Friday, June 7, 2013

Michael D'Antonio: What Was Lost

When I began to read this intriguing book about the crisis of sexual abuse of children that corrupted the Catholic church in the United States in the second half of the 20th century, I could not imagine why the author, Michael D’Antonio, began it with an account of the fall of papal Rome to Italian national troops at the battle of Porta Pia in 1878. That seemed an odd place and time to start a book about the American church in the late 1900s and early 2000s. But by the end of the book, the realization dawned: D’Antonio was simply implying that the sexual abuse crisis and the church’s mishandling of it is the second fall of papal Rome. The first, with the end of the papal states, deprived the church of its earthly authority. The second deprived the church of its moral credibility.

That is really too bad, because the end of the 20th century was, as others have said, shaping up to be the Catholic moment, that point in history when the church’s vocabulary and wealth of thought on issues like social and economic justice, just war, the protection of life and so many other issues confronting humankind would set the terms of civil society’s debate of those issues and, in the best result, provide the means of analysis as well. Alas, that did not happen. The Catholic moment was never to be, and the reasons for that are exposed by the stories told in Mortal Sins.

I say stories, plural, because D’Antonio’s book is an artful stringing together of a number of accounts, beginning in 1984, when the sexual abuse crisis first broke with the case of the Rev. Gilbert Gauthe, a serial molester of children in the Diocese of Lafayette, La., and ending with the conviction in 2012 of Msgr. William Lynn, former secretary for clergy of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, on a charge of child endangerment. These episodes are appropriate book ends because they emphasize two of the major themes: the horrible abuse perpetrated by the church’s ordained ministers and the utter mishandling of these abusers by so many chancery officials, from clergy personnel directors to diocesan bishops.

UNITED STATES

America

June 17, 2013

Nicholas P. Cafardi

Mortal Sins

Michael D'Antonio