A prominent Catholic writer says “selective” and “salacious” reporting of Catholic clergy in the aftermath of clerical sexual abuse scandals is being used to discredit a “powerful moral voice” in public debate. Acknowledging genuine abuse, she says present day anti-clericalism echoes the slanders of pre-Revolutionary France.
That view comes from Elizabeth Lev, an art historian who has written for Inside the Vatican, Sacerdos and First Things magazine. A regular columnist for Zenit, she is also the daughter of former U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican Mary Ann Glendon.
“While no one denies the wrongdoing and the harm caused by a small minority of priests, their misconduct has been used to undermine the reputations of the overwhelming majority of clergy who live holy quiet lives in their parishes,” Lev writes at Politics Daily.
Lev sees parallels between the “sustained hostile attacks” on Catholic clergy in pre-Revolutionary France and present-day media depictions of the Catholic Church.
After the National Assembly in 1789 diminished the authority of the French King, fierce accusations against the Catholic clergy increased.
“Isolated cases of clerical immorality were magnified to make depravity appear endemic to the entire priesthood (ironically, in an age where sexual libertinism was running rampant),” Lev writes. “The French propagandists labored night and day, dredging the past for old scandals whether decades or even centuries distant.”
She cites the words of politician and writer Edmund Burke, who in 1790 noted these polemicists depicted French clergy as “a sort of monsters,” composed of sloth, fraud and avarice.
"It is not with much credulity I listen to any when they speak evil of those whom they are going to plunder. I rather suspect that vices are feigned or exaggerated when profit is looked for in their punishment,” Burke wrote, just as revolutionaries prepared for mass confiscation of Church lands.
Lev charges that “salacious” reporting on clerical sexual abuse is conducted as if the crimes were limited only to Catholic clergy. They have been given more prominence than present-day massacres of Christians in India and Iraq.
“It doesn't take the political acumen of an Edmund Burke to wonder why the Catholic Church has been singled out for this treatment.”
According to Lev, there are an estimated 39 million victims of childhood sexual abuse in the U.S. Between 40 and 60 percent of these were abused by a family member, five percent were molested by school teachers, and fewer than two percent were abused by Catholic priests.
“But to read the papers, it would seem that Catholic clergy hold a monopoly in child molestation,” her Politics Daily article continues.
She sees behind the attacks on Catholic priests attempts to “destroy the credibility of a powerful moral voice in public debate.”
Media reports on sex abuse rose to a “frenzy” at the same time as the final vote on the health care bill was opposed by the Catholic bishops, she claims.
“To silence the moral voice of the Church, the preferred option has been to discredit its ministers.”
Burke saw the anti-clerical campaign as a temporary preparation for the “utter abolition” of Christianity by bringing its ministers into “universal contempt,” Lev says, remembering the hundreds of priests sent to the guillotine during the Reign of Terror.
“One hopes Americans will have the good sense to change course long before we reach that point,” her Politics Daily essay concludes.