A general culture of "dissent" that has marked the life of Catholicism from top to bottom since Vatican II has had a role to play in the current priest-sex scandal, according to Michael Novak in this good piece from National Review Online.

One can't really disagree with his view at all —except to ask: If that is the case, why is it that some vigorously non-dissenting bishops have covered-up behavior, shifted offenders around and protected them? Cardinal Law? Cardinal Egan? Dailey of Brooklyn? Not a dissenter in the bunch, but plenty of protectors of sexual predators there.

It would be very helpful if orthodox Catholics who have a good grasp of the theological and spiritual aspects of this crisis would honestly confront the nature of clerical culture, which is partly related to mandatory celibacy, and partly to the dynamics that engage any group of professionals and bureaucrats.

Here's an interesting question for those who think a leadership composed only of celibate males has not had any impact on the shape of this culture: imagine that the members of some other profession — any profession — all followed an identical lifestyle (on paper). All lawyers were celibate women. All doctors were celibate males. All teachers were celibate, period.

Would that impact the way those professions are practiced and the way they relate to their "clients?" Probably. Would it impact the members' relations to each other? Probably. Any profession is almost reflexively self-protective (hence the existence of professional associations; hence the sense that there are some things that lawyers, doctors and teachers know about each other and the practice of their professions that the rest of us haven't a clue about.)

Church work is no different — and I mean all church work, whether it's engaged in by lay or ordained folk. But the impact of mandatory clerical celibacy, as valuable as the charism of celibacy can be for those with that gift, really takes that sense to another level.

Yes, a culture of "dissent" undoubtedly contributed to the lax morals among many clergy, as described in Novak's piece, but it doesn't explain the episcopal protection of these guys. Not at all.

Jesus Was a Vegan?

You know, I certainly do appreciate the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. They do important work, even if I do wish Bill Donohue could appear on television without immediately beginning to SHOUT!

But alas, I can't agree with this one. The League has condemned a People for the Ethical Treatment of Animal's anti-cow milk campaign that includes, as one of its components, a pro-breastfeeding poster featuring Mary nursing Jesus. It says "If it was good enough for Jesus....The human breast is best for human babies."

Okay? And? The problem exactly?

Here's the problem, according to the League: PETA CAN’T SELL ITS ANTI-DAIRY MESSAGE WITHOUT BASHING CATHOLICS. Oh.

Sure, PETA does have a track-record of less-than reverent use of Christian imagery, but this one is really not a problem. For the life of me, I can't see how it "bashes Catholics." Read the press release in its entirety and tell me if you don't think that Donohue really missed the point of this one, and comes off looking like he thinks promotion of breast-feeding is a looney idea.

Maybe we'll just have to set the La Leche League (founded by mostly, if not all Catholic women) on Bill so he'll see the error of his ways in this one.

Here's a different use of the same idea that PETA utilized.

You may not be aware that there actually is a Catholic devotion to Our Lady of La Leche and a shrine dedicated to her in St. Augustine, Fla. You also might not know that through the Medieval and Renaissance periods, one of the most common representations of the virtue of charity was a nursing mother — giving of herself and her body to sustain the life of another human being.

Harrumph. Watch what you say to a nursing mother, buddy.

Bishop does good.

In Boise, the Catholic bishop has refused to withdraw his support from a series of billboards challenging viewers to see the connection between abortion, the Holocaust, and racial oppression.

The 12 photographic murals, each 8 feet wide by 4 feet high, depict aborted fetuses alongside corpses in Nazi death camps and black lynching victims. Captions make such analogies as: "Ungentile, Unwhite, Unborn" and "Religious Choice, Racial Choice, Reproductive Choice."

The exhibit is scheduled for April 8-12 at Boise State University. A university official defended the school's decision to allow the exhibit

From the "how can this happen?" file:

It's the second part of the NY Daily News examination of Fr. Gentile , popular priest, children's author, and massager of adolescent boys at his lake house.

Go through the whole article. Feel your stomach churn. And then wake up and pay close attention to this part:

In 1997, a new parishioner was invited to go with her husband and 8-year old son to the priest's lake house. The husband couldn't go, the woman was uncomfortable, so the priest assuaged her by telling her he'd have other people present as well.

The "other people" turned out to be some teenage boys, one of whom Gentile very publicly and intensely massaged in a way that made the woman uncomfortable.

When she mentioned the incident to several parishioners, she said they told her to "‘Keep it quiet. Don't tell anybody. It will ruin his career.'" She took their advice.

But then when other allegations came forward, she realized that she should have trusted her instincts. So she contacted the director of priest personnel for the archdiocese:

"He was very cool," Ellsberg recalled. "‘Oh, I find it so hard to believe. Are you sure that is what you saw?'" she recalled him saying.

She said O'Donnell also wondered: "‘Isn't it simply the case that he is Italian?'" suggesting that Italians are physically demonstrative

"‘Monsignor,' I said, ‘I am Italian. And where I come from, if a man does this to a little boy, he gets shot.'"

Gentile was eventually removed from parish work (at the demand of parishioners at his newly assigned parish, God bless them) and now works in the Tribunal office.

Freelance writer Amy Welborn maintains the web log In Between Naps. She is the author of several books, including Loyola Kids' Book of Saints (Loyola Press, 2001) and is a frequent contributor to the Catholic Press. Welborn lives in Indiana with her husband, Michael Dubruiel, and has four children ages 1 to 19 years.

Respond to the Writer