High Fidelity

The Truce of 1968

George Weigel, former president and now senior fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, has written a major and much-respected biography of Pope John Paul II. He knows and is known by important Vatican figures, and is in full sympathy with the Pope’s thoughts and actions. Without being an official spokesman, therefore, he may in some measure reflect Vatican thinking on current scandals in the Catholic Church. His new book is, in fact, often mentioned by Governor Frank Keating of Oklahoma, who leads the review board for evaluating the American bishops’ observance of their Charter of the Protection of Children.

Weigel repeats what has become a conservative mantra within the Church—that the current situation is not a crisis of sex, or authority, or bad administration, but “a crisis of fidelity.” By that he and his allies mean that it is caused by a lack of belief in “the full teaching” of the Church, which prevents “full communion with the Church.” What is the connection between this lack and pedophile priests or complicit bishops? This: Refusing to believe in the full teaching deadens the conscience, and when your conscience is deadened you are likely to do anything, such as raping little boys. Speaking of seminarians “in the quarter-century following the Second Vatican Council,” Weigel writes:

They fell out of full communion with the Church, whether the issue at hand was contraception, abortion, homosexuality, or the possible ordination of women to the priesthood. If a priest is sincerely convinced that the Church is teaching falsely on these or other matters, or if he is simply lazy and absorbs the culture of dissent by osmosis, his conscience is deadened. And having allowed his conscience to become moribund on these questions, he is more likely to quiet, and perhaps finally kill, his conscience on matters relating to his own behavior, including his sexual behavior.

There you have it: believe that women can be ordained, and you are on the slippery slope gliding down toward pedophilia. On which there are three things to say. First: Since a majority of Catholics in America now say they favor women’s ordination, and since a deadened conscience has consequences for everyone, not only for priests, then a majority of Catholics must be drifting toward acts of pedophilia, or something equally immoral. Second: The most flagrant pedophiles so far convicted were not trained in “the quarter-century following the second Vatican Council,” so their lack of “full communion” cannot be traced to that period. For all we know, the serial molester of boys in Boston, Father Geoghan, who was trained well before Vatican II, was in full accord with the Pope’s bans on contraception, women’s ordination, and so forth—suggesting, third: that right doctrine does not ensure right conduct. It is not, necessarily, a lust-suppressant. Weigel repeats several times that “ideas have consequences.” True enough; but so do passions, interest, and ambition, among other things.

If Weigel is simplistic about …

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