Father, Forgive Them

This is a very interesting question. Is there something in the cultural air? Is there something in the cultural water? How can we test the theory that today’s culture is highly eroticized? What about if we start our investigation in three public places frequented by a wide cross-section of society, including children: the drugstore, the supermarket, and the library.

In the drugstore. Do you think twice about going to the drugstore? I do. I have to make a choice: collar or no collar? Hide my identity, or wear the collar and endure the funny looks? I opt for the collar. As I make my way down the greeting card aisle, I pretend not to see the birthday cards with naughty pictures. As I walk the next aisle, trying to find where they have hidden the shaving cream (20 different kinds!), I pretend not to see the condom display (20 different kinds!). If they saw a priest looking at the condoms, they would be scandalized, I suppose. Of course they don’t think twice about taking their kids down the same aisle. I move to the next aisle, heading past the magazines, careful not to look at any of them. It’s not just the openly pornographic magazines that must be avoided. I must also avoid looking at the covers of computer magazines, movie magazines, men’s health magazines, car magazines, fashion magazines. They all have underdressed women on the cover. Do I dare look at Modern Maturity? Better play it safe. So I strive not to see any of the magazines. It wouldn’t do for a priest to be seen staring at pictures like that. But do you think twice about trolling your children past the same pictures? If it’s okay for the kids to see them, would you mind if you saw a priest staring at them?

In the grocery store. Do you think twice about going to the supermarket? I do. You get funny looks, you see. And you have to avoid looking at the funny stuff. Grocery stores nowadays have magazine sections too, and even if you avoid those, you still have to go through the checkout line, where there are more magazines. I went to the grocery store last Saturday. The featured magazine in the checkout line was a periodical put out by Rosie O’Donnell, called Rosie. The cover featured a photo of Rosie driving a convertible in which sat three other women who looked like they had a lot in common with Rosie. Rosie recently announced to a breathless nation that she is a (brace yourself) lesbian. Let’s review. A magazine published by a lesbian, named for a lesbian, with a picture of four mannish women on the front. In the checkout line. At the supermarket. I pick up my bag of groceries and head for the car, trying to make sense out of what I have just seen.

At this point I have a question. If homosexuality is something we should all accept, and if priests should be allowed to have sex, and if the Boy Scouts should have gay scoutmasters, then why is everybody upset that homosexual priests have gotten sexually involved with boys under 18?

In the library. On Holy Thursday, there is no morning Mass in the parish. So I have two hours free in the morning to go to the public library and read over back issues of the New York Times. Janet Bagnall has given me an idea. I am testing Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos’ theory. How better to monitor our culture than by exploring our nation’s newspaper of record? While hunting for the New York Times I spy the latest issue of U.S. News and World Report. The cover screams, “CAN THE CHURCH SAVE ITS SOUL?” (Hint: the correct answer is No, that’s why the Son of God came into the world.) I note the date: April 1. Could it be that the editors of U.S. News and Time have collaborated on an elaborate April Fools’ Day joke?

Two columnists stand out among the Times’ writers: John Tierney and Maureen Dowd. While Tierney is scholarly, quoting Professor X and Doctor Y, Dowd is the Old Testament prophet, hurling thunderbolts of righteous rage. She makes Dr. Laura sound like Mr. Rogers. In her column “Father Knows Best” of March 20, Dowd manages to lump together, as a single criminal class, the rulers of Saudi Arabia, the Catholic priesthood, Afghan warlords, the Taliban, and the “boy’s club running Enron.” Funny, I never felt I had much in common with the rulers of Saudi Arabia, who will not even allow a Catholic priest to say Mass in their country. But Dowd explains that all these groups are wicked because they are dominated by dominating men. Having no need for scholarly backup, she relies on her own experience of having grown up Catholic. I recall an old column in which Dowd reminisces about growing up with Pat Buchanan and his brothers. She says the Buchanans were the neighborhood bullies. Dowd’s childhood was pretty rough, apparently. She writes, “We all knew boys who were pounced on in the rectory by priests.” She does not bother to explain who she means by “we all.” A sweeping generalization is its own justification. Dowd has had just about enough and is on the warpath. I don’t think anything could possibly make her angrier unless some bishop should decide to ordain Pat Buchanan to the priesthood.

On March 19, John Tierney goes back, not to his childhood, but to a professor, who explains the reasons behind “the traditional code of silence about sexual abuse of boys.” His authority is John Boswell, a homosexual advocate “who was a historian at Yale University until his death in 1994.” He ends the column: “But now those male hierarchies are being openly challenged by two other institutions, the press and the legal profession, and the traditions don’t inspire the same sort of respect in outsiders. They start to look twisted.”

At this point I have a few questions. Does the idea of wayward priests being policed by journalists and attorneys make you feel better? If so, would you be in favor of a priest using his pulpit to expose the sexual sins of local judges and journalists? I had to take a battery of psychological examinations before being admitted to the seminary. How much psychological testing did John Tierney and Maureen Dowd have to go through before they climbed into their pulpits?

Journalism is a relatively young profession, only recently professionalized. This will not make the press think twice about taking on the centuries-old practice of priestly celibacy and pronouncing it “twisted.” Nor will it stop certain journalists from condemning the clergy for not passing on knowledge of crimes to the district attorney, even while claiming that journalists have a sacred right never to be forced to reveal their sources.

Pages: 1 2 3