Is the Catholic Church in America Losing Its Privileged Status?
Mr. Dresner is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Hawai'i at Hilo, and a graduate of Georgetown University.The Catholic Church sex abuse scandal has raised many issues about the nature of the Catholic Church and its role in modern society. The crux of the problem -- the Catholic Church's decision to shield abusive priests from secular authorities -- is rooted in centuries of history in which the Roman Catholic Church was literally above the law. For a long time the Church was special, but in North America, at least, it is becoming a very normal institution, particularly under the pressures generated by this recent scandal.
The Roman Catholic Church had its origins in the Roman Empire, and after the Roman Emperors took Christianity as their faith the religion and the political power structure became deeply intertwined. Church structure mirrored the administrative structure of the empire, and when the empire split, Rome and Byzantium ruled by "separate but equal" co-emperors, so did the Church. But in both empires the faith and the Church survived long after the political structures had faded and crumbled.
As new centralized states reemerged after the fall of Rome and Byzantium, the Church that had persisted through the interregnum held a privileged position. Priests were not subject to secular law and Church property was not taxed. The Church could even influence political and military affairs: e.g. the Crusades, and the Papal States of Italy. Though there were conflicts with political institutions (and within the Church itself) over resources, there was no serious erosion of the Church's privileged position until the 14th and 15th centuries, when some of the most prosperous and powerful arms of the church were nationalized under rulers like Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain. But even then the Church remained a special institution, whose control afforded a particularly powerful form of legitimacy to the new nation-states of early modern Europe.
But religious legitimacy, temporarily bolstered by the Reformation and the religious warfare which ensued for 150 years, eventually proved to be less useful in the face of more efficient and secular states and the Church slowly regained its image as an international institution, above national interests and beyond normal politics. In the 18th and 19th centuries, anti-religious ideas, and particularly hostility to the powerful and wealthy Catholic Church, became more widespread and influential, and the Roman Catholic Church found its property confiscated -- as in the French Revolution -- and its influence questioned -- as in the kulturkampf [cultural struggle] against the Church led by Prussia's Bismarck.
Under the influence of the French and American revolutions, the ideal of the secular state takes hold. More importantly, though, the revolutionary concept of universal law becomes one of the root ideas of Western civilization, thanks in no small part to the spread of the Napoleonic Code. The secular state is bolstered by increasingly diverse populations: the acceptance of religious difference within the state made it impossible to justify treating one church differently than another, except in extreme circumstances. Churches still retained privileges, including tax-free status and a certain presumption of greater innocence.
The current crisis has revealed the extent to which the Roman Catholic Church has become normalized over the last century. The Church retains its tax-free status, but not its freedom from government scrutiny and control: tax-free status comes with limitations on political activism, for example. The Church has incorporated its dioceses as a charitable religious institution under civil law, but has no legal existence as a single institution. Civil lawsuits forced the Church to make public accountings of its property and resources, but the Church has used its diocesan divisions, enshrined in law, to insulate the damage. The cost of the lawsuits raised the possibility that at least one diocese would seek bankruptcy protection, and that individual parish churches might be closed and the property liquidated. The Church as a whole, of course, could afford to pay the settlements, but it has taken advantage of the legal structure under which it operates to insulate itself. It is interesting to note that the current debate within the Episcopal Church over their homosexual archbishop is also framed within the context of the legal and financial complexity of organizing a schism.
One of the only remaining privileges of the Church, the shield of the confessional from the prying eyes of public prosecutors, is clearly under fire. It is worth noting that the concept of priest-penitent privilege (and its secular equivalent, doctor-patient privilege) exists entirely because of public acceptance of the Catholic Church's insistence on the sanctity of its rites and the right of its faithful to confess without incurring civil or criminal penalty. The fact that non-Catholics have that same right with their clergy is a side effect because of the impossibility of writing a modern law that applies only to one faith. But that privilege is also under strain, limited by the doctrine of imminent harm, as well as by an increasingly narrow interpretation of the conditions under which it might apply.
It took the pressure of the sex abuse scandal to create the presumption that priests would be turned over to civil authorities in the event of credible accusations. The faith of Catholics and non-Catholics alike that the Church would act morally and responsibly has been shaken, particularly by the way the Church used the protection of confessional secrecy to shield its priests from civil authorities. Instead, the Church has responded much like a corporation would, with lawyers and trickles of documents and press statements and accounting tricks to hide resources.
The Roman Catholic Church is struggling with its few remaining distinctive features: the all-male, celibate priesthood; the challenge of integrating a world-wide community of Christians into a single Catholic Church with a single orthodox position; the undemocratic nature of the Church, which conflicts sharply with the need to involve Catholic laity in both ritual and institutional leadership. It is too facile to say that the Church is at a crossroads: it has been through a dizzying array of crossroad points in the modern age. But it is difficult to maintain a sacred and special institution in a secular and equalizing society: it has clearly already affected the nature of the Church, and will continue to do so.
comments powered by Disqus
Gabriel Butterfield - 9/14/2005
How did you come up with my fahter being jewish?
And I do not recall meeting you.
contact me--Gabriel Butterfield--son of Paul Butterfield
Gabriel Butterfield - 9/14/2005
This is the son of Paul Butterfield--Gabriel Butterfield.
Prior to posting incorrect information you should contact Paul's family first.
For those interested in knowing about my father we have established PBFS.
The Paul Butterfield Fund & Society (PBFS) was recently established by Salli Squitieri & Gabriel Butterfield-son of Paul Butterfield, with the assistance of Dan Aykroyd & his wife Donna Dixon-Aykroyd and the sponsorship of Fractured Atlas (www.fracturedatlas.org), a NYC based non-profit art organization.
PBFS is membership supported and dedicated to the preservation & revival of the memory,legacy & many contributions of Paul Butterfield & to the rich traditions of the Blues styles of music through the support of the arts & those involved with the arts. Likewise, striving to assist struggling artists with emergency relief, project support and cultural enrichment. With particular focus on projects dedicated to underpirivileged and at risk children.
Additionally, PBFS is working on a series of ongoing PBFS projects and the ongoing development of The PBFS Educational Archival Exhibit representing segments of Paul Butterfield's life and career, which curently includes memorabilia--posters, handbills, tickets, art etc., photographs, videos, music and various personal artifacts of Paul's.
We are presently working on our website and newsletter.
PBFS seeks membership, volunteers & networkers.
Some other links of interest are:
BLESSON GMOL - 11/3/2003
DEAR FRIEND IN CHRIST JESUS,
PRAISE GOD; PLEASE PRAY FOR MY WIFE GMOL WHO HAS BEEN SEPARATED FROM ME FOR LAST 4 MONTH. I LOVE HER MORE THAN ANYTHING IN THIS WORLD.PLEASE PRAY TO GOD TO BRING BACK HER AND BE UNITED ONCE AGAIN IN CHRIST JESUS FOREVER.THANK YOU.
My email id: firstname.lastname@example.org
+Andreas Thorfinn, titular Bishop of Hamar, Poland - 11/2/2003
Thomas Hagedorn - 10/2/2003
Re: Barbara Cornett's comment: The reports of God's death have been greatly exagerated. Even a casual survey of American culture and society shows that a very vigorous majority of Americans believe in a personal God, spiritual and all-powerful. The secularism and humanism so longed-for by some just has not won the day here in the United States. Your comments are totally on the money...for Eurupe. Not the United States. If you don't believe me, take a drive around almost any neighborhood on Sunday morning. The church lots are full, new construction is going up. Most of the growth is in evangelical, fundamentalist churches, not the liberal, main line churches.
F.H. Thomas - 9/29/2003
I think that this has been highly instructive, like all disputations done strenuously, in good faith.
As excellent history, in novel form, I highly commend Eco's "The Name of the Rose", if you have not read it. It documents a far more deadly debate, in the high middle ages, between the followers of St Francis, supported by the Holy Roman Emperors, and the mainline Catholic orders, supported by France.
The book is a tour of mideaval learning and logic, national and religious conflict, and the overriding issue of poverty versus property, which spills out of the abby and into society at large. The questions at play are the same questions which Marx and Engles struggled with, and for that matter Jesus. (Eco is a communist of the Italian type, a U of Bologna Prof, who is utterly intellectual, honest, and harmless.)
I know you would find it fascinating, assuming you have not already read it.
Thank you for a truly fine discussion.
F.H. Thomas - 9/29/2003
Dear Ms Cornett,
I always appreciate your comments, perhaps because I feel that I know where they are coming from, which is right from your heart, and sense a strongly virtuous mein in you. I's like to discuss the points you have made here, if I may, first the general issue, then the specific:
1. God is Dead?
My favorite verse from the Old Testament has always, or at least since I was big enough to read it, "The Heavens show forth the Glory of the Lord". To me that was self-evident. As one who wanted to be an astronomer, and am still pretty good at it, I cannot look at the night sky without awe at the degree of intelligence I see in this design, which, despite all the advances of science, still remains beyond our understanding.
An old saying goes "there are no athiests in the foxholes". I have been in the foxholes, and would rather would put it, "there are no athiests in the backyard", on a clear cool night, with the panoply of heaven before us.
Although you mentioned that many may think God dead or irrelevant, that night sky, and the experience of the alternative horrors of Soviet atheism, etc. ad nauseum, also makes many people think otherwise, perhaps even yourself. I believe that you may experience the same transcendant awe as do I, when faced by the same irresistable natural beauty.
There is a moral component of man which can be equally beautiful, which I see in the Jew's pondering of God's prayers, or Christ in his sad and terrible mission of sacrifice, taken out of universal love, or the Buddha's desire to come close to truth, and bind with it, or the elderly Alyuk's loving gift of his own body, given back to the Polar bear who gave him sustinance during his life, or the Muslim's simple and direct devotion to an unknowable creator.
Would it surprise you to know that I am not antagonistic to pagan beliefs ("paganus" = "countryside" ie "one from outside the city"). It is not that I am intending to join the Mythras cult which contributed so much to Christianity, or study the exclusionary doctrines of the Essenes, trying to purify ancient Judaism, or join a coven. But I do feel that each of these is a part of human culture, which must be cherished, in my view, as a cultural artifact, and part of what got us to where we are now.
God dead? If so, we would have to resurrect him.
I believe that, dear lady.
2. Catholic Priests and Pedophilia
This is a more complex issue than it appears. Everyone wants evil doers punished, but there are several caveats in this case which many of my colleagues have properly identified:
-The prevalence of lawyers pushing frivolous lawsuits to cash in, like sharks smelling blood.
-The widespread use of questionable "evidence" such as "repressed memories" recalled under "hypnosis". Remember the horror of the McMartin case, a nadir of justice in this country, in which some kids "remembered" a giant lake in the basement, complete with motorboats and altars to sacrifice the kids.
-The fact that there is almost no case which is newer than 20 years.
-Unquestionably, there are real perverts such as the recently and painfully deceased Fr Geoghan, a member of Nambla.
-The press sensationalizing everything, and presenting even the above questionable "evidence" as if real.
-I earlier identified the experimental Catholic program of the late 60's and early 70s to selectively admit known homosexuals, with the understanding that they remain celibate. Many were just the best: The chaplain of the NYPD, who was, I understand, on the 27th floor of World Trade Tower II when it fell, was one of the spectacular successes of this program, a candidate for sainthood, and the most popular of any who held his office. Another was Fr. Geoghan, enough said.
I hope that justice comes to this area, and absolutely admire and applaud your compassion for the victims. I simply hope that more victims are not created by the boodthirsty thugs of the legal profession, and the press.
Jonathan Dresner - 9/29/2003
Actually, I would argue that Beowulf, like the Epic of Gilgamesh (Babylonia), Genesis, the stories of Solomon (not the Biblical text, but the popular mythology), the (early portions of the) Nihongi (Japan), the writings of Hesiod (Greece), the Jataka (Buddhism), Setne Khamwas (Egypt) and a lot of other fantastical tales in the human tradition are clearly mythical and probably don't have any basis in historical reality.
They're great stories, but trying to use them as historical sources requires much the same techniques as we use to draw historical data out of later forms of fiction. They are useful sources for the study of values, of patterns of speech and behavior, of social interactions and mores, but there is rarely any way to seriously take them literally.
Oral traditions transmit both myth and fact quite well, and they sometimes distinguish between the two (though the transition to written form often obscures it, sometimes deliberately), and we have to as well. Not all stories are Histories, but that doesn't mean they don't have value to us as historical sources.
F.H.Thomas - 9/29/2003
What a wonderful thing to share, emblematic of a great soul to go with a challenging and fruitful mind. I believe, good sir, that your name will be so written. I will join my prayers to that end.
I imagine your office overlooking the multi-hued blues of the ocean, with one of the earth's great panoramas before you. Even if it overlooks the parking lot, however, L'Shanah Tovah!
F.H.Thomas - 9/29/2003
Thank you again for your learned, and deeply held opinions, which I will extend a little:
While I am NOT claiming the ephemeral right of the last word, I do feel that we have come about as close to logical conciliation on this point as we may get.
"What is difficult to determine is the role of Jesus in the transition, but again I take the Talmudic sources as being very useful. They are not great sources on political issues or biography (at least not of non-rabbinic personages), but their hostile portrayal of the Jesus movement is based in the very real perception that Christianity was NOT Judaism."
Thank you for saying that this important point is difficult to determine. There we are in fullest agreement. (There is grist for a good book in this somewhere.)
The Talmudic comments on this issue were written many years afterward, I believe a hundred years in the case of Baba Kama, and they quote a contemporaneous (to Jesus) rabbi who nowhere else appears in the Talmud, not exactly a primary source, and hearsay to boot. Furthermore, no one denies that Jesus was a Jew, that all his followers were Jews, that he appealed only to Jews, nor that his greatest "publicist", Saul of Tarsus, was a high-ranking Jew. What's not to like?
"More importantly, I would argue that the Talmud, which is an outgrowth of a strong oral tradition, probably *is* a better source for what the Rabbis said and believed than the Gospels is for what Jesus said. Strong oral traditions can be excellent transmitters of knowledge across generations, and that's precisely why the rabbinic tradition developed. Non-Talmudic sources which address the same events and personages are usually in agreement with the Talmud on concrete and verifiable issues."
Oral traditions are good at saying that something happened, but are notoriously poor at describing exactly what it was. Inevitably, the prejudices of the teller color matters.
For example, while Beowulf (check out the Heany translation) obviously described some struggle, given the lack of paleontological evidence, we can reasonably infer it was not with a Norse-speaking dragon. By the way, a very interesting oral tradition as transcribed has wonderfully been reassembled and retranslated as "Tain bo Coulaigh", composed about 600bc, but not written down until about 550 ad, yet remarkable coherent and personal, right down to modern-sounding conflict of the sexes conversations.
I would also point out the issue of archeological investigations still under way in Israel which have pretty much determined that both David and Solomon, as described, are not factual historical personages. (See Sience magazine and the series in Ha'Arrez) Their stories, unlike the Anglo Saxon Chronicles, were not I believe, written down until some generations afterward, and in this case, the oral tradition was unreliable as a transmitted of historical fact. No doubt they both existed, but perhaps not in the way the oral tradition transmitted. (As I said once before, I will continue to admire Michaelangelo's David, and the biblical accounts, anyway.) But you get my point.
Thank you for a most interesting and learned discussion.
Jesse Lamovsky - 9/29/2003
Likewise, Mr. Dresner.
Bill Heuisler - 9/28/2003
F.H. Thomas, Jesse Lamovsky, Stephen Thomas and Jonathan Dresner,
Thank you all for one of the warmest, finest, most educational forums I've ever enjoyed here or anywhere.
Directly appropriate to part of your conversation is the book, "How the Scots invented the Modern World" by Arthur Herman, Crown Publishers 2001. You've probably all read it, but maybe others of us spectators haven't.
Please converse together more often, you do us honor.
Jonathan Dresner - 9/28/2003
While I have your attention, let me wish everyone a Happy and Healthy New Year!
The greeting "L'Shanah Tovah" is an abbreviation of the Hebrew phrase "May you be written in the Book of Life" reflecting the Jewish belief that the Days of Awe (Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur) is a time of judgement ('On Rosh Hashanah it is written; on Yom Kippur it is sealed') and therefore of reflection and repentence.
It is said that even God prays. How can God pray? God's prayer is "May it be my will that my mercy be greater than my justice." And it is tradition that during these days God sits on the Throne of Justice, until Yom Kippur, when God ascends (for it is a higher virtue) to the Thone of Mercy.
Anyway, I hope everyone has a good 5764!
Jonathan Dresner - 9/28/2003
Actually, I think the sources on the nature of the priestly-rabbinic transition are much more determinative than to suggest throwing our hands up and applying a nearly random model from another time, place and tradition.
There are examples of dramatic religious change which are nothing like the Protestant Reformation (a sui generis if there ever was one) including the transition we've discussed in Judaism, the Upanishadic revolution in India, the introduction of Buddhism in China, Christianity in modern Korea, etc. Perhaps the only major religous transition I can think of which *is* like the Reformation is the spread of Islam, in which political and religious institutions were considered as one.
Frankly, the transition in Judaism is quite adequately explained by the repeated destruction of the Temple and priesthood, without needing to invent revolutionary movements which didn't exist to fit a model nobody has ever applied to this historical moment.
What is difficult to determine is the role of Jesus in the transition, but again I take the Talmudic sources as being very useful. They are not great sources on political issues or biography (at least not of non-rabbinic personages), but their hostile portrayal of the Jesus movement is based in the very real perception that Christianity was NOT Judaism. More importantly, I would argue that the Talmud, which is an outgrowth of a strong oral tradition, probably *is* a better source for what the Rabbis said and believed than the Gospels is for what Jesus said. Strong oral traditions can be excellent transmitters of knowledge across generations, and that's precisely why the rabbinic tradition developed. Non-Talmudic sources which address the same events and personages are usually in agreement with the Talmud on concrete and verifiable issues.
In a way, it's too bad we can't take the Talmudic critiques of Jesus and Mary, et al. at face value: they would at least be independent evidence of their existence as historical personages.
Jonathan Dresner - 9/28/2003
I'm not really interested in the theological issues. I'm asking about, as you discuss in your second post, the institutional history.
If I were to take that starting point, would it alter the tragectory of the argument? I don't think so: it would simply intensify it. If you distill the history down to an absurd level The Catholic Church could sound something like this:
I am the Way
I am the Law
I am One Law
I am a separate law
Thank goodness for laywers.
Just kidding, of course.
F.H. Thomasg - 9/27/2003
All this, and fine music too!
I acknowledge my thanks and appreciation. And here I thought I was doing so well with my software business, resources, learning, etc., only to be so happily vanquished.
Let us further amplify the complex symbiotic interaction between Scotch Irish and Nigerian Americans.
I allow myself only one further ancedote: my friend's mother, who stated to me unequivocally that the only place she saw real concern for blacks by whites was in the South, as in "How is that beautiful son of yours; has his cholic eased?", or "Please remember me to your husband", white said to black, or vice-versa. Such civility, leading to economic advancement for both, is almost exclusively a Southern phenomenon, and quite directly a religious phenomenon.
Vayaste en el abrazo de Dios, compadre.
F.H. Thomas - 9/27/2003
Bless you for your fine analysis, and cogent commentary. Naught comes but by free inquiry and fair disputation, ne c'ets pas?
To take your scepticism to the next level, I have equal difficulty with certain aspects of the Gospels, Torah, and Talmud. The Talmud, which I imply you take as "barren muenze", must be acknowledged to contain hearsay evidence 100-243 years old in terms of its slams on Jesus and Mary-hardly credible.
I assert again that this cannot be settled by sources. They are too unreliable and disputable. I must assert, my dear friend, that a model must be fit to these data which fits. That model, in the lack of any new information to the contrary, is the model of revolutionary religious organizational change which we know: the Protestant Revolution, (except that Luther was better at getting away clean.) The old model for Jewish religious organization was replaced by the new one, Rabbinical Judaism, because of anti-clerical agitators such as Christ.
Please have a wonderful weekend, much deserved.
Dave Livingston - 9/27/2003
It seems to me that Dr. Dresner is on to something by noting that some of the root cause of the Church tolerating abusive clergy in its ranks is due to the "long centuries" during which it a pillar of Western civilization permitted some clergy to brcome arrogsantly a law unto themselves and the Church as an institution to separate itself from the society in which it operated, with its own government and laws.
because the Church has experienced scandal of this sort before, in Europe, we have soe vague idea of how long it took to cleanse the Church of its corruption, roughly a generation and a hslf, we have some idea of how long it will take to clean it up this time around, but this time there are athe added benefits, if one wants to think of them that way,of the Church working in a secular environment with its massive modern communications system, especially the news media to press the issue along.
Perhaps forgotten by some, the abuse scandal first broke into the news via a Church reporter working for a Church newspaper in New Orleans.
As a step toward reform the Vatican not long ago issued clear and definite instructions that homosexuals are forbidden to be accepted into seminaries as well as forbidden to be ordained. While it will take a will to complete the reform process, at least it is underway. As much as I despise the Leftist news media, this is one circumstance in which it is appreciated, as long as it keeps up the pressure upon the Church to get itself cleansed of this corruption.
Dave Livingston - 9/27/2003
One has seen a similar band-wagon of news media driven scandal at the U.S. Air Force Academy. As with Mr. Thomas, it is my belief much of the Church scandal is has profit its primaary purpose. Just look at who is racking in big bucks, attorneys.
Clearly, if the news media hasn't something to sell it has problems.
One thing that leads me to suspect that some of the claims of sexual abuse at the Air Force Academy is that in this day of militant feminism a wolf whistle is considered by some people to be sexual harrassment, a half step short of outright abuse. It does not take much imigination to realize that females not subject to the admiration that provokes a wolf whistle resent the practice, when it does occur.
Another manifestion of militant feminism occurs when one, as have Yours truly recently, encounters a female, young & good-looking, who refuses to accept a door held open for her, evidently because she considered it denigrating. But those nearer my age tend to appreciate a door held open, or at least they usually accept the offer with good cheer.
Dave Livingston - 9/27/2003
Contrary to Mr. Dresner's militantly secularist understanding the origin of the Catholic Church was at Pentecost, the decent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles.It is baffling that anyone may pretend to be knowledgable about Christianity if that person has not failed to bother to read the "New Testament," which clearly many secularist historians evidently have failed to do.
Jonathan Dresner - 9/26/2003
"Rabbi" means teacher, and it was a generalized term. Most of the people we today call the "Rabbis" of the Pharasaic movement are the people the Gospels excoriate under the term "scribes."
I don't accept the Gospels at face value on political issues, the success of the Jesus movement or on Jewish issues. There are too many questions about their authorship (and too many things that we do known which call these things into question). They are important sources, to be sure, but they are subject to question, interpretation and correction like any other unconfirmed source. To be fair, I don't accept the Torah as a great historical source either: that's not a problem for me as a Jew, but as an historian.
Whether or not the transition to Rabbinic Judaism was "mind-boggling" it certainly happened, and if there was an organized political or military movement associated with it I am quite sure there would be some evidence of it in the Talmudic sources or the Roman ones. There isn't The facts speak plainly enough for themeselves: the transition was a successful response to political oppression (by outsiders, not by Priests) not an opposition or reform movement in the way we think of events like the Reformation. Imagine if Protestantism had arisen as a response to an Islamic empire's successful invasion of Europe and obliteration of Roman Catholic institutions.
F.H. Thomas - 9/26/2003
As always, your comments are most welcome,in he spirit of free inquiry. Please consider a couple of points:
Christ constantly repudiated the Scribes and Pharasees as "hypocrits", which he does many times, always publicly. His disdain was undisguised. Consider also that he was always called "rabbi", but never scribe, or pharasee, or saducee, or high priest, which titles had as much ecomomic as religious meaning, while Christ was for the poor.
Frankly, neither of us knows exactly what was going on back then. You weren't there, and neither was I, but unless you choose to assert that there is no historical validity at all to the gospels, which perhaps you do, you have to see in them at least an immensely attractive political personage with a large all Jewish following, who preached for the revolutionary reform of Judaism's structure, among many other things.
It boggles the imagination to assert that there was no earlier protest or reform movement which led to this radical change from an entrenched centralized bureaucracy, to a completely decentralized religious organization model, with individual responsibility. Now, entrenched economic elites never give up power readily. Never. Consider the revenge of the Amun priests on Akenaten and his heirs. Paybacks were hell, even then. But this one happened, an impossibility without political support.
Since we do not really know, we have to ask "what fits". The closest model I can see is the Protestant Reformation. Left by a lack of hard information, and with only theory-testing to guide us, I choose this as my theory.
Please consider and give me your comments.
Jonathan Dresner - 9/26/2003
F.H. Thomas writes: "By the way, in regard to our earlier exchange on the role of Jesus, and others favoring simplification, and opposing the oppressive, powerful priest class, perhaps we can reconcile ourselves by agreeing that these, taken as a group, set the political scene, which the military situation later made reality. Can we agree that Jesus was, at the very least, also part of the political catalyst for the reforming of priestly Judaism into the Rabbinical form we see today?"
I can't argue against the position that the existence of the Pharisaic movement sets the stage for the success of the Pharisaic movement when its chief rivals were obliterated. But I still disagree with the interpretation that the Pharisaic movement, Rabbis, scribes and all, was fundamentally a rebellion against the priesthood: it begins as a replacement for a lost priesthood, then when the priesthood is reconstituted it, not the Rabbis, takes a position which makes reconciliation of the two forms of Judaism nearly impossible.
Jesus was a manifestation of a movement which was neither fundamentally priestly nor Rabbinic, but millenarian and opposed to the stability of both the priestly and Rabbinic forms of faith. The main problem the Talmud has with him, aside from the physical threat created by the political power of Christianity in the late Roman Empire, was that emminent messianism without actual millenarian redemption is a dead end as far as Judaism is concerned. There were other messiahs in Jewish history, including bar Kochba and Sabatai Zevi: like Jesus they failed to meet most, if not all, of the qualifications of a messianic leader.
I'm sorry, but given the lack of historical evidence, and the drastically different directions the movements go (immediately, not gradually) I can't accept the argument that Jesus was part of the healthy development of Judaism during or after his lifetime. His followers were deeply hostile to the dominant forms of Judaism (I've had the debate about the historicity of the anti-semitism in the Gospels before; I don't necessarily believe that Jesus was as hostile to the Pharisaic movement as the Gospels portray, but that is the effect he has) and sought to create their own religion based on some self-percieved monopoly of the path to God. That is not the direction Judaism goes, and there is no way to reconcile that with "later rabbinical developments."
Stephen Thomas - 9/26/2003
As the name indicates.
Paul's first album (which I believe was titled "East/West") chronicles his experience as an adolescent member of a Jewish gang fighting black gangs in South Chicago.
Astonishing, huh? There was a time when Jews were tough guys, and it wasn't that long ago.
If you get a chance, buy it. It still stands up. Among the people who played in Paul's early bands were Elvin Bishop, Steve Miller, and myself. Have visited with his son several times in the past few years. Spitting image of Paul. And the women love him madly, just as they did Paul.
F.H.Thomas - 9/26/2003
Bought when I was 17, I think. What memories you evoke.
I still have that album, but unfortunately my turntable does not work any more. Other favorites of the period were Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, and for me, Charlie Byrd.
F.H.Thomas - 9/26/2003
No, kind sir, thank you for starting it.
History is not dry and intellectual, it is personal, and that shows up pretty well in this exchange. This really is the way it should be on HNN.
When the great Scottish enlightenment lights developed thier challenging theories, they did their best work in the evening, when they would gather at someone's house, drink a ton of good claret, essentially argue half drunk, and stagger home at 2 in the morning, to their houses in Edinborough Newtown. Strange to think that such great ideas came out of such strange methodology, but they surely did. Perhaps the lack of inhibition?
Interesting to think how it would go if this group got together in that way?
F.H.Thomas - 9/26/2003
Thank you for your learned commentary.
I had thought from the context of my presentation that I was referring to entire countries, rather than groups within, about which one could say much the same of many small groups such as the Church orders, the Hansa, Niederlaendische and North Italian merchants, The Mayer (administrator) class in Germany, male Jews, and for that matter the nobility.
Unless I am wrong, (please correct me if so) none of these smaller groups systematically educated its women at that time, and absolutely none of them conceived of entire countries being educated, all classes, both sexes, all religions, everybody. Only the then radical Scotch Presbyterian approach, soon emulated by other Scottish faiths, created a broad enough base of the educated that the genius of the population could be exploited fully.
For that simple reason, The Enlightenment became a Scottish national expression, almost more than a European one. As you imply, intellectual growth leads to economic growth and political growth, as we see in the increasing domination of Atlantic and European trade at the end of the 18th century, and the wholesale domination by Scots of the British political and imperial system in the 19th. It went a lot further than the ubiquitous Scottish engineer or soldier. I would add that the influence on the American revolution of the Scottish enlightenment solons was profound: Witherspoon even got his name on the Declataion of Independence.
By the way, in regard to our earlier exchange on the role of Jesus, and others favoring simplification, and opposing the oppressive, powerful priest class, perhaps we can reconcile ourselves by agreeing that these, taken as a group, set the political scene, which the military situation later made reality. Can we agree that Jesus was, at the very least, also part of the political catalyst for the reforming of priestly Judaism into the Rabbinical form we see today?
The Talmud contains many horrible references to Jesus as a magician, Mary as a whore, etc, particularly in Baba Kama and Sanhedrin. It seems to me that these artifacts of hate are merely reflections of the obvious opprobrium in which Jesus held the scribes and levites, well documented in the gospels, which they return in the Talmud. He was a threat to them, but, I truly feel, perfectly in line with later rabbinical developments.
Thank you again for your learning and interest.
Jesse Lamovsky - 9/26/2003
And as the son of a Jewish father and a Scotch-Irish mother, it's a pleasure to read articulate, knowledgable champions of both peoples on this site.
Also, kudos to Messrs. Thomas, Thomas, and Dresner, for their scholarship and incisiveness on this string.
Jonathan Dresner - 9/25/2003
F.H.Thomas wrote: "The only reason why that had happened, of course, is that 150 years before, the Presbyterians had decided that each churchmember had to be able to read scriptures and do sums, which was a revolutionary idea, practiced nowhere else in Europe."
Actually, there was another group in Europe which, for religious reasons, had high levels of literacy and numeracy, and had for centuries before Presbyterians. They are so successful, in comparison to their numbers, that they are routinely accused of having a "master plan" to dominate world economics, politics and culture.
F.H. Thomas - 9/25/2003
Indeed life and history is a web, not a line, and strands cross in strange ways all the time, even if within a dominant theme.
I was going to swing this over to black opera singers, and their dominant role of the basso profundo and mezzo soporano roles, with singers of clearly Ibo lineage (the linebacker look) out front. But, that's so well known that it is trite by now.
To swing it east, it always amazes me that the small and troubled nation of Scotland not only contributed about 1/3 of Americans, including most of the South and old West, and much of the North, but also provided them with the ideas which fueled the American revolution, through their domination of the world of the Enlightenment, back in Scotland. Monroe was taught at Princeton by Witherspoon, I believe, recently of Edinborough, and steeped in the Enlightenment notion of Common Sense, which powered David Hume, Adam Smith, S.T. Colerage and many others.
The only reason why that had happened, of course, is that 150 years before, the Presbyterians had decided that each churchmember had to be able to read scriptures and do sums, which was a revolutionary idea, practiced nowhere else in Europe. From tiny acorns mighty oaks do grow. And how well that Presbyterian (later others) concept fitted to the new black Americans who came from Iboland, for whom education was a religion, as well as those from Hausa'su, and Yorubaland.
It is an ill-known fact that the greatest concentration of black managers in American history, was during slavery. Although non-resident white owners were not allowed to appoint a black general manager, virtually all of the resident owners did, and let's face it, they were damned good. By organization and scientific method, they made the south the most productive agricultural powerhouse in the world. The same skills flowed down through the supervisory ranks, and every field hand knew that he was at least economically better off than the poor white (t-word). What a shame that all of that skill was shit-canned after the war, by people who just didn't get it.
I would agree with your premise that these two ethnic groups have shared much, and openly, for many centuries.
Here's a little ethnic etymology for you: Redneck: a presbyterian preacher, notable for his red clerical collar. Cracker: (fram "craiken", to yell) a loudmouth. What I have not seen is a similar search through West African languages to find the connections to some of our other pithy ethnicisms.
A fine mind is wonderful. How remarkable to see it coupled to a wonderfully fine soul.
Stephen Thomas - 9/25/2003
I love the blues, but then I grew up in Chicago, so it can't be helped.
Your treatise touches on one of the strangest beliefs of liberal society, the belief that blues is entirely a black music form. As you've noted, the Scotch/Irish and black church traditions came together in the old South. The I-IV-V chord structure of the blues did not come from Africa. It came from Irish folk music. In fact, blues thrives commerically during periods when the racial mixing that is its foundation is acknowledged, and it fails during periods when it is regarded as solely black music. I lived in Chicago during the late 60s when it was routine for black and white blues musicians to play together, most notably my old friend, Paul Butterfield, long since deceased, and Muddy Waters. Re-segregation returned with a vengeance, due largely to the liberal myth that whites "stole" the blues from blacks. (I do not mean to demean the great contribution of the acknowledged master, Muddy Waters. Remember, however that the master has spoken on this issue. He did not say: "I'm black." He said: "I'm a man.")
Two gigantic figures stand out here, Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash. Both were born in the deep South and learned their trade at church. (They were also not above walking across the street to the black church.) They were absolute contemporaries of Muddy Waters and Ray Charles, yet I hear repeatedly from white commentators that they somehow "stole" their music from these black giants.
Listen carefully to the lyrics of "The House of the Rising Sun," and you must come to this conclusion. The most important song in the history of the blues was probably first sung by an Asian (or mixed Asian/black/white or "Octaroon") prostitute in Storyville.
One of the stranger episodes in U.S. cultural history is the recording by Alan Lomax of country blues singers in the Mississippi delta during the 1930s. He focused entirely on black sharecroppers. If he had walked across the street, he would have found a white tenant farmer, just as poor, singing the same music. Somehow, the image of the white tenant farmer didn't strike northerners as quite as romantic as a black sharecropper. And the rest is history.
F.H. Thomas - 9/25/2003
I take your point on the issue of black Christianity, and for that matter Islam, and wish to extend it, if I may:
This has roots that go far back beyond protestant Scotch Irish southerners passing along their own profound beliefs to children and slaves alike. Nigeria, from which the great majority of American blacks came, is today and was then the most profoundly religious and religiously divided of African countries.
On the Christian side, the Southeast side of the Niger,the Ibo nation is profoundly Catholic, and the Yoruba nation, further inland, between the branches of the river, echoes that devotion.
I have heard it said that the first black pope will be Ibo, and think that opinion is well justified. It has been this way since the 16th century. The Ibo love literacy above all else, and are sometimes referred to as "the Jews of Africa" for that reason. Their leader, Olusegun Obasanjo, has just performed a secular miracle by getting 94% of the presidential vote, even though he is a member of a 30% minority. I noticed that the troops he sent to Liberia recently were an Ibo unit. With their typical huge shoulders, and linebacker look, they really stand out.
The third Nigerian nation, the Hausa, are the most numerous and profoundly Islamic of Nigerians. The river Niger was the furthest extent of Islamic conquest in West Africa. The current story about the woman who was to be stoned is a Hausa story. Sharia is strong, and they take it literally. Most American blacks are Hausa, and ended up on the boat as a result of constant internal and external warring, in which slaves were the only worthwhile prize for the victor. They took them to the river, and the rest is history. But in terms of devotion, it is there.
My former roommate, Bobby W.., a remarkable boxer and scholar, had through family tradition and some remarkable family members, established that he was largely Ibo. He is also a devout man.
Whether from the devout Southerners who owned slaves and supported religion, or from the older tradition which the slaves brought along with them, I perceive the faith of black Americans as a great advantage, and guarantor of economic and personal success, historically, and into today. To the degree that liberals disparage the black church, they hurt blacks generally.
Charles V. Mutschler - 9/25/2003
I have been quite favorably impressed with the generally civil and thoughtful tone of the comments following Professor Dresner's article. It has been a real pleasure to read through them, and find substantive discussion instead of invective.
Thank you all.
Charles V. Mutschler
Stephen Thomas - 9/25/2003
Since I began my career in the liberal arts and shifted to the sciences midlife, I have a interesting vantage point from which to judge Ms. Cornett's comments about science and religion.
The "God is dead" thesis is far more likely to be held by those who make their living in the liberal arts. And those who hold these values are usually dead ignorant of science and technology. (Just listen for a few minutes to these people talk about the guys who repair their cars for a living.) The liberal arts community doesn't adhere to athetism out of a respect and understanding for the sciences. It does so out of blind obedience to the decidedly non-scientific, quasi-religious doctrine of Marxism. Marxism is a religion of class hatred and the desire for revenge. It is little wonder that those who are possessed by a desire for revenge hate the concept of God the father.
Yet another fascinating aspect of the same liberal arts community is the pathological worship of everything black. I've found black people, on the whole, to be the most religious group I've encountered. In New York City, where I live, this translates into a nightmarish phenomenon, in which the liberal community is slavishly determined to kiss black people squarely on the butt, while it in fact loathes the reality of life in the black community, which is usually religious in the old fashioned sense. That slavish admiration for black society in white society is based on reality -- the religious black community is able to integrate love of God and a love of music and sexuality that is simply absent in the liberal white community. White liberals never quite understand (and often never notice) how this can be possible. The ironclad hatred that has arisen between white men and women in the liberal community is hardly the testament to sexual love that liberals want us to believe. That community is so vehemently individualist and atheist that people within it can seldom muster the one quality essential to sexual love -- the ability to get along with another person.
The liberal arts community is a study in nonsense and hubris -- a desert of belief in the dreary religion of the perpetual malcontent. God is not dead. The current war in which we find ourselves is a reminder that this doctrine is suicidal. (And, indeed, that liberal white community is committing suicide in the most literal way possible. The women regard child bearing and child rearing as the ultimate horrors.) I don't expect you to understand, nor will I attempt to explain. It's hopeless.
John Doe - 9/25/2003
Yes, John Doe seems sort of bland. I may change it.
Jonathan Dresner - 9/25/2003
I think it's safe to say that we're as close to agreement as we're going to get on this subject. We both seem to accept the basic facts, and even some of the interpretation, but we value and evaluate them differently.
For example (and I really don't want to start a new discussion thread, but here I go anyway), you wrote that "Unfortunately, I don't agree that feminists clarified this issue. They used it as a way to gain power. In practice, since the feminists were young women, their real aim was to dislodge older men from positions of authority."
You're right that feminist analysis was a tool in the rising power of women in the academy (and elsewhere). I disagree with the evaluation that it was *only* a tool and suggest also that the "older men" were certainly using their own tools to maintain their power in the face of capable and vigorous competition.
Jonathan Dresner - 9/24/2003
I actually had a different working title for this essay: as with newspapers, the authors on this site do not get final say in the titles put on their articles. (the working title is in the file on my other computer: it was something like "The Normalization of the Catholic Church.")
You're right that there are other cases where religious groups have had privileges extended to them in exception to normal law (Orthodox Jewish schools in NY state, for example; or the ability of religious social welfare groups recieving federal funding to nonetheless discriminate in hiring), and if I were writing a book, or even a full-scale article, I would have to address them. But the Catholic Church is, as other posters have noted, a particularly large and important organization both in the US and in the world, and I think its particularly long historical experience is worth considering separately as a lens on world historical trends (which was my intent).
I didn't want to assume that John Doe was a pseudonym (though if that were my born name I'd probably consider changing it), and your concerns about privacy are legitimate. As far as I know, nobody who uses their real name on HNN has been subject to off-board harassment. (the on-board experience can be pretty rough, frankly) It's just that it's so undistinctive, that it makes it hard to be sure that the "John Doe" on any given post is you or someone else. I've been critical of anonymous posters in the past: on HNN I've found that pseudonymonous posters (none of whom made the privacy argument) have a much lower signal-noise ratio than self-identified posters. But if you're going to continue to be John Doe on this board, welcome!
I don't believe that the discussion is or should be subject to credentials: most of the posters here are perfectly willing to ignore my credentials and criticize any and all aspects of my posts they find wanting. Sometimes they're right, too.
Barbara Cornett - 9/24/2003
I think one reason the Catholic Church and other religions may be forced to change has nothing to do with government and laws and more to do with science. God is dead. At least he is dead to many people and the rituals of religion seem more and more like pagan belief.
Science has an equalizing effect in the modern world and its harder and harder to convince people that God is off somewhere in the clouds.
In former times it was easier for the Church to influence people to believe that they deserved divine status.
I don't think Jonathan was being unfair to the Church. I think they are an outrage and I think they should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law for what they did to innocent children.
It is not appropriate to apply the history of past governments and their attacks on churches in this case. The US gov is not going to start killing Catholic Priests anytime soon. At least I hope not.
John Doe - 9/24/2003
But your article is entitled:"Is the Catholic Church in America Losing Its Privileged Status?" The very title implies that the Catholic Church enjoys a privledged status (presumably vis a vis other religions) in the USA. I was endeavoring to show that such is not the case. If you really want to discuss the question of the legal status of religion in this country you might also mention the fact that the Christian Science Church has gotten many state legislatures to exempt parents who rely on "a religious method of healing" (or words to that effect) from child neglect prosecutions when they decline to take seriously ill children to the doctor. There is a movement now to have these laws repealed.
In another thread you mentioned the use of the seal of the confessional as a justification asserted by the Catholic Church for not releasing information on sexually abusive priests. Unless this is a situation where the bishop or his clerical designee became aware of the abuse by reason of the priest's confession (as opposed to the apparently more common scenario of the priest being reported by the victim or a representative of the victim) there is no legitimate assertion of the seal of the confessional. This does not mean that an attorney (probably not a priest and possibly not even Catholic) representing the Church may not have made a futile argument in court invoking it. Lawyers for all parties in litigation make all sorts of outlandish claims every day and judges deny their motions after barely giving them a moment's thought. It's the way the system works.
As to the name "John Doe": Obviously it is not my real name. When I first had access to the Internet in the mid-1990s I posted a comment on a discussion board under my real name (the subject was much less controversial than the one we now are discussing). I had also mentioned that I lived in the vicinity of Albany, NY. A rather obnoxious fellow found my phone number and called me at home at an inconvenient time to continue the discussion orally. Since then I have always posted pseudonomiously. I am new to HNN, and I note it is one of the very few sites I have seen where people typically post under their real names. Since I am a layman in the field of history and don't claim any academic credentials in the field I don't see why my real name is a matter of interest. Besides, the Founding Fathers typically published under pseudonyms.
Jonathan Dresner - 9/24/2003
Mr. F.H. Thomas wrote about the "priesthood, which was mentioned nowhere in the Torah."
That's just wrong. The Torah is quite clear on the existence and duties of the priesthood, both the Kohanim -- descendants of Aaron, brother of Moses -- and the Levites -- the tribe of which the Kohanim are a subset -- have their rights and duties and sacrificial rituals discussed at great length. I think the only book of the Torah that *doesn't* discuss this at some point is Genesis.
The Rabbis are the ones who have to invent themselves into the tradition.
Jonathan Dresner - 9/24/2003
I don't believe pharmacists have the same privilege against providing testimony and evidence that doctors do, but I'm not a professional lawyer (or medical ethicist), though I am descended from pharmacists.
Jonathan Dresner - 9/24/2003
My comment was snide, it's true, much in the same vein as Mr. Doe's criticism and Mr. Thomas' agreement, because my argument is not confined to American religious history, though it is limited to Roman Catholic evolution. So they are critiquing the article based on a chronological limitation which they imposed and a sectarian expansion which they imposed. There are interesting things to learn, perhaps, but they are not particularly convincing critical approaches.
Protestantism in all its forms (Anglican Episcopalianism more than most) arose within the context of legal traditions and practices created to serve Catholicism. You seem to be making a distinction between "European" law and British law, but Catholicism existed in England before the Reformation, and the legal structures around Anglicanism and other major forms of English Christianity were almost entirely borrowed from Catholicism.
Jonathan Dresner - 9/24/2003
Mr. F.H. Thomas writes: "Judaism was changed radically by Christ, and many other rabbis, who symbolized to many Jews a way to rid themselves of their corrupt priesthood, which was mentioned nowhere in the Torah. In perhaps a far greater revolution, relatively speaking, than that created by Christianity, Judaism, within a few years, overthrew the priesthood in favor of simple teachers called rabbis, and greater emphasis on individual participation. This can be best compared to the Protestant Reformation, although it was accomplished with less blood. It seems to me that Jews should be eternally grateful to Christ, and like minded rabbis of his time, for that gift."
That's not quite the way it happened. Both the rise of the Pharisaic movement (the Rabbis) and the fall of the priesthood of the Temple (the Sadducees, as they were known in Roman times; or the Kohanim from the Hebrew) were the result of events quite external to Judaism. While I'm quite fond of Rabbinic Judaism as it developed (being a proud heir of that tradition; Full disclosure, though: I'm a descendant of the tribe of Levi, who were the assistants to the Kohanim Priests) it would be very wrong to characterize its early success as a theological movement. It is an excellent example of a religious movement adapting positively to difficult and oppressive circumstances, however, which ties back to the article nicely. Thanks.
The Rabbis emerged during the Diaspora, the scattering, created when the First Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians, and Jews needed a different form of worship and a way to retain their knowledge and understanding of the texts which were lost in the Babylonian conquest and exile. (In the process they picked up some ideas from Persian culture, including Zarathustra's millenarian eschatology) When the Persian emperor Darius permitted the reconstruction of the Temple, the priesthood reconstituted and restarted the sacrificial practice, but the rabbinical movement remained in place, gathering power as an alternative/supplement to the sacrificial practice centered in Jerusalem.
There were conflicts between the Pharisees and Saducees, but the Priests largely had the upper hand (being allied with non-Jewish political authorities was, in their view, the only way to safeguard the temple and its rituals, but it also gave them some real clout) in spite of the deepening and spreading of the scholars of the Oral Tradition, as it was known. Whether the Temple Priesthood was "corrupt" depends a lot on who you ask: since our major sources on this are the Pharisees (who feared Sadducee political might and rejected their strict interpretation of Law), the Romans (who saw them mostly as a political problem) and the Christians (who saw them as allies of the Romans and rejectors of Christ), I think their corruption (and that also meant different things to different people) might be somewhat overstated. The final defeat of the Temple Priests does not come at the hand of Rabbis, Jewish or Jesus movement, but at the hands of the Romans who, in the process of suppressing a rebellion inspired by the same sort of millenarianism that drove Jesus' followers, obliterated the Temple and much of the Priestly class.
All that was left was the Rabbis. The Roman Empire tried to suppress them as well, sporadically, both before and after Christianity became the Roman state religion. But the beauty of the Talmudic movement (the Talmud is the records of the discussions and teachings of the early Rabbis; the Mishna is the legal decisions of the Rabbis, compiled in the 3rd century.) is its distributed nature: there was no central Temple, no High Priest, no focus to the movement that could be easily destroyed. So Judaism persisted and evolved. (One could argue that it's the only major religious tradition that accepts evolution as a religious process.)
I don't think this is the time to get into the relationship between the Jesus movement and the Rabbinic movement, except to point out that the "scribes" you credit with Jesus' death *are* the Rabbis/Pharisees. Jesus' teachings seem to put him in the Pharisaic camp, but he also goes well beyond them (and Paul, of course, jettisons the Jewish superstructure of Christ almost entirely) and Jews in the synagogues (where Rabbinic Judaism was practiced) were decidedly lukewarm in their reception of his teachings.
F.H. Thomas - 9/24/2003
Thank you for your learned comments:
I believe that your third point, that all religions adapt continuously, is more important than than the major premise of your article.
Christ, who taught anti-clericalism, poverty, giving way to power, and a church of the people, minus the priests, scribes and pharisees who had him killed for that reason, perhaps has (sic) difficulty in recognizing what is there today. Catholicism grew by absorbing the many wonderful religions which preceeded it in Europe and central asia. Much of Mithras survives: the eastward orientation of all European churches, to catch the first light of the sun, and the altar candles symbolizing the eternal fire of the sun are two. The rebirth of the sun, Dec 24th, was incorporated as Christ's birthday, as were its Saxon symbols, the green bough of life in Winter, and the red berry of life's blood. The Celtic festival of sexuality became pre-Lent (Mardi Gras, Fasching etc), while Celtic concepts of celibate Druidic orders, emphasizing great learning, was incorporated entirely. The state as sponsor of Christianity, with religious and military components combined in a knighthood serving God, however briefly in the case of Rome, though longer for Byzantium, was given the greatest possible shove by the Merovingian dynasty, particularly Clovis and Charlemagne (Karl der Grosse to his friends). It survives in modified form today. Contrary to many who would view these facts with alarm, including a number of Rabbis, I look at Christianity as a European manifestation, and vice-versa, as extremely positive for both.
Judaism was changed radically by Christ, and many other rabbis, who symbolized to many Jews a way to rid themselves of their corrupt priesthood, which was mentioned nowhere in the Torah. In perhaps a far greater revolution, relatively speaking, than that created by Christianity, Judaism, within a few years, overthrew the preisthood in favor of simple teachers called rabbis, and greater emphasis on individual participation. This can be best compared to the Protestant Reformation, although it was accomplished with less blood. It seems to me that Jews should be eternally grateful to Christ, and like minded rabbis of his time, for that gift.
This same cultural splitting of a faith into simple and ornate components has happened in Islam (Shia and Sunni), Buddhism (Mahayana and Therevada), Hinduism (Jain and Pasha), all of which still mutate constantly.
Good sir, I would appreciate your extended views on this subject, perhaps in your next article.
NYGuy - 9/24/2003
"The Catholic Church sex abuse scandal has raised many issues about the nature of the Catholic Church and its role in modern society. The crux of the problem -- the Catholic Church's decision to shield abusive priests from secular authorities -- is rooted in centuries of history in which the Roman Catholic Church was literally above the law. For a long time the Church was special, but in North America, at least, it is becoming a very normal institution."
Before responding to Prof Dresner, I strongly recommend you read both the above and his article very carefully. Jonathan is very clever at combining unrelated facts to create a conclusion that is illogical. Note his use of the current and past. The Church established its beliefs centuries ago but one could easily draw a conclusion from his writing that the Church had a clairvoyance to put priests above the law and protect them against the recent sex scandal, which begins his article, seems to be the only reason the church is changing now. But in a response to a post he says:
“What I am sure of is that the Church is changing in response to (sometimes in opposition to, but that's a response) the changes of society, and not just in the United States. The Filipino Mass you note is a sign of the global and diverse nature of the Church, but religion is a notoriously syncretic thing: purity and consistency are difficult to maintain; adaptation is more natural and more common by far.”
Seems these factors are interesting, but when properly weighted, it was the sex abuse scandal that was the primary driving force that “raised many of the issues of the “nature” of the Catholic Church and its “role” in modern society.”
He adds later, to keep the focus on the sex abuse scandal as being the dominant factor:
“It took the pressure of the sex abuse scandal to create the presumption that priests would be turned over to civil authorities in the event of credible accusations.”
Again, read that several times before you continue with his propaganda rant in the same paragraph. If priests were murders, serial murders, stole from others on the street or in their home, assaulted those who disagreed with them, etc. what was the position of the Church on turning them over to civil authorities? Clever wording, but not scholarship.
Finally we learn:
"It is too facile to say that the Church is at a crossroads: it has been through a dizzying array of crossroad points in the modern age."
The sex abuse scandal was not the only one?
Then we learn:
"But it is difficult to maintain a sacred and special institution in a secular and equalizing society:"
I thought is was always difficult to maintain such an institution, particular in the beginning, many centuries ago and it did not get easier.
" it has clearly already affected the “nature” of the Church, and will continue to do so."
I thought there was only one it, the sex scandal. Seems your conclusion does not agree with your opening sentence. But of course by throwing out a lot of bait it provides opportunities to spread your propaganda on those who bite. As Clinton said, “it all depends on the meaning of it.”
And of course your forecast that thing will continue to change is a great forecast, and I am sure you are right, but not just because of the "sex abuse scandals."
Enjoy reading your work. It may not be scholarship, but is interesting to see your skill at propaganda and challenging to decode it.
Stephen Thomas - 9/24/2003
No, sexual abuse is not a myth. You are right.
Whether is was the societal crisis feminists portrayed is another question. I think not. In some way, sexual abuse has now been painted as the most serious transgression imagineable (surpassing even murder), so serious in fact that we cannot even ask God for forgiveness for those who commit it. I do know enough about the issue from personal contact with victims to know that the perpetrators of sexual abuse are very likely to have themselves been victims of sexual abuse.
I did not argue that there were no legitimate victims of priests. I suggested that a well known phenomenon of the legal system, the "copy cat" lawsuit, probably kicked in as soon as the first complainants appeared. The class action lawsuit invites this response.
The teaching profession has been a battleground of the sexual abuse and sexual harassment hysteria. That hysteria culminated in the infamous nursery school trials so well chronicled by Dorothy Rabinowitz. Unfortunately, I don't agree that feminists clarified this issue. They used it as a way to gain power. In practice, since the feminists were young women, their real aim was to dislodge older men from positions of authority. The end result of that strategy has been to make just about everybody, including me, quite skeptical of any claims of victimization. This means that I am also less inclined to believe those who might have a real claim. Cynicism is the legacy of that hysteria.
Wesley Smart - 9/24/2003
Are pharmacists bound by a different code than doctors, who rely on the doctor-patient privilege?
Wesley Smart - 9/24/2003
Assuming that your note that Catholicism predated Protestantism wasn't snide (Mr. Doe's post referred strictly to the United States and the predominance of religious flavors here), the place of Catholicism in European law was essentially irrelevant to its place in Colonial America in those parts under British authority, since, after all, Catholicism was so out of favor in England as to be proscribed or scarcely tolerated in the 17th and 18th centuries. England had (and still has) a state-established church, so your suggestion of tax-exempt status is a murky area.
You might be able to make a case for Louisiana, of course, but that renders the issue highly academic and would further weaken your argument for its applicability across the entire country.
Jonathan Dresner - 9/24/2003
Mr. Stephen Thomas, (sorry, with two Thomases, I have to be specific)
I am aware of the research on "implanted memory" being done. But it only diminishes, not eliminates, the problem. Not all repressed memories are false memories: sometimes the repression is what was implanted.
I am aware that false accusations can arise out of greed or other forms of malice. I've seen such affect people close to me, and it ranks moderately high as a concern of many within the teaching profession.
I am also aware (and you seem to be as well) that sexual abuse does happen, that individuals in positions of moral authority (priests, rabbis, teachers, parents, etc.) can twist relationships with vulnerable people (and children are particularly vulnerable) in terribly destructive ways. Whatever you may think of feminist and leftist analysis, they have clarified some of the ways in which our social relationships are power relationships.
Whatever the statistics, it is pretty clear that the Catholic Church believed that some of its priests were serial abusers. Sure, they were sinners, and the Church has an obligation to minister to their spiritual needs (which clearly are immense). But what about their victims? They were members of the Church, too. Has the Church no obligation to render (or at least not hinder) justice? Is the Church above the law? Are priests not subject to the same laws as the laity?
I'm not the one posing the question (not here, anyway): I'm just trying to understand the historical trajectories involved.
Jonathan Dresner - 9/24/2003
Mr. Stephen Thomas writes: "Mr. Dresner seems to me to be arguing for the dissolution of the Church. ... I suspect that the Church will outlive us in its current form."
Despite your and the other Mr. Thomas' reading to the contrary, I am not arguing any such thing. As F. H. Thomas said, the Church has responded to changing circumstances and evolved before, and I'm sure it will do so again. I am quite agnostic on whether the "current form" will "outlive us": we might see radical change, or we might see slow creeping changes.
What I am sure of is that the Church is changing in response to (sometimes in opposition to, but that's a response) the changes of society, and not just in the United States. The Filipino Mass you note is a sign of the global and diverse nature of the Church, but religion is a notoriously syncretic thing: purity and consistency are difficult to maintain; adaptation is more natural and more common by far.
Jonathan Dresner - 9/24/2003
Anti-clericalism is worse than what? Sexual abuse? Dodging prosecution for alleged crimes?
I'm not convinced that the US media is strongly anti-Catholic: it seems to me that Catholic priests are as frequently lionized as they are demonized, and Catholic faithful are often portrayed as strengthened by their faith and decent worthy people. But then I don't watch as much of the media as most. I'd be curious to know if any relatively neutral party had done anything like a comprehensive survey or even a substantial sampling worthy of consideration.
Totalitarian regimes have indeed often been anti-religious and anti-Catholic. True. And the Catholic Church has often allied itself with aristocratic, autocratic and anti-democratic forces, not to mention being a powerful economic institution (I didn't mention that either). I'm not sure exactly how this is relevant.
I'm not arguing in this essay for policy, applauding or lamenting the situation. I'm simply trying to point out that "sacred" doesn't mix well with our current dominant legal structures and social values (which have been building up for centuries), and that the sex abuse scandal is both a sign of the conflict and a likely agent of change in the present/future.
Jonathan Dresner - 9/24/2003
Mr. Lamovsky writes "But I find it hard to believe that the Catholic Church is stonewalling justice as aggressively as Mr. Dresner implies, for one reason: why would the Church want its ranks riddled with sexual predators? How would this be in the Church's interest?"
I don't know. The best theories I've seen combine an authentic belief in repentence and redemption with the pressure to maintain parishes despite the declining population of priests. Perhaps they took Mr. Stephen Thomas' approach and denied that the claims were true (though that begs the question of patterns of accusations and the fact that accused priests often spent time at Catholic Church "treatment center" retreats), so as far as they were concerned they were just frequently maligned priests, not sexual predators.
Stonewalling? Priests who were accused of sexual misconduct repeatedly over periods of decades were not expelled or restricted to administrative duty, but were shuttled from parish to parish. When accusations were made, the Church assured parishoners that matters could be satisfactorily handled internally. When lawsuits were filed, settlements required that the plaintiffs never reveal the nature of the complaint (and the Church did threaten to sue and reclaim payments from [i.e. bankrupt] several people who came forward in support of criminal and civil cases). And when cases did come to trial, until very recently, the Church's response was to hide its personnel records behind the seal of the confessional. One diocese in Canada threatened to declare bankruptcy before civil proceedings could be settled, making it very difficult for plaintiffs to collect any compensation. Perhaps, taken individually, these are perfectly reasonable actions. But taken as a group, as a coordinated set of policies consistently applied over time? That seems like stonewalling to me.
Jonathan Dresner - 9/24/2003
Ignoring for a moment your conflation of my historical and political views, I just want to point out that confidentiality (such as provided by pharmacists, accountants, teachers, etc.) is not the same thing as the shield privilege held by "confessors" (priests, lawyers, doctors). The "seal of the confessional" doesn't mean that the priest doesn't gossip about you afterwards (though that's a good thing) it means that the priest (etc.) cannot reveal even in a in a court of law what you told him (or her, except in the case of priests). Other forms of professional confidentiality do not confer any protection in the case of legal prosecution; in fact, professionals not protected by shield laws can be prosecuted for not revealing criminal behavior.
Jonathan Dresner - 9/24/2003
Mr. Doe (if that is indeed your name) and Mr. Thomas,
Most historians agree that Catholicism predates Protestantism. Let me check my sources..... yes, they seem to agree, but I am open to counter-evidence.
Catholicism may have gotten a slow start in the US, but the priest-penitent privilege and tax-free status of churches were established in European law codes well before Luther, and the Protestant churches retained those rights.
F.H. Thomas - 9/23/2003
Thank you for re-stating succinctly the facts of Roman Catholic development in this country, and of taxation of religious organizations, which simple, theoretically widely disseminated knowledge is so often overlooked.
Jesse Lamovsky - 9/23/2003
Mr. Thomas was absolutely right when he stated that sin is inherent in human beings (a point that seems obvious to everyone except left-wing social engineers who, unfortunately, possess a great deal of power). No doubt there were certain clerics abusing the trust of their flock at any point in history. But I find it hard to believe that the Catholic Church is stonewalling justice as aggressively as Mr. Dresner implies, for one reason: why would the Church want its ranks riddled with sexual predators? How would this be in the Church's interest? Methinks a good deal of the negative publicity surrounding the Church of late has not been a product of actions of the Church itself, but of the mainstream media in the United States, which is militantly, bitterly, anti-Catholic. The anti-Catholicism of Hollywood and elements of the Democratic Party (paging Mr. Schumer) should also be mentioned as causitive factors.
As a secular Jew, I could easily say that I don't have a horse in this race. But I, and the rest of us do indeed, because if there is anything the last two centuries have to teach us, it is that anti-clericalism has been a hallmark of the most murderous totalitarian regimes. Unfortunately, Mr. Dresner fails to mention this (he does use a passive voice to blandly describe "confiscation of property" during the French Revolution, omitting the wholesale slaughter of priests by san-culotte gangs in the Lyon and Vendee regions during the Terror). Anti-clerical regimes could cloak their actions in the guise of "reform", but the real reason for the anti-religious actions of Jacobins, Bolsheviks, and Nazis was this: spirituality is a competitor with government for the allegiance of people. There is no room for the God of the Scriptures when the object of worship is supposed to be Government.
That is the point: people should be deeply skeptical about any attempts to "reform" the Catholic Church through the actions of secular government. History has shown that these actions have never been about reform- they've been about power for the State. And anti-clericalism is as much a weapon in the hands of totalitarians as the guillotine, gulag, or concentration camp. We're not to that point in the United States. But the spite, contempt, and downright hatred for Catholicism evinced from the movies, media, and sectors of the government (particularly the judiciary) should be disturbing to anyone who respects religious faith, and its influence on society; and who understand, from history, what horrors a godless regime is capable of.
F.H.Thomas - 9/23/2003
Your comments command respect, and you certainly have mine.
A couple of comments along your themes:
1. Much of this was a gay issue. Most of the reported incidents, up to 90%, by some counts, involved man-boy situations with priests ordained in the 60's and 70's. There is a reason for that. In the late 1960's, the church began a program of allowing some known gays into the priesthood, as an experiment. After all, the reasoning went, they have to be celibate, do they not?
Some were spectacularly successful: the chief priest of the NYPD, who was on the 27th floor of tower 2 of the WTC, I believe, when it fell, was reportedly the most respected in the long history of the NYPD, celibate, and definitely gay. Others, like ex Father Geoghan, are perverts of young children.
2. Most of these incidents happened more than 20 years ago. Many are based upon the legally questionable premise of "repressed memories". And yes, indeed, the media hyped the hell out of this issue, deliberately exaggerating. The church has been a prime target of certain media leaders for a long time, when they can get away with it. In this case, the "repressed memory" and 25-year old accusations are not worth the bible they were sworn on.
3. In my own business experience, as in many thousands, I have seen businesses victimized by utterly groundless accusations of racial or sexual discrimination. Occasionally, justice wins out, as it did in our one experience with this contrivance. Our take is that enough is enough. The racial and sex war climate in America, thanks to too many PC practitioners in high places, reminds one of the Terror, during the French revolution.
4. "Sexual abuse is not an artifact of the patriarchy, which is what I think Mr. Dresner wants to convey. It is a manifestation of sin… the innate weakness of humans."
I have found Mr. Dresner to have a faint anti-Christian coolness to his presentation, too eager, for example to write off Catholicism as a relic of the Roman empire, as if it had not been evolving throughout its long history. He is of course welcome to his more secular perception of the world.
I have also found him intellectually honest, energetic enough to engage fairly, and always ready to grant the points made fairly by another. Such are the bases of accomodation and learning.
I much welcome your comments and hope he responds to them.
Ralph E. Luker - 9/23/2003
As I have observed before, I think underlying much of Professor Dresner's perspective is the notion that neutral ground is common ground and, therefore, one must sanitize the public arena of religious taint. That seems to me wrong-headed. But there is a further point here: "It is worth noting that the concept of priest-penitent privilege (and its secular equivalent, doctor-patient privilege) exists entirely because of public acceptance of the Catholic Church's insistence on the sanctity of its rites and the right of its faithful to confess without incurring civil or criminal penalty. The fact that non-Catholics have that same right with their clergy is a side effect because of the impossibility of writing a modern law that applies only to one faith."
In truth, the "secular equivalent" goes beyond doctor-patient privilege to lawyer-client and one might suggest that it ought to be extended to a professional-client privilege. Would I want my pharmicist gossiping about my prescriptions? Shouldn't students' confidence in teachers or professors be just that, confident/confidential, i. e., with good faith?
John Doe - 9/22/2003
I don't have time to address all the issues Mr. Dresner's article raises, but here are some:
1) Catholicism was not a normative version of religous expression in America until well into the 20th Century. The population of the English colonies was hostile to Catholicism from the founding in the 17th Century (long before the Enlightenment) except in Catholic Maryland and tolerant Rhode Island. The Protestant Establishment gave what amounted to a bare tolerance (and sometimes not that) to Catholicism until the 20th Century. Even after elites had conceded Catholics their place in the sun, the hatred of the second Klan (and like minded groups and individuals) from 1915 onward was directed against Catholics as well as blacks and Jews. Full assimilation into the American mainstream didn't really occur until after WW2, particularly after JFK's election in 1960.
2) Protestant (and other) churches have been tax exempt since long before Catholicism entered the mainstream in America. It is plain silly to say that churches are tax exempt BECAUSE of Catholic influence.
3) At least the Episcopal and Lutheran churches (perhaps others) have a concept of penance similar to that of Catholicism, so it is likely that the priest-penitant privledge would exist in America in something apporoching its present form even if there were no Catholics in this country.
4) As Mr. Thomas notes in his post there does not seem to be any justification for the notion that the priest-penitant privlege is in any way responsible for the sexual abuse scandal. Unlike Mr. Thomas I believe that the sexual abuse has occured and has been covered up by bishops and others to their great discredit (to put it mildly), but it has nothing to do with the confessional because allegations of abuse reaching bishops from victims and their representatives are not covered by the secrecy of the confessional. The bishops elected to cover up; they were not required to do so by church teachings.
Stephen Thomas - 9/22/2003
In the interest of full disclosure, I admit to being reared in the Catholic Church, although my affiliation these days is Baptist (the black version). And in the community where I live, the Baptist Church has a congregation that actually shows up for services, while the Catholic Church seems to always be empty, save for the special Mass for Filipinos given in Tagalog.
I’d argue that the sexual abuse scandals surrounding the Church are vastly over-exaggerated. I suspect (although I have no proof) that most of the litigation and accusations emanate from those who have the profit motive in mind and understand full well that the Church has little hope of defending itself from sensational public accusations. Just as corporations have, over the past decade, decided that the private settlement is the best way to end public lawsuits that threaten to be endlessly embarrassing, I suspect that the Church is throwing in the towel to get it over with and avoid continued bad PR. To be blunt, I suspect that the majority of the accusations are phony. (My opinions in this regard are based on personal experience. I worked closely with a law firm that represented Texaco, and I was often in Texaco’s White Plains office. Texaco’s settlement of the deceitful racial bias claims against it were simply based on the desire to get it over with. And Texaco had no reason to be anything but proud of its record of equal opportunity for blacks.)
The Church exists to serve sinners. I know of no proof that… "the Church used the protection of confessional secrecy to shield its priests from civil authorities." If it didn’t, it probably should have. A consensus has emerged among the feminist left that charges of sexual abuse exist in a special realm in which all common sense must be jettisoned. The sexual abuse hysteria of the past 20 years was a product of feminism. Frankly, I just don’t buy into that hysteria. That hysteria was stage managed to produce the intended result… the defamation of men. Mr. Dresner might want to look into more recent research about the sexual abuse of children. Most of it is committed by women. An angry debate also continues over whether the admittance of openly gay seminarians led to the current scandals.
Mr. Dresner seems to me to be arguing for the dissolution of the Church. If those "distinctive features" of the Church are eliminated, what reason does the Church have to exist? After all, we’ve already got a number of churches of the non-existent god (Unitarian), and churches of the feminist left’s preferred androgynous god. Why, exactly do we need more of that?
I suspect that the Church will outlive us in its current form. Once the public realizes that sexual abuse is not solely the province of hetero men, that it is committed just as frequently by women and often by gays, the feminist formulation will collapse. Sexual abuse is not an artifact of the patriarchy, which is what I think Mr. Dresner wants to convey. It is a manifestation of sin… the innate weakness of humans.
- Arizona Historical Society soon could be history
- Yale's Donald Kagan says students need to study Western civilization
- Ken Burns on Colbert to promote his new documentary, "The Address"
- UC Santa Barbara History Department featuring a series on the Great Society at 50
- Historians are trying to recover censored texts from World War I poets