Corapi and the Call to Denial

That kind of knee-jerk response, with the Dallas Charter behind it, makes me fear Catholics are recoiling so violently from the shame of the sex-abuse scandal that the Church will end up right back at square one. That is, accusers will again be at a disadvantage, and wrongdoers will be given an endless series of second chances. Some in intellectual circles are already feinting in that direction.

Take Thomas G. Guarino's essay "The Priesthood and Justice," which ran in First Things in January of this year. Guarino argues that the Dallas Charter, with its zero-tolerance policy concerning the abuse by priests of minors will vacate the theology of the priesthood. Bishops will regard priests as at-will employees, not—as St. Ignatius of Antioch proposed—like "sons and friends." He also predicts that the "paradigm shift" will foster "adversarial" relations between bishops and priests.

"First, in judging the sinning priest," Guarino writes, "should not the Gospel be the absolute norm? Are we allowing room for repentance, forgiveness, and for the change of life promised by the Gospel of grace? Or are we simply responding to lawyers who insist that bishops must reduce their legal (and financial) exposure?"

I'm no theologian, so it's possible I'm talking past Guarino's points, rather than addressing them head-on. Nevertheless, I find it outrageous he hasn't considered that 1) generosity to degenerate sons and friends goes by names like "cronyism" and "nepotism," neither of which is very flattering; 2) forgiveness and a role in priestly ministry are two separate things; 3) leniency toward abusive priests might mend fences among the clergy but it will exacerbate the adversarial relationship that already exists—the one between the clergy and the laity; and 4) fear of exposure cuts both ways: many of the most lenient bishops were acting from horror of scandal. No one's cornered the market on heroism.

I raise these objections not because I think they're particularly daring or original, but because they are, or should be, obvious. Though, certainly, some who feel moved by arguments like Guarino's must be acting from an admirable desire to protect innocent priests, falsely accused, I have to wonder whether another force might be at work. When I saw the number of people defending Corapi and attacking his critics—including the one who threatened me with grievous bodily harm—I catch a whiff of plain, self-interested denial. Better we should overlook bad behavior than find ourselves agreeing with Maureen Dowd.

This strikes me as a terribly misplaced set of priorities. But it might not be so widespread after all. Every once in a while, amid the more obviously partisan responses to reports on Corapi, I saw one that said something like, "I used to be a fan of his, until . . ." followed by the mention of some warning sign. It was very encouraging.

So maybe, hopefully, Barnum's favorite equation deserves a reworking. If every minute a sucker is born, maybe during the same minute, another sucker dies, to be reborn as a shrewd consumer. The world's due that kind of break.

6/20/2011 4:00:00 AM
  • Catholic
  • An Israelite Without Guile
  • John Corapi
  • Scandal
  • Roman Catholicism
  • Max Lindenman
    About Max Lindenman
    Max Lindenman is a freelance writer, based in Phoenix. He has been published in National Catholic Reporter, Busted Halo and Salon.
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