Peggy Noonan: The Catholic Church's Catastrophe





[Peggy Noonan writes for the Wall Street Journal.]

There is an interesting and very modern thing that often happens when individuals join and rise within mighty and venerable institutions. They come to think of the institution as invulnerable—to think that there is nothing they can do to really damage it, that the big, strong, proud establishment they're part of can take any amount of abuse, that it doesn't require from its members an attitude of protectiveness because it's so strong, and has lasted so long....

And it happened in the Catholic Church, where hundreds of priests and bishops thought they could do anything, any amount of damage to the church, and it would be fine. "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." That is Mathew 16:18, of course, Christ's great promise to his church. Catholics in the pews have been repeating it a lot lately as they—we—absorb the latest round of scandal stories. "The old church will survive." But we see more clearly than church leaders the damage the scandals have done.

It is damage that will last at least a generation. It is an actual catastrophe, a rolling catastrophe that became public first in the United States, now in Europe. It has lowered the standing, reputation and authority of the church. This will have implications down the road.

In both the U.S. and Europe, the scandal was dug up and made famous by the press. This has aroused resentment among church leaders, who this week accused journalists of spreading "gossip," of going into "attack mode" and showing "bias."

But this is not true, or to the degree it is true, it is irrelevant. All sorts of people have all sorts of motives, but the fact is that the press—the journalistic establishment in the U.S. and Europe—has been the best friend of the Catholic Church on this issue. Let me repeat that: The press has been the best friend of the Catholic Church on the scandals because it exposed the story and made the church face it. The press forced the church to admit, confront and attempt to redress what had happened. The press forced them to confess. The press forced the church to change the old regime and begin to come to terms with the abusers. The church shouldn't be saying j'accuse but thank you....



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