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Thursday, February 10, 2005

The Appropriate Response to Evil...

...starts with calling evil evil.

Rod Dreher channels Matt Millen and asks Catholic men: "Where are your testicles?"

That's a tough question:

"I loathe cruelty and injustice," Teddy Roosevelt once wrote to a friend. "To see a boy or man torture something helpless whether in the shape of a small boy or little girl or dumb animal makes me rage." It's fine to be conventionally virtuous, he said, but if these qualities are unsupported by "something more virile, they may tend to evil rather than good."

"The man who merely possesses these traits, and in addition is timid and shirks effort, attracts and deserves a good deal of contempt," wrote Mr. Roosevelt.
By that chivalrous understanding of manhood, we Catholic men – bishops, priests and laymen – are a pretty contemptible lot these days.

Father Matthew Bagert, a Grand Prairie priest, was picked up on child pornography charges last week. Days later, Bishop Charles Grahmann turned up in the parish pulpit, weeping and telling the flock to "welcome him back," as Jesus supposedly would have. Once again, a bishop counsels cheap grace to thwart justice, corrupting the concept of Christian mercy as part of an excuse-making strategy for the clerical class.

And you know what? It works. If the recent past is any guide, Father Bagert's ultimate guilt or innocence won't much matter to most Catholic men, who remain largely mute and accepting as unspeakable things come to light.

Why aren't the men who run the Catholic church raging against the cruelty of priests who prey on kids? Why do so many good priests and Catholic laymen remain as docile as eunuchs despite it all? Do we think we're not going to have to answer to God for our moral cowardice?

Within the church, there is a culture of what C.S. Lewis called "men without chests." Most of us go along to get along, shirking our duties as Christians and men to protect the weak and guard the integrity of the religious community.

Here we are on the fourth Ash Wednesday of the church's long scandal-ridden Lent. As we examine our consciences in Mass today, we ought to be asking ourselves what our sons and daughters, if they remain Catholic, surely will one day: Where were you when the church needed good men to stand up to defend what's right?

As I said, tough stuff. I don't have an easy answer to any of Rod's questions.

At a bare minimum we can change the vocabulary. It's long past time to drop the euphemistic therapy-speak and recover the stern language of sin, repentance and judgment.

And preach it.

Every time one of these abominations happen, the language used is astonishingly judgment-free and soul-killing: "boundary issues," "transgression," "inappropriate," "treatment," "healing"--anything but an acknowledgment that something truly hideous has been inflicted.

Let me put it into plain colloquial English: Matthew Bagert gets his sexual jollies by lusting over pictures of naked, exploited and abused children.

If that doesn't stir up righteous anger, I respectfully submit that your soul is dead. I also think you have no business posting a comment below.

Bagert is not someone who "transgressed boundaries" or "demonstrated inappropriate behavior." What he did was monstrous. Profoundly, disturbingly evil--gratifying himself with the exploitation of the pain of the weakest and most helpless among us. Roosevelt's analogy of animal torture is an apt one, if a couple of orders of magnitude too mild. Perverts like Bagert power the horror machine--and he knew it.

Shorthand? He's a morally sick man who has no business being around children again. Ever. Any attempt to place him back into a parish should be resisted to the broken hilt.

Discarding the euphemisms puts the Tear Duct Tour of Charles Grahmann into a slightly different light, doesn't it? Lest we forget, Dallas' limpet-bishop played a major role in keeping the hellish pedophile Rudy Kos in business. To say that he lacks judgment is an understatement on a par with describing sarin as insecticide. Asking that the parish receive Bagert back into ministry less than a week after his arrest demonstrates that his moral compass is shot.

The second thing we need to do is to somehow unwarp the understanding of Christian forgiveness. Rod's right--it's devolved into cheap grace. I can forgive someone without having to pretend that it never happened. But that's precisely what Bp. Grahmann is asking the parishioners to do--play a great big game of "Let's Pretend." There's no example of Christ ever doing anything remotely similar to what he's asking.

Never mind doing so less than a week after the arrest. Still, his boss is begging for unconditional acceptance. After all, I may have missed it, but there's no evidence Bagert has repented, is there?

What's the proper response? At a minimum, I think it starts with a public rebuke. We also have to remember that the first reaction of the Shepherd of the Faithful of Dallas was to dispatch his low-watt sock puppet to bash converts. The second was to portray the behavior in terms of therapy--it's an "addiction," don't you know? Well, if it's an addiction, then what's there to forgive? The poor fellow's merely a compulsive who can't help himself.

To repeat: Matthew Bagert gets his sexual jollies by lusting over pictures of naked, exploited and abused children. It's not asking too much to want him far, far away from children.

Spare me the Donatism charge, too. Yeah, whatever. All us converts are.

The fact is, it's long past time to inter therapeutic Catholicism with every other dead-end heresy Catholics have chased with fervor across the millenia. Anyone incapable of speaking in terms of sin, repentance, restitution, justice and judgment when faced with such crimes against God and man is not speaking as a Christian pastor. Hell, he's not speaking like much of a human being.

I'll be blunt: He simply cannot be trusted. His office is still valid, but the man is another matter. He has to be called to account. You should attempt to meet with him to discuss the matter. I know--ha, ha, ha--write to the nuncio while you're at it. But still, the effort has to be made. When--and it's almost certainly when, not if--he avoids you, you have to proceed. A man unable to care about whether your children are in danger is--at a bare minimum--undeserving of a dime of your hard-earned cash. Your children don't belong in programs under his so-called oversight. You may even have to worship in another diocese. Whatever you do, you can't docilely follow such people over the cliff, much less lead your family with you.

I also think like-minded men have to band together. Many voices are more impressive than one, and harder to dismiss as a wacko in the wilderness. A new organization? Maybe so. An organization that focuses on improving the personal holiness of the men involved as well as acting for change--well, why not? If it gets big enough, it's going to get heard. And it doesn't have to be a jeremiad factory, either, only calling the wayward to account--there are good clerics and religious who deserve to be touted and supported, too. This is literally flying from the brain to the keyboard, so bear with me--it's very ill-formed at present.

That may not be much, but it's a start.

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