A Questionable Purpose, A Test of Words

Part of The Revealer’s series on the John Jay report,The Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950-2010.”

by Jack Downey

Last month, a team of researchers from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, led by Dr. Karen Terry, published a 150-page report entitled The Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950-2010 .  The report is the second installment of  research into the scandal that has crushed the American Church for the past two decades as reports of abuse and its administrative cover-up came to light, the high-water mark being the 2003 prison murder of convicted abuser priest John GeoghanCauses and Context is the culmination of five years of research initiated by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) National Review Board, to the tune of $1.8 million, approximately half of which was funded by the USCCB itself.  Its preceding document, The Nature and Scope of the Problem of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests and Deacons in the United States, was meant to be a descriptive analysis of the phenomenon – cataloguing the 10,667 individual reports of sexual abuse by clergy from 1950 through early 2003 – with Causes and Context providing more analytical reflection.  However, the study’s immediate legacy has been marred by allegations—and threats–from critics of all stripes that the research itself was crippled in some way by ethical bias, aggravating the already tectonic divisions within American Catholicism on the subject. Continue Reading →

Much Love to You Always, Dorothy

All the Way to Heaven: The Selected Letters of Dorothy Day; Marquette University Press (2011), $35

Reviewed by Jack Downey

The acclaimed Catholic University of America professor, John Tracy Ellis, once said that you can’t be a good historian unless you enjoy reading dead people’s mail. Happily for anyone who considers herself a Dorothy Day aficionado but has neither the resources nor the particular inclination to hoof it out to Milwaukee to visit the glorious Dorothy Day-Catholic Worker Archives at Marquette University, the universe has given us the Orbis Books editor-in-chief and Day historian extraordinaire, Robert Ellsberg. His new anthology of Dorothy’s letters, All the Way to Heaven, joins its brick-sized companion volume of her journals – The Duty of Delight – to give anyone with a public library card or an few extra bucks in his pocket a glimpse into the intimate thoughts and correspondence of this icon of progressive American Catholic activism. That said, if you’re looking for an excuse to visit the birthplace of affordable hipster-friendly light beer, then a trip to the archives might be just what the doctor ordered.

David O’Brien, the eminent American Catholic historian and professor emeritus at Holy Cross, has called Dorothy Day “the most significant, interesting, and influential person in the history of American Catholicism.” Continue Reading →

Enter the Dragon: How Al Gore, the U.N., Earth First!, and an Episcopalian Bishop are All in Cahoots… with Satan

by Jack Downey

In 1964, Richard Hofstadter published a rather enduring essay in Harper’s Magazine that succeeded, if nothing else, in accomplishing what most (egomaniacal) writers only fantasize about: he coined a new phrase that had legs, and has proved a valuable addition to our intellectual lexicon.1 “The Paranoid Style in American Politics” investigated the social psychology behind the contemporary rise of the anti-intellectual “Radical Right,” and witnessed profound similarities between his allegedly secular subjects – although the distinction is not as clean as he seems to hope (especially in his treatment of anti-Catholicism) – and Christian millenarianism:

I call it the paranoid style simply because no other word adequately evokes the sense of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy that I have in mind…2 The distinguishing thing about the paranoid style is not that its exponents see conspiracies or plots here and there in history, but that they regards a “vast” or “gigantic” conspiracy as the motive force in historical events.

Continue Reading →