We, the undersigned, are grateful to Darrell Cole for “Listening
to Pacifists” (August/September). He writes with charity,
seeking to state clearly the differences as well as the
similarities between just war morality and pacifism. However,
we fear that his account of pacifism still leaves much to
Professor Cole notes that he is primarily interested in the pacifism
represented by John Howard Yoder, which he correctly describes as the
“pacifism of the messianic community.’” However, in the next sentence
he elides this description in favor of “messianic pacifism,” which makes
it appear that Yoder’s understanding of pacifism is a position that can
be isolated from his understanding of the Church. As a result, Prof. Cole
makes Yoder’s pacifism appear to be constituted by individual pacifists
in enclaves of the similarly minded, rather than the presence of a global
community of followers of Jesus opposed to the use of force on behalf of,
or in opposition to, particular nations precisely because it is transnational.
To suggest, as Prof. Cole does, that Yoder and Reinhold Niebuhr look
on Jesus in the same way is fatuous. Niebuhr went to great lengths to
show that we cannot follow Jesus. Yoder’s whole work was to help us see
that through the Spirit we can live, for example, according to the Sermon
on the Mount. But more importantly for the “success” of his comparison
between Yoder and Niebuhr, Prof. Cole neither notes that Yoder consistently
challenged the Niebuhrian presumption that “responsibility” means “involvement
with acts of force,” nor does he challenge that presumption himself. This
seems to us a crucial omission because it makes it easy to assume that
Christian nonviolence is rendered politically “irrelevant” simply because
Christians should not serve in the military.
Contrary to Prof. Cole’s claim, the pacifism of the messianic community
does not seek to “build on the liberal“humanistic pacifism that is
already widespread.” Yoder was at least as critical of liberal pacifism
as Niebuhr. Of course, those committed to the pacifism of the messianic
community may in some political contexts make common cause with liberal
pacifism, for we do not presume that people committed to the pacifism
of the messianic community, on the one hand, and those committed to liberal
pacifism, on the other, are self“contained, making sense only to themselves.
But Yoder’s Christological commitments do make it impossible for there
to be any fundamental confusion between these kinds of pacifisms. So,
while we will not say that Christian ethics is for everyone, neither will
we say that the Church’s life operates only within a restricted ghetto.
The nonviolent witness of the Church is a public and evangelical proclamation,
accessible, at least in part, to the watching world. Prof. Cole is therefore
wrong to suggest that the pacifism of the messianic community offers
no strategy for making the world more peaceful. We believe that the very
existence of the Church is such a “strategy,” beginning with the refusal
of Christians to kill other Christians, which is at least the necessary
condition for Christians to explore amid the ambiguities of the world what
less violent alternatives might exist.
In his account of the just war doctrine, Prof. Cole seeks to show that
a defensible just war position is not derived from a general abhorrence
to violence. Rather, just war doctrine is based on the Christian commitment
to seek justice in a fallen world. We are sympathetic with attempts
to so understand just war, but we think the issues surrounding this understanding
of just war are much more complex than Prof. Cole’s account suggests.
He defends the “ahistorical nature” of the just war doctrine, but surely
for people who seek to go to war justly it makes some difference what
kind of society they think is capable of doing so. Does just war, for example,
require some form of Christendom if we are to be sure the war is undertaken
by a legitimate authority? What difference does it make that advocates
of just war work within the presumptions of a realist foreign policy”as
in the case of United States foreign policy”which assumes that one must
do evil that good may come? This is to say that we disagree with Prof. Cole’s
claim that the criteria for ius ad bellum are not historically conditioned.
He is quite right to reject consequential reasoning, but it is not clear
what difference that should make for just war reflection in our world.
Prof. Cole eloquently argues that those committed to just war also must
suffer for their convictions. But it remains unclear to us what specific
costs he thinks just war thinking may exact. Yoder sympathetically explored
these questions in his When War Is Unjust: Being Honest in Just War
Thinking (revised edition, Orbis, 1996), and as far as we know
no advocate of just war reflection has responded to the challenges Yoder
presented in that book. Seldom, for instance, does any advocate of
just war address the issue concerning whether all the criteria of just
war need to be met if the war is to be undertaken by Christians.
Another problem with Prof. Cole’s ahistorical account of just war is
indicated by his description of just war as a “doctrine.” The attempt
to label just war a doctrine is of very recent vintage and mistakenly gives
the impression that the historical development of just war reflection is
much more coherent than in fact it was and is.
Moreover, such a view assumes that the challenges before the early Church
are the same as ours. For example, Prof. Cole says pacifists cannot
point to a single Church Father who developed just war doctrine out of
“nonviolent assumptions.” Such a claim is question“begging, at least
in part because the Church Fathers who had nonviolent assumptions were
uninterested in developing just war justifications. Arnobius’ Adversus
Gentes , Tertullian’s De Corona and De Pallio , Clement
of Alexandria’s Paedagogus (books I and II) and Stromata
(IV and VII), and Cyprian’s Ep. 73, De Bono Patientiae
and Ad Donatum” all seem to be instances of Church Fathers
working with nonviolent assumptions. And this is not even to mention
the echoes of Lactantius’ Divine Institutes (e.g., VI. 20,
10) still discernible in Augustine’s City of God and political
writings ” perhaps the best (i.e., most well“executed) instance
of a Church Father justifying war in the face of the “nonviolent assumptions”
held by his forebears and some contemporaries.
Finally, we wonder what Prof. Cole can possibly mean when he says that
it is “a sad fact that Christians are always going to have to use violence”
and yet also maintain that when just warriors use force justly, “such
acts bear no stain of evil.” Why, on Aquinas’ or Calvin’s grounds, would
it be appropriate to feel sorrow for an action that is justified? When
Aquinas, for instance, asks “Whether sorrow is compatible with moral
virtue?” he repeats Aristotle, saying, “To have controlled sorrow for
what we should feel sorry about is a mark of virtue” ( Summa Theologiae
, I“II, 59, 3). In this way, Aquinas is careful to distinguish appropriate
objects of sorrow from inappropriate ones, such that he may say that the
virtuous person may feel sadness for another’s sin. But he does not say
that a Christian should feel sorry about an act of justice. Admittedly,
in the medieval world penance was required from those returning from a just
war, but surely such a requirement was because the Church continued to
have some sense that war is incompatible with the gospel. Prof. Cole does
not think war is incompatible with the gospel. So why is he sad?
J. Alexander Sider
Duke University Divinity School
Durham, North Carolina
Darrell Cole replies:
The letter from Stanley Hauerwas and J. Alexander Sider is most appreciated.
I am grateful for the opportunity to do two things in response: first,
to clear up a misunderstanding that my article may have suggested; and
second, to reemphasize one of the main points of the piece”namely, that
pacifists have a very difficult time trying to think in just war terms.
Hauerwas and Sider are perfectly right to take me to task for implying
that the pacifism of the messianic community “builds on the liberal“humanistic
pacifism that is already widespread.” I did not mean to imply that pacifists
of the messianic community have consciously built upon liberal“humanistic
pacifism (though my sentence can be so read”mea culpa), but only to
point out what should be obvious to all: that the inroads pacifists
of the messianic community have made in Roman Catholic and Protestant
mainline circles can be traced to a prior acceptance of liberal“humanistic
pacifism by many in those circles. In other words, the message of messianic
pacifism finds a ready home in those who have already accepted certain
beliefs of a liberal“humanistic persuasion (e.g., that the use of force
is out of step with the moral and spiritual progress of humanity).
I do take exception to the claim that my argument about the similarities
between John Howard Yoder and Reinhold Niebuhr is “fatuous.” I do not
think it silly to point out that, whatever their differences, Yoder and
Niebuhr do share a belief that the life and work of Jesus Christ teaches
us that there is something evil about all acts of force, regardless of
the goals or intentions of those acts. There is no cause for surprise here.
We should not forget the young Niebuhr’s pacifist leanings.
Hauerwas and Sider, like all pacifists of the messianic community, are
at pains to offer a strategy for making the world more peaceful. All
strategies for a just peace must include the use of force if they are
to be credible, because a just peace is always going to require force
on this side of the Eschaton. If we fail to use force to uphold justice,
then justice will not be upheld. Laws without the threat of force to back
them up are useless, and as G. E. M. Anscombe once noted, men without laws
are miserable. Perhaps Hauerwas and Sider realize their dilemma. I can
see no other way to interpret their curious claim that pacifists of the
messianic community wish “to explore amid the ambiguities of the world
what less violent alternatives might exist.” Now, it seems to me that,
if pacifism of the messianic community is characterized by anything,
it is characterized by a renunciation of all use of force, not simply
“less violent alternatives.” Of course, all our pacifist friends may have
in mind is a “lesser evil” approach.
We must keep in mind that when pacifists of the messianic community give
advice to just warriors, it is, from their point of view, like giving
advice to prostitutes on how to practice their profession more justly.
This is an important point. If pacifists are right about the use of force,
then soldiering is the same thing, morally speaking, as prostitution.
Each is a profession that is inherently evil and out of step with God’s
kingdom. Such a view of soldiering is hard to establish within the text
of the Christian Bible (much less the Jewish one).
Let the reader, for example, try a useful thought experiment. Consider
the passage in Luke (3:14) where soldiers come to John the Baptist
to be baptized. Simply follow the moral logic of pacifism and substitute
“prostitutes” for “soldiers.” Can anyone imagine prostitutes coming to
John the Baptist to be baptized and John not telling them simply to quit
their profession rather than offer advice on how to pursue it more justly?
Similar substitutions should be made in the passages where Jesus deals
with the centurion of great faith (Matthew 8:5“13, Luke 7:1“9), where Peter
brings the gospel to gentiles for the first time via the centurion Cornelius
(Acts 10), and where the writer of Hebrews commends to his Christian audience
the acts of force used by noble soldiers in the Old Testament (ch. 11).
When we substitute prostitution for soldiery in these passages, the difficulties
of reading pacifism back into the New Testament (as all pacifists of the
messianic community do) become obvious. Yet all who do read pacifism back
into the New Testament, even those who are not against all war, are led
to accept a “lesser evil” approach to war. If you accept the lesser evil
approach to war, then you cannot think in classical just war terms. This
is the main reason why the book trumpeted by Hauerwas and Sider, Yoder’s
When War Is Unjust , is such a failure in just war thinking. On the
very first page Yoder claims: “The just war tradition considers war to be
an evil.” Because his entire approach to just war thinking is based upon
this mistaken assumption, his analysis is rendered quite fruitless in the
eyes of the classical just war advocate.
Hauerwas and Sider are right to argue that it does make a difference what
kind of society is going to war, for not all societies are the sort
that are liable to fight justly. I discussed this very thoroughly in
my article and I know not else what to say, except that just war does
not require a society of Christians. Justice is a natural virtue (part
of “preserving grace,” according to Calvin) that anyone can acquire. Also,
just war is compatible with a realist foreign policy as long as that policy
does not require us to do unjust things. When it does, Christians must refuse
I am surprised to find that Hauerwas and Sider are unsure what “specific
costs” I believe just war thinking might exact on the Christian, since
I made one such specific cost one of the few areas of agreement between
pacifists of the messianic community and just warriors: namely, a willingness
to suffer evil and even to die before engaging in evil practices. I think
this a great cost. Christian soldiers should be willing to face disgrace
and even court martial before participating in unjust military operations.
I find it strange that Hauerwas and Sider think that I am begging the
question when I point out an obvious fact, namely, that pacifists cannot
point to a single Church Father who contributed to the formation of the
just war doctrine out of nonviolent assumptions. Christian pacifists of
all sorts never tire in telling us that Christians developed the just war
doctrine because of their pacific tendencies. Hauerwas has written repeatedly
that Christians developed the just war practice because of their nonviolent
assumptions. I simply wished to point out the falsity of this claim. Christians
did not develop the just war practice out of nonviolent assumptions, but
out of assumptions of justice. The proof of this claim is found simply
in looking at the writings of the Church Fathers who developed the doctrine.
Moreover, I see no reason to dispense with the term “just war doctrine.”
If a high degree of coherency among many theologians is necessary for
a body of reflection to be called a “doctrine,” then there would be few
if any Christian doctrines.
Finally, the difficulty pacifists of the messianic community have in trying
to think in just war terms is further evident from Hauerwas and Sider’s
parting shot: to wit, if just war is compatible with the gospel, then
why be sad about fighting a just war? After all, did not Aquinas rightly
distinguish appropriate and inappropriate sorrow on the basis of the object
of that sorrow? Oddly enough, Hauerwas and Sider answer their own question
without realizing it. As they point out, according to Aquinas the virtuous
person may feel sadness for another’s sin. Just soldiers and commanders
are sorry that evil exists to such an extent that acts of force are necessary
to bring about justice, but they are not sorry about their acts of force.
Similarly, surgeons should feel sorrow that cancerous tumors exist, but
feel joy and even experience a certain amount of professional satisfaction
in being able to cut out the cancer. Or closer still, policemen may express
sorrow that crime exists, but not at their just acts of stopping crime;
and they may and should take professional pride in a job well done when
it is well done. Karl Barth, who rarely spoke for the classical Christian
view of war, surely got it right when he said that our decision to go to
war should be made in sorrow, but once it is made, we ought to go to war
I am neither Evangelical nor Catholic, but I rejoice in the goals and efforts
of Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT). I therefore
read ECT’s latest statement ( “Your
Word Is Truth,” August/September) with great anticipation.
Unfortunately, while it contains much that is edifying and
clarifying, the statement is problematic on several fronts.
First, the Evangelical signatories fudge on their supposed bedrock principle
of sola scriptura . They purport to distinguish between Scripture
that is sola (alone) and Scripture that is nuda (literally,
unclothed). But this is a distinction without a difference: the appropriate
(nonliteral, nonphysical) meaning of nuda is simply “bare, mere,
alone, only.” The point of this (unsuccessful) linguistic hair“splitting
is, I take it, to permit ECT’s Evangelicals to affirm that Scripture must
be interpreted in “its churchly context,” neither in “isolation . . .
from the believing community of faith” nor “apart from the historical existence
and life” of that community.
This affirmation, however, is irreconcilable with the principle that
Scripture is truly sola (alone). To be in “context” with something
else is not to be alone; to be in “isolation . . . from” and “apart from”
everything else is precisely to be alone. The “widespread misunderstanding”
of sola scriptura among Evangelicals turns out, then, not to
be a misunderstanding at all. It is instead a faithful adherence to the
fair meaning of the term, an adherence the Evangelical signatories wish
to discard in some measure ” but without admitting they are doing
so. The signatories’ real principle, it would seem, is prima scriptura
, but they have apparently exercised the better part of valor in choosing
not to declare so explicitly.
For their part, the Catholic signatories also fudge. They deny that Tradition
is either an “addition” to Scripture or a “parallel . . . source” of
authoritative teaching. But that denial cannot be reconciled with the
declaration that the Church “does not derive her certainty about revealed
truths from the Holy Scriptures alone.” Rather, the Church derives that
certainty from both Scripture and Tradition, each of which “must be accepted
and honored with equal [i.e., parallel] sentiments of devotion and reverence.”
If these statements do indeed reflect “widespread misunderstanding” among
Roman Catholics, it is likely because they were contained in Vatican II’s
“Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation” ( Dei Verbum ) and are
now disseminated in the universal Catechism of the Catholic Church
The Roman Catholic confusion runs deeper, however. In repeatedly affirming
that Scripture ” or, more precisely, the written canon ”
is “the final authority” (emphasis added), the Catholic signatories
have bought into an essentially Protestant conception of the Church.
There would seem to be two mutually contradictory ways to conceive of
the relationship between the written canon and the Church: either the
written canon has logical priority over the Church, or the Church has
logical priority over the written canon. The former is the traditional
(so to speak) Protestant conception. Thus, the Evangelical signatories
stress both “the priority of the gospel over the Church” and the canon’s
“primacy . . . over all tradition.” Conversely, they condemn any theory
or practice that “results in the . . . Church standing in judgment over
Scripture, rather than vice versa.” By contrast, the traditional Catholic
(and Orthodox) conception of the relationship does have the Church standing
in judgment over Scripture in some sense, for as the Catechism
forthrightly states, ” the Church discerned which writings
are to be included in the list of sacred books” (emphasis added). Moreover,
as to whether the canon or Tradition has primacy, the Catechism
observes that the Church discerned, i.e., formulated, the canon specifically
“by the apostolic Tradition.”
Between these two opposing conceptions I do not see any middle ground.
One or the other of the contesting institutions must have priority,
one or the other source of authority must be “final.” It is for this reason
that unlike, say, the doctrine of justification (the subject of ECT’s
previous statement), the relationship between Scripture and Tradition
cannot command the “firm agreement” sought by ECT’s participants. Simply
put, the issue is “church dividing.” One who accords priority and final
authority to the written canon must be a Protestant; one who accords
priority and final authority to the Church cannot be a Protestant.
This was the divide I faced in my own spiritual life, and it is a divide
that the ECT statement does a disservice in papering over.
St. Athanasius Antiochian
The Real Dixie
While enjoying my cheese grits at a New Orleans courtyard restaurant it became
clear to me why James Nuechterlein ( “Dixie,
U.S.A.,” August/September) was unable to locate the
“Old South” in his swing through Dixie. In point of fact,
his travels did carry him into the land of the Lost Cause,
although I am not sure that he recognized it. Perhaps if
Walker Percy were still alive, he could escort Mr. Nuechterlein
into his study in nearby Covington and shed some light on
the true locus of the old Southern identity today. That
identity may indeed be hard to find if one tries to find
it in locations or institutions or symbols. The acids of
modernity have had their corrosive effect on these areas
even in the South, albeit at a delayed rate. The result
has been the homogenization of the outward appearance of
Southern culture as compared to the rest of the country,
as Mr. Nuechterlein notes.
Truth is, the “Old South” is no longer necessarily to be found in a location
or on a bumper sticker. Instead it is found in the heart and spirit
of the people of today’s Dixie. (I pause here to allow readers the opportunity
to hear the appropriate timeworn tune in the background as I continue.)
“‘Tis a gift to be simple,” the old Shaker hymn reminds us. In that spirit,
the Southern Credo remains as simple today as it did in the 1860s: individuals
matter. Live life with passion and commitment. Beware of big government.
The most important things are God and homeland, family and friends. Be
kind and polite. Honor the women.
“But what about your poor record on the issue of slavery and race relations?”
the readers are sure to ask. Indeed this is a dark blot on our past.
We cannot speak for the motives of our Southern ancestors on this issue,
for history is indeed a distant land. Moving to more recent times, I
do note that our poor record on race relations (especially in the Mississippi
of my childhood) stemmed primarily from a spirit of fear, misinformation,
and misjudgment of the common white Southerner, coupled with the inherent
depravity found in all of mankind. Unfortunately such depravity exists
on both sides of the Mason“Dixon line. As Harvard’s Robert Coles reminds
us, while examining “the problem of Mississippi” he learned that “there’s
a little bit of Mississippi in all of us”and a little bit of Massachusetts,
South Africa, and Northern Ireland too.”
Fortunately, a reformation in race relations is indeed occurring in the
South, even among the institutions of Southern conservatism. My own
denomination (the Southern Baptist Convention) has repentantly recognized
its sin in this area and made public confession. The wounds are far from
healed and it remains for future generations to continue the ministry
of reconciliation”but at least the process has sincerely begun. God grant
it be so.
By the way, I believe that Mr. Nuechterlein would have enjoyed his grits
more if he would have added the proper amounts of cheese, salt, butter,
and pepper. Southerners have learned over the years that the preparation
of grits as well as the living of life is indeed a great balancing act.
Don W. Buckley, M.D.
Executive Committee Officer
Southern Baptist Convention
Philip Jenkins suggests ( “A
New Religious America,” August/September) that current
immigration policy “will inexorably make the country a far
more solidly Christian nation than would have been dreamed
of in the 1960s.” But all he has really shown is that apocalyptic
pluralists have wildly exaggerated the degree to which present
trends are increasing religious diversity. A solid majority
of recent or future immigrants may indeed be (or will become)
Christians; nevertheless, the proportion of the population
that is Muslim or Buddhist may still be slightly higher
now (or in future decades) than in 1960. More importantly,
immigration is contributing to an increasing diversity within
Christianity. New Nigerian churches that stem from an African
prophetic healing tradition may be somewhat nontraditional
in the United States. However, the increase of Christian
diversity due to immigration is an old pattern in our nation.
Professor Jenkins thinks that future pluralism is overestimated
by scholars and journalists committed to separationist and de“Christianization
agendas. But some of the most prominent separationist controversies
have no relationship to the cultural dominance of Christianity. Many
Jews and Muslims, and possibly even devotees of Zeus or Baal, will support
keeping “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance. Even some conservative
Christians give lip service to public interreligious neutrality and profess
to be primarily concerned with opposing public neutrality between religion
and irreligion. In any case, the argument against Christian majoritarianism
influencing public policy rests more on respect for minority feelings than
on the alleged disintegration of the majority. I’m only a mild Jewish
separationist, but I would not want my niece being assigned by her public
school teacher, as a Jewish student in Alabama was reportedly assigned,
to write an essay on how Jesus loves her. I hope Prof. Jenkins doesn’t want
to take Christian majoritarianism too far.
Philip Jenkins replies:
Mr. Robbins raises valid concerns. I quite agree that
the new Christian immigration is very diverse, and many of the new arrivals
might well be comfortable with the church“state arrangements they find in
the U.S. Mexicans in particular have a long tradition of official church“state
separation in their home country, however often the principle is violated
in practice. I did not mean to imply that the misleading stress on extreme
religious diversity arises solely from a political agenda, because the
error is often innocent. However, I felt it was important to challenge
what has become a disturbing orthodoxy about the multi“faith Babel of which
many seem to be dreaming with unabashed glee.
Of course Mr. Robbins is right to raise objections to
religious majoritarianism of any kind. He shocks me when he tells his
story of gross insensitivity towards non“Christian students, though I
fear that I can top his example. I am aware, by repute, of a secular“minded
teacher who penalized an orthodox Jewish student for her insistence on
referring to the deity as G“d, and her failure to spell the name properly.
From invincible human stupidity, may God (and Zeus, and Baal) deliver
There always seems something churlish about
an author complaining about a reviewer, particularly when
the reviewer in question, David G. Dalin, is critical of
only one chapter of my Popes and Politics: Reform, Resentment,
and the Holocaust , the chapter titled “The Pope and
the Shoah” (Books
in Review, August/ September).
The remaining chapters are concerned with nineteenth“
and twentieth“century historical precedents to the present situation,
with personal and institutional renovation, and with distortions and dissimulations
by such authors as James Carroll, Michael Phayer, Garry Wills, and Susan
Zuccotti (writers of whom Mr. Dalin is also critical). Since the latter
are explicitly relied on by Daniel J. Goldhagen in the New Republic
preview (January 21, 2002) of his recently released book on Pius XII
and the Holocaust, the material on the manifold errors of these authors
may prove of particular value.
Justus George Lawler
St. Charles, Illinois
I agree with Richard John Neuhaus that the crisis in the Catholic
Church stems from the infidelity of many bishops and priests
to the Church’s magisterial teaching on sexual morality
( “Scandal Time III,”
Public Square, August/September), and I agree too that the
American bishops in Dallas wrongly pretended that the central
issue in the crisis was the criminal depravity of a small
percentage of priests rather than the depraved recklessness
of a large percentage of bishops in shielding and reassigning
such priests when they knew these men posed grave dangers
to children. But I must disagree with Father Neuhaus’
argument that the bishops’ zero tolerance policy adopted
in Dallas is incompatible with a Christian understanding
The zero tolerance policy requires that any priest who
at any time sexually abused a minor will be removed from ministry and,
subject to applicable provisions of canon law, dismissed from the priesthood
(United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Charter for the Protection
of Children and Young People  at Art. 5). Fr. Neuhaus argues
that this policy is incompatible with the Christian doctrine of redemption
because it applies even to “faithful priests who did one bad thing thirty
years ago and have since had an impeccable record and are clearly no
threat to anybody.” Such a priest, Fr. Neuhaus says, is to be “welcomed
as a forgiven sinner to the company of forgiven sinners that is the Church.”
The zero tolerance policy, he suggests, “may have changed the very self“understanding
of the Church.”
There is an important truth in what Fr. Neuhaus says,
for even when a priest must be removed from ministry, the Church should
still be responsible for him. In New York and elsewhere reports circulate
of elderly priests being turned out of their rectories on a day’s notice
and being left with no means of support and nowhere to go. This is a
grave offense against charity and, incidentally, a violation of canon
law, which provides that a bishop must worthily support his priests when
they are removed from ministry and, if they are truly in need, even after
they have been dismissed from the clerical state (Canon 1350). No matter
how often a priest may have sinned”whether once or seven times seventy
times”and no matter whether the priest remains in ministry or is removed
from it, his bishop must remain a father to him and, like the divine Father,
must never withdraw his paternal love.
That said, however, I think Fr. Neuhaus’ argument converts
into a theological question about redemption what is really a prudential
question about the danger of recidivism among sex offenders. Redemption
applies to a man qua man, not qua priest, and it implies that God, who
wills all men to be saved, offers the grace of repentance to all men,
no matter how grievous their sins. Christians must welcome back into the
Church all repentant sinners”not just the ones who sinned only once, not
just the ones who have not sinned again for a long time, and not just the
ones unlikely to sin again in the future.
When the repentant sinner is a priest, however, it is
a separate, prudential question whether he should be allowed to continue
in ministry, just as it is a prudential question whether a good man seeking
ordination ought to be ordained in the first place. The theology of redemption
does not answer such questions. We need, rather, an empirical inquiry
about probabilities and prudential judgment about risks. If we ultimately
conclude that our ability to predict the future actions of a putatively
reformed sinner is too imperfect to put a child at risk, then we merely
admit the limitations of our own knowledge of some individual’s future
conduct. It is our own knowledge, not the divine mercy, in which our faith
And thus we come to zero tolerance, the rationale underlying
the policy being that when a man sexually molests a minor, even if
it be only once, we can never be so sure of his future conduct that we
may risk the innocence of children on our hopes that the man will not sin
again. Fr. Neuhaus, I think, implicitly concedes that the danger of recidivism,
and not the doctrine of redemption, is the real issue when he acknowledges
the need to argue that “there is not a scintilla of evidence that a person
who did a stupidly wicked thing many years ago and is repentant and has
rendered decades of faithful service without a hint of suspicion poses
any threat whatever to children.” In other words, Fr. Neuhaus concedes
that, if there is reason to believe that a priest poses a threat to children,
then the priest must be removed from ministry, but he thinks that there
are some priests who, though they sinned once, are nevertheless reliably
known not to pose any further threat.
Now I agree with Fr. Neuhaus that a man who once sexually
abused a minor but has long lived an exemplary life probably poses
no threat to children. But in this case probability, even great probability,
will not suffice. In my view, even if the man has resisted his temptations
for a long time, we can never be so sure about him that we may risk the
innocence of children on our belief in his future good conduct. The potential
harm is so enormous that I, at least, would never trust such a man with
my child. Much less would I think that I had the right to trust such a man
with the children of parents who do not know the man’s history and are not
being given an informed opportunity to decide for themselves whether to
trust the man with their children. But if the bishops retain discretion
to continue past abusers in ministry, they arrogate to themselves precisely
this authority to decide on behalf of unsuspecting parents whether to put
their children at risk. Catholic parents, who have the primary authority
for the protection and formation of their children, are not, I venture
to say, generally prepared to delegate this kind of decision to their bishops.
There’s a final point, incidentally, against the case“by“case
approach. In deciding whether to allow a priest to remain in ministry,
we have before us the priest pleading for mercy but not the unknown
children we are putting at risk. When the interests of many parties
are at stake but only one of the parties is known to the decision“maker,
a cognitive bias known as the availability heuristic leads decision“makers
to systematically undervalue the interests of the parties less cognitively
accessible to them. Hence, in applying the case“by“case approach, the
decision“maker will tend to systematically discount the danger to children.
When the decision“maker also regards the priest in question as a friend,
the obvious conflict of interest aggravates the cognitive distortion. To
remedy this distortion, balance the picture of the priest pleading for
mercy with the image of a child, terrified and crying when our predictions
about the man’s future good behavior turn out wrong. Or just ask the mother
of a child whether she so trusts her bishop’s ability to predict the future
actions of a one“time child molester that she would trust her child with
the man in question. We all know what she would say.
Robert T. Miller
New York, New York
Richard John Neuhaus thinks that zero tolerance is a
violation of both justice and mercy. If a priest has sinned by committing
a sexual crime against a child, but he has repented and lived an exemplary
life for many years, Father Neuhaus thinks it wrong that he should be removed
from the ministry.
To answer questions of church discipline I often ask
myself, WWPT”What Would Paul Think?
Paul himself sinned against God by persecuting the Church
and thereby persecuting Christ. But he did it in ignorance, out of his
zeal for the law of God, and therefore received mercy; he did not know
what he did. He never knowingly violated the law of God.
What would Paul think about allowing a child molester
to be a leader of the Christian community? He would certainly accept
any repentant criminal as a member of the Church, and Corinth had an unsavory
collection of them, but he held leaders to a higher standard.
When Paul described a bishop“presbyter, he emphasized
that he must be of good character. The bishop“presbyter like all men
is a sinner, but some sinners have good character”that is, their sins are
the ones that even just men fall into. He must be the husband of only one
wife”that is, if he has been widowed he must not have remarried because
remarriage (although allowed) shows an inability to govern sexual desires.
A bishop“presbyter must be respected by outsiders.
Child molestation reveals that one is not of good character,
and no one, even a worldly sinner, has much respect for a child molester.
A bishop publicly humiliates a priest when he removes him from active
ministry for an offense of which the priest repented long ago. But if
the priest is truly repentant, he knows that this humiliation is inadequate
reparation for the sin he has committed against the child and against
God, and will accept it willingly.
Leon J. Podles
Senior Editor, Touchstone
What would we do if our Lord Jesus would establish a zero
tolerance policy towards sin? What if one sin was enough to send you
to hell? No chance for repentance, no confession, no hope.
Christianity is about repentance and grace. Those who
have sinned, but by the grace of God have returned and have changed their
lives, should be respected for it. The cases of priestly abuse should
be treated on a case“by“case basis according to Catholic canon law and
most of all according to Christian charity.
Bishops should not be subject to lay or state supervision
and they should not cease to be fathers and pastors of their flock
in the love of Christ.
I am appalled by what some of the abusive priests have
done, but the Church should not be submitted to the wishes of the media,
state, or even the flock.
El Paso, Texas
In “Scandal Time III,”
Richard John Neuhaus expresses in several places his concern
for a now“elderly priest who is “repentant” and has
“rendered decades of faithful service without a hint of
suspicion” that he “pose[s] a threat to children or anyone
else,” because such a priest may now “be thrown out as an
abuser,” not “welcomed as a forgiven sinner to the company
of forgiven sinners that is the Church.”
With due respect for Father Neuhaus’ human compassion,
I submit that even if the priest were guilty of nothing more than harboring
sexual lust in his heart toward a male or female of any age, the priest
ought to have immediately recognized that he had not been given the
gift of celibacy, and thus had badly misjudged his ability to keep his
Stony Point, New York
After reading “Scandal
Time III, ” I must say that I am somewhat puzzled and
dismayed by both the tone and substance of Richard John
As part of Father Neuhaus’ critique, he has conjured
up what I believe to be a straw man: the lovely Fr. X. This fellow slipped
just once, doing a “bad thing,” and has since led a life beyond reproach.
Fr. Neuhaus omits reminding his readers just what the “bad thing” was
in the present context, the sexual abuse of a child. The image of a trusting
child being led away to have gross, disgusting, perverted acts performed
on him by someone he trusted should be forever before our eyes. If this
doesn’t justify lifetime removal from church leadership, what does? Serial
murder? Detonating a nuclear bomb in Manhattan? Or nothing at all? Jesus
said it would be better for someone who abuses these little ones to be thrown
into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck. Was that unduly harsh?
Fr. Neuhaus speaks of the victims’ groups with what strikes
me as a somewhat disparaging tone, saying that they may never be satisfied.
I hope that they are not satisfied as long as the current scandalous
state of the Church exists, but rather remain a constant rebuke.
Please forgive me if I have misunderstood Fr. Neuhaus’
views, but I feel that zero tolerance is the only just policy possible
given the deplorable record of the bishops and that it is desperately
needed to begin the process of renewal.
Richard John Neuhaus is unhappy with a zero tolerance
policy that can boot his hypothetical Father X out of the ministry even
though the now“elderly priest only “had one abusive incident” with a minor
many years past. Well, I’m unhappy with Fr. Neuhaus’ phrasing. A person
doesn’t “have an abusive incident”; rather, a person commits a crime of
abuse: a crime that many, including this conservative Catholic, would position
just one or two steps below murder on the hierarchy of evil. And just as
there is no statute of limitations for murder, even one murder committed
long ago, there is no statute of limitations for a crime of abuse, even
one crime of abuse committed long ago.
Nor can Fr. X consider himself redeemed after decades
of good behavior and faithful service to the Church. The path to redemption
must necessarily pass through punishment and atonement, and the abuser
must tread this path voluntarily, otherwise his redemption is incomplete,
an evasion of responsibility, a failure to act honorably. Not until he
has confessed his crime as a sin (to another priest), and his sin as
crime (to police), and not until he has accepted and undergone the punishment
that is his due, thereby atoning for his sin and his crime, can he be
fully redeemed. And this punishment should entail, among other things,
being booted from the ministry. I can’t trust an abusive priest: Who knows
when or whether his deviant sexual urge”notoriously difficult to get rid
of, notoriously difficult to resist”might come upon him again, causing him
to “have” another “abusive incident”? Defrock him: and if he wants to continue
his relationship with the Church, let him do so as a member of the laity.
La Grange Park, Illinois
A dimension not treated by Richard John Neuhaus’ excellent
scandal commentary and ignored by many critics of the zero tolerance
policy for sexual abuse is the importance of such a policy as a means
of lifting suspicion that rests on the shoulders of the wonderful priests
and religious who faithfully serve the Christian community. They deserve
a policy that will allow them to be effective and respected.
Also, a criminal breach of trust”which is the nature
of the offense”warrants removal from ministry just as it does in the professions
of law and medicine. The legal profession has suffered by allowing
too many lawyers found guilty of criminal conduct to return to practice
after suspensions or reprimands. The public does not respect the “slap
on the hand” legal disciplinary system that has hurt the profession,
and students are not drawn to the profession with the same respect for
its canons and ideals when serious misconduct does not result in total
expulsion. The bishops are wise to see the need for zero tolerance as
a key means for upholding the standards of the ministry.
William T. Hart
United States District Judge
Sorry, but I can’t buy the argument that the news media’s
obsession with decades“old tales of the homosexual seduction of teenagers”but
only when done by Catholic priests”has nothing to do with Catholic“bashing.
It’s true that this country’s bishops disappointed me
(again) by leaving Dallas with a policy which, while it seems to say
that a priest could be permanently removed from ministry if one church
lady doesn’t like the way he looked at her daughter, continues to ignore
the source of the current scandal”the bishops’ “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy
of enforcing Vatican regulations designed to save Catholic youth from moral
and theological perversion.
But if the media were honest about how widespread the
problem of the seduction of youth is, it would be revealed that most of
the solutions they offer to solve the problem amount to giving the foxes
more control of the henhouse.
Three cases of homosexual abuse that were being prosecuted
in Manhattan, the media capital of the world, in May 2002 involved Riverside
Church, District Attorney Robert Morgenthau’s own synagogue, and the
Harlem Boys Choir. And Christianity Today reported that there
were “seventy child abuse allegations reported against American Protestant
churches each week during the last ten years,” a quarter of which were
against pastors (“Go Figure,” May 21, 2002). But the media know how to
be “discreet” about stories that don’t promote their agenda.
For instance, there’s no demand that the schools shape
up, despite the fact that in 1998 Education Week searched newspaper
archives and computer databases and found 244 allegations against teachers
in a six“month period, ranging from unwanted touching to serial rape.
And on June 21, 2002, the New York Times , in “Silently Shifting
Teachers in Sex Abuse Cases,” noted a study of 225 complaints against
teachers from 1990“94 and found that in only one percent of the cases
did superintendents follow up to ensure that molesting teachers didn’t
continue teaching, while at least 16 percent of the teachers were able
to get new teaching jobs. The study estimated that 15 percent of the country’s
fifty million public schoolchildren will be abused by a school employee.
And yet we hear demands that the bishops follow the example of the public
schools and Protestant churches.
While properly emphasizing that the focus of the scandal
should be on our failures of fidelity to Catholic truth, Richard John
Neuhaus ironically takes refuge in the liberal assumption that life circumstances
can be reengineered to alter life’s divinely endowed essence and particularity
of purpose, or at least alter the odds of its being realized. Removing
priests from ministry does not derail the Christian imperatives to
conversion, repentance, and redemption as he fears. Neither could placing
criminals in prison cells ever interfere with God’s redemptive plan.
It is not any less true for being a cliché that
right is right no matter who is right and wrong is wrong no matter
who is wrong. In the secular culture, politicians caught in wrongdoing
claim to take full responsibility, which translates to lying low until
the press cools off. What kind of fidelity is to be realized in having
prelates perform a slam“dunk imitation of a Clintonite? Scandal times
in the Church do come and go, but with their damage permanently accomplished.
The only time this is avoided is when saintly action is taken, which is
the essence of fidelity. There are principles in law that allow criminals
to publicly plead to be indicted when none are forthcoming from civil authorities.
There are also principles of law that allow criminals to plead for longer
prison sentences than those normally accorded their convictions. This ought
now to be occurring regularly. I am not optimistic about it ever occurring.
Edward J. Baker
Fresh Meadows, New York
Richard John Neuhaus’ concerns about gross unfairness
should be allayed because the zero tolerance policy does not, in fact,
entail that all priests who sexually abuse a minor will be dismissed from
the clerical state. The policy requiring dismissal is expressly qualified
by reference to canon law, and, under Canons 290 and 1342“2, a priest
may not be dismissed from the clerical state without his consent except
pursuant to a judgment in a canon court. The American bishops are asking
Rome to amend canon law so that a bishop, acting on his own, could dismiss
one of his priests, but most observers think Rome will not agree to expand
the bishops’ authority in this way. Absent such a change in canon law,
a bishop seeking to dismiss a priest will have to convince a canon court
that the case warrants dismissal, and thus the zero tolerance policy amounts
to nothing more than a declaration by the bishops that, because in their
view all cases of sexual abuse warrant dismissal from the clerical state,
they intend to seek this penalty in all cases. At present at least, there
is no guarantee that it will be applied in all cases.
Father Neuhaus also argues that the definition of sexual
abuse in the zero tolerance policy is too vague, so vague indeed that
a priest’s erotic musings about a minor with whom he has no other contact
would fall within the definition employed. The definition, which is
surely very expansive, includes “contacts or interactions between a
child and an adult when the child is being used as an object of sexual
gratification for the adult,” and expressly states that sexual abuse may
occur whether or not force is used, whether or not there is actual physical
contact, whether or not the child initiated the interaction, and whether
or not there is discernible harm. Again, Fr. Neuhaus does have a point.
A definition like this would almost certainly be struck down by an American
court as unconstitutionally vague.
But when Fr. Neuhaus argues that such poor drafting resulted
from the bishops being in a media“inspired panic, he ignores the fact
that the very definition he quotes refers to Canon 1395“2, which itself,
like canon law generally, employs this kind of very vague language. Canon
1395“2 punishes a cleric who “sins . . . against the Sixth Commandment
of the Decalogue . . . with a person under sixteen years of age.” Surely
this is even more vague than the definition used in the zero tolerance
policy. An American lawyer