Sewage Detox

It had already been a harrowing spring for me and my family. Two weeks before, my daughter was walking our family pet, an eight-pound terrier, on a leash, when they were rushed by a big dog that grabbed ours by the neck and shook him to death. My wife was devastated; the little fellow had been her constant companion at home. Then a week later we received a phone call from Pennsylvania; her father had apparently suffered a stroke. We packed up as quick as we could, but that was the day of the flooding in our state of Rhode Island, and what with traffic jams and road closures, it took us all day and half the evening to get to the hospital, where he was awake and waiting for us, but speaking in half-gibberish.

As it turned out, he hadn’t suffered a stroke at all but had nearly died of kidney failure, due to excessive and harmful medication for various conditions he suffers. Thank God, he was able to return home in a few days, speaking and thinking normally, and instructed to dump most of his pills in the trash. We returned home in time to make it to Easter Mass at our church, but when we arrived there, the parking lot was empty, except for some large trucks and men in white suits and masks. Apparently the flood had hit our church and its neighborhood. The problem was — and, for dozens of people with homes in the area, still is — that there is a sewage treatment plant nearby, and what the environmental police call “black water” had backed up to contaminate all the buildings within a rather wide radius. So there were red signs reading “Unsafe” posted on windows and doors; unsafe for human habitation, that is. It is not clear whether the wooden houses can yet be decontaminated. If not, they will be condemned and torn down.

Our church, however, is made of concrete and stone, and those can be cleaned. Our pastor, who had to be rescued from the rectory by boat on the day of the flooding, has been on top of the situation. The affected portions of the church and its two attendant buildings have been cleaned up and disinfected — wallboard and paneling and flooring removed and destroyed, leaving nothing but the studs and the framing. Now it is time for the builders and the electricians. We have heard that we will be able to return to our church in about a month.

It is not only our church we want to return to, though, but to our redoubtable pastor and his intelligent homilies, reverent and beautiful liturgies, and well-chosen hymns from the great tradition of Christian sacred music. Quite a few anecdotes, in fact, are told about this good man. I have heard — I have not verified the details — that many years ago he had been assigned to a parish where his fellow assistant pastor was as toxic a human being as ever infected the waters of the Church. He was, in short, a child molester. My pastor found out about it and shouted it to the chancery; but the other man denied it, and the bishop apparently wanted, at first anyway, to believe only nice things about a popular priest. Then one day, according to legend, my pastor met the other man coming down the stairwell of the church, with two boys alongside him. He confronted the abuser right then and there, and when the man told him where he could go, he decked him. Then he told the boys to go straight home and tell their parents that he would be visiting them that evening. For this act of zeal and courage, my pastor was consigned to diocesan Siberia, for several years relieved of his pastoral duties.



I do not want to recall here the stupidities
and the culpable negligence, if not collusion, of so many bishops. What has startled and dismayed me, however, are the recent attempts to smear the pope with the same tar. The latest case concerned a bad man — how bad, not even his local bishop knew for certain — who applied to Rome for a dispensation from his vow of celibacy. He had been accused in 1978 of a serious incident of molestation. In 1985, then-Cardinal Ratzinger denied his request to be, essentially, removed from the oversight of his bishop and relieved of his vow. The bishop, according to the letter, was to follow him up with fatherly care; presumably that would include care to ensure a clean life. Such a view only seems naïve now that we have learned, by experience, how incorrigible the typical pedophile is. In any case it is hard to see, since the man had already been removed from priestly functions, how the granting of his request would have protected anyone — anyone, that is, except the Church. And, in fact, he was to go on his terrible merry way to marry and abuse his own children, and plenty of others, too.

But for this one delay in granting the man his dispensation — he received it in 1987, after all — the pope has been accused by certain Catholics of being no better than bishops who hushed up rumors of evil priests, or who moved them from parish to parish to hide their crimes. That is to construe his decision in the worst possible light, ignoring the fact that the sole question before Rome was whether the priest should be forgiven his vow of celibacy, and drawing an utterly unwarranted general conclusion from it. The absurdity of it all is demonic. In the pope we have almost the only man remaining in Europe who believes in the holiness of human sexuality and the gravity of sins against it; he has been most energetic in ensuring that instances of priestly malfeasance will not happen again; he has been open and generous in meeting with victims; and what does he get for it? He is accused of “crimes against humanity” by a pair of atheists who would be hard-pressed to ground their ideas regarding good and evil on anything more solid than their personal dispositions and the prejudices and preconceptions of their social class.

For, after all, we have lived pleasantly enough amid untreated sewage. Who yet stands against corrupting the imaginations and the bodies of young people? It is hard to find a newsstand in Europe that is not full of pornography of the most graphic sort. Drugstores in America are stocked with soft-core magazines blaring out their messages about hot sex. Television and the movie industry are sewers. One cannot even watch a sporting event without encountering the filth; a commercial for a certain protein product blithely boasts that the man who drinks it can evolve from “friends” to “friends with benefits,” meaning that women with whom he has a casual acquaintance will perform sexual favors for him. Our schools promote sexual experimentation, all under the awnings of “health” and “hygiene.” 

All of which makes the outrage against pedophilia somewhat puzzling. I can understand the sexual libertine finding it a bit unfair and unsettling, that an older person should use his greater understanding and his position of authority to procure sexual satisfaction from a youth. But what, according to their lights, makes the act downright heinous? If an older boy, say a senior in high school, plies a freshman with pornography and lures him into doing the same things that the adults in question did, we would throw the youngster a coming-out party, that’s what wewd do. For we have no sense that sex is for something holy, and that therefore it can be corrupted for ill uses.

And in the aggregate, taking all of our toxins into account, what sexual sins of ours do the most harm? Pornography warps the imaginations of many millions of young people and destroys many a marriage. Yet we live with it; it is America’s chief export; and if anyone ever accused one of the many thousands of Hugh Hefners, or their photographers, or their layout designers, or their willing strippers, of “crimes against humanity,” he would be laughed out of court. Adultery destroys families; fornication results in millions of children born out of wedlock, born without the natural protection and tutelage of both a mother and a father, things which should be theirs by right. Yet no one — almost no one, that is, except Pope Benedict — raises a contrary voice.

Who are the hypocrites here? Not the overwhelming majority of priests, who are clean, and who preach cleanness. We are the hypocrites. We are the ones who have flooded our own homes and schools and public places with filth; and then we are surprised when some people take the filth beyond what we have come to accept.
 

 

Anthony Esolen

By

Professor Esolen teaches Renaissance English Literature and the Development of Western Civilization at Providence College. He is a senior editor for Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity, and a regular contributor to Crisis Magazine. His most recent books are The Politically Incorrect Guide to Western Civilization (Regnery Press, 2008); Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child (ISI Press, 2010) and, most recently, Reflections on the Christian Life (Sophia Institute Press, 2013). Professor Esolen has also translated Dante.

  • georgie-ann

    very true,…

  • Deacon Ed

    where people, even before the earthquake, lived in abject poverty, they nevertheless seem to still have a palpable reverence for the body.

    Anthony you wrote: “For, after all, we have lived pleasantly enough amid untreated sewage. Who yet stands against corrupting the imaginations and the bodies of young people?”

    In Haiti, those attending Sunday Mass obviously dress for the occasion. Every man, woman and child is meticulously dressed, some women wearing hats, clothes neathly pressed and clean – despite the fact that so many people are now living in tents in the aftermath of the earthquake. Compare this with the average American Catholic church scene where, when distributing Holy Communion, most normal men need to shield their eyes against the uncovered bodies. The Haitians have a distinct appreciation for the God-given dignity of the body. Americans would benefit from a few months living in Haiti to model some of their values. Not everything American should be emulated.

  • Austin

    We Americans have a tendency to think that we are better than other people. This is party responsible for our attempts to remake the rest of the world in our image. While our country has a lot of good things about it, we also have some things, such as popular culture that are anything but good. In fact, popular culture has become worse and worse in my lifetime and it’s not getting any better.

    What can the “average” person do about this explosion of garbage? Well, don’t watch shows that are sewage, don’t buy publications that are toxic. Do this yourself and encourage others to do likewise. We can only change things one person at a time.

  • Jennifer

    Absolutely spot-on, and brilliant. America is indeed a sewer of sexual garbage.

  • Pammie

    I’ve often had the same thoughts about the paedophilia crisis. Where was the public and media outrage at Woody Allen’s behaviour with his girlfriend’s young daughter? Why does Roman Polanski still have a thriving career after his despicable and criminal acts with a 13 yr old? Why is that Hugh Hefner creature given ANY respect for building an empire on the naked backs of 18 yr olds?

    Not to give the bishops a pass- I emphatically do not-but there has always been an acrid whiff of hypocrisy pervading the “outrage” and frenzied coverage of these scandals most of the time. Naturally the enemies of the Church can hardly contain their delight and seize on any pretext to fan the fires of hatred, as we saw during the past Easter Season’s “rush to judgement” of our Holy Father.

    To paraphrase him though, the greatest enemies of our Church strike from within, a thought we should all keep foremost in mind and when we pray.

  • ralves

    Prof. Esolen,

    Your article is brilliant and absolutely true. Thank you and keep up the good work.

    Also, I am familiar with this parish and the pastor you speak of. He is a good and holy priest. I have also heard similar stories about his past. If they are indeed true, this priest is a hero and true pastor. God bless Him!

  • Thomas K

    You’re too soft on the Pope – in the documents featured in the NYT articles he showed absolutely no concern for the victims (or future victims) of these monsters – only for the reputation of the Church. They are an historical account of what he really thought, at least at the time, and rather than rationalize and attack, it would be far better for him to own up to it. And that has nothing to do with the “culture” other than the “culture” of the Church.

  • Bob G

    That was a beautifully crafted piece, segueing from physical to moral rot. Everything it says about our moral corruption is true. But let’s not forget the bishop who protected the pervert

  • Margaret

    Tony Esolen writes: “But for this one delay in granting the man his dispensation — he received it in 1987, after all — the pope has been accused by certain Catholics of being no better than bishops who hushed up rumors of evil priests …”

    No, that was not the only disturbing response from BXVI. Of more concern is that, while a cardinal at the Vatican, Joseph Ratzinger wrote a 2001 letter instructing bishops worldwide to report all cases of abuse to his office and to keep church investigations secret under threat of excommunication. This was abuse of power. It was a case of circling the wagons to protect the hierarchy before the children.

    I have great faith in our current culture. If the writings of the Old Testament, Chaucer, and Shakespeare are indicators of the degree of sexual deviance in society, we’ve come a very long way. Rape and pedophilia are abuses of power, and it is only relatively recently that we’ve started teaching our children that they don’t have to tolerate behavior from authority figures that makes them feel uncomfortable. I suspect child sexual abuse was probably far worse in past centuries because it was easier for adults to get away with it. Not so any more.

    It’s easy to blame the media or our culture for the failures of the Church. The real problem is a very old one and one which is at the root of most crime — abuse of power caused by lack of accountability. I think we need to do away with hierarchy within the Church and install a flat management structure that includes the laity as equal partners with bishops and priests. Our children are too precious for us to continue to trust a system that has failed them.

  • sibyl

    As always, a perceptive and timely article. I agree with Austin, who says that what we can do is to keep as much of the sewage out as we can.

    I earnestly wish that more people raising kids right now felt this way. Anytime I tell people that we don’t watch TV (at all?!) the implicit reaction is, “Oh, that’s over the top.” But I don’t think so. My oldest is a 13-yr-old girl, and the almost no one else we know is as concerned as we are about the music, images, movies, clothes, etc being peddled to this age group. It is very, very tough to find anything suitable for her to wear, listen to, and watch that doesn’t attack the innocence we’re trying so hard to protect.

    Maybe if more Catholics began cancelling subscriptions to magazines with nasty ads, began getting rid of cable packages that offer soft- or hard-porn, and started complaining loudly about the immodest clothes on offer, the flood might recede a little.

    I’m not holding my breath.

  • Brian English

    “You’re too soft on the Pope – in the documents featured in the NYT articles he showed absolutely no concern for the victims (or future victims) of these monsters – only for the reputation of the Church.”

    That is untrue. Specifically identify which documents featured in the NYT articles support your claim. These generalized smears are outrageous.

  • Brian English

    “Of more concern is that, while a cardinal at the Vatican, Joseph Ratzinger wrote a 2001 letter instructing bishops worldwide to report all cases of abuse to his office and to keep church investigations secret under threat of excommunication.”

    You have no idea what you are talking about. The transfer to the CDF of abuse cases was clearly meant to prevent cover-ups.

    “I think we need to do away with hierarchy within the Church and install a flat management structure that includes the laity as equal partners with bishops and priests.”

    How does your hierarchy theory explain the much more widespread abuse in the public school system?

    “Our children are too precious for us to continue to trust a system that has failed them.”

    There were six credible cases of abuse involving the Church in the entire country last year.

  • Micha Elyi

    Drugstores in America are stocked with soft-core magazines blaring out their messages about hot sex.

    Supermarket checkout aisles are also crowded with sex-gossip-sex magazines, soft-core porn produced for female tastes.

    Pornography warps the imaginations of many millions of young people and destroys many a marriage.

    Yes, and that’s why I’d like to see the women in Catholic media who frequently express concern about pornography end their silence regarding the ubiquity of female-consumed porn.

  • Margaret

    < < You have no idea what you are talking about. >>

    You’re dodging the point by throwing insults. B16’s letter requires explanation.

    >>How does your hierarchy theory explain the much more widespread abuse in the public school system?< <

    School districts often have the same problems — insufficient accountability, hierarchical management structures.

    >>There were six credible cases of abuse involving the Church in the entire country last year.< <

    That’s my point. Children and their parents generally won’t accept abuse any more. Some accountability, at least, has been established through the lawsuits, public outrage, greater exposure through the media, and closer supervision of priests.

  • Ryan Haber

    Back in the mid-1970s, a one-screen cinema in my mom’s hometown went belly up. The old management and program moved out. And something else moved in. My mom was in her twenties and had moved into the city with some girlfriends, so she did notice what happened. My grandma did, though, because she still had a few young boys at home, and scarier to her, she had a few teenage boys at home too.

    She was not happy to have an all-day, all-night, all-porn theater in her little town. Nor were a bunch of the women there. So, at church, they decided to act. They bought a bunch of brand-spanking new high-tech polaroid instant cameras. They began to march on picket lines outside the porn den, which had begun to draw large crowds in those days before VHS, DVD, or WI-FI. Many of the patrons turned on heel when they saw the gaggle of middle-aged women marching and chanting, praying rosaries and shouting at them. Those few hardy souls who braved that dangerous mob had their portraits snapped with polaroids. They were given the choice of taking the polaroid pictures home with them in exchange for not going in, or having the polaroid pictures published. When the town’s weekly paper came out next, a few dozen pictures appeared in a paid, full-page ad, each with a time and date listed below it. The title of the ad read “Proud Patrons of XYZ Adult Cinema.”

    The “adult” cinema was out of business within a month. Way to go, Grams!

    We can do the same sort of thing now. The simple fact is the “obscenity” is both illegal and virtually un-prosecuted (except sometimes if it involves children) in EVERY STATE. Did you know that? Every state has anti-obscenity laws on the books. The famous Flynt case (1972 or 1973 or so) didn’t abolish them, but only required that obscenity be judged on fairly loose standards. But did you know that EVERY SINGLE Federal prosecution of charges of interstate/import transport of obscenity has been SUCCESSFUL? There’s been something like 19 of them up to the start of the Bush administration. He escalated them somewhat. You know what the tactic was? Show the jury the smut and ask them if they want to come back to open court approving of such stuff as fitting their “community standards”. GUILTY every time.

    Press prosecutors to prosecute cases that you know. If you find your 12-year old watching the crap, did you know it is the distributor’s LEGAL RESPONSIBILITY UNDER CRIMINAL PENALTY to keep it away from him? Contact your prosecutor and nag him, like the widow nagged the judge.

    The American Psychological Association is going to put out the DSM-V soon. They are considering including “Sex/Porn Addiction.” If you know of or have a story of lives destroyed by this smut, write the APA and tell them. Pray. When they include such a listing, it will be open season for lawsuits against the purveyors of this filth – which is exactly what happened to the tobacco companies. America’s litigiousness may finally do our nation some real good.

    Technology exists to block the stuff. If they can bleep out every reference to the word “democracy” on the internet in China, you bet your booty they can do it to obscene pictures and videos here. We need to boycott companies that refuse, collaborate to start companies that will do it, and lobby Congress to require it. This power rests well within Congress’s existing (and constitutional) authority since almost all of this stuff goes across state lines.

    We need to do collectively what we cannot do individually.

    We can do something.

    Let’s get to work.

    And prayer.

  • Ryan Haber

    Pray, brothers and sisters, pray. The powers of hell are a work here, and are at least as invested as they are in abortion. More so, even. Abortion stops a beating heart; porn is the prime fuel that powers the abortion industry, rapes, adulteries, broken marriages, sloth at the workplace (SEC, anybody? And it’s not just there!), and so many more merriments for the devils.

    When we begin to take this on, and Church, we’re gonna have to sooner or later – Hell is going to go ballistic and open up with everything they’ve got. Mark my words. We ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

    Happily, Jesus Christ is Lord, and death is destroyed, our ancient enemy taken captive and led around in a triumphal possession as a spectacle for the saints and angels. We have nothing to fear in the army of the Lord of Hosts! Just keep praying, and let the Lord lead us in the fighting. The LORD is a warrior, LORD is his name!

  • Brian English

    “You’re dodging the point by throwing insults. B16’s letter requires explanation.”

    And it was explained extensively prior to Easter. Here is Ross Douthat dismantling Christopher Hitchens, who thought the letter was a smoking gun:

    The letter was not

  • Andrea

    Tony, absolutely horrifying….This is very like the abortion situation. We kill them by the millions year after year. Then along comes Susan Smith, drowning her two precious babies in a car so that she can carry on with a boyfriend–whoa! Where did she come from? We’re horrified! How do you get to be a Susan Smith? Well, she didn’t come out of thin air. She’s the product of the abortion culture, where children are convenient or inconvenient. Likewise here with pedophilia. Not that anyone else is to blame for their crimes–they alone are guilty for their acts of pedophilia. But our “whatever you do in the privacy of your own bedroom” culture has created just enough gray area for these weak and boundary-less people to sexualize everything and every relationship.

  • georgie-ann

    we surely do need to find our “initiative” and positive “can do” spirit again, AND our “mission” as it relates to these times,…

    i think we’ve been slowly lulled into semi-sleep,…

    the illusion is that we have been marginalized,…that our voices and efforts are puny and will be ineffective,…that some of our leaders are misguidedly misguiding us,…we’ve been dispersed and divided internally by numerous conflicting outlooks, and externally by the strong winds of secular cultural negativity that assail us,…

    but by re-focusing on our problematic situations-at-hand, while maintaining respect, we can see the urgent need to pro-actively revitalize ourselves, in sincerity of truth, from the rather discouraging and lackluster presentations which have become prevalent (and reflect more in the way of confusion than cohesion),…

    and we can begin again, from a fresh retake on the deep and powerful underlying Truths of what it means to be partakers of His divine nature, blessed recipients of the Real Presence, and the powerful and wise accompanying Graces–which can become the source of new wisdom, maturity and strength and purpose,…godspeed,…

  • Margaret

    Brian English writes, “You are either very uninformed or want to libel the Pope”

    You seem blind to a number of other possible options.

    Ratzinger’s letter actually referenced an earlier document that did threaten excommunication. The letter states, “Cases of this kind are subject to the pontifical secret.” This is disturbing.

    The point remains that abuse of power, rather than secular culture, is at the root of the abuse and the cover up.

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