Friday, August 23, 2002

Compassion v. Reason

A lot of hub-bub has been written recently about Dreher's piece in the WSJ. I've contributed my share to the war-of-words that is occurring in comment boxes all over St. Blog's. Personally, I understand the frustration Rod expresses. I would love to see the problems of the Catholic Church in America resolved too. And, yes, I would love to hear the Vatican tell us what they are foreseeing as the next steps that will be taken in addressing the abuse scandal.

I disagree with Rod's conclusion that the Pope has failed. I think it is a bit unfair given that the Dallas policy is barely two months old. I think we will see more action to come in the future and probably the ultimate removal of some Bishops. Maybe I will be proven wrong. The big difference between me and Rod is that I started the clock on the Vatican's response with the recent scandal news. Rod sets the clock back to 1985 and naturally concludes that he's had to wait long enough. Again, I can understand Rod's feelings there, but I think it is a bit naive and presumptious. It is also a standard against which the Church cannot win. Short of massive, rapid removal of Bishops, how would you convince someone that you are responding to the crisis when they have adopted that position? It's one of the things that worries me about Rod's piece and his recent postings. I see a tone in it that is troublesome. He says he wants the Church to resolve these things, and I believe him. But I wonder if, when the Church takes its next step, will it be enough for him? Take the case of Cardinal Law. Few would argue he is without guilt in this. At best, he has shown himself to be an inept and absent manager of his diocese. At worst, you have Rod's depiction of the man, which reads to me like evil incarnate.

But it isn't Rod's piece that interests me so much. It is the back and forth on the comment boxes. It has been fierce and fairly uncharitable. Raising questions about ZT policy or the wisdom of rapidly removing bishops and you are accused of being a child-hater and an unthinking, ignorant papal loyalist. And, to be fair, there are a number who have personally attacked the other side as being heretics and pope-haters. (Although, clearly there are a few who have no like for the pope getting their pot shots in on the threads.)

To a certain extent I think this can be explained by people's frameworks. For example, I'm a logical thinker. By that, I don't mean the other side is illogical. By that I mean that I approach a problem, analyze it, and break it down (as best as I can) by what I know to be the rules of logic, reason and truth. Other people are emotional thinkers. They react more with their heart and emotions. I'm also a future-oriented thinker. When a crisis hits, I'm always looking at how I can fix things going forward. I can't change the past, so I don't dwell on it. I recognize it, but I try and recorrect the course. Others are past-oriented thinkers. When a crisis hits, they focus on righting the wrong. Almost to an obsession. That's part of what I think explains the different approaches and why some will say things like "throw canon law to the side in favor of the child's needs" (focusing intensely on the victim) and others of us will say that we can't just ignore the rights of the accused (realizing, to paraphrase St. Thomas More in Bolt's play, that if you cut down all of the laws to get the devil what will protect you when he turns his attention on you). And you can see that if two people operate from these different frameworks, they reach very different conclusions. For example, I posted somewhere that one didn't have to throw out canon law to help the child. All sorts of things should be done for the child that are by no means impeded by canon law. (Including putting a priest on leave from ministry by the way.) My point was that throwing out canon law could only impact how the priest could be punished and by what process. By no means was I meaning to say that the priest shouldn't be punished or that the victim's needs shouldn't be addressed. But that's how the other side read it.

I'm not going to deny that I think those of my way of thinking on this scandal have the better approach. We don't deny the harm that has been inflicted on the victims and the Church. We are just a little less quick to assume we know the motivations of the bishops. We don't deny that they have done what they have done. (Although we may debate whether people are properly capturing the magnitude of things or are suffering from the availability heuristic in connection with what they have heard of the notorious cases). But I do hope that each side might take a step back in the future and give some time to reflecting on the words of the other person and try not to read too much extraneous stuff into them. I know I will be trying to do that. Bottom line is that we all love the Church and care for the victims. And whether you have already prepared for it or not, realistically, we all have to recognize that there is no short road to reconcilation and recovery.

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