I’LL NEVER FORGET the afternoons I spent with Garry Wills. I’d watch with a certain awe as he squatted, stripped to the waist, before a beer keg in the basement, throwing his head back to deep-throat a virtual torrent of no-price beerwinning the contest for speediest binge consumption, or "TANG," as we used to call it in those less-puritanical Yale days….
Okay, that was Garry Wills, Junior, whom I knew passingly in collegethe son of the crotchety, sometimes scholarly, often hysterical critic of the Catholic Church. I’ve heard from a pal at National Review that the elder, pudgier Wills honed his skills as a dissenter from Church teachings way back in the early ‘60s, as he penned a defense of William F. Buckleywho infamously rejected Pope John XXIII’s authority, when that Pope taught that Catholics have a duty to orient the economy so that it benefits the poor. Once Wills breached the dam in defense of Darwinian capitalism, it was simple to barrel forward and promote ever more fashionable heresies, starting with the embrace of birth control, and endingwho knows where? Wills still calls himself a Catholic, but he seems to use the title as a convenience, a license to launch ever-more hateful screeds against his betters, those men and women who actually try to maintain a demanding moral code in promiscuous times, even when it makes a comfortable, bourgeois modern life hard to maintain. (All those grabby, needy, noisy, stinky children, who could so easily have been contracepted...) He now rejects the Church’s teaching on abortion, sexuality, the priesthood, the sacramentsechoing the whole dull catalogue of non serviams voiced so much more eloquently by James Joyce, so very long ago.
With the courage of a schoolyard bully, Wills lines up with The New York Times, the academic establishment, the nattering hordes of magazine editors and journalists, TV commentators and pundits, polo-shirt Jesuits and convent-based Wiccans, to pummel the few under-funded, beleaguered Catholic institutions which still cling to Christ’s teachings, with whatever grimy weapons come to his hand.
Wills’ latest attack is on the very institution of the priesthood, and his blackjack of choice is pedophilia. In his current essay in The New York Review of Books, Wills deploys his surprisingly empathetic insight into creepy psychological disorders to explore the sexual arousal patterns of men such as Paul Shanley who rape young boys in church. At the center of Wills’ discussion occurs this passage, which deserves our reluctant attention:Priestly pedophilia is also set apart from other varieties by the fact that the seduction technique employs religion. Almost always some form of prayer has been used as foreplay. The very places where the molestation occurs are redolent of religionthe sacristy, the confessional, the rectory, Catholic schools and clubs with sacred pictures on the walls. One of the victims of Father Paul Shanley, of the Boston archdiocese, says that his ordeal began in the confessional, when he confessed the "sin" of masturbation. The priest told him that masturbation could be a "lesser evil" and that he would help him work out his problem. He did this by taking him to a cabin he kept in the woods, where the priest taught the boy how they could masturbate each other.
This pattern occurs over and overa conjunction of the over-strict sexual instruction of the Church (e.g., on the mortal sinfulness of masturbation, even one occurrence of which can, if not confessed, send one to hell) and a guide who can free one of inexplicably dark teaching by inexplicably sacred exceptions. The victim is disarmed by sophistication and the predator has a special arsenal of stun devices. He uses religion to sanction what he is up to, even calling sex part of his priestly ministry. One victim of Father Shanley says that he represented his sexual predation as an act of "healing." According to a gay weekly, Shanley had made the same claim in a public speech.
What Wills fails to mention is the factdocumented here two weeks agothat Fr. Shanley never taught or defended the Catholic teachings on these subjects. Himself the victim of seduction by a homosexual priest, Shanley became a prominent gay activist, operating a pick-up "street ministry," lionized by the liberal media of Boston, helping to found the North-American Man/Boy Love Association (NAMBLA), blackmailing Cardinal Madeiros when the latter tried to rein in his heresy and excesses. The gay History Project still chronicles this action by Madeiros, as if it were an anti-gay abuse by the oppressive institutional Church. Dignity, the "mainstream" gay Catholic dissenters group, still lists Shanley, without betraying a hint of shame, as one of its early spokesmen. As much as gay activists seem embarrassed by their early embrace of NAMBLA, some can’t seem quite to disentangle themselves from its sticky tentacles….
With equal shamelessness, Wills cites the dissenting Abp. Rembert Weakland as an example of a prelate who failed to quash pedophilia in his diocese. The leftist, anti-papal Weakland made himself beloved in the early ‘80s, by blaming sexual encounters between teen-aged boys and priests on sexually-savvy aggressive adolescents, who (he suggested) seduced the priests. (This statement and others like it were documented in the often-dismissed Catholic broadsheet The Wanderer, and in Richard Cowden-Guido’s invaluable, out of print, John Paul II and the Battle for Vatican II, which is still available used.)
Wills admits that almost all the cases of sexual predation by priests involved homosexual mennot pedophiles who target children, but immature gay men who slipped through the Church’s filters and got themselves ordained. Yet Wills has fought every initiative launched by Rome to clean up American seminaries, to root out the gay subculture which liberal bishops have fostered, or to enforce the Church’s rigorous condemnation of pornography and promiscuity. The gay subculturewhich Michaelangelo Signorile, among others, has acknowledged is replete with erotica celebrating encounters between teen-aged boys and older menis not the problem for Wills. No, it’s the Church’s "over-strict" morality, its excessive demands, which drives gay priests into the arms of teenagers, which drives gay men into the ranks of the clergy, which drives bishops to ignore and fail to discipline pedophiles.
Does this make sense yet to you? It can be justified only by recourse to the crudest possible "hydraulic" psychology, which imagines that sexual urges are mechanistic forces which get "pent-up" if unreleased, which cannot be sublimated or controlled, and which go off in perverse directions if denied "healthy" release. Of course, that theory fails to explain why most pedophiles are married men, most rapists have regular sexual partners, and most vowed celibates do not molest anyone. It falsifies the experience of thousands of good priests and holy nuns, who have dedicated themselves and their sexuality to a mystical marriage with Christ, and of the millions of Catholics around the world who know and trust their local parish priest.
It is, in short, a liea malicious one, told by a learned man who knows better, but who’s blinded by hatred of a Faith he abandoned long ago. Wills has no more right to call himself a Catholic than the Sephardic-descended inquisitor Torquemada had to call himself a Jew. Wills’ next book is titled Why I Am a Catholic. Its subtitle ought to read: "Why I Am Also the Queen of Spain."