Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Absence of Logic

Chicago freelance columnist, Dennis Byrne, has decided to weigh-in on the recent issues affecting the Chicago Archdiocese. In an op-ed piece he not surprisingly got published in the Chicago Tribune, and which he publishes on his website, he demonstrates able rhetoric devoid of logic or facts. He calls it "Absence of Moral Authority."

Now it is no doubt a fact that what has happened in Chicago recently does reduce the moral authority of the Church in the eyes of not a few. However, Byrne, who seems to think that the perceptions of the masses dictates reality, takes this as an opportunity to call into question the basic structure of the Church and the sacramental priesthood. He must have been uncritically reading SNAP and Voice of the (un)Faithful tracts.

His main point seems to be that based upon the problems found in the recent independent investigation, this proves that the entirety of Catholic Church leadership is incompetent and unworthy of trust. Of course, he tries to make his case in the form of questions. Most of which are inane and point out that either he did no research whatsoever before spawning his blather or he did the research and finding it did not support his argument, he ignored it and hoped none of his readers would either.

Some examples of questions that he says should be posed:

Are clergy more prone to child abuse? Are they more prone to same-sex abuse? Do other denominations have this problem and to what extent? If they don't, is there something specific about the Roman Catholic priesthood that leads to greater incidence of child sexual abuse? Is the something related to the vow of celibacy? Does it have something to do with the priesthood's male-dominated environment? Is it an institutional problem, flowing from the authoritative, hierarchical structure of the church?

His first commenter provides him with a link to an article that answers most of the questions. Essentially, the answer is that the problem of sexual abuse seems to be lowest among Catholic clergy, followed by clergy of other denominations. It is much higher in the general public and if we are really concerned about our children's safety, we will start paying serious attention to the child sexual abuse pandemic in public schools.

At the end Byrne throws in a canard about Church silence during the holocaust (I am surprised he left out many of the others, he must have been in a hurry) as he only datum for trying to extend the problems in Chicago to the entire Church and so suggest that She cannot be trusted. He finally implies that perhaps it is time for the laity to rise up and take over.

Rhetoric is very effective in cases like these because trust is a very fragile commodity and suspicion in our fallen state is so tempting. Byrne may not be very gifted in his theological understanding of the Church or his ability to compose a tight logical argument with compelling facts to support it. However, he is sufficiently clever to realize that in the current context he need not be; he can take advantage of suspicion to make common cause with those who would wish to undermine the ability of the Church established by Christ, to bear witness to the Gospel in an increasingly hostile world.