HANGING IN THERE

Michael Barone shares my faith in Bush’s Middle East strategy. It’s the Saudis who should be worried, not us.

CARDINAL RATZINGER’S TANTRUM

It’s not the finest hour for the church when its leading guardian of orthodoxy – the man who wrote the document that calls gay men “intrinsically disordered” – petulantly slaps a reporter’s hand for daring to ask questions about a close ally of the Pope who is credibly accused of being a serial sexual molester of boys. Ratzinger’s fit of pique is a function of his past. He isn’t used to any serious questioning or dialogue. He pronounces doctrines that affect the lives of millions, but when one of his close allies (and one of the current pope’s closest confidants) has been accused of hideous sexual abuse, he buries and ignores the charges, and then is offended even to be asked about them. The Vatican official thus accused, Father Maciel, denies the allegations. You can see why the Church must hope he’s telling the truth. After these charges were made and buried, the Pope appointed Maciel as his special representative to a conference of Latin American bishops. Maciel’s case links this scandal directly to the papacy itself. Hence Ratzinger’s rattled response. The theoconservatives will be leery of touching this one – because it might taint their theological hero, Ratzinger, a man who is second only to the Pope in his influence on the current direction of the Church. At some point in the next few months, my prediction is that this scandal will indeed hit Rome. Indeed, one reason the Vatican is resisting any peremptory discipline for the American cardinals is the precedent. What do they do if a more senior cardinal is discovered to have shielded serial molesters of children? What happens if the pope himself is implicated either directly or by association? These men are terrified. If you had shielded minor abusers for years, wouldn’t you be?

BURUMA DISMEMBERS ROY: Whatever you do, don’t miss Ian Buruma’s as usual superb dissection of Arundhati Roy’s facile anti-Americanism in the latest New Republic. here’s a strikingly acute passage:

There is one verbal tic that keeps recurring in Roy’s writings that may help us to understand her feelings–for that is what they are, more than coherent thoughts. She refers a great deal to India’s “ancient civilization,” usually to show how humiliating it is for an ancient people to defer to a jumped-up, uncivilized place such as the United States. About President Clinton’s visit to India, she observes: “He was courted and fawned over by the genuflecting representatives of this ancient civilization with a fervour that can only be described as indecent.” This speaks of the same snobbery that informed Roy’s remark on American television about Mickey Mouse and the mullahs. Rich, rampant America shows up the relative weakness and backwardness of India. This is hard to take for a member of the intellectual or artistic elite, educated by nationalist professors, whose thoughts were often molded by British Marxists from the London School of Economics.

Yes, it all comes to down to ressentiment. It’s true in the Middle East as well. How must those failed Arab polities feel when they look at tiny little Israel, a country that started from scratch, is minuscule in comparison in population and land-mass, and yet has left all its Arab neighbors in the dust. Talk about humiliating. And what more familiar panacea for humiliation than envy and violence? It was ever thus, and ever will be. But it doesn’t make it any more defensible. Or any less pathetic.

CARDINAL LAW’S CONTEMPT: Say this for Bernard Law. He knows where his power comes from. Who knows what deal he has done with his mentor, Pope John Paul II? Rumor has it that he will soon be given a high-class sinecure in Rome – as a reward for sheltering child-abusers. (I believe the rumors.) In return, he reminds us that any final policy on sexually abusing priests will be up to Rome, and that any thought of lay people having more input into the Church is verboten. As the New York Times reports,

In a letter faxed to priests in the archdiocese by one of his top aides, Cardinal Law said that a proposed association of parish councils organized by lay Catholics would be “superfluous and potentially divisive.” Instead of organizing themselves, laypeople must live “within the hierarchical structure of the church,” said the letter, which was sent by Bishop Walter J. Edyvian, vicar general of the Boston Archdiocese. Priests should not “join, foster or promote this endeavor among your parish pastoral council members or the community of the faithful at large,” Bishop Edyvian wrote.

Then there’s new evidence that Law is still daring, through hideous legalese, to blame children for their own abuse. I’m beginning to think that all the dire predictions about what all this will mean for the Church are wrong. It’s not worse than we think. It’s far, far worse.

LET THEM SPITE JEWS: Chris Caldwell’s report from France on the surge of racism – from right and left – makes some excellent points. It helps me understand France’s desire to appease Islamo-fascism. Their own country is a hotbed of Muslim hatred; and appeasement is always the default French position. Then there’s a strange and distressing collusion of interests between the anti-Jewish Muslim fascists and the left-leaning intellectual classes for whom criticism of anything from the Third World is unthinkable. Chris is too crude, I think, by labeling this Jew-hatred part of the “left.” Those terms are a little pointless when talking, for example, of passionate, indoctrinated, Islamist ideology. But he’s sharp on how hatred of Israel and Zionism, demonization of the strong and vibrant Jewish nation, is a new sublimation of an old hatred, cleansed by the thought that now the Jews are no longer the victims. I liked this point particularly:

For anyone who inhabits Western culture, the Holocaust made that culture a much more painful place to inhabit–and for any reasonably moral person, greatly narrowed the range of acceptable political behavior. To be human is to wish it had never happened. (Those who deny that it did may be those who can’t bear to admit that it happened.) But it did. If there’s a will-to-anti-Semitism in Western culture–as there probably is–then the Arab style of Judeophobia, which is an anti-Semitism without the West’s complexes, offers a real redemptive project to those Westerners who are willing to embrace it. It can liberate guilty, decadent Europeans from a horrible moral albatross. What an antidepressant!

It’s still an amazing achievement to me that France is able to sustain a wave of both anti-Arab and anti-Jewish sentiment at the same time. Who says they’re not still a great power?

STATISTICS FOR THEOCONS: “As a mathematician, I’m certain that purgatory isn’t a place; it’s a class. Purgatory is a course in statistics for theocons. Theocons claim that the higher incidence of same-sex molestation of post-pubescent minors by priests is “by definition” a homosexual problem. However, a statistical experiment can only demonstrate preference if it presents an alternative. As a statistical experiment, Catholic culture presents no such alternative. During relevant decades for the sexual abuse crisis, Catholic secondary education was sexually segregated. Priests taught at all-boys schools; there were no girls to molest. There was no choice between male and female victims. Among the post-pubescent mi
nors victimized by priests, the preponderance of males relative to females cannot be said to be a matter of sexual preference. Rather, it is a matter of opportunity – just as the rape of men in prison is a matter of opportunity for the rapist. Therefore, the statistics on priestly molestation can never be said to support the conclusion that homosexual priests are more prone to molest than heterosexual priests.” – this and defenses of Paul Krugman and virginity, all on the Letters Page.

DOES WEIGEL WANTS EXCEPTIONS FOR STRAIGHTS?: Another piece from the theocons, glibly equating the abuse of minors with homosexuality. How can I put this simply: just because the vast majority of these priestly sexual abuse cases have been (so far) between men and post-pubescent male minors, it doesn’t follow that the problem is homosexuality. The problem is abuse. I just cannot understand why this isn’t obvious. The only way in which it isn’t is if you believe that gays are more likely to molest minors than straights. There’s no evidence of that whatsoever, as theocon George Weigel concedes in this piece. So why this insistence? My suspicion is that these theocons really do believe that all gays are prone to pedophilia, but even they feel a little ashamed to pass on this argument in print. I just wish they’d be honest and say it instead of getting into these bizarre contortions of logic. My favorite example is in this piece. Weigel doesn’t seem to want zero-tolerance for abuse cases, and backs the Cardinals’ fudge. But the tough case he uses to illustrate his point for leniency is the following:

[S]hould such a “one strike and you’re out” policy extend to a priest who had a brief consensual affair with a woman a quarter-century ago and has led an exemplary life since? Most Catholics would probably say no, and they would be right.

Huh? The issue is not sex with adults; it’s sex with minors. It’s the old theocon bait-and-switch technique again. Or maybe Weigel is implying that breaking celibacy is forgiveable of you’re straight but not if you’re gay. Or maybe Weigel honestly sees no moral difference between sex with an adult and sex with a minor. I guess if all sex is wrong, why distinguish? I wonder what his view would be on zero-tolerance of non-celibacy if the consensual affair was with another adult man? And what would his view be if the affair were with a minor girl? My suspicion is that Weigel is okay with straight sinners but not with gay ones. My other suspicion is that he considers abuse of a male minor worse than that of a female minor. If he believes that, he should say so, and explain why. If he doesn’t, he needs to say so.

KRUGMAN – HOME AT LAST: Which European newspaper would reprint Paul Krugman’s recent column in which he compared le Pen’s strong showing in the recent French elections with president Bush’s electoral success? Le Monde, no less. And on Monday’s front page! Well, they would, wouldn’t they?

A SMALL BREAKTHROUGH

According to the Washington Post, the deal that got Arafat out of Ramallah and Israel’s terrorist targets firmly in jail was the result of Bush’s efffective if quiet private diplomacy. Who knows for sure? Beats me. Besides, it’s no big news that Bush is most effective utilizing the quiet personal touch, as well as tackling issues privately away from the megaphone of his office. The deal is a tiny advance, but a defensible one, and a sign that a breather may be in store for a short while. On a related matter, I sympathize with Israel’s reluctance to let the prejudiced U.N. commission go into Jenin to find evidence of a massacre. Charles Krauthammer’s Friday column was entirely persuasive on this point:

Three people have been chosen by the United Nations to judge Israel’s actions in Jenin. Two are sons of Europe, and one of those is Cornelio Sommaruga. As former head of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Sommaruga spent 12 years ensuring that the only nation on earth to be refused admission to the International Red Cross is Israel. The problem, he said, was its symbol: “If we’re going to have the Shield of David, why would we not have to accept the swastika?”

Neverthless, some independent body really must investigate – and soon. It does Israel no good to be seen to be covering up an alleged atrocity, esepcially if Israel is innocent of the charge. Fight the composition of the team, Mr Sharon, not its existence.

FRONT-PAGE EDITORIALS: Can someone see the difference between Patrick Tyler’s “News Analysis” piece in today’s New York Times and an actual editorial? I sure can’t. Nothing wrong with that (the piece makes its points well), but maybe the Times should simply say more clearly that it is putting editorials on the front page to accompany news stories. On the website front page, the description of the piece even has an imperative tense: “The Bush administration must now get the Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table, where expectations for U.S. pressure remain high.” The drift toward didacticism disguised as “analysis” accelerates.

“FATHER, I’M READY NOW”: It was a phenomenal issue of the New York Times yesterday on the Church’s sex abuse scandal. Particularly fine, I thought, was Garry Wills’ comparison of today’s Church leaders with St Augustine, who dealt with a far less grave brouhaha centuries ago. But the piece I still cannot get out of my head is Paul Hendricksen’s account of his time in an Alabama seminary years ago. Among one of the rituals he and apparently dozens of other seminarians would undergo weekly was the following:

I’d go in, sit in a green chair beside his desk, unzipper my pants, take up a crucifix (it was called the Missionary Cross, and it had a tarnished green skull and bones at the base of the nailed savior’s feet), begin to think deliciously about impure things and then, at the point of full erection, begin to recite all of the reasons that I wished to conquer my baser self and longings. “Father, I’m ready now,” I’d say. Having taken myself at his prompting to a ledge of mortal sin, I was now literally and furiously talking myself down, with the power of the crucified Jesus in my left hand. My director was always there, guiding me, urging me, praying with me.

This is a fascinating case, in its way, because the spiritual director never touched the seminarians, and the exercize was designed to overcome “impure thoughts” rather than indulge in them. Hendricksen still refuses to see his old seminary as a depraved place. In fact, he still thinks of it as holy ground. So where do we put this kind of experience in the discussion we’ve been having about the role of sex and sexual abuse in the current Church?

SEX AS A HUMAN GOOD: Perhaps the biggest delusion we currently have about the sexual dysfunction gripping the very core of the church is that we have two clear alternatives before us: the choice of successful celibacy on the one hand and simple wantonness on the other. The truth is clearly more complicated. It seems clear to me, for example, that the horror of sex, the fixation upon it as the source of so much evil, the kind of obsessive concern with sexual “impurity,” is surely a contributory factor to the abuse. A priest, simply by taking a vow of celibacy, cannot humanly take a vow that ends his sexual being. He is ordained, not castrated. The sublimation of all this sexual desire can, in some, be a wonderful way to express a relationship with God and his people alone. But in human terms, it would be quite remarkable if this suppression of sexual intimacy, the restriction of sex to purely fantasist or asocial or masturbatory expression didn’t lead to some pretty warped personalities. It’s those personalities who can end up committing abuse; and just as importantly those personalities, motivated by shame and identification, who cover it up.

THE MORALITY OF NON-CELIBACY: I think of the choices, for good or ill, that I have made in my life. I was completely celibate until my early twenties. It was a struggle but my faith told me it was what I had to do. But what that meant was not that sex disappeared from my life. In fact, what happened was the opposite. Sex for me became more and more abstract in my head, more fetishized in a way, more elevated, more obsessive in ways that have taken years to try and undo. At the same time, I began to exhibit all the familiar personal tics of the sexually shut down. I had swings of depression, I became neurotic and fixated on maintaining order in my life and others’, I was increasingly moody, cranky, awkward and at times miserable beyond words. I looked ahead into the decades that lay before me and was terrified by what might happen to my very soul. Cramped, frightened, neurotic, unpleasant to be around, I increasingly found my faith a source not of liberation but of white-knuckled desperation. In an emotionally and physically empty life, it became the only grim solace I had. When I have attempted to explain my subsequent gay sex life to fellow Catholics who feel that I am simply being reckless or self-serving, I’ve tried to explain how in a real life, these are not often the options in front of us. I’ve tried to describe how my life was emotionally born again in adulthood by reconnecting my soul to my body through sexual expression and physical intimacy. There is absolutely no question in my mind that I am a better, fuller person as a result. That’s not to say I’m a saint, of course. I’ve done some truly stupid things in my sex and love life; and I’m not proud of a lot. But as a simple practical matter, I know that the alternative would have been worse – not less pleasurable (diverted, obsessive, guilt-laden sex alone can be deeply pleasurable), but less humanly open to my fellow human beings, less open to God, less constructed and clogged in my soul. In the depths of my being, I know that a celibate life would, in practical terms, have been, as a practical matter a less moral life for me. Maybe it’s possible for others, and I certainly believe that celibacy can be an amazing gift for some, which is why it should always play a part in the spiritual life. But for most men, this isn’t attainable. Clinging to it for all priests (or for all gays, for that matter), insisting on it, never questioning it, imposing it without recourse, stigmatizing and covering up lapses – all of this leads t
o real human sickness of the soul. Reading more and more of what has been going on in my own church for years, I’m beginning to believe that celibacy – especially how it has been enforced – is indeed a major source of the sheer sexual disorder that now cripples the insititution most of us still love. This issue must be addressed. The current sexual fixation must be changed. Or we will have treated the symptoms of this horror without even tackling the disease.

GUNS AND POSES: A reader notes the following little piece of revelation in a story in yesterday’s Los Angeles Times. It’s about the question of how on earth a gun-control culture like Germany can produce a mass-shooting. Reporter Sebastian Rotella opines that, “As crime has dropped in the United States in recent years, it has worsened in much of Europe, despite generous welfare states designed to prevent U.S.-style inequality and social conflict.” That’s a first: boost entitlements to solve crime! Why didn’t Clinton think of that? It’s Third Way nirvana.

CARDINAL SADDAM? Someone fire the guy at the picture desk!

ROMENESKO WATCH

Another odd omission on Jim Romenesko’s allegedly objective media news site. Yesterday there was no reference that I could find or see to Byron York’s story detailing CBS’ and the New York Times’ indirect sponsorship of People for the American Way. Here are some of the stories Romenesko linked to instead: Wall Street Journal thumb-nail sketches being sold on eBay, a defense of George Stephanopoulos, and the Wichita Eagle’s gaffe about Barbara Bush’s several alleged “breast sizes.” Romenesko is a must-read because he performs a very useful service in running a blog of stories about the press. But his ideological biases – perfectly defensible in a blogger – are less well-known. Just pointing them out.

CNN’S MISTAKE – AND A CORRECTION: Yesterday, I cited CNN’s official transcript for the Thursday Crossfire exchange in which David Brock allegedly said on air, “I have not been on Fox at all.” If you listen very closely to the tape rather than the transcript, across chatter and under cross-talk, you can just about hear Brock say in a near-whisper “on prime-time.” No-one on the show seemed to notice. Tucker Carlson said he couldn’t hear it. The transcriber didn’t hear it. But it’s there. Two things are worth saying: firstly, relying on several people who had heard the show and then double-checking the official CNN transcript is good faith journalism, not sloppiness. This correction is consonant with my policy of swift amendment of unintentional errors. Secondly, Brock is still spinning. As Tim Noah has pointed out, Brock chose to make this distinction in an aside, fomenting the impression that indeed he had been blacklisted by Fox. That was certainly the impression almost everyone had when hearing the show and it was the impression Brock let stand. Carville responded with the unequivocal question: “But no one invited you on?” Sotto voce asides are not the mark of candor but of a continuing attempt to spin and duck. The distinction between “Fox” and “Fox Prime Time” also strikes me as somewhat strained. For the record, I share many of Brock’s concerns about some on the far right who targeted president Clinton for all the wrong reasons. My record testifies to that. What worries me is Brock’s long record of deception and personal abuse in matters large and small. In this particular game of “gotcha,” Brock played the game like a pro, even gulling CNN’s transcriber. He’s getting as good as Clinton. But my apologies for an innocent error nonetheless.

WHAT LIBERAL MEDIA? Say this for People For the American Way. They’ve been doing a terrific job lately. Almost single-handedly, they killed the Pickering nomination and almost certainly will be central in any upcoming judicial fights. (I should say here that, despite many political differences, I’ve been good friends with some PFAW staffers and admire the professionalism of their work, however much I deplore their partisanship. Hey, politics isn’t everything.) But I’m a little taken aback that several media organizations have been indirectly funding this left-group, including CBS and the New York Times. <a href = http

//www.nationalreview.com/york/york042602.asp target = _blank>Byron York has the skinny. CBS and the Times, of course, have no political agenda in their reporting, and their news organizations remain strictly neutral. It’s just that they help fund some of the most partisan liberal groups in Washington.

THAT DAMN RECOVERY

You know that Paul Krugman is devastated to find out that the economy seems to be recovering quite handily. Bob Kuttner must be so depressed to see people getting jobs and seeing their incomes rise again. But the dark-linings-on-a-silver-cloud award must surely go to the New York Times’ Washington Memo today. The headline is priceless: “Economic Revival Poses A Problem For Bush.” Sure, the piece makes some good points, but the editorial impulse is mistakable: how can we spin this story against Bush? And before the good news comes out? (Update: Just saw that Mickey Kaus beat me to the punch on this one. Blogger Blissfulknowledge beat both of us. It’s getting more competitive these days, innit?)

DAVID BROCK’S PANTS EXPERIENCE SPONTANEOUS COMBUSTION

On CNN’s Crossfire last night, Tucker Carlson confronted David Brock with an anecdote parlayed by Brock in his recent book, “Blinded By The Right.” The anecdote was about something Carlson allegedly said to Brock. Carlson simply denied it outright and accused Brock of being a bald-faced liar. “Ought you not be embarrassed, making this up and facing me on the set?” Carlson asked. “Looking me in the eye and saying you really said that?” Brock responded, “I will look you right in the eye. That is exactly what you told me.” Who to believe, huh? Luckily, that exchange was followed by the following friendly chat with James Carville:

CARVILLE: …because we’re going to post it on the much ballyhooed grand web
site mediawhoresonline.com. And this is what they had to say… “Conservative media outlets…have tried to ignore Brock’s truthful revelations, putting him on what looks like a blacklist, refusing to review his book, refusing to have him appear on their broadcasts, hoping that he and his book will just GO AWAY.” Does that ring true to you, David?
BROCK: Yes, absolutely. As I was saying to Tucker, the conservative magazines have not reviewed the book. Conservative dominated talk shows that love my previous work won’t talk about it. And I think the conservatives are in denial.
CARVILLE: How many talk shows have you been on let’s just say the Fox network?
BROCK: I have not been on Fox at all.
CARVILLE: But no one invited you on?
BROCK: No.

This one, actually, is not that hard to figure out. Brock is lying. Here’s a link that will actually show you a photograph of Brock being interviewed on Fox News about his book on March 18. Who are you going to believe? David Brock or your own lying eyes?