When the Priests’ Scandal Becomes Relevant

In previous posts about the Catholic hierarchy’s War on Obama, I have restrained myself from bringing up the Church’s sexual-abuse scandal. A lot of people do, and most of the time I wince, because it’s a cheap shot.

But there is one situation in which it’s not a cheap shot, and that’s when the clergy is striking poses of great moral courage in face of this “War on Religion” that they’ve made up. (Is the War on Christmas over yet? Who won?) As a Catholic priest said during Sean Hannity’s “Faith in America” segment:

If I’m asked to do something that goes against my conscience, I’d better be willing to die for that.

Brave words. I’m hearing a lot of brave words from priests these days. But it’s easy to be brave during a completely fabricated metaphorical “war”.

Think it through: When in course of the current healthcare proposals will a Catholic priest have to take some specific action that will go against his conscience? Or look at it from the other side: What can he refuse to do that will get him arrested — or punished in any way — for his a Gandhi-style resistance?


Churches were always exempt from the rule that they must provide contraception in their healthcare plans. And under the administration’s new compromise proposal, Catholic institutions like hospitals and universities don’t have to cover contraception either; their insurance carriers have to provide a separate policy for free — which they can do without any subsidy from the premiums paid by the institutions, because contraception saves them money. Matt Yglesias explains:

The point here is simple. While birth control costs more than nothing, it costs less than an abortion and much less than having a baby. From a social point of view, unless we’re not going to subsidize consumption of health care services at all (which would be a really drastic change from the status quo) then it makes a ton of sense to heavily subsidize contraceptives.

The absence of any place to take a stand becomes obvious if you read the lawsuit Belmont Abbey College has filed against the contraception mandate. It is full of vague assertions that the College is being coerced to “violate its deeply-held religious beliefs”, but does not specify any particular belief-violating act that it or its employees will be forced to perform. As the suit progresses towards trial, the College will have a hard time proving that it has standing to sue.

In short, unlike Gandhi or Martin Luther King, priests and bishops can strike heroic poses anywhere they want, and police will never feel obligated to haul them away. The system is already set up to walk around them.

That raises this question: How believable are those poses of great moral courage? And then this one: Didn’t the Catholic clergy just face a moral crisis? How much courage did they display then?

OK, most priests didn’t sexually abuse children or anybody else. But how many knew about some particular sexual abuse and did nothing? How many knew their diocese was just shuffling abusive priests around and letting them rape children somewhere else — and did nothing? How many suspected something and decided they didn’t want to know?

A priest with moral courage would have investigated his suspicions, then gone to his superiors and said, “I’m not going to let you do this. Do the right thing or I’m blowing the whistle.”

That would have been courageous.

How many priests did anything remotely similar? Anybody? That situation wasn’t metaphoric. It was a real moral crisis that required real moral courage.

If you didn’t have it then, don’t posture to me now about how brave you are.

Like the congressional hearing on this issue, Sean Hannity’s panel was all men. Jon Stewart had something to say about about “the world’s holiest sausage-fest”.

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  • Nancy Minter  On February 21, 2012 at 1:01 pm

    I don’t think it’s a cheap shot to point out the bishop has no clothes! They stood by and did nothing while children were abused and the attitude towards the laity was at best patronizing. NOW they want to speak with moral authority?! Really?

    Sit down, be quiet. Come back when you’ve got a uterus.


  • By The Long View « The Weekly Sift on February 20, 2012 at 10:48 am

    […] When the Priests’ Scandal Becomes Relevant. I usually cringe when someone responds to the Catholic bishops’ attacks on reproductive rights or the Affordable Care Act by  bringing up the pedophile-priest scandal, because it’s almost always a cheap shot. But when priests strike heroic poses in the imaginary War on Religion, it reminds me how little courage they showed when faced with a real moral challenge. […]

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