The Whole Story

It is extremely difficult to judge the extent and depth of the Catholic Church’s sex-abuse crisis. What started as a stinging newspaper exposé of Cardinal Bernard Law’s handling of the case of one diabolical sexual predator in Boston has snowballed into intense media scrutiny of dioceses from coast to coast and even resulted in the resignation of a bishop in Florida. There doesn’t seem to be a pundit or a public figure, from New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, to television commentator Mike Barnicle, to President George W. Bush and the pope, who hasn’t commented on the scandal. All have condemned the abuse of children, most have called for the church to be more attentive to victims and forthcoming with law enforcement officials, and many have wondered aloud whether the exclusively male and celibate culture of the church’s hierarchy has fostered an environment hospitable to such abuse. Others, especially church conservatives, have raised questions about the relationship between the pattern of abuse and the large number of homosexual Catholic priests. The competing agendas of various Catholic groups, whether liberal or conservative, are very much in evidence in the responses to the scandal. Somewhat surprising, however, is the consensus on the gravity of the problem. Conservative Catholics such as William Bennett seem no less willing to call for Law’s resignation than do the cardinal’s liberal critics.

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