As everybody knows, the Roman Catholic Church has a sexual abuse problem. It is besieged by lawsuits from former alter boys and others. It appears that many of the abusers, instead of being punished, were moved to other dioceses. Sometimes, they were ordered to seek psychiatric treatment or counseling, and sometimes not. In many cases, their crimes were covered up and hidden by the church hierarchy. In some cases, the church hierarchy simply denied that anything untoward had happened. In too many cases, priests went on to abuse other children after they had been caught once, twice, or several times.
There might or might not be a distinction to be made between consensual affairs between priests and teenaged boys, and younger boys who clearly could not or did not give consent. The church tried to make that distinction in many cases.
The American Bishops, prodded into action by wide publicity and a public outcry, have proposed a new set of guidelines and rules that is based on the principle of “zero tolerance”. Rome, astonishingly, has rejected it.
I say “astonishingly” because the mass herds of mindless conformists that comprise middle management in most companies and institutions flock to “zero tolerance” like lawyers to litigation. It’s how they earn their bread and butter. It’s the consensus. It’s the gist of popular opinion. It’s the bureaucrat’s hot-tub- a steaming, comfortable wash of feminist theory, righteous conservative paranoia, and muddled legalisms. It means that we are virtuous and pure and strong and moral. It really means, we have no ability to make a rational, reasonable judgment based on facts. If you deny being a witch, then you must be a witch.
Rome worries about two things: that the Bishop’s proposal doesn’t distinguish between types or degrees of abuse, or between real abuse and stupidity, and that it doesn’t leave any room for a rather fundamental component of the Christian faith: grace. In other words, forgiveness. Zero tolerance means that the slightest allegation against a priest, substantiated or not, will result in suspension or worse, and there can be no forgiveness, even for an offender who recognizes his sin and asks for grace.
And it must be said– some of the advocates of “zero tolerance” (like the fundamentalists who wanted Bill Clinton impeached) will argue that they “forgive” the sinner, but not the sin. That is a lie. That is not the Christian idea of forgiveness. Read your bible: when Christ demands that his followers forgive their enemies, he leaves no room for revenge or “justice” or retribution. Someone strikes you on the cheek? You turn the other cheek. You forgive the sinner and you do forgive the sin.
If you forgave someone who had assaulted or robbed you, in Israel in 33 AD, that person was freed: the sentence was over, because you forgave the offender. Look it up: it’s true.
Rome also has expressed concern about the fact that the zero tolerance policy is adopted, rather wholesale, from public and private institutions in America. The church is not the government or IBM. It takes the word of God as it’s constitution, and the living presence of Christ as it’s inspiration. The American Bishop’s abuse policy sounds much like something that could have come out of McDonald’s Corporation or the YMCA. If Rome accepted this policy, it would be to admit that the very wellspring of church leadership and authority is incapable of producing a authentic Christian response to the crisis in the church.
Some people would say, well, yes. It can’t. Rome, of course, could never accept that, the same way lawyers could never accept that laws could be simple and understandable.
But I’m not unsympathetic. In fact, I think Rome is right. Zero tolerance is one of the stupidest ideas of our society. It’s a code word, really. It’s bulldozer logic. It gives all of the power to accusers and strips the accused of all recourse. It treats offenses that really are minor the same way it treats serious offenses.
Thus, a kindergarten student is suspended from school and charged with “sexual harassment” for kissing a classmate. Yes, this really happened.
It is a response to a real problem. There really are people out there who abuse positions of trust for sexual purposes. Too often, those people, when caught, have received trifling punishments, or no punishment at all. Sometimes, the person alleging the abuse received the punishment– losing his or her job, or being accused of lying.
The real solution is to do the hard work of sorting out the trivial from the serious, the truth from exaggeration, the substantial from the trite.
What zero tolerance means is that we now believe that accusers never lie and that is obviously not true, was never true, and never will be true.