Columnist Maureen Dowd addresses a question that has been on my mind a lot recently. The headline is a little misleading, and I think that she doesn’t give the real question enough time, but the facts that she points out are illustrative.
From the column:
“Just Love: a Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics,” by Sister Margaret Farley — a 77-year-old professor emeritus at Yale’s Divinity School, a past president of the Catholic Theological Society of America and an award-winning scholar — came out in 2006.
The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, which seems as hostile to women as the Saudi Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, spent years pondering it, then censured it on March 30 but didn’t publicly release the statement until Monday.
The denunciation of Sister Farley’s book is based on the fact that she deals with the modern world as it is. She refuses to fall in line with a Vatican rigidly clinging to an inbred, illusory world where men rule with no backtalk from women, gays are deviants, the divorced can’t remarry, men and women can’t use contraception, masturbation is a grave disorder and celibacy is enshrined, even as a global pedophilia scandal rages.
Dowd then contrasts the focus of Sister Farley’s book, and the hierarchy’s response to it, with this:
Cardinal Timothy Dolan of the Archdiocese of New York blasted The New York Times after Laurie Goodstein wrote that, as the archbishop of Milwaukee in 2003, he authorized payments of up to $20,000 to sexually abusive priests “as an incentive for them to agree to dismissal from the priesthood.”
Cardinal Dolan insisted through a spokesman that it was “charity,” not “payoffs.” But if you were the parent of a boy abused by a priest who went away with 20,000 bucks, maybe “charity” is not the word that would come to mind.
Its crisis has made the church cruel. The hierarchy should read Sister Farley’s opprobrium against adults harming vulnerable children and adolescents by sexually exploiting them; respect for the individual and requirement of free consent, she says, mean that rape, violence and pedophilia against unwilling victims are never justified.
Dowd’s ultimate point is that the Catholic Church has lost track of right and wrong, which is obviously true. However, what she misses is that in terms of personal relationships and human sexuality, the Catholic Church has never been concerned with questions of right and wrong. They are now, and always have been, concerned with the question of personal hierarchies; that is, which persons are not permitted to have agency or control over themselves.
In Sister Farley’s world, we are all agents of our own lives. In the Catholic Church’s world we are not, women and children especially. It isn’t difficult to see why the Church is prioritizing the punishment of uppity nuns over the punishment of child raping priests. Men, and priests in particular, are allowed to make such errors. Priests raping children does not upset the Catholic hierarchy’s view of the world. It is the place of women and children to accept the dominion of these men over them, and to do so without complaining or requiring recognition as being fully human also. To the Church, these personal hierarchies are an unchangeable truth. Uppity nuns, on the other hand, threaten these systems of domination in a way that threatens the church. If enough Catholics truly believed that we are all agents of our own lives, the systems that support Catholic authority would be decimated, and the Church would eventually disappear.
This is what the Catholic Church is, and what it always will be.