Mud in Your Eye

The sex-abuse scandal as seen from the pews

I have spent a fair amount of time over the past ten years, both in print and at cocktail and dinner parties, defending unfashionable ideas such as hierarchy, the celibate male priesthood, restrictions on abortion, sacramental religion, and the virtues exemplified by professional ice hockey. At the moment, my brief for ice hockey seems the most secure.

Like many other Catholics, I hesitate to open the paper in the morning. Each day seems to bring some new revelation about the pervasiveness of pedophilia among Catholic priests and the hierarchy’s bungling, even venal handling of such cases. Yes, a measure of sensationalism is driving these stories. Most of the cases now being exposed are twenty years old, or even older. Compensation paid to victims is routinely mischaracterized as "hush money." The competing claims of civil and criminal law are rarely well explained, while the adversarial nature of the legal system makes it difficult to take the statements of either side at face value. Those who try to explain the changing attitudes toward the treatment of pedophiles over the last forty years only end up sounding like apologists for the unspeakable. Still, in the end the church has proved to be its critics’ best ally.

For example, amid the unending stream of stories coming out of Boston, the bishop of Palm Beach, Florida, Anthony J. O’Connell, resigned for sexually abusing a thirteen-year-...

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About the Author

Paul Baumann is the editor of Commonweal.