Since moving from the White House beat to the op-ed page of the New York Times, Maureen Dowd has made a career of throwing stones. In general she reserves the heaviest of them for launching toward Rome, but now it appears that her already-cramped reach has gotten the yips, and even her praise misses the plate. In her June 5 piece on Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, a churchman of moderately progressive bent, Dowd discovers a Bishop she can like. No, rather, in her traipsing through Northern Dublin, she stumbles upon “that rarest of things in the church’s tragedy: a moral voice.”
Never mind all of those other Catholic voices raised in outrage at the priestly abuse crisis, from Commonweal to Crisis and beyond. Never mind Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley’s well-documented and sympathetic work with sex abuse victims both in the United States and Ireland, or New York Archbishop Dolan’s participation in the sensitive investigations in Ireland. Certainly, let us not discuss Pope Benedict’s tireless efforts, since 2002—even before his papal election—to address “the filth” that has so roiled the church; to meet with the victims and to establish norms of investigation and reportage that he hopes establish church-wide. None of those voices, it seems, are as moral as Archbishop Martin’s; he managed to melt Dowd’s church-disdaining frost via last February’s “Liturgy of Lament and Repentance.”
‘Wearing a simple black cassock,’ Dowd wrote, ‘[Martin] helped wash the feet of eight victims and conceded that the church “will always bear this wound within it.”’
This is certainly a fine thing, and I doubt anyone could or would argue differently. Let us have more such liturgies, of course. But how can Dowd neglect to mention that Martin was joined in this act of penitence by Cardinal O’Malley, who wore the “simple” robes of a Capuchin Friar, which is what he is. Indeed, despite his exalted office, O’Malley can often be spotted in his Franciscan brown robes, eschewing other vestments.
I can’t imagine why Dowd would not mention O’Malley’s paired penitence with Martin; she could not have missed it—reports are not difficult to come by:
Then O’Malley and Martin washed the feet of eight abuse victims. Several wept as Martin poured water from a large pitcher and O’Malley knelt and dried them with a white terry cloth towel. “We want to be part of a church that puts survivors, the victims of abuse, first — ahead of self-interest, reputation, and institutional needs,’’ O’Malley said . . .
Perhaps O’Malley’s next words suggested a unity with Rome that was not to Dowd’s liking:
“On behalf of the Holy Father, I ask forgiveness, for the sexual abuse of children perpetrated by priests, and the past failures of the church’s hierarchy, here and in Rome — the failure to respond appropriately to the problem of sexual abuse . . .Publicly atoning for the church’s failures is an important element of asking the forgiveness of those who have been harmed by priests and bishops, whose actions — and inactions — gravely harmed the lives of children entrusted to their care.’’
A plea for forgiveness; public acknowledgment of guilt; atonement. Well, that hardly suits her narrative, now, does it?
For the record, I fully support such liturgical demonstrations of humility among our hierarchy; particularly in this era, where sentimentalism plays such a large role in facilitating understanding.
However, where Dowd seems to be pleased by Martin (and, we presume, O’Malley) wearing “simple” garb for this liturgy, I would argue that they should have worn the finest and most elaborate of their vestments, and their mitres—all the trappings of their offices—to better demonstrate the wide failure of the bishoprics and their contrition. That, I think, would have been doubly humble, and doubly courageous, too; it would have made a statement about the hierarchy, to the bishops as well as to the people. It would have been both a demonstration of contrition-in-unity with the rest of the bishops, and a rebuke.
Dowd is not wrong to bring up the frustrating continued Roman existence of Cardinal Law, as Cardinal Law—is there a Catholic alive who does not find it a bit galling?—but she takes the lazy route in sneering at Pope Benedict for accepting the resignation of some Irish bishops while refusing others, implying something either nefarious and malicious or incompetent about his decision. Anyone who has watched Benedict XVI’s papacy with a clear eye might prefer to withhold such a judgment. In due time, we usually discover that Benedict has taken steps appropriate to the long view. He has earned, at the very least, a benefit of a doubt.
But not for so righteous a paragon as Dowd. I must have missed the columns where Dowd made subtle, or not so subtle, insinuations about the leadership of Cardinal Roger Mahoney who, while heading the Diocese of Los Angeles, did all he could to circumvent and waylay investigations into his priests, or Milwaukee’s Archbishop Rembert Weakland, who used almost half-a-million dollars in Diocesan funds to fend off a lawsuit brought by an old boyfriend. I must have missed Dowd’s expression of jubilation when the Jesuits were recently ordered to pay $166 million dollars in damages to sex abuse victims. But then, I did say I haven’t read her much, lately.
If Dowd wants to throw stones at the hierarchy and boo at the church from the sidelines, rather than get inside and endure the cross of its shame with the rest of us, that’s fine. There’s plenty to boo about, and sadly, too many throwable stones. But as a grown woman, one would think that—even cramped as she is—she’d be capable of casting them in both directions.
Elizabeth Scalia is the Managing Editor of the Catholic Portal at Patheos and blogs as The Anchoress. Her previous articles for "On the Square" can be found here.
Scalia Dowd Archives
Dowd’s June 5th Column
Cardinal O' Malley Meets With Victms
O’Malley and Dolan Named to Investigation Panel
Pope Benedict’s Conversion on Sex Abuse
Benedict Takes on Sex Abuse
Benedict Meets with Victims
Benedict on “the filth’’
O’Malley and Martin In Penance Liturgy