Sexual abuse is deplorable, no matter where it occurs. But one wonders: Why the near hysteria regarding sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, most of which occurred decades ago, from a society that celebrates the lack of constraints against almost every form of sexual activity, no matter how degraded? Is there any other instance of sexual abuse that generates similar outrage in the media? One answer might be that the Church is held to a higher standard because it professes a higher standard. But there is a deeper reason for the media attack that has nothing to do with moral outrage.
One of the stark features of modernity is the conflict between two very different views of morality: moral relativism versus the natural law. The difference between these views resides in the way they draw a line between right and wrong.
Moral relativism says the line is set uniquely according to one’s estimation of the good and bad intentions or consequences of an act. Natural law says the line is set according to three criteria: the nature of the act itself, the intentions of the person, and the context of the act. In other words, the follower of natural law holds that a bad act — for instance, fornication — cannot be made good by good intentions (affection) or by its consequences (physical relief or fulfilment).
At the most basic level, what separates the two sides is the ultimate meaning of life. One believes that that meaning is immanent: It is essentially about having fun. You might say it has its own trinitarian god: Food, Fantasy, and Fornication. The other side believes that the purpose of life is transcendent: to know, love, and serve God. The morality of natural law seeks to maintain our humanity as traditionally understood through the Judeo-Christian heritage. Moral relativism seeks its complete re-engineering. For the former, freedom means freedom to do what is objectively right. For the latter, it means freedom to define what is right.
While this may seem abstract and of interest mainly to academics and intellectuals, it has implications that spill out into the public square, principally in the form of a debate about the proper attitude toward sex.
The traditional concept of sex, rooted in the sexual revolution initiated 3,000 years ago by Judaism and later reinforced by Christianity, asserts that sex is meant to bond man and woman and to be open to new life. To be truly human, sex must be part and parcel of a person-to-person relationship based on a lifelong commitment open to life.
Moral relativists uphold the recreational view of sex — perhaps best characterized as the Playboy view — emanating from the sexual revolution of the 1960s. It postulates that sex is essentially a pleasure game, with orgasm as the goal and the partner as the means to achieve it. It admits of no God and no personal conscience and assumes we are driven by instincts we can’t control. Attempts at self-control may even be viewed as unhealthy.
The recreational view of sex, propagated often by the media and academia, is now dominant, which explains a good deal of the sea change that has taken place over the past half century in Western society: the prevalence of common-law partnerships over marriage, the high rate of divorce, the widespread practice of contraception and abortion, the legitimization of gay lifestyles, and, coming soon, the acceptance of polygamy and bestiality.
As for the traditional view of sex, it has been forced into beating a retreat. Mainstream Protestant churches have long abandoned it and are now competing among themselves to determine which is most liberal. The Roman Catholic Church stands virtually alone in defending traditional sexual morality and is constantly mocked for doing so — even by some of its own laity and clergy.
The one institution within the Church that has been unflinching in its resistance to this onslaught is the papacy. It stands as a rockagainst the winds of sexual liberalism. This is precisely what makes it the favorite target of moral relativists: It won’t yield to the pressures to usher in a new age liberated from the old Judeo-Christian morality, thus preventing them from claiming total victory in the culture wars of the 21st century.
This helps explain why the mainstream media are constantly attacking Pope Benedict XVI. The first attack took place in September 2006 when, in Regensburg, his appeal for a reasoned debate on freedom of conscience was depicted as a rant against Muslims. The second came a little over a year ago, when he was raked over the coals for saying that recourse to condoms was worsening the AIDS crisis in Africa. In the latest attack, the denunciations of sexual abuse are meant to tarnish his moral integrity.
The media are going for the jugular because they now understand that the Catholic Church will never water down its sexual morality, and that the only way to neutralize its moral influence is to discredit its highest authority. Where mockery will not do the trick, try defamation and distortion.