The Honor Blog
Today is: Apr 10, 2020
Post From: Aug 22, 2018
This Month's Catholic Scandal
It has been several months since I posted - which is unfortunate. I would like to put something up about once a week, but . . . this Summer was the busiest I have ever had. Let's hope the Fall is a little better.
Unfortunately, part of what motivates me to put something together now is that the Catholic Church is undergoing a terrible, terrible set of revelations about sexual misconduct in the church heirarchy. Honestly, to call it `misconduct' is a stunning disservice. What is being revealed about the conduct of church officials in Pennsylvania is heinous - it is clearly and entirely evil. Specifically, what we are learning is that hundreds of priests systematically abused children - mostly boys - in a sexual way, and that their superiors in the church heirarchy - at least two bishops and/or cardinals - consciously and actively covered up those crimes and enabled more.
If you have read my book about honor, you know that I make an effort to ensure that the principles I identify are independent of religion - so my discussion of honor does not depend on Catholicism. However, I am a Catholic, and I believe that Catholic teaching resonates more strongly with my understanding of honorable behavior than any other philosophy.
Which means I feel compelled to try to reconcile what we are learning about the terrible crimes of members of the church heirarchy with my support for Catholic teaching.
At times like this, I think it is important to return to basics. The reasons I am Catholic are 1) the teachings of the church are the ones most closely aligned with my understanding of honor, 2) the church has a lot of history, and does not change its teachings according to popular whim, and 3) the Catholic Church embraces miracles - it embraces the spiritual side of human existence.
None of those reasons is compromised by the abominable behavior of the priests and bishops in Pennsylvania. As a result, I think it important to remain steadfast in my faith - again, my understanding of honor and Catholic teaching have many things in common.
That choice will not come easily for many - it does not come easily for me, honestly. The heinous actions of the priests in this case make it impossible to avoid stepping back to re-evaluate the teachings of the church. It is natural to connect the teachings of an organization to the actions of its members, and the evil done by these men naturally has the effect of besmirching church teaching.
In fact, that is one of the truly disgusting effects of this crime. It has raised an obstacle which will make it more difficult for some people to come closer to God, because it makes it more difficult for people to hear Catholic teaching.
While I understand - even sympathize - with those who face that obstacle, however, the reality is that it is produced by a misunderstanding about Catholicism - by two such misunderstandings, in fact.
The first of those is the one described above. While people are tempted to connect the actions of these priests and bishops to the church as a whole, the reality is that these actions are absolute violations of Catholic teaching. The priests and bishops who have engaged in these acts have betrayed not only the letter of Catholic law, but the spirit of it as well. What they have done is the opposite of what they professed to believe and what they promised to teach the parishioners under their care.
The other misunderstanding lies in the nature of the relationship between Catholics and the church heirarchy. That is, many people perceive there to be an authoritarian aspect to the relationship between the Church and its members; they perceive Catholics as being required to follow the direction of church leaders and, ultimately, the Pope. That perception, though widely held even among Catholics, simply is not true. The essential element of Catholic faith is that it is an individual journey toward God - an individual journey. As such, it embraces free will as an essential part of human nature. The church exists to help people along that path, but it does not command its members.
Unfortunately, there are many who seek the comfort of authority, seek to ease their worries and fears by giving responsibility for moral decisions over to others. This is a deeply human problem - it is the reason that most governments, over time, trend toward authoritarianism, and it is the reason that so many personality-driven churches flourish.
Again, though, that is an error. For a person to behave honorably, he or she must embrace individual responsibility. My discussion of the Virtue of Hope focused on embracing the freedom of others, but it also is important for each of us to embrace his or her own freedom - and responsibility - to make moral decisions. Each of us must embrace the uncertainty and fear and doubt which accompany freedom - it simply is not honorable to defer that responsibility to an authoritarian other, even one which is (or at least should be) as honorable as the Catholic Church.
Being Catholic does not mean that the church defines me, it means that I define the church. I am responsible for my own moral decisions, my own actions. I listen to church teaching - as I hope I have made clear, I am committed to being Catholic - but the church does not dictate to me. Moreover, it is my role as a member of the church to LIVE the teaching, to present the true faith to others through my life and through my moral decisions.
As a result, I am not beholden to flawed members of the church heirarchy, do not share in the evil actions of these priests. I strive to be true to Honor and to the spirit of Catholic teaching, and I have no obligation to support or obey church leaders who are not.
This is a difficult and subtle point. I suspect I have not explained it very well, so I hope anyone reading this will think about the ideas carefully. It is important to recognize that this emphasis on the individual does not lend credibility to moral relativism. What I am saying here is NOT that each person gets to define his or her own morality. What I am saying is that each individual is responsible for his or her own decisions with regard to morality - honor can be understood in objective terms, but each person must accept responsibility for remaining true to that objective reality.
In Catholic circles, what I am saying is that you cannot be a "cafeteria Catholic" - you cannot pick and choose which moral requirements you wish to follow. You must remain moral, even when the requirements are difficult and/or unpalatable.
Again, I doubt that I have explained that well - but I am at a point where more words are not likely to make it better. So I hope readers will think about it and challenge me where they think I have gone wrong.