For our struggle is not against principalities and powers, but against positive feedback loops.

Why do I say that the Catholic Church is doomed?  Because she is caught in a positive feedback loop whereby the bishops are demanded to do things which will only trigger more rage against them and demand for reforms with the same effect in a cycle that can only end with the destruction of the Church as we know it.

“Accountability for bishops” might sound like we’re finally taking the heat off of our unfairly reviled parish priests, but in fact this will be much worse for them.  Now every semblance, not only of a presumption of innocence, but even of a possibility of establishing innocence must be dropped, because the boss’s own ass is on the line, and he’ll do anything to avoid being the guy who “didn’t act”, which will be identified with “covered up”.  Type II errors will not be tolerated; type I errors are not even acknowledged to exist.  Nobody will criticize a bishop for sacking an innocent priest.

Well, maybe we can live with that, right?  After all, the fraction of priests we’re talking about is small.  Even if they’re innocent, we can get by without them, and it’s worth it to protect the Church from liability.  We can set an absolute upper limit on the rate of false accusations (it can’t be larger than all of them), and personnel-wise, it’s something bearable.  But this is to commit the great fallacy that social phenomena have remained and will remain constant.  In fact, I suspect that the rate of false accusations has not been constant, that it has been increasing and will increase drastically once it becomes common knowledge that a priest has no possibility of exonerating himself.

The original studies in the 90s found about 2% of priests accused.  The John Jay report found about 4%, but estimated about half of these to be false.  (That doesn’t mean all the new accusations were false, because the latter report surveyed many more diocese.)  A natural guess is that false accusations were quite rare when accusations against priests first began to surface but became increasingly common as the “pedophile priest” became a recognized cultural meme.

There is a “script” which the public has come to expect in accusations of sexual misdeeds, e.g. rape accusations against prominent persons.  The assumption is that there is a pattern, so multiple victims are expected.  First one accuser will come forward, then another, then another.  Each new accuser faces a lower bar of credulity than the one before.  The very fact of one’s own accusation being part of a pattern lends it credibility, and the addition of a new accusation confirms the presumption of the pattern.  There is an element of circularity here which is hopefully broken by the independent evidence of some of the early accusations.  There are many reasons an already-accused person might be more likely to draw false accusations.  Those seeking attention or money will prefer the greater willingness of the public to believe accusations against such a person.  Some might even make a false accusation out of misplaced zeal for justice:  they are already convinced the accused is guilty (because of the prior accusations), and they hope that one more accusation will seal the deal and ensure justice for the true victims.  We saw this happen in real time during the Kavanaugh hearings, and I suspect it may have happened in a number of high-profile sexual misconduct cases that have been in the news of late.  In fact, as the populace is coached to see a pattern (priest = always guilty), I expect false accusations to increase without limit until legal or vigilante persecution puts an end to the Church.

That is assuming that bishops do conscientiously condemn each other.  Of course, they won’t do so consistently.  “Bishop so-and-so didn’t believe an accuser or sent a priest to counseling decades ago, but he’s had decades of good service, so let’s let him retire quietly.”  You know what that will be called, right?  It’s a cover-up of the cover-up!  Whole new scandal, more lamenting that the bishops aren’t taking sexual abuse seriously.  If bishops denounce each other, their denunciations are believed, proving that bishops are evil.  If bishops refrain from denouncing each other, it proves that bishops are evil.  Nothing the bishops can do will win them credit or “restore trust”.

As time goes on, the episcopacy devotes more and more of its attention and resources to sexual abuse issues, to the neglect of all else.  Already, the laity demands this, saying that the Church cannot speak to the presumably morally-superior world (the implied assumption popping up again that the null hypothesis is false) until she has her own “house in order”.  The only logical conclusion is for the bishops to plead for atheists to rule over them, since Catholics cannot be trusted to rule themselves.  Church membership collapses ever faster.  Why bother being part of a group whose sole focus is how shameful it is and how it needs to reform when you can get on with your life and join a religion that lets you focus on the big questions, building a meaningful life, and being part of something you can be proud of?

I don’t point this out to convince any of you to do anything different or to stop with your reform demands.  At this point, the outcome is locked in.  It might as well have already happened.

7 Responses

  1. The real question is which feedback loop will reach critical mass first? Will the holiness spiral of leftism collapse society, or will the Church completely erode her credibility? Which implodes first, the society, or the institution whose cultural capital allowed the society to exist in the first place?

  2. Sounds like you are beginning to understand the NRxish analysis. Holiness spirals, of course not Catholic holiness, but Leftist holiness.

    To explain the theory a little bit. Humans always have values, always consider things good or bad, right or wrong. It’s a universal. It does not necessarily look like morality in the usual sense, you could say it is something of which morality is a subset of, perhaps, as some people simply consider pleasure good and pain bad. But anyway, the valuation in itself is always there. And it is also universal or natural that people who tend to do things or have the virtues we consider good are praised, respected, get status and trusted with power, and people who tend to do things we consider bad and have the faults or vices we consider bad tend to be disrespected, get low status, repressed, marginalized, cast out, or even outright killed.

    And of course everybody wants to be in the first group. And thus we compete in trying to be or look better than others. One kind of spiral, it is the simpler and less harmful one, is to become paragons of virtue. Let’s take the Catholic view on sex. It must happen in marriage and no protection, but within these conditions you are allowed to enjoy it. So how does someone look holier than you? By claiming he does not enjoy it, just does it as a duty. Someone else wants to look even holier and practices and preaches widespread celibacy. So you get the Shakers who simply go extinct due to not having kids. Or one could go even more radical and castrate himself. This is what people call religious fanaticism but really just extreme level of status competition spirals. It can be entirely secular like Communist > Socialist > Liberal, or fruitarian > vegan > vegetarian. The antidote against this is personal rule: a Pope or King denouncing and punishing those who try to be holier than him i.e. try to claim higher status by doing these extreme stuff.

    There is a more dangerous version. You see, since status is relative, an often easier case is reducing the status of others instead of increasing yours. That is instead of trying to be super holy, which is difficult, simply accusing and attacking others of being evil. Again, has religious or secular versions. And it spirals into mass cruelty, because as people one-up each other on accusing the outgroup or sinners, eventually they will demonize them to the level that it seems okay to massacre them. And the really sobering lesson to learn is that it does not depend on how good is your moral system. Even the best one can be used to denounce others, accuse them, hate them and eventually kill them. Even if Catholicism is the best moral system it can lead to a St. Bartolomew’s Night in Paris which more or less happened this way. The problem is not with the moral system, it is with people, with human competitiveness. And again the antidote is personal rule, a King or Pope punishing those who raise more radical accusations against the outgroup or sinners than himself.

  3. Good grief, I thought I was the most pessimistic guy in the world. How do you get out of bed?

    Benedict (I think he said this) was right. In a century, the Church (including your descendants) will be much smaller and much more devout. Yes, lots of the pretty buildings will be flea markets or be torn down – so what?

    I have faith in this and I’m not even Catholic.

  4. I’m with this guy (who belongs on your blogroll by the way). Maybe it’s better not to pay attention.

  5. “you can get on with your life and join a religion that lets you focus on the big questions, building a meaningful life, and being part of something you can be proud of”

    I would imagine most other Christian churches would be subject to the same level of scrutiny in the scenario you put forward. Catholics get more grief because (1) they are larger and more coherently organized (they actually have records to subpoena unlike the strip-mall independent Charismatic Church), (2) there is a long tradition of anti-Catholicism in the US, tied up with ethnic conflict and (3) priestly celibacy is particularly hated by many non-Catholics and provides a ready explanation (albeit a bad one) for why sexual abuse by priests became a problem.

    If the liberal state wet really wanted to do a full Jacobin crack down on Christianity, and perhaps it won’t, the only churches that would get off scot-free would be (1) the liberal mainline churches (which could die off anyway), and (2) very sentimentalist and anti-intellectual forms of low-church Protestantism that lack any political sway or appeal for the educated classes. You’re not running away to a confessional Calvinist or Lutheran or Orthodox church with members who have graduate degrees, high social stature, and business and political connections. In other words, there can’t be a Christian equivalent to Modern Orthodox Judaism in this scenario (and even that might die out here, or rather decamp to Israel). Its prole montanism or nothing, as that’s the only form of Christianity aggressive secularist regimes are comfortable with permitting.

    I’m somewhat partial to Ross Douthat’s theory that, because the Church has lost so much influence (and money from legal settlements) already, eventually the media will tire of endless investigations into the Catholic Church and leave it alone. The newest generation of the white, liberal, upper class has barely interacted with Catholicism outside of bad horror films. The church isn’t the summit of evil that it was to earlier generations of the left, which had to interact with it as an adversary of equal strength.

  6. >I’m with this guy (who belongs on your blogroll by the way). Maybe it’s better not to pay attention.

    The point is also about the struggle for the Overton Window, not letting the enemy control the overall frame of discussion. To make your own Right Overton Window you begin from scratch then you have an ecosystem then you have new members entering it then you master your environment. You don’t live on enemy turf and you don’t let the enemy on your turf. Once you are big enough, start throwing your weight around.

    Observe the Mohammedan system in Britain for example, they live withing their own organic Overton Window. The white Briton lives in a fake hostile OW.

    You take the things from the past that are not even in the current OW then you actualize it make it F U T U R I S T I C and denounce the enemy OW as a failure, a ridiculous circus. You are the fast young horse, the golden challenger lion, energy and potential rule the day.

    He parallels the between the monastic fighting spirit had the Overton Window theory. Starting from scratch has that benefit, the strong survive.

  7. The point is also about the struggle for the Overton Window, not letting the enemy control the overall frame of discussion.

    Not worth despairing over. As Catholics we are obliged first to save our own souls before worrying about others’. What good is it to move the OW miles to the right, if in the end you go to hell?

    Of course I do not mean that moving the OW and saving your soul are mutually exclusive activities.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: