Collateral Damage

By Ross Douthat
The Atlantic
November 16, 2007

My mother (yes, even I have a mother) has a web essay over at First Things on the impact of the Catholic sex abuse scandal on the laity, and the creeping tyranny of the insurance industry over the life of the Church. Here's how it starts:

    Eight years ago in our urban Catholic parish in Connecticut, a teenager I'll call Elizabeth started a club for girls ... In the beginning, the club met in the Parish Hall. Anywhere from six to twelve girls, aged ten to eighteen, would sit around a small table, reading the Bible together or making cards for the residents of a nursing home they visited monthly. They would share snacks and devise skits, pray the rosary, and celebrate one another's birthdays. The older girls mentored the younger girls, modeling for them the endangered truth that a girl can be both sophisticated and innocent, devout and fun. On Holy Days, they attended Mass together. They studied the saints, went on field trips, dedicated themselves to Mary.

    Eventually, there was a conflict. The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, a religious education program for three- to six-year-olds, needed the hall on the same afternoon, and our girls asked for and received from our pastor permission to meet on an enclosed stage in the same hall, far enough from the younger children that noise wasn't a problem. This stage area turned out to be a kind of teenage heaven, with comfortable sofas, a kitchen in the rear, and its own bathroom. In the wake of the sexual-abuse scandals in the Church, one or more mothers, our backgrounds checked and cleared by the relevant authorities, would sit outside an open door, keeping an eye on the club but also trying to preserve its charism, which was about peer formation, taking responsibility, and making the life of the Church their own.

    Summer came, and the club didn't meet. In August, referred by our pastor to a lay brother I'll call Giles, I asked if the same arrangement would obtain in the fall. Not meeting my eyes, he said briefly that the girls could continue to meet but not on the stage. They could meet in the library next door, a dark masculine room whose dimensions are almost entirely taken up by a table.

    A day later, gathering my courage, I telephoned Brother Giles, explained my concerns, and asked why the girls couldn't meet on the stage. An abstract, evasive explanation followed, tinged with bitterness, in which the word "bifurcation" figured prominently. No two groups could meet in the same space at the same time, he said. An adult male organization, for example, couldn't meet in the hall at the same time as the catechesis.

    I was still confused, so finally he said what he meant: Our girls couldn't meet on the stage on Wednesday afternoons because of the possibility that they might molest the younger children.

    I was too stunned to make the obvious objections—the physical distance between the two groups; their entirely separate facilities; the intermediary presence of watchful adults. I simply blurted, "But Brother, some of those children are our girls' younger brothers and sisters!"

    "Oh," he said grimly, "that's no objection unfortunately."

Read the whole thing .


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