I became casual friends with Rod Dreher when he lived in Brooklyn with the beautiful Julie, and I lived in Manhattan alone. Newly married and not yet a father, he was writing movie reviews for the New York Post; this was before his move to National Review and ever-increasing fame.
We talked back then about what we referred to as Crunchy Cons. I called it Conservative Bohemianism, but Crunchy Cons was better. We were never close friends, just friendly acquaintances. I introduced him one year at the Human Life Review annual dinner where he received an award. That night, I told the story of the 54-Day Rosary Novena he said before meeting his wife, as I recall, on the last day of the Novena.
Then 2002 came, and Rod started reporting on the priest sex scandal. Many of us thought Rod was going too far, going off the deep end, pulling out his hair. Like many others, I just could not believe some of the things we were hearing. What’s more, I instinctively thought that the bishops were doing, if not the right thing, then the thing that made sense given who they felt they had to listen to: insurance companies, lawyers, and psychologists.
I just could not believe that Cardinal Law, for instance, was the bad guy. I just could not believe that such a friend to the pro-life movement was an enemy. I thought this was almost certainly the devil’s way of ridding us of such a valuable ally.
I believed the bishops had to protect the Church, that the lawyers were probably right to offer compensation to victims and require them to keep quiet so as not to scandalize the faithful.
What’s more, they were following the best “scientific” advice from psychologists, that these men could go into counseling and be “cured” such that they could enter ministry again, at least away from young people. A few years after 2002, I was with one of the most celebrated psychiatrists in the country, one who is Catholic and outspokenly pro-life [not Paul McHugh] and I asked him if his profession held that pedophilia could be cured. He said yes.
I thought the media was ginning up what was a scandal, to be sure, but one that was small, localized, and now blessedly over. And Rod was banging out story after story bringing down the Church. I thought he was overemotional. He was making things worse.
I recall perhaps the last time I was with Rod. It was at some conference years ago, still in the shadow of ‘02. I don’t remember where. We sat at a table along with Robert Royal and David Mills, and we talked about this issue. I don’t remember the exact conversation, but it was strained. There was already an estrangement over this issue and what he was doing. At that time, as we have come to know, Rod was under severe pressure from influential Catholic laymen and from important bishops to lay off. Father Neuhaus actually yelled at him. You are hurting the Church, they told him. This will blow over. This is being handled. Handled. Yes.
Rod explained all along that he had stories, horrible and sickening stories that he could not report because no one would go on the record. We now know that one of the stories was about the crimes of then Cardinal McCarrick. When the McCarrick story broke a few weeks ago, I was surprised to discover in the New York Times that one of the heroes in the McCarrick story was one of my old spiritual directors, Fr. Boniface Ramsey, then pastor of St. Vincent Ferrer on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Fr. Ramsey had gone to Cardinal Egan, Cardinal O’Malley, and the Vatican and no one did anything. Ramsey went to a frustrated Dreher, too, but he would not go on the record.
My casual friendship with Rod was never the same again. And at this remove, I can say this: Rod was right, and I was wrong.
My understanding of this crisis deepened a few years ago when the movie Spotlight came out, despite containing some inaccuracies. The press were the heroes. Churchmen were the goat. My eyes were opened to how criminal and smarmy this whole business is. And not just the abuse—indeed the abuse, but also the clericalism of it all, and the old-boyism. They are on the inside and to hell with the rest of us.
Rod responded in those days, he said, as a father. He had boys and was horrified at what had happened to other boys and young men. I was then a few years from marriage and fatherhood. I do not have boys, but I am now horrified in the same way because of my 13-year-old and 9-year-old daughters.
So, all those years ago, Rod was right, and I was wrong, and now I say this to Rod: Pedal to the metal. Tell it all. Tell it loud. Tell it long. Let the chips and even the prelates fall where they may.
(Photo credit: Qideas.org / Youtube)