While the clerical sexual abuse crisis may have permanently damaged millions of people’s image of the Catholic Church, a historical perspective suggests that the Church is not “finished” and has faced much harder times of corruption and danger, a Catholic pundit has written.
New York Times columnist Ross Douthat discussed the idea that the Catholic Church is “finished” in the Atlantic Monthly’s July/August 2010 issue, which featured “The 14 ¾ Biggest Ideas of the Year.”
“This was the year when the cover-up of priestly sex abuse, a long-simmering crisis for Catholicism, became something much, much bigger,” he wrote, noting various responses seeing it as another Watergate, a Waterloo, or Reformation.
Some said the Pope had to apologize, had to resign, or had to be arrested.
“No, nothing could save the Church: it was too corrupt, too compromised, too medieval, too anachronistic,” Douthat wrote, summing up the pessimistic view. “And now, at last, it was finished.”
“A little historical perspective suggests otherwise. The Church has been horrifyingly corrupt in previous eras and still survived,” he countered.
The corrupt churchmen of history would make disgraced Cardinal Bernard Law look clean, while the Church has survived enemies fiercer than atheist activist Richard Dawkins, like the Roman emperor Nero, Attila the Hun or the French polemicist Voltaire.
“But if the Church isn’t finished, period, it can still be finished for certain people, in certain contexts, in certain times,” Douthat reminded readers, saying that for millions of people Catholicism is “probably permanently” associated with sexual scandal rather than the Gospel.
“And as in many previous dark chapters in the Church’s history, the leaders entrusted with that gospel have nobody to blame but themselves,” his Atlantic Monthly piece ended.