to be sure. But vital for the well-being of the Church.

There’s nothing wrong with pointing out the truth, which is that the American bishops have, in many ways shown a remarkable lack of spine in actually teaching and implementing the doctrines of the Church over the last few decades. They have, indeed, sometimes deliberately undermined authentic Catholic teaching (as in their neutering of Ex Corde Ecclesia and their successful previous attempt to keep Rome from cleaning up the seminaries). That’s how we got here. The problem is not the teaching of the Church. It is the gutlessness of far too many bishops and clergy (and even the open contempt of some of these) for that doctrine and for chastity.

So no, those who point to this debacle and demand the bishops and clergy live the Church’s teaching are not the same as those–like Sullivan–who exploit it to demand we all be even less faithful to it. They are opposites. It is in that sense only that they are alike, a paradox Chesterton would no doubt enjoy.