« Return to Index
APRIL 15, 2002
-- Martin E. Marty
Scandal Brings Out the Bigots: Sex Charges Just an Excuse to Revel in Anti-Catholicism." That headlines the April 12 column of sociologist, novelist, columnist, and friend Father Andrew Greeley in the Chicago Sun-Times and elsewhere. Yes, there is a media "feeding frenzy." Who are the bigots and revelers?
Through the 1950s Protestants, then united in anti-Catholicism, would have been guilty. No more. I've canvassed key organs of the "mainline" and "evangelical" press, and, in their name, can plead "not guilty." Revisit the thousands of references in the secular press and you will be hard pressed to find Episcopal, Lutheran, United Methodist bishops, or leaders and spokespersons of other Protestant groups contributing to the frenzy. Those of us asked by media for background or contextual comment rarely judge. Many of the harshest statements about the scandal come from Catholics -- some of them with dissident agendas; some come from victims, their families, and those otherwise pained.
The Christian Century, Christianity Today, and World, three independents, and all the denominational press I could canvass report on the scandals, but they editorialize cautiously. To its credit, World devoted almost full pages to criticizing World-friendly opinion columnist Charles Colson for his long-time passing-off of his aides' research, opinion, and writing as his own, and a Campus Crusade for Christ biggie involved in horrendous heterosexual scandals. Let's ponder some credible reasons for the Protestant restraint.
The first reason is shared pain. Forty years after the call to the Second Vatican Council came, there is genuine and profound empathy for Catholicism, and deep concern for the huge majority of innocent priests and suffering parishioners. Why violate the bonds of sympathy?
Second, some think that non-Catholic clerics and leaders have been restrained in their criticism because to side with the critics might undercut their profession. Professionals within a profession often hang together -- lawyers defend attacked lawyers, doctors don't criticize attacked doctors -- as a kind of self-protection. Is there an "old boy" network (of old boys and old girls in the clergy) that withholds comment because flaws in the clergy of another denomination may hurt their own reputation? We've seen no evidence of such a network in this case. Such signals, to my knowledge, do not pass across denominational boundaries.
Third, insofar as the pedophilia and cover-up is trouble in someone else's house, Protestant leaders know that they cannot help matters by butting in -- that intervening is harmful. Fourth, if "clerical celibacy" and "all-male priesthood" are irritants or causes, be assured that there are enough Catholics to press the (at present still futile) case for change. Protestant appeals would, if anything, slow down the process of change in Rome.
Fifth, there is the "glass house" or the "who is without sin cast the first stone" syndrome. Protestant leaders and, increasingly, the faithful in the pews, are aware that many Protestant clergy, many of them married, have committed adultery or engaged in pedophilia. They would need to set their own houses in order. For now, look for expressions of bigotry beyond Protestant camps.
Editor's note: Dr. Marty refers to the fact that Protestantism also faces significant sexual abuse problems. In its April 5 edition, the Christian Science Monitor ran a major story by Mark Clayton on this topic, focusing on "volunteer" workers in Protestant agencies. Readers of Sightings can access this article using the archive at the Christian Science Monitor's website. There is a retrieval fee of one dollar and fifty cents.