I believe I’ve mentioned before that I’ve never been entirely sure what an apologist is supposed to do.
When I was a child, I thought the word “apologist” meant somebody who said they were sorry for things, but of course in practice it’s the opposite: an apologist is usually someone who defends things and explains why no apology is necessary. A Catholic apologist will tell you why Catholicism is the True Faith even though it can seem weird and eccentric– he’ll explain the logic behind odd-sounding notions like kissing icons or getting your throat blessed with crisscrossed candles. That is, of course, a valuable work, though logical arguments are rarely enough on their own.
I am not familiar with the body of work of an apologist named Trent Horn. I know that he works full-time as an apologist for Catholic Answers. His suit and tie in his Twitter photo look new, so I assume he gets paid a good wage to do apologetics all day long. I can’t vouch for how well he earns that pay; for all I know he’s brilliant at it. Everyone can have a bad day– I’ve had scores of them.
(Speaking of bad days, before I move on to Horn’s blunder, I want to mention that I have no idea what verb one should use before “apologetics.” I wrote “practice apologetics,” but that sounded affected, and “perform apologetics” sounded far too clinical. I settled on “do apologetics” as the least bad choice I could imagine. Maybe Trent or another apologist can get online and tell me what it is they do all day, but this is getting us very far afield.)
In any case, Mr. Horn has a Twitter feed where he occasionally does apologetics in 140 characters or less. A couple of days ago, he tweeted “I wonder if those who gave up mass [sic] after the clergy abuse scandal will stop going to the movies in the wake of Hollywood’s scandals?”
The tweet doesn’t seem to be on his Twitter anymore, but it’s being shared approvingly on Facebook, and I am appalled. I am appalled by the fact that a professional apologist didn’t capitalize the M in “Mass” of course, but that came as a distant afterthought. Why would anyone think this was a funny thing to say about the Hollywood sex abuse scandal, or any other sexual abuse? Why would anyone, least of all a Catholic apologist, try to make a sarcastic joke about sexual abuse at all? On his professional apologetics Twitter feed next to his photograph for Catholic Answer, no less?
I’ve seen people asking why this tweet is all wrong, so I’ll try to enumerate the reasons. Bear with me here, as I’m not a professional apologist.
First of all, it’s a bad analogy. The sexual abusers from Hollywood are usually not lurking in a theater. They don’t stand in the projection room making hand puppets on the screen; they’re on a Hollywood lot somewhere, or in an office in California. They shouldn’t be. They should be in prison. But the chances that you’ll go to the Saturday Matinee and end up getting groped by Harvey Weinstein while you’re there are almost nil. On the other hand, through the hideous negligence of some bishops who should have been trustworthy, and through a culture of clericalism which Christ never intended, sexual abusers really were recycled from one parish to another to protect them from prosecution. This created an actual dangerous environment in churches, where people were sexually abused– not all churches by a long shot, but even one is far too many. If the Hollywood sex abuse scandal involved theater ushers raping moviegoers, the analogy would work; as it stands, it’s rubbish.Secondly, the expectations in the two situations are not comparable. Everyone already knew that Hollywood producers are often sleazy perverts. No,honestly, this was common knowledge and it’s always been this way– even back in the wholesome forties and fifties where all the family-friendly Hollywood films were being made. Read about what happened to Judy Garland on the set of The Wizard of Oz, and for the rest of her life. The fact that there are sexual predators in Hollywood is an outrage that never should have been tolerated, but it’s something everyone knew and expected to some degree. When you go to a priest, your expectations are different. You expect that that person is going to be an exemplar of morality; it’s part of the whole in persona Christi thing. No one expects a Hollywood producer to be in persona Christi. No one, no matter what their vocation, should be allowed to abuse anyone else, ever. But obviously finding out that a priest is a pervert is a deeper and more traumatic shock.
Thirdly, way to blame the victim. People who left the Church because they were sexually abused, did so because they were betrayed. They were betrayed in a way so deep and horrifying even a loudmouth like me could never find the words to convey it. I’ve tried. They are suffering from trauma that tortures them daily, and that trauma is associated with the Church. The fact that they left is the fault of their abusers, not their own. They don’t need any additional shame. Trust me, they have plenty. As for those people who weren’t themselves abused by clergy but left the Church when the witnessed the scandal: they left because they example the Church gave them was not the example of Christ. What they saw was Satanic, so they decided the Church wasn’t what she says she was. This is not their fault either. It’s the fault of the people who, when they were charged with representing the Church of Jesus Christ, acted like His enemy instead.
Do you know what the only appropriate thing is for a professional apologist to do about a situation like the priestly sex abuse scandal?
It’s to apologize.
This is a situation where a professional Catholic apologist should apologize. They ought not to joke, make comparisons or victim-blame. They ought to say, “Everyone involved in the scandal committed hideous and inexcusable grave sin. If they don’t repent they will rot in hell. Their victims were not to blame and we understand completely why they want nothing to do with the Church now. This is not due to a lack of faith on the victims’ part, it’s due to the monstrous way their abusers broke faith. We recognize that no apology can ever be enough, but on behalf of the Church we’re paid to defend every day, we are sorry.”
It’s too long for a tweet, but it needs to be said.
And while he’s at it, I think Trent ought to apologize for that joke.
(image via Pixabay)