William F. Buckley
Time magazine's cover line is, "Can the Catholic Church Save Itself"? In the spread, author Frank McCourt is quoted: "The church is going to lose children and families, and it's doing this to itself. If this all continues, the church will disappear."

On this thought, a Catholic might say: If the church disappears, it will be God's fault. Christians believe that God founded the church. If it is to disappear because of scandalous behavior by a cohort of American priests, then perhaps the whole idea of Christianity was, after all, an epiphenomenon -- one that lasted a very long time, and engaged the loyalty of scholars and martyrs, but proved of insufficient stamina to survive the triumphant claims of secular concerns.

It becomes clearer every day that the fraternity of American critics has discovered sin. The broader community was initially aroused by a president who bent under the demands of libido, but they struggled for, and attained perspective by, impeaching him not for sin but for clerical felony. The uproar today has substantially to do with clerical ineptitude. The bishop who did not report the priestly abuser to the police is being held responsible for incremental abuses, much as a parole board might be held responsible for letting out someone who then re-engages in crime. You can't sue a parole board, but you can sue a diocese, and this is being widely done.

The consequences of such suits can be dire. A lawyer persuades a jury that the damage done to a plaintiff when he was 14 years old entitles him to $5 million, $10 million, $15 million, and the jury goes along. Perhaps the plaintiff has spent years in psychological therapy. Perhaps he is just plain angry, as in the case of Frank Martinelli of Connecticut, who was paid a million dollars and then said he'd have asked for nothing at all if he had just gotten a apology.

But people are asking for new distillations of policy, social, civil and theological. We begin with celibacy. Almost everywhere we are told that Catholic reliance on it for its clergy should end. Perhaps it should, though we are left wondering why this should have taken 20 centuries to discover; yet there is no obvious appetite to probe what it is in these years that anachronizes the call to celibacy. There is no reason to suppose that the libido was less active in the year 1902 than today. What is acknowledged, but not very deeply explored, is the quite general conviction that sex is king.

William F. Buckley

William F. Buckley, Jr. is editor-at-large of National Review, the prolific author of Miles Gone By: A Literary Autobiography.

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