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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 be desired.

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 writingsperhaps 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?

Stanley Hauerwas
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 to participate.

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 joyfully.

Affirmations and Obfuscations

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 measurebut 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 Scriptureor, 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.

Eric Grant
St. Athanasius Antiochian
Orthodox Church
Sacramento, California

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
Pensacola, Florida

Creeping Christian Majoritarianism?

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.

Thomas Robbins
Rochester, Minnesota

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 us.

Further Reading

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

Scandal Time III

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 of redemption.

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 [2002] 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 is limited.

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,
Baltimore, Maryland

What would we do if our Lord Jesus would establish a zero tolerance policy towards sin? What if one sin was enough to send youto 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.

Rudy Garcia
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 ordination vows.

Odessa Elliott
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 Neuhaus’ argument.

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.

Howard Holley
Barnet, Vermont

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.

Steven Weingartner
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
Chicago, Illinois

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.

Don Schenk
Allentown, Pennsylvania

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 would deplore the looseness of the bishops’ drafting, but, for all its faults, it is no worse than the preexisting standard in canon law.

Jennifer L. Miller
New York, New York

Thank you for “Scandal Time III.” In many ways my former pastor, Father Bob Kealy, could be the Fr. X mentioned in your article. Approximately twenty–five years ago, Fr. Kealy came out of the seminary with a drinking problem. During this time, he apparently had a one–night stand with a sixteen– or seventeen–year–old girl. Thereafter Fr. Kealy put himself into a treatment program and has been sober ever since. In that time there has been no further allegations of any sexual misconduct against Fr. Kealy and, at least from what I can tell, he has been a great priest leading an exemplary life.

Neither I nor, I would venture, Fr. Kealy intend to minimize the wrong that was done twenty–five years ago. He betrayed a trust and broke a solemn vow. That great sin, however, was not the end of the Fr. Kealy story, but rather the beginning. If he was dying in his alcoholism, he was reborn in his sobriety. For twenty–five years he gave good and faithful service to his Church. The lost sheep had returned to the fold.

The American Catholic Bishops in Dallas could have celebrated Fr. Kealy’s reformed life. Instead, they chose to kick him out of the priesthood. What hurts the worst is that the reason they chose to offer up priests like Fr. Kealy as sacrificial lambs was not simple bad judgment or even plain stupidity, but cowardice.

Over the centuries, faith is tested in many ways. Some are made to choose between making an offering to Jove and death. Some face the decision between living up to Christian ideals of forgiveness and facing the wrath of the New York Times and certain yahoos in the pews. Our bishops failed their test in Dallas. Let’s hope they are given the second chance that, so far, they are unwilling to give the Fr. Kealys of the world.

John T. McEnroe
Winnetka, Illinois

RJN replies:

These letters are representative of the many received in response to “Scandal Time III.” I have already addressed in subsequent issues some of the points raised, so will here try to be brief. Most of the writers do not address what was central to my argument, namely, the unbounded plasticity of the definition of sexual abuse adopted at Dallas. By that definition, abuse can range from a pat on the butt to a hug of congratulation to brutally sodomizing a ten–year–old. Some acts are indiscreet, some are mildly prurient, some are monstrous. It is a grave mistake to assume that the accusations pertinent to the present scandal are typically in the nature of the last. They are not.

Mr. Miller’s thoughtful letter rightly focuses on “probabilities and prudential judgments about risks,” although he seems to assume that we know more about recidivism than we do. I agree that many people do not now trust bishops to make the relevant prudential judgments. In view of the dereliction of some bishops and of the media barrage, that is understandable, but it is also a great sadness. Sharply reduced levels of trust between bishops and priests, and between lay people and both, may well be the greatest long–term cost of the present crisis.

I do not find in St. Paul or in the Christian tradition any warrant for Mr. Podles’ suggestion that sins committed knowingly are any less forgivable than sins committed unknowingly. Of course a “child molester” should not be a leader in the Church. Many who have been and will be removed under the Dallas definition are not aptly described by that term of abuse. A person is not identified by a sinful act. A man who visited a brothel in his twenties and afterwards lived a long life as a faithful husband and father is not forever to be known as a whoremonger. But perhaps Mr. Podles thinks that is the kind of sin that “even just men fall into.” I suggest he give some thought to St. Paul’s words about Christ dying for us “while we were yet sinners, the just for the unjust.”

Mr. Garcia is, I believe, exactly on target, especially with respect to the need for the Church to exercise courage and integrity in governing itself. In the absence of such courage and integrity, long–term damage has been done to the libertas ecclesiae , and Dallas greatly exacerbated that damage. Were we to accept Ms. Elliott’s understanding of celibacy, I am afraid we would have very few priests. Nor, if applied to chastity and continence more generally, would there be many faithful husbands or wives. As for Mr. Holley’s serial murderer or nuclear bomber in Manhattan, see above on the range of offenses. I believe the Christian tradition does not support Mr. Weingartner’s assertions about the connection between punishment and redemption. Salvation entails, inter alia, being spared punishment that we deserve, especially the punishment of God. As for human law and retribution, a man who drove while drunk ten years ago and got home without incident has no obligation to go to the police and ask to be punished for drunk driving. He should be penitent and grateful. Most of us, if not all of us, have committed wrongs against others, which may or may not have been criminal, and for which we have not been punished but are repentant and forgiven. Thank God. I am afraid that much current discussion about punishment sounds an awful lot like vengeance, which, as we are told, is not ours but the Lord’s. Judge Hart is right that “zero tolerance” may serve the good end of upholding standards of ministry, but if zero tolerance entails grave injustices, as I believe it does, I hope the judge would agree that a good end does not justify wrong means. In response to Mr. Baker, see above on punishment and forgiveness. To Mr. Schenk: I said it is our problem and we shouldn’t blame the media for it. That is not to deny the media bias to which his letter refers.

Ms. Miller raises an important question. Rome has now called for a modification, along the lines that Ms. Miller suggests, of how the zero tolerance rule adopted by Dallas is applied. But I believe I have accurately depicted what, in fact, Dallas approved. Canon 1395–2, on the other hand, reads: “If a cleric has otherwise committed an offense against the sixth commandment of the Decalogue with force or threats or publicly or with a minor below the age of sixteen [now raised to eighteen], the cleric is to be punished with just penalties, including dismissal from the clerical state if the case warrants it.” That immediately follows 1395–1, which deals with “a cleric who lives in concubinage or a cleric who remains in another external sin against the sixth commandment of the Decalogue which produces scandal.” The text and context make it clear, I believe, that the Canon—in sharpest contrast to the almost unlimited elasticity of the Dallas definition of sexual abuse—is not so vague as Ms. Miller suggests.

Mr. McEnroe’s letter nicely illustrates what is so profoundly wrong about the policies adopted at Dallas. It is gratifying that, since I wrote “Scandal Time III,” many more priests and lay people are speaking up in defense of priests who are falsely accused, denied due process, or guilty, repentant, and forgiven in connection with offenses that have nothing—absolutely nothing—to do with the imperative purpose of protecting children from sexual abuse. An institution that treats people unjustly in order to deflect criticism from itself is engaged in scapegoating. Scapegoating is unworthy of the Church of Jesus Christ. It is a denial of the gospel of sin and grace by which and for which the Church is constituted.

Image by Pixabay licensed via Creative Commons. Image cropped.

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