I need to pay more attention to Ross Douthat

Ross Douthat has been out there at the edge of my consciousness for a while, but I haven’t actually focused on him. He joined the NYT‘s op-ed page in April 2009, a month after I was laid off from the paper, so he was never in the mix of columnists that I pored through and compared in choosing content for The State.

A few times, he’s come to my attention with a column or an idea that briefly intrigued me, but I just haven’t read him enough to form an impression. I should probably make more of an effort, after what I read today. His next-to-most-recent column ran in The State, and it included this passage:

I do not own guns, and the last time I discharged a firearm was on “Second Amendment Day” at a conservative journalism program many years ago. (Yes, dear reader, that’s how conservative journalism programs roll.) My political commitments are more communitarian than libertarian, I don’t think the Constitution guarantees a right to bear every kind of gun or magazine, and I think of myself as modestly persuadable in the gun control debate….

No, not the part about his attending a “conservative journalism program,” which to me sounds every bit as appalling as “liberal journalism program,” but the good bit. This bit:

My political commitments are more communitarian than libertarian…

I forget the last time a major national pundit said something like that, if one of them ever did. (It’s the sort of thing David Brooks might well say, but I don’t know that he’s ever put it that plainly.)

So I just went back and read his last few columns, before running up against the NYT‘s paywall (sorry, but I’m subscribing to three newspapers and one magazine currently, and just can’t afford to add another). I particularly liked the one examining whether Donald Trump is, strictly speaking, a fascist (spoiler: he is), but all were thought-provoking.

So, while I can’t say yet that I’m a fan, to the extent that the Times will let me, I’m going to start paying more attention…


38 thoughts on “I need to pay more attention to Ross Douthat

  1. Assistant

    I don’t know that Ross would appreciate a comparison to a guy who judges presidential timber by the sharpness of the crease in one’s Hart Schaffner Marx slacks. (BTW, I think the “Marx” bit was a clue…) The Donald’s crease is always sharp, so I’m confident that David will soon announce revised criteria.

    That said, Douthat’s employer, the New York Times, recently got a nasty letter from Catholic theologians upset with Ross’s columns “deeply critical of the Church’s left wing and [il Papa] Francis’ relatively progressive take on various theological issues.” The letter read in part as follows:

    On Sunday, October 18, the Times published Ross Douthat’s piece “The Plot to Change Catholicism.” Aside from the fact that Mr. Douthat has no professional qualifications for writing on the subject, the problem with his article and other recent statements is his view of Catholicism as unapologetically subject to a politically partisan narrative that has very little to do with what Catholicism really is. Moreover, accusing other members of the Catholic church of heresy, sometimes subtly, sometimes openly, is serious business that can have serious consequences for those so accused. This is not what we expect of The New York Times.

    After some criticism, a theological spokesperson allowed as how “The letter should have asked the New York Times the following question: with what criteria did they determine Mr. Douthat competent to act as an arbiter of theological truth?”

    As if the Gray Lady cared about competency and theological truths…

    Douthat is a convert to Catholicism and should be expected to be somewhat of a hard alpha-sierra-sierra about the Church’s preachin’. Moreover, Douthat and more that a boatload (I suppose one should use “a one-week’s cruiseship’s worth” given that most of the conservative mags sponsor such outings annually) of conservatives have been a bit distraught about the pope’s dismissive ‘tude toward capitalism — hailing as he does from Argentina, he’s seen only a mercantilist fascism of sorts — and warm embrace of climate change and its preferred solution: central control of all economies. He doesn’t seem to understand that the developing world needs reliable, baseline power to become developed and stop gassing folks who have no alternative but to burn dried dung for cooking and heat. But the theologians who sponsored the letter are leftists who believe that the Church needs to grow with the times.

    I suppose Douthat’s complaint could be summed up this way: I converted to Catholicism for a reason. If I agreed with what the Pope seems to be up to, I’d have become an Episcopalian!

    1. Lynn Teague

      I read Douthat now and then, because I make a point of reading columnists with whom I don’t agree as well as those who tend to share my perspectives. I’m not an admirer of his, though.

      I wasn’t aware of the letter you cite, Assistant, and I disagree with the notion that only professional theologians should make public comments about religious ideas. However, I too have been disturbed by Douthat’s willingness to aggressively attack the current pope and those who agree with him as, essentially, heretics. Disagreement is inevitable, but Douthat is dogmatic in the colloquial negative sense as well as the literal.

      As to the issue of Pope Francis’ comments on capitalism, I disagree with Assistant. I don’t think the pope’s perspective is shaped largely by an Argentinian understanding of capitalism. His perspective is worldwide, because he sees that if you are a Christian and you also value what you perceive as the upside of an aggressive form of capitalism (creative destruction, winners-take-high-profits, and so forth) then you have a moral obligation to understand and help those who are harmed by this system. If you are “pro-life” you believe that all have a right to live in something other than misery.

      Our rapidly changing world society is geared to both employ and reward the more intelligent, the better educated, and the better funded among us. This isn’t Lake Woebegone and most people aren’t above average in every respect. People who would have served a useful purpose and paid their own way in an earlier form of our society, an earlier form of capitalism, may not have personal skills to sell that allow them a decent life. This shouldn’t mean that they are disposable.

      A good example is modern retailing’s model of very low paid workers (for example, many Walmart employees) so that owners benefit from very high profits and consumers benefit from very low prices. To pay all of these workers enough to personally pay for decent health insurance would require either reducing profits or raising prices. Our society has not seen fit to compel either solution, and so we have the pressure for government healthcare assistance for the poor. That is what Medicaid expansion represents, help for the working poor who have not been able to sell their work for an amount of money that pays for modern healthcare. There are other approaches that would work, but Pope Francis is right, some response to the situation is morally necessary because modern capitalism leaves many people out in the cold. Just demonizing those who have been left behind to justify ignoring their needs is not consistent with Christian teaching as I understand it. But what the heck, I’m just an Episcopalian.

      1. Assistant

        From your comments I see that you and Adam Smith (and I) are on the same page, at least as a starting point:

        ”No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable. It is but equity, besides, that they who feed, clothe and lodge the whole body of the people, should have such a share of the produce of their own labour as to be themselves tolerably well fed, clothed and lodged.”

        While he’s better known today for his later work, The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith set the foundation for his theory of capitalism in The Theory of Moral Sentiments where he describes what we today would describe as “empathy” for other members of society as an essential component for a moral society. Thus, humans, self-centered by nature, nonetheless have the capacity to recognize the state of being of those around them.

        Smith wrote and taught at a time when monarchies and a rigid class system were the norm, serfs and slaves were common, so in a sense he was describing an idealized system. Fortunately he influenced a group of folks an ocean away, the USA’s founders, who took much of it seriously enough to establish a country based in part on his ideas of freedom, society, and economics.

        Sadly, we’ve forgotten a lot. Economic freedom in the US has declined as regulation and cronyism have grown. We’re no longer even ranked in the top ten! So how’s that working out for us? US economic growth is below its historical average, labor-force participation is at a modern all-time low, economic prosperity for the young seems remote.

        Several weeks ago the administration announced that over 2,000 regulations are now being written. Of these, 144 are deemed “economically significant” — that is, expected to cost Americans $100 million or more each. Do you wonder what impact $14.4B will have on the economic growth?

        The reason retail clerks get paid so little is that there’s little skill associated with the job. Mandating higher pay for retail positions will only accelerate their disappearance. Have you noticed the increase in self-checkout lanes and purchases online? Pretty soon folks will punch in their order on a tablet even at Mickey D’s. That’s what artificially raising wage rates does. Bear in mind that the real minimum wage is zero.

        Were the economy in better shape, folks could improve their skills to qualify for a higher-paying job, but that’s a bit tough right now and will remain so as long growth remains sluggish. Somebody’s got to realize sooner or later that increasing regulation, favoring the big banks, supporting universities with a free ride on tuition, etc. are bad ideas.

        Finally, a key element to economic growth is infrastructure, and a stable power grid is essential to that. The pope and this president want to deny stable power in the form of coal-fired plants to poor nations. So they’ll keep on burning dried dung for cooking and warmth, shortening their lifespans along the way. All because of a belief that a trace gas will incinerate our world, a hypothesis still awaiting confirming data.

      2. Kathryn Fenner

        Okay, let’s do some literal-minded proof-texting, shall we? Jesus collected the loaves and fishes and distributed them to those not far-sighted enough (or wealthy enough) to pack their own meal. He helped out the short-sighted wedding planner at Cana again with some bonus wine from water. I’m coming up short on where he extolled the virtues of a free market.
        Now, as an Episcolutheran, I believe that the stories are just stories. They didn’t necessarily happen like that, but the writers of the Gospels were trying to capture what *God* was like, and to their way of thinking, God was not all, like, “free market” + “personal responsibility” and all.

        Unless y’all have some texts I’ve been missing?

        Ross Douthat is not someone who exhibits a religious understanding I agree with.

        1. Assistant

          Christ advocated voluntary transactions among citizens and recognized the right of the sovereign to collect tolls, duties, and taxes. He recognized the need for work to earn a living, whether as a carpenter, fisherman, or whatever. He certainly emphasized charity, the voluntary giving of the fruits of one’s own labor to those in need. His main message was that individuals are responsible for their own conduct, each is responsible for his/her own salvation.

          I agree that there’s no ringing endorsement of free markets and such — there were free markets, bazars, where traders, farmers, fishermen, and others sold their wars, competing with the folks in the neighboring stalls — but he did not advocate coercion, forcing folks to part with their property so that it could be given to someone or some group who was more worthy, whatever that means.

          Adam Smith’s insight was to describe how individuals, working in their own chosen specialties to earn a livelihood for themselves and their loved ones, benefit society in general if the society protects private property, enforces contracts, and so forth. (We’d regard that as commonsense today in that if you can’t make something or provide some service that others want, you won’t earn a living and need to find something completely different so that you can.) Smith saw a need for taxation, saw a role for a generally passive government at all levels, one that protected property and rights, provided infrastructure, enforced laws and contracts, etc. I’ll return to this in a bit.

          But first, the so-called climate deniers are a motley crew who find the global warming fight unsupported by science, economically destructive, morally suspect, and motivated not by science, but by folks who know what’s better for us that what we do. The Catholic Church has as much business engaging in this controversy as it had in the heliocentric dust up during Galileo’s time: none!

          I’ll cover the science by using a link to a commentary on Senator Ted Cruz’s poorly organized subcommittee hearing on the magnitude of human impact on Earth’s climate. Note that the wamists’ models are running hot, the actual temperature data does not support the models’ output, etc. There are many variables affecting the Earth’s temperature, why they focus on CO2 and ignore the approaching solar minimum would be beyond me were it not for the political objectives of many of the warmists.

          As for the economics, we’re closing expensive, capital intensive, and clean coal plants (and shutting down the mining industry), replacing them with horrendously expensive solar and wind turbine plants, devises that take up a lot of real estate and kill flying thangs like bats and birds. BTW, did you know that the world’s largest solar-thermal plant, the Ivanpah Solar Plant in the California desert, the one that fries flying birdies, operates at only about 40% of design capacity? It’s a polluter, too, because it takes about an hour of carbon-based energy to heat up the steam before dawn so that the big bugger can get going. There’s the small matter of sand on the mirrors that inhibits efficiency too. Imagine, sand in the desert.

          As for the morality, Bjorn Lomborg pointed out years ago that the developing world needs clean water, sanitation, uninterrupted power, and a bunch of other things if it is to develop. The climate hustlers’ better idea is to maybe send some money so that corrupt government officials can have a better time when they visit Paris, London, Geneva, and New York. Meanwhile the populace will continue to burn dried dung indoors for cooking and heat, shortening their lifespans. Where’s the morality in that?

          Finally, the warmists’ solution is one of coercion, oppression. For all the purported benefits of the progressive’s agenda, the main problem is that it starts out as gentle nudging and ends as Stalinism: Hugo Chavez’ Venezuela is but one example, Zimbabwe Bob Mugabe’s is another. ”Please separate your recyclables” becomes “your trash bin is too heavy and will not be emptied until you reduce your trash by recycling and composting” to “Your electricity has been cut off for reasons of non-payment.” the latter a frequent occurrence in Germany during recent years’ cold spells. Why the increased incidence of non-payment? Subsidies to wind- and solar-generating plants have increased overall energy costs, making electricity both more expensive and scarcer. Both Germany and the UK are considering measures to increase their electric grid’s reliability.

          So the Catholic Church is following the Anglicans into a moral abyss thanks to Pope Francis’ decision to battle a fictitious demon, catastrophic anthropogenic global warming (CAGW) that will remain ephemeral until the warmists can provide some data.

          1. Lynn Teague

            I’ve often wondered about the fate of the apostle’s families as they wandered around the Galilean countryside with Jesus, clearly not working as consistently as they would have otherwise. That aside, though, we have no direct comments on how Jesus would have treated a situation in which the government took care of the poor using payments from citizens allocated according to their ability to pay, since that just wasn’t going to happen when and where he lived.
            We can be pretty certain, though, that he wouldn’t be impressed with how well we are being our brothers’ keepers at present.

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              … which is, of course, the reason why priests aren’t supposed to marry — so that their flocks are their one responsibility. Whether that’s the best and highest value or not, I understand that as the justification.

              I had another thought taking off on what Mike said: “He recognized the need for work to earn a living, whether as a carpenter, fisherman, or whatever.”

              The New Testament also respects the job of soldier, and I’ve often wondered how pacifists who say their attitude comes from Jesus’ teachings reconcile that.

              I was reminded of it at Mass yesterday. The Gospel reading was from Luke, and here is the first half of it:

              The crowds asked John the Baptist,
              “What should we do?”
              He said to them in reply,
              “Whoever has two cloaks
              should share with the person who has none.
              And whoever has food should do likewise.”
              Even tax collectors came to be baptized and they said to him,
              “Teacher, what should we do?”
              He answered them,
              “Stop collecting more than what is prescribed.”
              Soldiers also asked him,
              “And what is it that we should do?”
              He told them,
              “Do not practice extortion,
              do not falsely accuse anyone,
              and be satisfied with your wages.”…

              In other words John, who was no shrinking violet when it came to telling people to repent from sinful lifestyles, saw no problem with being a soldier. He just saw a problem with abusing the power a soldier potentially had over noncombatants. Basically, he was saying if you’re a soldier, do your job — ethically.

              Which in turn suggests that being a soldier was consistent with being ethical, as long as you didn’t step over certain lines.

            2. Assistant

              I think he’d emphasize private giving, urging people to aid the needy by giving time or money personally or through their church. I argue this not because of his “Render unto Caesar” quote, but because one is supposed to perform charitable acts to gain salvation. Displacing private giving with government payments eliminates opportunities for personal, voluntary giving, i.e., charity.

              Moreover, the personal contact between the giver and recipient creates a bond that may be quite effective in influencing the recipient’s behavior for the better. That’s why I think that the Salvation Army is the most effective charity because of what they require on the part of the recipient of their support.

              Finally, I don’t think that government can be consistently wise about using taxpayer funds. You are very careful about how you spend your money. Are you as careful when you’re spending someone else’s money?

              My favorite current example is this: with all the poor roads, damaged bridges, and such, why is a local government spending $20M to build a waterpark?

              1. Brad Warthen Post author

                Here’s where I always run into a failure to communicate with my libertarian friends…

                Yes, if you’re a Christian, you are supposed to give to those who need — and that includes private giving.

                But there’s not an either-or here. And I just can’t understand why a Christian — one who does engage in private giving — would not also advocate public policies that address the same needs. Whether you’re passing the poorbox at a church, or voting on a public policy, why wouldn’t the same principles apply? Why wouldn’t you want your private donations AND your taxes to go to help those in need? Why would you draw a line?

                It just doesn’t make sense…

                And the dynamic of the way this works across the political spectrum is interesting. On the left you have people who (apparently having forgotten the civil rights movement) think there’s no place for religious belief in public life, that it’s unseemly or worse.

                On the right you have “conservatives” who are actually libertarians objecting to people’s Christian beliefs being reflected in the public policies they advocate.

                Frankly, I think Christians should ignore both ends of the spectrum and put their faith into action in advocating for policies that benefit the poor, and making sure public officials understand that THAT is how they’d like their tax money to be spent…

                1. Doug Ross

                  One needs only look at the waste, fraud, and abuse in the Medicare and Medicaid programs to understand that the people who are supposed to be helped by these programs are getting a raw deal… and why is that? Because government is not accountable in the same way an individual is. Why should I support programs when I KNOW the money is not being used wisely? It’s like donating to charities that only use a small percentage of donations for programs instead of overhead. I’m not going to have a lower standard for government just because it’s government. The standard should be HIGHER.

                  1. Brad Warthen Post author

                    Doug, that’s a silly statement.

                    On the one hand, you have waste, fraud and abuse — things you know about because these ARE public programs (whereas it would be less likely to come to light within a private company). And they’re also things perpetrated usually by PRIVATE actors ripping off the government.

                    On the other hand you have millions upon millions of people receiving healthcare.

                    So… clamp down on the fraud, etc. — which is happening, else you would not be hearing about it — and continue the mission.

                    Yet you act like because fraud and abuses can be pointed to, those millions of people aren’t being helped. But they are…

                2. Doug Ross

                  Not nearly as many nor nearly as well as they would be if it were being managed by people who were accountable and ethical.

              2. Doug Ross

                ““Stop collecting more than what is prescribed.”

                From God’s mouth to your ears… I’ll advocate contributing more alms to government when it proves it is capable of prioritizing the spending better… you know, being good stewards.

                Til that happens, I’ll trust my own charitable tendencies.

            3. Kathryn Fenner

              Priests aren’t supposed to marry because at early common law, there was no way to inherit other than through descent. Since the Bishop owned the church properties, we didn’t want his children to own the cathedral….

        2. Brad Warthen Post author

          Answering what Kathryn said about the loaves and fishes.

          You know, a lot of us believe that what really happened on that occasion was this — a lot of people in the crowd had brought food, anticipating that they were going to be away from home for hours. But they weren’t sharing — perhaps they even didn’t want to get their food out in front of people who had none.

          But what Jesus did, by taking the little boy’s donation and breaking it for all the people, made them ashamed not to bring out what they had bought and share it with those around them. And THAT’s how the crowd was fed.

          Which IS a miracle, in that the hearts of those present were changed.

          Sister Simone Campbell, head of the Nuns on the Bus, told a very pointed (and well-received) joke about that when she spoke as our Cardinal Bernardin lecturer this year, and it depends on the above understanding of what happened…

          She was musing why the story only mentions how many MEN were there in the gathering that was fed, even though there were no doubt women and children there, too.

          This is her explanation: Only the men were counted because they were the only ones who thought it was a miracle. The women had had the foresight to prepare and pack some food and bring it along. When that food appeared before the men, their reaction was typical of males through most of human history: “It’s a miracle!” The women knew what it took to get food on the table; the men were clueless…

            1. Kathryn Fenner

              “just”? where did you get that from? He was indeed a community organizer. He also inspired a whole bunch of stories, reported in the Gospels, and as I asked, point me to the ones that say different from what I said.

          1. Kathryn Fenner

            Sure, there’s a lot of ways to try to establish what really may have happened on the ground, but what, pray tell, is the message of the story? “Be personally responsible and hold on to yours. Just because others made poor choices doesn’t mean you ought to help them out.”?

    2. bud

      The Catholic church has a long history of rejecting science. Eventually they are dragged into accepting widely accepted scientific principals after dogmatically denying the obvious for decades or even centuries. Galileo was convicted of heresy for suggesting the earth orbited the sun. We all see that as a pretty extreme. Today the current pope is moving the Church toward acceptance of the proven theory of global warming and the naysayers condemn him for abandoning some alleged of religious dogma because of it. How ironic. The always backward Catholic Church is now led by a man who proclaims a bit of common sense about science and he get pushback from reactionaries who wish to believe in the faux science as espoused by the “church” of Exxon.

      But this is nothing new. For decades the right has harped on the economic dangers of addressing environmental problems. I remember when conservatives claimed the auto industry would be ruined if they were required to produce cars that could run effectively on lead-free gasoline. Then there was the whole brouhaha over acid rain and Freon alternatives. Capitalism is apparently incompatible to a clean environment according to long debunked world view. And now we have the latest crop of scare tactics coming from the right. And once again they will be proven wrong. Even the always backwards Catholic Church makes the American right look backward. The irony of that.

        1. Karen Pearson

          I think Bud is thinking more of the legacy left by Pope Pius X (1903-1914) whose dislike of “modernism” went beyond RC theology, extending into a denial of various scientific discoveries. That he was canonized in the early 1950s only increased that association in many peoples’ minds. He is not aware of the many contributions to science made by various Jesuit scientists.

  2. Brad Warthen Post author

    I didn’t read the piece that the theologians were up in arms about, but I did read his piece reacting to THEM. His response seemed to make sense to me — it was quite erudite — but I was reading in a vacuum.

    I love Pope Francis, but I’m not deaf to anyone who has a persuasive criticism of him.

    As I say, my jury is still out on Douthat, but he’s worth further study, even if I end up disagreeing with him — as Lynn said.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      We journalists are not expected to expound on religious matters, and well-behaved journalists obey that rule. I break it a good bit.

      We had an example of that during the panel discussion we had at Nickelodeon about “Spotlight.”

      Someone had asked a question that led me, in my answer, to ponder the nature of the church and its failure to deal effectively with pedophiles. I got into how there was something about the essential nature of the church and its reason for being that made it a poor instrument for dealing with this foul crime.

      I went on a bit, as I do during Q and A sessions with an audience. Charles Bierbauer, sitting next to me, spoke next, and with amusement in his voice, he said he wasn’t going to try to delve into theological matters. He wasn’t JUST being humble, as I took it — I heard it as gently chiding me for going off the reservation. He wasn’t being a jerk about it, he was just gently teasing me as the voice of modern orthodoxy, which holds that religion is off limits — as though there were a wall of separation between faith and public discourse, in addition to one between church and state (there is neither, by the way — not in the Constitution, anyway).

      But I’ll go wherever the subject matter leads and answer as honestly and thoughtfully as I can, even if I’m not a doctor of divinity.

      1. Assistant

        Brad –

        The Catholic Church’s problem has not been pedophilia, sexual feelings directed toward children. From all accounts 99% of the abuse cases have featured young males as the victims. There is a politically incorrect, very difficult fact that our society, our journalists, and many principals in the Church cannot to this day acknowledge: the Church erred in admitting homosexuals into the priesthood. The problem is predatory homosexuals, not pedophiles.

        As you know, I am no longer a Christian. As you may also know, I attended a Catholic seminary, the Pontifical College Josephinum, in Worthington, OH 1964-1966. It was an outstanding school where I received a great education from priests dedicated to their profession, the propagation of the faith, and the Church’s mission. At the time, and as best as I can determine thereafter, the institution responded to any indication of homosexual tendencies on the part of students or staff immediately by expelling the individual. As was the case with all firings or expulsions, no further information other than the absence of the individual was provided. Sometimes the departed communicated with those who remained, in most cases they did not as far as I know.

        In the late 1960s and into the 1970s the number of candidates for the priesthood declined. As one consequence, some “enlightened” members of the Church hierarchy — I don’t know and certainly hope that it was not centrally directed from on high, but do believe that it was at a minimum the conclusion of dispersed bishops and such — determined that the key attribute of a priest is that he be chaste. Since the Church had for centuries accepted widowers as candidates for the priesthood, why not accept as candidates those with tendencies toward or even a history of homosexuality?

        The net result has proved catastrophic. Apart from the cases of abuse that have become public are the individuals who left the seminary because of the homosexual cells that formed in various schools at one time or another. What’s really shocking is the ‘tude of too many of the bishops who learned of the predatory activities of some of the parish priests in their charge: send them off for penance and re-education, as if that’s an adequate response for a sexual drive so strong. The perpetrators should have been turned over to law enforcement for prosecution.

        My bottom line as an outsider is that the Church screwed up by not requiring bishops and others in authority to report civil crimes to law enforcement. Certainly exceptions should be made for political offenses under repressive regimes, but child abuse is a universal crime that has no excuse whatsoever.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Mike, I’m not really aware of the history to which you refer. Of course, I’ve only been Catholic since 1981. I guess I’ve thought there have always been priests with a homosexual orientation. As you say in describing the more recent attitude — if a priest is celibate, what does it matter what sort of sexuality he’s renouncing?

          I’ve heard of some of what you refer to, but for me it’s just that — only hearsay. There are no policy declarations or public actions that I can point to. So, as a Fair Witness, I can’t say I know anything about, for instance, the “homosexual cells” you refer to.

          But I definitely agree with you on one thing: Anyone who abuses a child should be turned over to civil authorities, and locked away for good. I may be showing my ignorance further here, but I don’t see how there’s any hope of anyone that far gone to be “cured.”

          Interestingly, “Spotlight” begins with an incident in the 1950s, set in a police station. A priest is sitting in an interview room alone, staring straight ahead. Outside, his case is being discussed. There is mention of making sure the press doesn’t have the story. There are vague comments that suggest that everyone involved, including the cops, believe that it’s best — best for everyone, including the victim — that what happened never become publicly known. Then, the priest is driven away by someone from the diocese. Thereby suggesting that way back then, it didn’t really solve the problem to involve the civil authorities…

        2. Brad Warthen Post author

          And Mike, I don’t see how you can say that “The Catholic Church’s problem has not been pedophilia.” That’s a HUGE problem.

          Sure, it’s not the only kind of sexual activity with which priests have broken their vows. A researcher cited in “Spotlight” cited a figure — and I have no idea how grounded in reality that is — that as many as 50 percent of priests are at some time sexually active. Of course, that’s usually with grown women.

          But while the breaking of a vow is a bad thing, that’s nowhere near the problem that the (comparatively fewer) incidents of pedophilia are. THAT’S the real horror, and therefore the bigger problem…

        3. Michael Bramson

          From all accounts 99% of the abuse cases have featured young males as the victims.

          No. The victims have more often been male, but this Newsweek piece gives an estimate of about a four to one ratio of male victims to female that we know of. That’s still a lot of girls being victimized. Besides which (a) in the population at large, girls are more likely to be the victims of sexual abuse and (b) the vast majority of homosexuals do not sexually abuse children. So how did this become about targeting homosexuals rather than about stopping priests, some of whom happen to be gay, from abusing positions of power in order to sexually abuse children? The problem is the actions and the cover-up, not sexual orientation in a profession that is supposed to be celibate.

          1. Karen Pearson

            Actually, there may have been many more cases of sexual abuse of girls than were ever reported because of the stigma attached to such a victim. She is frequently perceived as having lured the priest into sexual misbehavior. At the very least she is almost never seen as guiltless. BTW, many of the cases that came to light had their roots in the 50’s and early 60’s before the number of priests dropped so drastically.

        4. bud

          The problem is predatory homosexuals, not pedophiles.

          This could easily be written as follows:

          The problem is predatory Christians, not pedophiles.

          Of course the problem is pedophiles. What a insulting thing to say about an entire group of people. That’s the type of comment that’s totally useless to advancing any kind of positive discussion of this serious issue. Studies have conclusively determined that homosexuals are no more likely to engage in predatory behavior than heterosexuals.

          1. Assistant

            I did not write “The problem is homosexuals…” but purposely inserted the adjective “predatory” to render “The problem is predatory homosexuals…” I did not write and do not believe that the problem was inherent to all homosexuals, but rather to a subset, those who were looking for an opportunity to prey on a large population of young boys.

            The priesthood of the Catholic Church has always had homosexuals in it ranks, most of whom may have been celibate, many quite holy and humble. However, I do believe and argue that when Catholic seminaries faced a shortage of applicants, some relaxed standards to the extent that little attention was paid to attitudes and behaviors evident during training, leading to the explosion of attacks once the individuals were ordained and assigned to parishes. That error was compounded when many dioceses attempted to hide the problem from the parishioners and law enforcement by handling the miscreants internally, then reassigning them to other parishes.

      1. Bill

        It’s difficult,but rewarding.About half of his catalog is awful,and the rest worthwhile,if not amazing.If I hadn’t heard it while it wasn’t happening,I would know where to begin…


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