"A corruption of the Church"

Via Ross Douthat, I see that Jody Bottum has a truly courageous piece in the new issue of First Things calling for Cardinal Sodano (whose see-no-evil antics were blogged about earlier here and here) to step down from his position as dean of the College of Cardinals over his role in covering up cases of sexual abuse within the Church, in particular the truly despicable behaviors of Legion of Christ founder Marciel Maciel. What's especially remarkable about Bottum's piece is its forthright acknowledgment not just of Maciel's sins and the ways that institutional structures in the Legion and the Vatican helped to abet and obscure them, but also of Bottum's own predecessor's unfortunate acquiescence in that same closing of the ranks:

The child-abuse cases were a corruption in the Church. What Fr. Maciel attempted is a corruption of the Church. He fooled many people, including this magazines creator, Richard John Neuhaus, who once defended Maciel in a 2002 column, before agreeing later that Cardinal Ratzinger (investigating Maciel at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) and John Paul "know more than I know with respect to evidence.The irony is that Fr. Neuhaus didnt undertake that defense at the behest of Maciel, whom he never knew well. He did so because people he did know well, young American priests of the Legion, begged him to do so, telling him that their founder was suffering an attack they were certain was false and unfair. The first victims are the men, women, and children that Maciel, in his polymorphous perversity, used sexually, but the second set of victims are the good, strong, dynamic priests who had little direct contact with the man and are nonetheless tarred by his actions.[...]First Things has never received money from the Legion (and the closest I personally have been to their finances was a single review, of an Orhan Pamuk novel, I wrote for the National Catholic Register back in 1997). But then one thinks of the likes of Thomas Williams, Tom Hoopes, Thomas Berg, and all the other friends and acquaintances who had associations with the Legion of Christ and Regnum Christi. For that matter, many American Catholic commentators have lectured over the years at the movements events. The money they received was never significant, but it all helped contribute to an atmosphere in which the Legion could close ranks after the first public accusations against Maciel.

There are things to disagree with in Bottum's column - there's something unduly complacent, I think, in his confident proclamation that "the most evil, disgusting part" of the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church is over; and is it really true that the Church "did not materially advance" the crisis of child sexual abuse worldwide? - but on the whole it's a helpful change of pace from the Us-vs.-Them mentality that far too often characterizes the pages, both real and virtual, of First Things. It's words like this that are most likely to build the culture of accountability, and thus help drive the spiritual renewal, that our broken and corrupted Church so sorely needs.

John Schwenkler is an associate professor in the Department of Philosophy at Florida State University.

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