Editors of First Things and Commonweal Comment on U.S. Scandals

“Moral Role of Catholicism Has Been Weakened,” Says Father Neuhaus

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NEW YORK, JUNE 12, 2002 (ZENIT.orgAvvenire).- It might take years for the Church in the United States to regain its moral prestige in the wake of the clergy sex scandals, says a leading Catholic intellectual.

Father Richard John Neuhaus, editor of First Things magazine, said in an interview, “The newspapers are blowing on the fire, this is true. Suffice it to think of the New York Times campaign against homosexual priests, one of the rare cases in which the sin is loved but not the sinner.”

The crisis has a clear consequence, Father Neuhaus stressed. The “moral role of Catholicism has been very weakened in the eyes of public opinion. We will regain prestige, but it is a process that might take years,” he said.

“Among other things, the storm has been unleashed at a time when the Bush administration was making assumptions for collaboration between Catholics and Protestants: a coalition that should have had a strong point in the Church, given that the evangelical congregations are not very weighty from the social and cultural point of view,” Father Neuhaus added.

“No, it´s not a conspiracy, but surely whoever wished to weaken this alliance has not let the occasion pass by,” he affirmed.

According to Father Neuhaus, the crisis will also weigh heavily within the Church.

“First, it was only the more progressive Catholics who called for reforms; now the call is also coming from the more conservative realms,” he said. “It is not a question of the same proposals, of course, but in any case the change is decisive.”

Meanwhile, Commonweal, a Catholic magazine that Father Neuhaus would describe as progressive, suggests in its latest issue that prudence is needed to evaluate the testimony of victims.

“They often say only what the lawyers advise them to say,” said editor in chief Paul Baumann.

“In the past, in the United States, the Church has done an excellent job at the social level, but it cannot be said that it has been heard to the same extent, for example, in sexual morality,” Baumann observed.

“I should not be the one to recall it, but in the last decades an increasingly ´liberal´ direction has developed in American society, stressing among other things a certain intolerance as regards institutions: a state of mind that, at this time, runs the risk of being translated into an outburst of anti-Catholicism,” Baumann warned.

And the faithful? “In general,” he said, “they are disturbed by the press´s revelations, but the most sensible regard the crisis as an occasion to make their own voice heard.”

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