It’s not the finest hour for the church when its leading guardian of orthodoxy – the man who wrote the document that calls gay men “intrinsically disordered” – petulantly slaps a reporter’s hand for daring to ask questions about a close ally of the Pope who is credibly accused of being a serial sexual molester of boys. Ratzinger’s fit of pique is a function of his past. He isn’t used to any serious questioning or dialogue. He pronounces doctrines that affect the lives of millions, but when one of his close allies (and one of the current pope’s closest confidants) has been accused of hideous sexual abuse, he buries and ignores the charges, and then is offended even to be asked about them. The Vatican official thus accused, Father Maciel, denies the allegations. You can see why the Church must hope he’s telling the truth. After these charges were made and buried, the Pope appointed Maciel as his special representative to a conference of Latin American bishops. Maciel’s case links this scandal directly to the papacy itself. Hence Ratzinger’s rattled response. The theoconservatives will be leery of touching this one – because it might taint their theological hero, Ratzinger, a man who is second only to the Pope in his influence on the current direction of the Church. At some point in the next few months, my prediction is that this scandal will indeed hit Rome. Indeed, one reason the Vatican is resisting any peremptory discipline for the American cardinals is the precedent. What do they do if a more senior cardinal is discovered to have shielded serial molesters of children? What happens if the pope himself is implicated either directly or by association? These men are terrified. If you had shielded minor abusers for years, wouldn’t you be?

BURUMA DISMEMBERS ROY: Whatever you do, don’t miss Ian Buruma’s as usual superb dissection of Arundhati Roy’s facile anti-Americanism in the latest New Republic. here’s a strikingly acute passage:

There is one verbal tic that keeps recurring in Roy’s writings that may help us to understand her feelings–for that is what they are, more than coherent thoughts. She refers a great deal to India’s “ancient civilization,” usually to show how humiliating it is for an ancient people to defer to a jumped-up, uncivilized place such as the United States. About President Clinton’s visit to India, she observes: “He was courted and fawned over by the genuflecting representatives of this ancient civilization with a fervour that can only be described as indecent.” This speaks of the same snobbery that informed Roy’s remark on American television about Mickey Mouse and the mullahs. Rich, rampant America shows up the relative weakness and backwardness of India. This is hard to take for a member of the intellectual or artistic elite, educated by nationalist professors, whose thoughts were often molded by British Marxists from the London School of Economics.

Yes, it all comes to down to ressentiment. It’s true in the Middle East as well. How must those failed Arab polities feel when they look at tiny little Israel, a country that started from scratch, is minuscule in comparison in population and land-mass, and yet has left all its Arab neighbors in the dust. Talk about humiliating. And what more familiar panacea for humiliation than envy and violence? It was ever thus, and ever will be. But it doesn’t make it any more defensible. Or any less pathetic.

CARDINAL LAW’S CONTEMPT: Say this for Bernard Law. He knows where his power comes from. Who knows what deal he has done with his mentor, Pope John Paul II? Rumor has it that he will soon be given a high-class sinecure in Rome – as a reward for sheltering child-abusers. (I believe the rumors.) In return, he reminds us that any final policy on sexually abusing priests will be up to Rome, and that any thought of lay people having more input into the Church is verboten. As the New York Times reports,

In a letter faxed to priests in the archdiocese by one of his top aides, Cardinal Law said that a proposed association of parish councils organized by lay Catholics would be “superfluous and potentially divisive.” Instead of organizing themselves, laypeople must live “within the hierarchical structure of the church,” said the letter, which was sent by Bishop Walter J. Edyvian, vicar general of the Boston Archdiocese. Priests should not “join, foster or promote this endeavor among your parish pastoral council members or the community of the faithful at large,” Bishop Edyvian wrote.

Then there’s new evidence that Law is still daring, through hideous legalese, to blame children for their own abuse. I’m beginning to think that all the dire predictions about what all this will mean for the Church are wrong. It’s not worse than we think. It’s far, far worse.

LET THEM SPITE JEWS: Chris Caldwell’s report from France on the surge of racism – from right and left – makes some excellent points. It helps me understand France’s desire to appease Islamo-fascism. Their own country is a hotbed of Muslim hatred; and appeasement is always the default French position. Then there’s a strange and distressing collusion of interests between the anti-Jewish Muslim fascists and the left-leaning intellectual classes for whom criticism of anything from the Third World is unthinkable. Chris is too crude, I think, by labeling this Jew-hatred part of the “left.” Those terms are a little pointless when talking, for example, of passionate, indoctrinated, Islamist ideology. But he’s sharp on how hatred of Israel and Zionism, demonization of the strong and vibrant Jewish nation, is a new sublimation of an old hatred, cleansed by the thought that now the Jews are no longer the victims. I liked this point particularly:

For anyone who inhabits Western culture, the Holocaust made that culture a much more painful place to inhabit–and for any reasonably moral person, greatly narrowed the range of acceptable political behavior. To be human is to wish it had never happened. (Those who deny that it did may be those who can’t bear to admit that it happened.) But it did. If there’s a will-to-anti-Semitism in Western culture–as there probably is–then the Arab style of Judeophobia, which is an anti-Semitism without the West’s complexes, offers a real redemptive project to those Westerners who are willing to embrace it. It can liberate guilty, decadent Europeans from a horrible moral albatross. What an antidepressant!

It’s still an amazing achievement to me that France is able to sustain a wave of both anti-Arab and anti-Jewish sentiment at the same time. Who says they’re not still a great power?

STATISTICS FOR THEOCONS: “As a mathematician, I’m certain that purgatory isn’t a place; it’s a class. Purgatory is a course in statistics for theocons. Theocons claim that the higher incidence of same-sex molestation of post-pubescent minors by priests is “by definition” a homosexual problem. However, a statistical experiment can only demonstrate preference if it presents an alternative. As a statistical experiment, Catholic culture presents no such alternative. During relevant decades for the sexual abuse crisis, Catholic secondary education was sexually segregated. Priests taught at all-boys schools; there were no girls to molest. There was no choice between mal
e and female victims. Among the post-pubescent minors victimized by priests, the preponderance of males relative to females cannot be said to be a matter of sexual preference. Rather, it is a matter of opportunity – just as the rape of men in prison is a matter of opportunity for the rapist. Therefore, the statistics on priestly molestation can never be said to support the conclusion that homosexual priests are more prone to molest than heterosexual priests.” – this and defenses of Paul Krugman and virginity, all on the Letters Page.

DOES WEIGEL WANTS EXCEPTIONS FOR STRAIGHTS?: Another piece from the theocons, glibly equating the abuse of minors with homosexuality. How can I put this simply: just because the vast majority of these priestly sexual abuse cases have been (so far) between men and post-pubescent male minors, it doesn’t follow that the problem is homosexuality. The problem is abuse. I just cannot understand why this isn’t obvious. The only way in which it isn’t is if you believe that gays are more likely to molest minors than straights. There’s no evidence of that whatsoever, as theocon George Weigel concedes in this piece. So why this insistence? My suspicion is that these theocons really do believe that all gays are prone to pedophilia, but even they feel a little ashamed to pass on this argument in print. I just wish they’d be honest and say it instead of getting into these bizarre contortions of logic. My favorite example is in this piece. Weigel doesn’t seem to want zero-tolerance for abuse cases, and backs the Cardinals’ fudge. But the tough case he uses to illustrate his point for leniency is the following:

[S]hould such a “one strike and you’re out” policy extend to a priest who had a brief consensual affair with a woman a quarter-century ago and has led an exemplary life since? Most Catholics would probably say no, and they would be right.

Huh? The issue is not sex with adults; it’s sex with minors. It’s the old theocon bait-and-switch technique again. Or maybe Weigel is implying that breaking celibacy is forgiveable of you’re straight but not if you’re gay. Or maybe Weigel honestly sees no moral difference between sex with an adult and sex with a minor. I guess if all sex is wrong, why distinguish? I wonder what his view would be on zero-tolerance of non-celibacy if the consensual affair was with another adult man? And what would his view be if the affair were with a minor girl? My suspicion is that Weigel is okay with straight sinners but not with gay ones. My other suspicion is that he considers abuse of a male minor worse than that of a female minor. If he believes that, he should say so, and explain why. If he doesn’t, he needs to say so.

KRUGMAN – HOME AT LAST: Which European newspaper would reprint Paul Krugman’s recent column in which he compared le Pen’s strong showing in the recent French elections with president Bush’s electoral success? Le Monde, no less. And on Monday’s front page! Well, they would, wouldn’t they?