“If you neglect the Big Laws…

… you do not get freedom. You do not even get anarchy. You get the small laws.” – GK Chesterton

Nowhere is this pattern seen more clearly than in the Priest Scandals (though it was seen pretty clearly after Columbine). Here’s a letter from a reader:

Here’s a snapshot of the bright new world in which we live:

The front page of a paper in Colorado today declared that a priest was removed from the local diocese last week for sexual abuse.

It seems that over 30 years ago, in his late teens – he had sex (unbelievable in 1970, I know) with another teenager (yet more stunning) in his mid-teens. So there’s an age gap of 2-3 years, probably. Since he was in minor seminary, he confessed his transgressions and they were recorded and in the general review of his order’s records came to light last week. There has never been any complaints about him as a priest but he has been removed from a clergy-short diocese in the name of “zero tolerance” – meaning, of course, fear on the part of the diocese.

Know what zero tolerance is coming to mean? How many of us dated someone a couple years younger than ourselves when we were 18 or 19?

Better hope that nothing more transpired than a consensual hug and that you’ve stayed on really good terms with this person because they could, if they wished, accuse you of child abuse and by today’s standards, you would be guilty.

I have to say I find it hard to argue with this reader. I’ve never seen a “zero tolerance” policy that didn’t lead to massive stupidity (“No drawings of Star Wars blasters on your homework Billy! You’re expelled!”). It is the quintessence of “small laws” thinking. Neglect of Big Laws (see “Commandments, Ten”) leads to Columbine or the Current Situation. Ham-fisted attempts to micromanage the unmanageable reality created by massive neglect of the Big Laws leads to the Small Laws. It is, in my estimation, just as stupid to impose some insane “Zero Tolerance” policy that is stone blind to the nuances of human behavior as it to follow the previous regime of stone blindness to clear and obvious evil. Can’t somebody in the hierarchy and clergy begin to think with the Tradition a bit and employ something other than models borrowed from Enron or stupid one size fits all “one strike” policies created by butt-covering bureaucrats?

A note to panicked Purists: No, I don’t think the priest’s homosexual dalliance in seminary was just fine. It’s called “a sin” (fornication among others). But it appears to have been confessed long ago and I am not his judge. But let’s have some perspective, please. It was an oafish thing to do and it happened thirty years ago. It does not appear to have the character of rape or much beyond two confused homosexual teens consensually doing what confused homosexual teens do. God help us if we all have to have our lives summed up by our first inept and not terribly moral sexual experiences at 18 or 19 years of age. “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” The man appears to have lived a creditable life since then with no record at all of the sorts of evil of which Shanley and Geoghan are such poster boys. Hanging him out to dry now on this flimsy and insane “zero tolerance” basis is just one more demonstration of the secular “save the institution, human persons be damned” thinking that got us where we are. It’s time we start thinking with the Tradition.


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