The outrage gap

COLLEEN CARROLL CAMPBELL

Something is missing.

Easter is only days away, and for Catholics reeling from the clergy scandal stories that have surfaced in recent weeks, the end of the church's penitential season cannot come too soon.

It seems only yesterday Catholics were slogging through the long Lent of 2002, enduring a constant trickle of scandal news and feeling the same shame and anger. We wondered then, as now: How could this have happened to so many children? How could so many adults – bishops, no less – have failed to stop it?

There are caveats, of course, and context. Much context has been missing from reports about Pope Benedict XVI's involvement with decades-old cases of predatory priests in Munich and Milwaukee.

In the Munich case, all that's known for sure is that then-Cardinal Ratzinger allowed an accused priest to come to his diocese for psychotherapy – then considered an appropriate remedy for pedophilia – and the priest was reassigned to parish work on Ratzinger's watch, although the Vatican says Ratzinger did not authorize the reassignment. In the Milwaukee case, Ratzinger's Rome office was informed about the abusive priest two decades after the priest left a school for the deaf amid abuse allegations. A church trial was pending when the priest died two years later, according to the judge.

Unfortunately, none of these details erases the suffering of abuse victims. And many Catholics remain outraged by the familiar pattern of abusers walking free while their victim count climbs.

Some Catholics blame the media for stoking such outrage and picking on the church. They note that sexual abuse also occurs in families, public schools and scout troops. They say anti-Catholic bigots are using the scandal to discredit the church. They argue that American bishops deserve credit for the zero-tolerance policy they instituted in 2002.

Valid points all. Still, something is missing.

As a new mother gazing into the innocent eyes of my two babies, marveling at their wide-open smiles and implicit trust, I feel revolted by the thought that someone could violate that trust in such unspeakable ways. Looking at them, I don't much care about caveats or context. I don't want to hear apologies or complaints about media bias or comparisons to the equally abysmal records of other institutions. I'm glad there is zero tolerance for pedophiles, but I want something more.

I want outrage.

I want to know that the righteous anger I feel toward these predators in cleric's clothing is shared – by the many good priests smeared by the sins of a few, by the bishops forced to deal with such predators, by the pope who knows more than anyone the length, breadth and depth of this plague.

I want to know that the righteous anger I feel toward these predators in cleric's clothing is shared – by the many good priests smeared by the sins of a few, by the bishops forced to deal with such predators, by the pope who knows more than anyone the length, breadth and depth of this plague.

Perhaps that's what has been missing all along in the church's response to this crisis, from the early days when pedophiles were bounced from one parish to another, to recent years, when church leaders plaintively assured the faithful that they feel the victims' pain. Empathy, contrition and strict new policies are good, but they cannot restore confidence until lay Catholics know in their bones that church leaders share their fury at these sickening crimes and their perpetrators, that protecting children no longer will take a back seat to protecting clerics.

Benedict, in many ways, is ideally suited to voice this righteous anger. As leading Vatican expert John Allen argued in a recent New York Times op-ed, Ratzinger's experience poring over abuse case files beginning in 2001 led him to a "conversion" on this issue. It drove him to take several unprecedented steps as pope, including disciplining prominent clerics who previously had escaped scrutiny, meeting personally with abuse victims and writing the first pastoral letter focused on the abuse crisis.

Those steps are a start, and we need more – more disclosure about how abuse cases were handled, more pointed reprimands of the most negligent bishops and more vocal acknowledgment of the outrage that victims and lay Catholics rightly feel. Rather than being intimidated into silence by his late arrival at full understanding of this crisis, Benedict should shout from the rooftops what Catholic mothers and fathers need to hear now: What happened to these children was an abomination. Nothing excuses it. And, so help us God, we will do everything in our power to make sure it never happens again.

 


 


ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Colleen Carroll Campbell. "The outrage gap." St. Louis Post-Dispatch (April 1, 2010).

Reprinted with permission of the author, Colleen Carroll Campbell.

THE AUTHOR

Colleen Carroll Campbell is an author, television and radio host and St. Louis-based fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. She is the author of The New Faithful: Why Young Adults Are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy. Colleen Carroll Campbell writes for a wide variety of national publications, speaks to audiences across America, and hosts her own television show, "Faith & Culture," on EWTN, the world's largest religious media network.  Her website is here.

Copyright © 2010 Colleen Carroll Campbell




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