Cast the First Stone.

September 21, 2010 at 7:54 pm (By Amba)

Elizabeth Scalia — The Anchoress — tells why she remains a Catholic in the face of the revelation of human, hidden, power-protected sins.

The darkness within my church is real, and it has too often gone unaddressed. The light within my church is also real, and has too often gone unappreciated. A small minority has sinned, gravely, against too many. Another minority has assisted or saved the lives of millions.

But then, my country is the most generous and compassionate nation on Earth; it is also the only country that has ever deployed nuclear weapons of mass destruction.

My government is founded upon a singular appreciation of personal liberty; some of those founders owned slaves.

My family was known for its neighborliness and its work ethic; its patriarch was a serial child molester.

The child molester was also a brilliant, generous, talented man — the only person who ever read me a bedtime story. I will love him forever for that, even when I wake up gasping and afraid.

I am a woman with very generous instincts, and I try to love everyone, but I am capable of corrosive scorn. Have I been much sinned against? Yes. So have you. Have I sinned against others? Oh, yes. So have you.

Damn, that’s breathtaking.


  1. Ron said,

    If it happened once? Twice? I could forgive.
    If it happened long ago when your ethos was still being formed? I could forgive.
    If it happened in just one place, forgiveness is there.

    But after, what, 2000 years? Multiple places? Too many times to count? Too many people who should have known better, people who are constantly trying to get us to know better, covering up, lying, evading merely human law? No. Stop it.

    From my personal experience? My fathers father embraced Nazism full on, and gave me much of the same weasel worded excuse making I see here. I didn’t buy that line of shit from him, and I’m sure as hell not accepting it here.

  2. amba12 said,

    people who are constantly trying to get us to know better

    Well, yes, that’s the hypocrisy factor . . . people who scold others about their sinfulness. Getting all high and mighty about “the homosexual inclination” between consenting adults, for example.

    But it’s true that you don’t stop loving your country because of Little Big Horn and Nagasaki. (I can make excuses for Hiroshima, but not for Nagasaki.) And you probably loved your grandfather, weasel words and all.

  3. realpc said,

    I agree with the post. Wherever there is power and authority, you will also find someone who takes advantage of their position. You cannot find any great institution that never caused any harm.

    The powerful cause more damage than the powerless. Of course, because the powerless don’t have power.

    Some people misinterpret this and think the powerless are more virtuous than the powerful. But they aren’t. They just don’t have the power to do a lot of damage!

    You can see this mistake in Noam Chomsky’s criticisms of the US. Of course he can find long lists of atrocities, committed by the most powerful nation on earth. He chooses to ignore its virtues, most of the time, and to inspire destructive rage.

    And the same thing happens with the Catholic Church, of course, Because it is a respected authority, it is expected to be perfectly virtuous. But that’s ridiculous. The Catholic Church is a human institution, not something created by angels.

    Priests are, or were, trusted, so they had the chance to take advantage. Is that really a surprise?

    What some priests did should be completely irrelevant to the question of whether the Catholic Church has value. A big deal has been made of it because people, for some strange reason, didn’t expect it.

    Expect this kind of thing from any institution you trust and respect. It’s the trust and respect that makes the abuse possible. That is why the American founders wanted a limited government.

  4. amba12 said,

    Well said!!!

    Even the powerless usually have power over someone — if only their own mates and children — and some do immense harm in that context, which they may try to justify by their frustration at their powerlessness in the grander scheme of things. Others do great good.

    Look at familial sexual abuse. Much more common, percentage-wise, probably, than the priestly kind, as the Anchoress bears witness. Do we therefore want to abolish the family? Would the alternatives be better?

  5. realpc said,

    “Do we therefore want to abolish the family? Would the alternatives be better?”


  6. Ruth said,

    We should remember too, that back in the day many doctors and other experts promised you could change that type of sexual behavior with enough therapy and treatment.

    Thus, when they “caught” priests and didn’t kick them out of the priesthood, only transferred them after “therapy”, many fellow priests and pastors were taking the advice of the medical community at the time.

    Sometimes, I think it’s too easy to paint all involved as evil — knowingly causing more molestation, or “setting up dates” for their fellow priests. But just like all cops in the Blue Brotherhood used to cover for the dirty cops, I think the priests at the time might have thought they were giving their fellow priests another chance, with the assurance from the doctors that they’d been “cured” and would not reoffend.

    No excuse for those in the higher up heirarchy, who knew of or should have suspected a pattern, but in some cases, the average parish priest accepting the transfer might have been in the dark just as much as his own parishioners as to the new guy’s past.

    To me, painting with the broad brush does a disservice to really understanding the Church’s internal organizational crisis, and the steps they have taken/are taking to overcome it. I also thing the broad brush painters do a disservice when they accuse people like me — trying to bring light to the topic and help explain — of not caring at all about those molested.

    A relative of mine received an unprecedented settlement from a big-city diocese for the years of his continuing abuse. The priest was also a family friend, and the child didn’t speak out for years. ( It’s confusing to the molested, who sadly might be confused by the sexual pleasure he is receiving — we like to think this all occured at gunpoint, with active protestations from the children. Not necessarily.) Abuse of children and other vulnerables — sexual and otherwise — is ALWAYS wrong.

    Understanding the evil, how it operated, and how to prevent it is what’s needed now. I think the Church IS taking steps in that area, and for the sake of the good Catholics and the victimized children, are working so it doesn’t systematically happen again.

  7. Ruth said,

    ADDED: The molesting priest was criminally charged, and is serving a loooong prison sentence now.

  8. Icepick said,

    (I can make excuses for Hiroshima, but not for Nagasaki.)

    Hey, the Japanese Emporer could have – should have – surrendered faster. After the things seen on Saipan and Okinawa there was no reason to suspect that the Japanese were going to surrender. And after Nanking, the Bataan death march and so on, there wasn’t much reason to show much in the way of mercy.

    And didn’t we lose the Battle of the Little Bighorn?

  9. Icepick said,

    For the record, when the time comes I don’t expect we’ll recieve any mercy from whomever. As a general rule, there’s no such thing as mercy in matters of state, or in the affairs of peoples. As Bubbles said, “Mercy is for the weak!”

  10. amba12 said,

    Yeah, I probably got the wrong Indian battle. My mind’s not working very well these days.

  11. Icepick said,

    Neither is mine. I think you’re thinking of Wounded Knee.

  12. amba (Annie Gottlieb) said,

    I do believe so. Thank you. (The halt leading the lame?)

  13. Icepick said,


  14. mary said,

    Don’t forget that child abuse has and does occur in many other places where adults have authority over young people: public schools, Protestant churches, by policemen, boarding schools, secular orphanages. It’s a terrible crime but it’s not particular to any one group of people, although one hears much more about the Catholic Church. It’s far less than all the good the Church does, however, for the poor and other needy causes.

  15. realpc said,

    The Catholic Church represents several different things, and they are not things that everyone approves of. It reminds us of the “dark ages,” of magic, rituals and “superstition.” It reminds us of a time when people believed whatever the authorities said. The sun went around the earth, if the church said it did.

    Why do we need an ancient church, now that we have modern science?

    The only good thing anyone can say about the Catholic Church is that it helps the poor. At the same time that it makes them poorer by denying them birth control.

    There are plenty of reasons to hate the Catholic Church, and pedophile priests is just one more.

    I am not saying that is how I feel, and I don’t feel that way at all. But for people who think religion is nothing more than charity organizations, or for atheists who hate the idea of religious authority, pedophile priests are just more proof that religion belongs in the ancient past.

  16. amba12 said,

    Actually, you can say a lot more good things about the Catholic Church than that. I’ll elaborate later.

  17. realpc said,


    That isn’t what I meant. I could say a lot more good things about the Catholic Church. If I had to choose just one religion I would probably be a Catholic. I meant that, from the modern materialist perspective, the only good thing people can say is it helps the poor, or tries to. (Actually the poor get more help from people who start businesses and hire them than they get from charity, I would think).

    To me the Catholic religion is a remaining shred of the ancient magic and mystery that is based in reality, not mere superstition. The magic and mystery that our species had always respected and feared and worshiped, until we were hypnotized by modern materialism. It still performs exorcisms sometimes, for example.

    So the Catholic Church stands for the dark ages, the “demon-haunted world” that we supposedly are too smart to believe in anymore. It stands for ghosts and spirits and heaven and hell. All kinds of things our smart scientists reassure us are mere hallucinations or products of our imagination.

  18. reader_iam said,

    Sheesh. I’d forgotten why I took to heart the idea of not commenting at Ambiance anymore. Now I remember why. Exactly why. Ain’t that a damn smack on the ass? And all of that.

  19. Peter Hoh said,

    Mary, there are bad apples in every profession. Good institutions don’t have long track records of covering up for those individuals by moving them to new positions where they can continue to abuse those under their authority.

    There hasn’t been a schoolteacher sex-abuse scandal like the priest abuse scandal because there aren’t multiple schoolteachers with records of being moved to multiple schools the way priests such as John Geoghan were moved around.

    Ruth, yes, back in the 1960s, psychiatrists were able to convince some bishops that they could cure pedophiles. That might excuse the decisions bishops made in the 1960s. However, some bishops were still moving such priests around in the 1980s.

    Consider also Father Gerald Fitzgerald, who spent two decades trying to raise the alarm within the church that priests who sexually assaulted children could not be cured.

    He is best known as the founder of the Congregation of the Servants of the Paraclete which operates centers for priests dealing with challenges such as alcoholism, substance abuse and sexuality. In 2009, the media focused attention on the unsealing of his papers which revealed that he had campaigned vigorously to American bishops and the Vatican in the 1950s and 1960s against the return of sexually abusive priests to parish work, arguing that such priests were effectively untreatable. The fact that he had argued so forcefully for the laicization of sexually abusive priests was seized upon by the media as proof that the Catholic hierarchy had, in fact, been aware of the dangers of allowing such priests to return to parish work where they would have contact with minors.

  20. reader_iam said,


    I’d take even more care of your thoughts if you’d take even a little care of mine.


  21. Icepick said,


  22. Icepick said,

    Duh. Nevermind.

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