My name appears in some unexpected places of late. I am mentioned in the dedication of a recent book in the Psychology, Religion and Spirituality Series by Praeger Publishers. The book is entitled Sexual Liberation: The Scandal of Christendom, by Raymond J. Lawrence (Praeger 2007). According to the Forward by Donald Cappa, the author “tells a dismal and disquieting story” about the history of human sexuality and cultural sexual mores in the Judeo-Christian tradition. It’s about the last place I would ever expect to find my name.
I have never met Raymond Lawrence. Though his historical assessments are well-researched, I agree with almost none of his conclusions.
I excused some of his positions noting that he is not a Roman Catholic and has no ax to grind in favor of the Church and priesthood. Throughout the book, Mr. Lawrence is very critical of Catholic moral teaching and tradition in matters of priestly celibacy, contraception, reproductive ethics, homosexuality and other fronts in the so-called culture wars in which the Church’s Magisterium holds firm against moral relativism.
When I came to a chapter entitled “Sexual Disarray in the Churches,” I braced for the usual blistering attack on priests and bishops for the sex abuse scandal. Clearly leaning to the cultural and theological left, Mr. Lawrence represents a view in religion and psychology that, I expect, would typically embrace the cause of legitimate victims of sexual abuse, a reality that he explores as an epidemic in Western Christian cultures. On the rightness of this cause, we can all agree.
Raymond Lawrence was indeed highly critical, but not in the way I expected. In a lengthy assessment of the patterns of accusation and financial settlement that have besieged Church institutions over the last fifteen years, Mr. Lawrence offered the following summation:
“[T]he current frenzy of criminal and civil suits against priests of the Catholic Church appears to have garnered some of its momentum (on the part of some of the alleged victims) from the prospect of instant wealth. The Catholic Church does have deep pockets, and it seems that some of its accused priests are victims of persons who think they have won the lottery without buying a ticket.” (Sexual Liberation: The Scandal of Christendom, Praeger 2007, p. 146)
Raymond Lawrence is not alone in his ability to rise above ideological partisanship to write what he sees as self-evident. At the height of what Father Richard John Neuhaus called simply, “The Scandal,” noted Boston attorney and author, Harvey Silverglate, a champion of the American Civil Liberties Union, wrote an article entitled, “Fleecing the Shepherd,” published in the Boston Phoenix, Attorney Silverglate cautioned the Church against capitulating to significant numbers of questionable monetary claims against priests and dioceses in mediated settlements. Mr. Silverglate concluded:
“There is considerable doubt about the veracity of the new claims, quite a few of which were made after it became apparent that the Church was willing to settle for big bucks.” (“Fleecing the Shepherd,” Boston Phoenix, Dec. 10 – 16, 2004).
I admire the integrity of Raymond Lawrence and Harvey Silverglate. It takes great courage to write openly against the central tenets of a witch hunt. It takes even greater courage to do so when much of the indiscriminate momentum against the Church comes from one’s ideological friends and professional colleagues.
From an almost polar ideological position, the late Father Richard John Neuhaus wrote extensively and courageously about the systematic purging of the rights of accused priests, as did Cardinal Avery Dulles. (See “Scandal Times,” and “Rights of Accused Priests” posted under “Articles.”).
The Reverend Peter M.J. Stravinskas has also written about “ecclesiastical and civil injustices” imposed upon some accused priests. Father Stravinskas is editor of The Catholic Response, a superb bi-monthly theological journal published by the Priestly Society of the Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman.
I was surprised to see in the July/August issue that The Catholic Response published a commentary by me written just after the Holy Father’s historic U.S. visit in April 2008. This excerpt echoes the cautionary words of Attorney Harvey Silverglate:
“My hope for justice is a hope for fair treatment and due process under both civil and Church law for all priests. I simply cannot reconcile with the fact that the U.S. Bishops in 2007 settled another 691 new and highly suspect claims for an unprecedented $615 million. If one considers the Los Angeles settlement, the 2007 settlements exceed $1 billion. I am certain that 2008 will bring equally alarming settlements. The new claims were themselves alarming. Forty percent were against deceased priests who had never before been accused. This is no longer about legitimate victims of abuse. Among all the commentators this week, you [and Father Neuhaus] alone pointed out the connection between ongoing claims and the promotion
by lawyers to keep the scandal going.” (Fr. Gordon J. MacRae, The Catholic Response, July/August 2009, pg. 38 – 40.)
When The Scandal reached its media apex in January, 2003, a reporter for a local newspaper met with me in the prison visiting room. At the end of our visit, she said – and this is a direct quote –
“The news media, and my paper in particular, are so anti-Catholic, editors won’t let us write stories about falsely accused priests.”
A week later, the reporter canceled a second scheduled visit. I never heard from her again.
In the midst of the culture wars, it has been said that the left-leaning news media has an agenda that is subtly anti-Christian and overtly anti-Catholic. Bill Donohue, President of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, has a forthcoming book entitled, Secular Sabotage: How Liberals are Destroying Religion and Culture in America. He documents the point masterfully.
The newspaper whose reporter admitted its anti-Catholic bias is not, however, known for its left-leaning views. The fact is, there are writers and media outlets from polar ideological edges who have tried to use The Scandal to further their own agendas. Father Benedict Groeschel (“An Urgent Appeal”) spoke of how both left and right-wing dissidents have exploited this matter.
There are also representatives of both the left and the right who have spoken with integrity and truth. I doubt very much they would ever expect to see their names in the same paragraph, but I commend Raymond Lawrence, Attorney Harvey Silverglate, Father Peter M.J. Stravinskas, and the late Father Richard John Neuhaus for being exemplars of integrity and truth in the media. As Daniel Webster declared,
“There is nothing so powerful as truth.”