I have been enjoying the punishment that the Catholic Church has been taking for the last few weeks. As a Catholic, it just reinforces something I’ve known for a long time.
We’re the best.
The Catholic Church is the Yankees of religious organizations. You only generate a code-red level of apoplexy and resentment from people if you are really, really good at what you do. Trust me. I’m a Washington Nationals fan, and I don’t hate the Yankees because they stink.
Critics, of course, will claim that I have a paralyzed conscience—that it is only a person without shame who would defend the child abuse that priests and bishops in the church have been guilty of both perpetrating and covering up for the last fifty years. They are wrong about that. I am mortified and outraged that these monsters were able to destroy lives while men in authority did nothing (even if the attempt to draw Pope Benedict into the dock is based on no evidence). But there’s one thing I find interesting.
Where is the outrage about the much more prevalent abuse in the public schools? A 2007 Associated Press story by Martha Irvine and Robert Tanner revealed a Neronian level of abuse in America’s public schools. “Students in America’s schools are groped,” it reads. “They’re raped. They’re pursued, seduced and think they’re in love.” Estimates of how many incidents of sexual assault in public schools have ranged as high as 29,000 a year. The AP found 2,500 incidence of sexual abuse in the public schools over a five-year period—but these were only the cases where the teacher had their credentials revoked. In comparison, there were 4,400 cases of sexual abuse in Catholic schools over 50 years, from 1950-2000. That’s about 220 a year, which is 220 too many. But it’s much lower than the contagion of abuse that has taken over the public schools.
So why aren’t Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, the atheists who want to arrest the pope, at the front door of the National Education Association with a pair of handcuffs? Below is an excerpt from the 2007 AP story. Read it, and pretend for a moment that the authors are describing a Catholic school:
—The AP discovered efforts to stop individual offenders but, overall, a deeply entrenched resistance toward recognizing and fighting abuse. It starts in school hallways, where fellow teachers look away or feel powerless to help. School administrators make behind-the-scenes deals to avoid lawsuits and other trouble. And in state capitals and Congress, lawmakers shy from tough state punishments or any cohesive national policy for fear of disparaging a vital profession.
If this paragraph were written about the Catholic schools, we would be treated to the usual cavalcade of secular sanctimony. We’d get Ann Curry’s pained sorrow as she read the excerpt on the Today show. We’d have Maureen Dowd’s nursery rimes about a rope-a-dope-pope or something. We’d have Chris Matthews sputtering outrage.
You only get attacked like that if you are really, really good at what you do; as we’ve seen, if the source of the anger was abuse in the schools, then the public schools would all be in lockdown. Catholics elicit that kind of rage because we are the best. It is a system that offers people the exhilarating paradox of achieving real freedom through self-denial (even sexually, which send modernists into orbit), self-giving and love, and for 2,000 years critics have been trying to shame it, kick it, undo it, and dismantle it. We have a pope that helped end the cold war, saints who offer a living alternative to self-obsession and monetary greed, and, yes, schools that educate kids to be literate, caring people. We have the Sistine Chapel and Notre Dame. We have U2, who are Catholic and don’t know it.
While correcting the errors that are constantly being made in the media, we should accept the hostility and respond with love. We should not see enemies, but people who, like all of us, crave the liberation that only the truth about life can provide. Our culture has become intolerant of any talk about submission to anything other than our own conscience; Pope Benedict has called it a “canonization of subjectivity.” But the conscience and human reason point to truths beyond themselves. We know in our hearts that thing we do here have eternal consequences, and that somehow we become enriched spiritually when we live not for ourselves but for others. And from Jesus Christ to St. Teresa of Avila to John Paul II, the Catholic Church has been the most powerful and eloquent explainer and exemplar of those unchanging divine realities.
Sadly, the message has not always been received. The media does not cover brilliant papal encyclicals the way they do scandals. Our abdication of the popular culture has left it to ex-Catholics like Madonna, and instead of seeing the deep desire in the heart of that culture for the love that does not fail, we ignore or condemn. The Catholic schools could use more strong teachers who live the faith and can explain it without putting kids to sleep (which is why I am trying to be a teacher in the Archdiocese of Washington.) There can be too much bureaucracy and not enough guts. Some music at mass isn’t the greatest.
Still, pound for pound, the Catholic Church is the champion of world religions. We are hated because we are awesome. A few years ago I was at a baseball game in Washington, and I watched as Ryan Zimmerman, star third baseman for the Nationals, hit a home run in the bottom of the ninth to win the game, 3-2. Naturally, I was delirious with joy—the evil empire had been destroyed! But then I noticed something—it was the way Derek Jeter and the rest of the Yankees walked off the field. They weren’t slumped over or defected. With dignity and grace, they jogged of they field. They looked quiet, confident. Yep, the Nats had one this one. But the Yankees had the players, the organization, the back office, the philosophy, the tradition.
We didn’t even make the playoffs that year—and we haven’t since. A couple years later, the Yankees won the World Series.
Mark Judge is the author of A Tremor of Bliss: Sex, Catholicism and Rock and Roll, forthcoming from Doubleday. His YouTube page can be found here –http://www.youtube.com/user/MarkGauvreau.