‘All human problems become ones of neurochemistry’

Theodore Dalrymple reviews Sérotonine, Michel Houellebecq’s latest novel:

Not reading many contemporary French novels, I am not entitled to say that Michel Houellebecq is the most interesting French novelist writing today, but he is certainly very brilliant… [he identifies] the vacuity of modern life in the West, its lack of transcendence, lived as it is increasingly without religious or political belief, without a worthwhile creative culture, often without deep personal attachments, and without even a struggle for survival. …

Houellebecq’s underlying nihilism implies that it is not there to be found. The result of this lack of transcendent purpose is self-destruction not merely on a personal, but on a population, scale. Technical sophistication has been accompanied, or so it often seems, by mass incompetence in the art of living. Houellebecq is the prophet, the chronicler, of this incompetence. 

Even the ironic title of his latest novel, Sérotonine, is testimony to the brilliance of his diagnostic powers and his capacity to capture in a single word the civilizational malaise which is his unique subject. Serotonin, as by now every self-obsessed member of the middle classes must know, is a chemical in the brain that acts as a neurotransmitter to which is ascribed powers formerly ascribed to the Holy Ghost. All forms of undesired conduct or feeling are caused a deficit or surplus or malalignment of this chemical, so that in essence all human problems become ones of neurochemistry.  

On this view, unhappiness is a technical problem for the doctor to solve rather than a cause for reflection and perhaps even for adjustment to the way one lives. I don’t know whether in France the word malheureux has been almost completely replaced by the word déprimée, but in English unhappy has almost been replaced by depressed. In my last years of medical practice, I must have encountered hundreds, perhaps thousands, of depressed people, or those who called themselves such, but the only unhappy person I met was a prisoner who wanted to be moved to another prison, no doubt for reasons of safety.

Houellebecq’s one-word title captures this phenomenon (a semantic shift as a handmaiden to medicalisation) with a concision rarely equalled. And indeed, he has remarkably sensitive antennae to the zeitgeist in general, though it must be admitted that he is most sensitive to those aspects of it that are absurd, unpleasant, or dispiriting rather than to any that are positive.

Houellebecq satirises what might be called the neurochemical view of life which is little better than superstition or urban myth.

“His work, not least Sérotonine, is filled with disgust, as was [Jonathan] Swift’s: but it is the kind of disgust that can only emerge from deep disappointment, and one is not disappointed by what one does not care about. There is gallows humour on every page: the personage hanged being Western civilisation.”

Along New Hampshire Avenue

In leaving Arlington yesterday, I took the 38B Metrobus to Farragut Square and then walked north toward Dupont Circle and ultimately toward the Fund for American Studies on New Hampshire Avenue. It still feels very much like winter, but as dusk approached it was a beautiful time for a walk.

Look at some of those incredible trees. I doubt we’d plant trees today that would grow in that way.

‘As we sing, so shall we love’

Anthony Esolen writes on “recovering from cultural dementia:”

Mos amandi, mos cantandi: as we sing, so shall we love.  If we don’t sing, our love will become, or must already be, frail and thin.  Singing is what the lover does, said Augustine.  To know the truths of our faith, but not to sing them, is like knowing that God exists, but never to feel His presence; it is to know that we are loved, but never to feel the race of the heart.

“But we do sing at Mass,” someone says.  Yes and no.  There are songs, but most of the congregation is silent or is murmuring, because the songs are for Mass entertainment, having been conceived in form and content after the patterns of mass entertainment.

No one remembers the words, because the poetry is bad or nonexistent, and no one remembers the melodies, because they are bad or because they never were written to be sung by an entire congregation and its full range of human voices.

If people are defined by the poetry they share – by the songs they can all sing together with maybe one or two prompts to jog the memory, then we are undefined, not a people at all, only an aggregate.

When Jesus and his disciples prayed and sang at the Last Supper, they didn’t have to pick up a hymnal, good or bad.  They prayed and sang from their hearts, where they had kept their people’s poetry as treasure.  What pearls do we possess?

I have watched young Christians go into the world like minnows into Leviathan.  They go with imaginations unformed, and that is that.  They may attend services on Sunday, but they are as worldly as anybody.

So I am issuing a challenge to every Catholic school and parish – a poetic challenge:

First, get rid of the lousy poetry and lousy music. Stupidity is always a vice, says Maritain.  Nobody says, “It doesn’t matter what movies my child watches, so long as he watches movies,” or, “It doesn’t matter what my husband drinks, so long as he drinks.” Get rid of it.  Nobody but the church performers enjoys it anyway.  Replace it with real hymns.  Don’t think you can get those from the big presses, OCP and GIA and such, because they have mangled the texts and dragged them through the mud. Sing the poems, as they were composed.

Second, return to poetry.  The time is short, and the reward immense.  Fifty lines of Tennyson can be committed to memory; five hundred pages of Dickens, not so fast.  Have every student in your schools learn, say, twenty poems by heart.  And their elders, too, might join in – have a Poetry Night in your parish, with the stipulation that every poem be written in meter.

Eliminating the counterfeit from your life and replacing it with the authentic is one of the simplest things to aspire to, and probably one of the hardest things to do.

Along Wisconsin

A view from a morning’s walk along Wisconsin Avenue in Georgetown:

I took this on my way to work, headed toward Arlington. I’m grateful for this period of life, where the mornings include scenes as beautiful as this. What lends a neighborhood like this so much of its spirit is its general lack of the derivative and mundane. Even when there’s little activity, the aesthetic of the street is welcoming and lively, hinting at people yet to appear.

February Sunday in State College

After settling in Park Forest Village yesterday afternoon, visiting Mount Nittany’s trailhead, and enjoying Cafe Lemont as evening set in, we joined friends at Otto’s on Atherton Street for conversation and supper. Otto’s Night Owl was perfect; a smooth, creamy Irish stout. This morning I joined other Mount Nittany Conservancy board members for our first meeting of the year, held in the otherwise-closed Centre Region Council of Governments headquarters.

We hit the road in mid-afternoon, making it back to Washington in time for Marymount University’s 7pm mass.

Washington to State College drive

We left Washington, DC about half past six this morning and headed north, taking the scenic route to State College, Pennsylvania from I-70 past Hagerstown and then on along Pennsylvania route 416 to 75 to 522 to 22 to 26. This slightly longer route added about 15 minutes to the length of the trip, but what it cost in time it paid out in terms of scenic beauty: snow covered forests, historic and contemporary barns in every state of repair, winding roads along winding creeks and rivers, and beautiful farmlands broken up by periodic passes through little villages and towns. This wasn’t my first ever Washington to State College drive, but it was my first in nearly a decade and the first since I’ve started calling Washington home.

After a brief tour by car to become acquainted with the town, we headed to the Hintz Alumni Centenaries to decompress in Robb Hall, before walking north on campus and through Pattee/Paterno Libraries to the Nittany Lion Inn for lunch at Whisker’s. Staying in Park Forest Village, here for 36 hours or so.

Joining the board of the Mount Nittany Conservancy

In September I was appointed to the board of the Mount Nittany Conservancy, and this weekend I’ll be in State College to participate in the first meeting of the year.

Mount Nittany was one of the first natural symbols for Penn State, and continues to be probably the most recognized symbol of Central Pennsylvania and the Nittany Valley. The Mount Nittany Conservancy was founded in 1981 as a way to continue conserving hundreds of acres that had been purchased for preservation in previous decades, and to create a vehicle for continuing conservation and stewardship of Mount Nittany in its natural and “unimproved” state. The Mount Nittany Conservancy manages more than eight miles of volunteer-maintained trails and a number of scenic overlooks. If you’re not familiar with Mount Nittany, start with Conserving Mount Nittany or check out “Inspiriting Mount Nittany,” a talk I gave at Penn State last year:

There’s also “The Story of Mount Nittany,” a beautifully-produced feature on Mount Nittany that will make you feel like you’re right there in Lemont, at the Mountain’s trailhead and ready to hike:

And a few years ago I tried to answer Why Mount Nittany is on every Penn Stater’s bucket list:

In “The Legends of the Nittany Valley,” folklorist Henry Shoemaker records some of the American Indian and settler stories that provide a cultural and historical foundation for Penn State mythology, including Mount Nittany as our sacred symbol and pristine retreat, the love story of Princess Nittany and Lion’s Paw, and even the reclusive Nittany Lion.

Yet stories alone have no independent life to speak of; their significance grows from the affection, tenderness, and patience of the reader, from the moments spent in solitude or near friends with the words of a long-dead peer over a coffee at Saints or W.C. Clarke’s. Herodotus or Dante would be nothing without the gift of time and attention paid in gratitude by the living reader. It’s through that gift that we reverence something culturally significant, and make something from the past a part of our present time.

This is what tradition is, if distilled: the continuing act of encountering the past, helping it come alive again in some way, and then in due course becoming a part of the past ourselves as we look to the future. This beautiful notion is encapsulated in an even more beautiful, practical example: The singing of Robert Burns’s 1788 “Auld Lang Syne” every New Year’s Eve. It’s a literal and lyrical Scottish injunction to remember our friendships and honor days gone by on the eve of a new time.

This helps explain why Mount Nittany, by all accounts an ordinary Pennsylvania mountain, is nonetheless sacred for Penn Staters and the people of the valley. As with the stories of the past, we’ve infused the Mountain with a distinctive meaning. Penn State Professor Simon Bronner writes that we “inspirit the land” of Mount Nittany and places like it. We do this in a thousand distinct ways, through hikes alone to learning and sharing the same stories to nights spent with friends around a small fire.

The Mount Nittany Conservancy is what makes our experience of the Mountain possible—specifically what makes our experience of it as a natural space, protected from development, a perpetual part of the Nittany Valley experience. …

Nearly a century before many of us were born, Henry Shoemaker declared: “There is no spot of ground a hundred feet square in the Pennsylvania mountains that has not its legend. Some are old, as ancient as the old, old forests. Others are of recent making or in formation now. Each is different, each is full of its own local color.”

Mount Nittany is one of those Pennsylvania mountains, and the Nittany Valley remains a place where legends continue to take shape. Thanks to Henry Shoemaker’s stories, and the Mount Nittany Conservancy’s new podcasts, you can get a better sense for why the Mountain matters and why hiking it is such a special experience.

Hiking Mount Nittany is one of those things that finds its way onto the Penn State bucket lists of most students, and it’s something many make a ritual pleasure. A single hike often serves as an occasion for encounter with “local color” of the Mountain and the valley, a color which has a radiance that outlasts every autumn.

Fertility rates and population growth

A BBC report earlier this month examined Hungary’s attempt to spur a “baby boom with tax breaks and loan forgiveness,” because Hungary’s fertility rate is poor:

Hungarian women with four children or more will be exempted for life from paying income tax, the prime minister has said, unveiling plans designed to boost the number of babies being born.

It was a way of defending Hungary’s future without depending on immigration, Viktor Orban said.

The right-wing nationalist particularly opposes immigration by Muslims.

Hungary’s population is falling by 32,000 a year. Women there have fewer children than the EU average.

As part of the measures, young couples will be offered interest-free loans of 10m forint (£27,400; $36,000), to be cancelled once they have three children.

Mr Orban said that “for the West”, the answer to falling birth rates in Europe was immigration: “For every missing child, there should be one coming in and then the numbers will be fine.

“Hungarian people think differently,” he said. “We do not need numbers. We need Hungarian children.” …

Other points in the government’s plan include: A pledge to create 21,000 nursery places over the next three years; An extra $2.5bn to be spent on the country’s healthcare system; Housing subsidies; State support for those buying seven-seat vehicles.

A few of these policies are things that both Democrats and Republicans have spoken for in America. A few of these things should probably be embraced by both parties here, too. Hungary’s fertility rate is below the replacement rate necessary for a stable population:

The average number of children a Hungarian woman will have in her lifetime (fertility rate) is 1.45. This puts the country below the EU average of 1.58. … Niger, in West Africa, has the highest fertility rate in the world, with 7.24 children per woman.

There are some who suggest that replacement level population doesn’t matter, and that new immigrants are functionally the only reasonable way to stabilize or grow a diminishing nation. I think there are other acceptable answers to that problem. Hungry m might provide some answer.

Curtailing civil asset forfeiture

Mark Sherman reports on today’s U.S. Supreme Court Timbs v. Indiana ruling, which is a major victory for reigning in states that abuse civil asset forfeiture:

Tyson Timbs admitted he’d sold drugs, and he accepted his sentence without a fight. What he wouldn’t quietly accept was the police seizing and keeping the $40,000 Land Rover he’d had when arrested. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court sided with him unanimously in ruling the Constitution’s ban on excessive fines applies to the states as well as the federal government.

The decision, in an opinion written by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, could help efforts to rein in police seizures of property from criminal suspects.

Reading a summary of her opinion in the courtroom, Ginsburg noted that governments employ fines “out of accord with the penal goals of retribution and deterrence” because fines are a source of revenue. …

Timbs, of Marion, Indiana, was charged in 2013 with selling $400 worth of heroin. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a year of house arrest but faced no prison time. His biggest loss was the Land Rover he had bought with some of the life insurance money he received after his father died. Timbs still has to win one more round in court before he gets his vehicle back, but that seems to be a formality.

A judge in Indiana had ruled that taking the car was disproportionate to the severity of the crime, which carries a maximum fine of $10,000. But Indiana’s top court said the justices had never ruled that the Eighth Amendment’s ban on excessive fines — like much of the rest of the Bill of Rights — applies to states as well as the federal government.

Here’s C.J. Ciaramella for context on this practice:

2018 was a bad year for civil asset forfeiture, the infamous practice by which police can seize property even if the owner is not charged with a crime.

In late summer, Philadelphia settled a federal class-action lawsuit over its aggressive asset forfeiture program. (How aggressive? One 78-year-old pensioner had $2,000 seized after police found her possessing a small amount of marijuana, which her retired husband used to alleviate his arthritis.) The city agreed to drastically curtail when and how it seizes property from residents and to set up a $3 million fund for victims of its sticky-fingered cops.

Asset forfeiture will continue in Philadelphia, albeit in a limited form. But the salad days when police and prosecutors could seize 300 to 500 homes a year, according to the lawsuit, are now over.

Earlier in the summer, a federal judge struck down Albuquerque’s asset forfeiture program, ruling the city “has an unconstitutional institutional incentive to prosecute forfeiture cases, because, in practice, the forfeiture program sets its own budget and can spend, without meaningful oversight, all of the excess funds it raises from previous years.”

The U.S. Supreme Court, which previously seemed reluctant to interfere in such cases, has agreed to consider an asset forfeiture challenge out of Indiana. … Justice Clarence Thomas also sharply criticized the practice in a 2017 dissent in a different case. “These forfeiture operations frequently target the poor and other groups least able to defend their interests in forfeiture proceedings,” he wrote.

When agents of the government can “seize property even if the owner is not charged with a crime,” it should be clear enough that there’s a problem.

McCarrick

Hannah Brockhaus reported on Saturday that 88 year old former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick has been laicized, stripped “of all the rights and privileges of a cleric” and is now unable to function or refer to himself as a priest:

He was publicly accused last year of sexually abusing at least two adolescent boys, and of engaging for decades in coercive sexual behavior toward priests and seminarians.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith conducted an administrative penal process which found McCarrick guilty of “solicitation in the Sacrament of Confession, and sins against the Sixth Commandment with minors and with adults, with the aggravating factor of the abuse of power,” according to a Feb. 16 Vatican communique. …

Because Pope Francis personally approved the guilty verdict and the penalty of laicization, it is formally impossible for the decision to be appealed. …

The allegations of sexual abuse against McCarrick became public in June 2018 when the Archdiocese of New York reported that it had received a “credible” allegation that McCarrick sexually abused a teenage boy in the 1970s, while serving as a New York priest. McCarrick stepped down that same month from all public ministry at the direction of the Holy See.

In July, Pope Francis accepted his resignation from the College of Cardinals, ordering McCarrick to a life of prayer and penance pending the completion of the canonical process concerning the allegations. Since the end of September, McCarrick has been residing at the St. Fidelis Capuchin Friary in Victoria, Kansas.

It’s worth committing to memory the gravity of McCarrick’s crimes and their inevitable effects on the faith and fortitude of those who were near to him, first from a legitimate concern for the spiritual wellbeing of those concerned, and second for the healing and strengthening of Christians and communities corroded by the nature of McCarrick’s mendaciousness. In July 2018, J.D. Flynn wrote:

A new allegation of child sexual abuse was leveled against Cardinal Theodore McCarrick last Thursday, one month after the June announcement that he had been suspended from priestly ministry following an investigation into a different charge of sexual abuse on the part of the cardinal.

Along with emerging accounts from priests and former seminarians of sexual coercion and abuse by McCarrick, those allegations paint a picture of McCarrick’s sexual malfeasance that may be among the most grave, tragic, and, for many Catholics, infuriating, as any in recent Catholic history.

From all corners of the Church, questions are being raised about those who might have known about McCarrick’s misconduct, about how the Church will now handle the allegations against McCarrick, and about what it means for the Church that a prominent, powerful, and reportedly predatory cleric was permitted to continue in ministry for decades without censure or intervention.

Because McCarrick was a leading voice in the Church’s 2002 response to the sexual abuse crisis in the United States, and an architect of the USCCB’s Dallas Charter of the same year, the credibility of that response has also, for some, come into question.

…when a bishop behaves with sexual immorality, the effects ripple across his entire diocese. Priests and seminarians who object to that sexual immorality leave quickly, or find themselves marginalized. Those who rise to leadership positions are those who are left: those who are willing to accept the bishop’s sexual immorality, those who are complicit in it, or those who are too naive to notice it. Those in the first two categories, being willing to accept some rejections of Catholic teaching, are usually also likely to accept other rejections of Catholic teaching. That can be reflected in their pastoral leadership and catechesis, and consequently, an entire diocese can be formed with a theological perspective framed by relativism, tolerance of immorality, or compromise. The effects of a bishop’s sexual immorality can lead to spiritual and catechetical decline across an entire diocese.

Matthew Schmitz highlighted the words of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, a Doctor of the Church, who lived from 1090 to 1153:

“When such men are protected, supported, honored, cherished, many are greatly amazed and scandalized; since they most surely know of that in their characters and lives, which in any of the laity, to say nothing of a Bishop, should be severely censured and execrated. What it is I should be ashamed to write, and it would not befit you to read. Be it so, that without an accuser they cannot be deposed, yet why should those whom common rumor accuses be honored, and yet further exalted, with the special favor of the Apostolic See?”

Sohrab Ahmari called for the return of “sackcloth and ashes:”

McCarrick’s depravities–and the culture of laxness in the Church that enabled them–made it that much harder for Catholics to speak moral truth in a secular world starved for it. They defile the Church. They scandalize the faithful. They invite God’s wrath. …

Writers wiser than I have offered important policy recommendations for moving forward. But the first step is, as I say, sackcloth and ashes. I mean that quite literally. Following ancient Israel’s footsteps, the early Church adopted ashes as an expression of sorrow for sin. Depending on the sin, public penitents were required to wear ashes and sackcloth. The Church should bring back such practices. Whatever criminal and civil consequences await McCarrick, he should also be called to Rome and forced to circle Saint Peter’s Square in sackcloth and ashes, perhaps while the pope observes from the steps of the basilica. Or how about having McCarrick spend hours kneeling at a prie-dieu while Pope Francis looks upon him with anger and contempt? Others have proposed corporal punishments. I’m not opposed to these, either. The point is that the old apologies and settlements won’t do.

Ryan Scheel offered further context and described past practice:

…in the ancient Catholic Church, the punishments for clergy who sexually preyed on victims were not as relatively urbane as these modern approaches.

Saint Basil the Great, a Doctor of the Church, writing in the 4th-century, described how the early Catholic Church dealt with those guilty of sexual abuse among the clergy.

“Any cleric or monk who seduces young men or boys, or who is apprehended in kissing or in any shameful situation, shall be publicly flogged and shall lose his clerical tonsure. Thus shorn, he shall be disgraced by spitting in his face, bound in iron chains, wasted by six months of close confinement, and for three days each week put on barley bread given him toward evening. Following this period, he shall spend a further six months living in a small segregated courtyard in custody of a spiritual elder, kept busy with manual labor and prayer, subjected to vigils and prayers, forced to walk at all times in the company of two spiritual brothers, never again allowed to associate with young men.”

Ross Douthat called for a formal investigation into the scope of McCarrick’s influence and impact:

In 2013, when Pope Benedict XVI resigned, McCarrick was too old to vote in the conclave but was active in the politicking. When Pope Francis was elected, he became an eminence grise, whose lobbying helped elevate several of the new pope’s choices for high office in the American church — including the new cardinal archbishop of Newark, Joseph Tobin, and the head of the Vatican dicastery for family life, Kevin Farrell, both of whom considered McCarrick a mentor.

In other words, two decades after McCarrick should have been removed from his offices, defrocked and handed over to the civil authorities, he was instead wielding remarkable influence in the church … right up until the moment when a lifetime’s worth of crimes were finally dragged into the light.

I think this long and sickening narrative should clarify why the McCarrick case, though “only” about one abuser, merits an expansive and public accounting of the facts. Over the course of multiple decades, across a period in which not just crimes but cover-ups devastated the moral credibility of the church’s hierarchy, many important figures in Rome and the United States must have known that a man who embodied the official response to the scandal was as guilty as any of the priests whose conduct he pretended to deplore.

Someone, or indeed many someones, needs to be held accountable for this disaster. And that accountability requires more than self-exculpating statements from the cardinals involved. It requires judgment — which requires more certain knowledge — which requires investigation — which probably requires an investigator with a mandate from the pope himself.

R.R. Reno connected McCarrick to the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report on Catholic abuse:

In one sense, the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report tells us nothing we didn’t already know. But it spells things out in inescapable detail, in a series of case studies complete with diocesan memos and letters from bishops.

The lurid details of the actions of predatory priests are troubling. But still more troubling are the evasions of responsibility by those in charge—including, in some instances, secular authorities, who in the 1960s tended to cooperate with Church leaders in keeping things quiet. Well into the 1980s, bishops and their staffs were still employing the old techniques: shuttling malefactors to remote dioceses, stonewalling civil authorities, and working hard to “avoid scandal,” which means keeping secrets and minimizing accountability. …

The current culture of the American episcopacy makes even good men incapable of rooting out the corruption in their midst. One can’t help but cringe while reading the Grand Jury Report, the way one does in a car spinning slowly off the highway.

In memo after memo, bishops and their assistants downplay and cover up misdeeds, and evade doing the hard but right thing. …

…the episcopal establishment has been failing for a long time, and in many phases. It failed to secure the theological loyalty of Catholic colleges and universities. No diocese has systematically implemented the reforms of the liturgy encouraged by Pope Benedict. The American episcopacy oversees parochial school systems in decline, and sponsors social justice ministries run by people who reject the Church’s teaching on many moral matters. In recent decades, the bishops’ conference has made feeble efforts to recover the electoral influence it had when archbishops and cardinals were part of the Democratic party’s urban machines.

Despair says, “Nothing will change.” But that is false. Many of us have long known that we cannot trust Catholic schools run by the established system to teach our kids to be Catholic. Our response has been to found lay-run schools. The Neo-Catechumenate Way, Opus Dei, Communion and Liberation—like the religious orders founded in earlier centuries, these movements seek to do what the chancery-dominated, establishment Church can’t.

These movements are not anti-clerical. They don’t reject the bishops. But they don’t wait around for the episcopal establishment, which is so often unable to meet the challenges of our time. …

Collectively, the American bishops lack moral and spiritual authority. That does not make them irrelevant. They will need to get their act together and address their obvious failures. But the sources of renewal will come from elsewhere, from determined, energetic, and faithful men and women who don’t wait around for bishops to act. That’s how the gospel has been well served so often in the past.

And Michael Brendan Dougherty calls for “better men” and investigation:

Fifteen years ago Frank Keating, the former governor of Oklahoma, resigned from a panel called the National Review Board, set up by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to monitor compliance with the Church’s new anti-abuse politics. He was under intense pressure to resign because he had offended bishops when he said some of them were acting like “La Cosa Nostra,” a reference to the Sicilian Mafia.

Cardinal Roger Mahoney of Los Angeles and other prelates made a great show of detesting Keating’s remarks. Keating refused to apologize. “My remarks, which some bishops found offensive, were deadly accurate. I make no apology,” he said. “To resist grand-jury subpoenas, to suppress the names of offending clerics, to deny, to obfuscate, to explain away; that is the model of a criminal organization, not my church,” Keating said in his resignation statement.

Keating was dismissed as a crank. …

Of course, Keating was right. Mahoney was later exposed as having engaged in an energetic attempt to cover up the truth about his own diocese. He shielded predators from law enforcement and even argued that the personnel files of the archdiocese were protected by the seal of the confessional. …

The Pennsylvania grand-jury report names hundreds of predator priests across seven decades of life in six Catholic diocese in the state. Some of the details in the report are so vile and lurid they would have been rejected from the writer’s room of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit. They include priests “marking” their preferred boy-victims with special crosses, priests trading and compiling their own homemade child pornography. At one point in the report, a large redaction is made over what appears to be, in context, a ritualized and satanic gang-rape of a young boy by four priests. …

Other state attorneys general should do investigations like Pennsylvania’s. As a Catholic, I’m tired of waiting for the next red slipper to drop. If the Church cannot govern itself from within, then it will be governed from without. That’s not a policy, but the iron law of history.

“We are deeply saddened,” they say. Spare us this fake public-relations drivel. We don’t need your sadness, we don’t need new policies. We need better men.