Christian responds to revelations of clerical abuse
ROD DREHER is one of America’s most influential religious commentators. It has become the case, in today’s religious West, that the only viable strategy for traditional followers of Jesus Christ is to withdraw part of society, and abandon the struggle to assert political power. It is a case that he shows in his book “The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation”.
Although there is much to see in Benedict XVI, the pope emeritus, the title of his book came from Saint Benedict, the sixth century church father who laid the foundations of monasticism in the Western world. Mr. Dreher is not suggesting that today’s Christians, apart from a minority, will literally be monks. But he believes that Christians’ best hope for survival lies in a self-conscious retreat into disciplined, prayerful and perhaps relatively small communities.
The writer’s opinion is not understood by the election of an American president who, although he was not very religious himself, was very dependent on the votes of evangelical Christians; or with the arrival of a vice president and secretary of state who strongly advocates for Conservative Christianity. The trend is stronger, he believes, towards a society where people with traditional views (about sex and sexuality, in particular) have no place in the public square.
What does a thinker make of this desperate urge to force the clerical sexual abuse scandals that reached new depths this week? A grand jury report found that at least a thousand (and possibly many more) children were abused, sometimes in horrific ways, by priests in Pennsylvania over many decades; these crimes were systematically covered up by their superiors.
Mr. Dreher answers that question in a column in the New York Timeswhich is admirable in terms of facing painful truths.
The crisis is systemic and will not be solved by new policies and procedures, as the episcopal bureaucrats want to think. Pope Francis is not going to step in to save the Catholic Church…If the church is to be saved, it must happen in the daily lives of the faithful, no longer deceived by discouragement or false promises from faithless shepherds.
In other words, the newly revealed pathologies of the church give another reason for a kind of divine withdrawal, to smaller communities where there would be a spirit of self-control and self-examination. And with reasonable honesty, he admits that perhaps the greatest challenge to the future of Christianity will not come from the decadence and hostility of the secular world, but from things that have happened within its walls. “The greatest danger is from inner weakness and violence.”
Many readers, including those far removed from his traditional world of faith, will find Mr. Dreher’s new tone more appealing than they did in his previous appeal to attract a -out of a very secular public sphere.
The ideal of “divine descent” will always be full of contradictions. It is a historical fact that monastic and other self-contained communities have always had their fair share of human frailties, from ruthless power struggles to manipulative relationships. That applies as much to today’s spiritual communities, from New Age societies to eccentric survivalists, as it does to conventional monasteries. Experience tells us that the wickedness of the world cannot be put out simply by building high gates.
And one of the glaring failures of the Catholic hierarchy, as revealed in the grand jury report, was certainly the mind. This was an environment where bishops never expected that their action, or lack of action, would be exposed to the light of day of scrutiny by like-minded third parties from the wider world.
But a transfer in a spirit of honorable repentance is different from a withdrawal in a spirit of haughty rebellion, although the two can easily be confused. Now at least, Mr. Dreher seems to understand that point clearly – and the abuse scandal has sharpened his understanding.
Catholic church sex abuse scandal won’t go away (16 Aug 2018)