From the category archives:


Karl Marx or Pope Francis?

by Kieran Healy on November 26, 2013

Pope Francis’s new Apostolic Exhortation, [Evangelii Gaudium](, has been getting some attention today, mostly thanks to its reiteration of some long-standing Catholic doctrine on social justice and the market. So, here is a quiz to see whether you can distinguish statements by Pope Francis from statements by Karl Marx. I figured someone was likely to do this anyway, so why not be first to the market? It’s fair to say that the Pope and Karl Marx differ significantly on numerous points of theory as well as on what people asking questions at job talks refer to as the policy implications of their views. So I don’t think this quiz is very hard. At the same time, I sort of hope it will be picked up, stripped of this introductory paragraph, and circulated as evidence that the Pope and Marx agree on pretty much everything.

### Questions!

> *1.* In a similar way, by raising dreams of an inexhaustible market and by fostering false speculations, the present treaty may prepare a new crisis at the very moment when the market of the world is but slowly recovering from the recent universal shock.

> *2.* … society needs to be cured of a sickness which is weakening and frustrating it, and which can only lead to new crises.

> *3.* In this play of forces, poverty senses a beneficent power more humane than human power. The arbitrary action of privileged individuals is replaced … Just as it is not fitting for the rich to lay claim to alms distributed in the street, so it is also in regard to these alms of nature.

> *4.* Yet we desire even more than this; our dream soars higher. We are not simply talking about ensuring nourishment or a “dignified sustenance” for all people … for it is through free, creative, participatory and mutually supportive labour that human beings express and enhance the dignity of their lives.

> *5.* … the limitless possibilities for consumption and distraction offered by contemporary society. This leads to a kind of alienation at every level, for a society becomes alienated when its forms of social organization, production and consumption make it more difficult … to establish solidarity between people.

> *6.* Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.

> *7.* In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile … is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which becomes the only rule.

> *8.* Inequality eventually engenders a violence which recourse to arms cannot and never will be able to resolve. … Some simply content themselves with blaming the poor and the poorer countries themselves for their troubles; indulging in unwarranted generalizations, they claim that the solution is an “education” that would tranquilize them, making them tame and harmless.

> *9.* The worldwide crisis affecting finance and the economy lays bare their imbalances and, above all, their lack of real concern for human beings; man is reduced to one of his needs alone: consumption.

> *10.* Solidarity is a spontaneous reaction by those who recognize that the social function of property and the universal destination of goods are realities which come before private property.

[click to continue…]

In Addition to Being Racist, Everyone is Pro-Infanticide

by Belle Waring on November 19, 2013

What I am curious about in the Singer/infanticide/ending the life of the disabled vein is, what do those who are totally opposed to every form of infanticide think about anencephalic babies (and babies who have similarly non-survivable, severe birth defects)? I don’t think that, as a formerly pregnant person who has given birth to healthy children, my opinions on these questions have any extra merit, but I do think others not so situated may share my opinions without feeling so strongly about them, or in the same way. Perhaps the situation calls for some epistemic humility? The terrifying prospect to me, and to many mothers, of “late-term” abortion bans, is that pregnancies which are terminated after 20 weeks are almost all wanted pregnancies in which something horrible has occurred or been discovered. (And, in those cases where the baby is unwanted, there are almost certainly serious problems in the woman’s life that have led to the delay in getting an abortion sooner.) So, in a situation of supreme horror, the fetus might die, but the mother might be forced to carry the dead fetus inside her and have labor induced, to struggle in pain and blood to bring her dead baby into the world. She would feel the liquid inside her, and the lax ligaments, and all the other things she felt in pregnancy, but she would know the baby was dead. I have heard of mothers knowing right away. So close to you then, infinitely close, but infinitely far, and a rotting thing now, a poison for the rest of your body. So awful.

My first pregnancy was easy and wonderful. I felt and looked glowing, and although I was in labor for more than 40 hours (remind me not to do that again) I gave birth vaginally to a healthy girl who latched onto the breast just a few minutes after she was born, and fed well and naturally. In my second pregnancy I had unexplained bleeding starting at 19 weeks. Bright pink fresh blood in the toilet bowl. I thought my heart would stop. I thought her heart had stopped. They couldn’t figure out what was wrong. I was in terrible pain (I often am; but it seemed like she was tap-dancing on the worst bit of me.) I kept bleeding on and off. I knew how many movements she was supposed to make in an hour and I counted, and counted, and counted, hour after hour, so scared, and then another hour. The doctors were determined to deliver her surgically as soon as they felt she was cooked up right, so, 37 weeks. It turned out to be nothing serious, placenta previa (the organ grew over the cervical os, the opening to the birth canal, blocking the baby’s egress.) She was fine.

But sometimes when the doctors check, they find that the fetus, which has appeared to be developing fine, has no brain at all, that the blackness inside her skull on the scans is only water. This is not even a fetus, really–certainly not a future infant. It will never feel pleasure at a mother’s touch, or pain from being pinched by a crib mattress, or see anything, or hear anything. It is empty. Laws that would force a woman to stay pregnant and nourish and grow that wrongly-made creature inside her, and to suffer the agonies of childbirth, and to bring forth this…not-baby–laws like that are torture. I would go mad. I would try to abort the fetus myself. I would try to kill myself. I would want to be put to sleep then, there, in the doctor’s office, and wake up, not pregnant, and with a little coffin to bury my hope and love inside. With ashes inside, only, because I would want not to look, but I would look, and I would always wish I had not.

But let us say an unjust, oppressive, Christian regime forces me to endure, and to deliver this severely deformed baby. Does anyone think we should use artificial life support to keep the baby alive? Almost all fetuses of this type are stillborn, and those that are not usually die on the first day of ‘life.’ Even the Catholic Church has some hand-waving about letting God’s will take its course. That is, they are not insistent on providing hydration and nutrition–no one even considers artificial respiration. Reading on it, three children have lived a year or so. There are pictures of course, and now I wish I hadn’t looked at them, and I am so sorry, the poor little things, and so sorry for the parents. For the mothers! When I think of those oscillations inside you, feeling movements you didn’t make, the mysterious gliding of blood-wet surfaces over each other in the absolute black, the not-you inside you…what if you knew in the end there was nothing? Some kind of seasickness of death? At the last you would be holding a newly hatched chick, naked and grey and dead, grey and jerking with dying? But back to the matter at hand, we all think a form of infanticide is appropriate here, right? No one’s on team ‘drastic measures for resuscitation?’ Artificial respiration for 80 years, for something that can never feel you hold his hand? A rough golem on whose forehead no glyph has been inscribed? So isn’t there a small number of real-world, continuously-occurring cases in which we are all pro-infanticide?

UPDATE: so misinterpreted! Obviously my fault also. I didn’t jump in to give Singer crucial moral support. I’m not totally sure how I did…I guess I’m implying all his critics are disingenuous and have parked themselves at the top of a slippery slope with some dubious wedge. I apologize to sincere Singer-critics for insulting their position in this way. That wasn’t actually what I was trying to do at all. I was genuinely curious. There was a case maybe eight years ago now, but I can no longer find it in the welter of anti-abortion and pro-abortion articles, in which a woman’s 24 or even 26-week-old fetus died, and the laws of her state required a waiting period before you could get a late term abortion (Texas IIRC?). The removal of a dead fetus is done via dilation and curettage, i.e., via abortion. So she had to go talk to some doctor, and then go stay by herself in a motel with her dead baby inside her for two days. She wrote about her experience and I remember thinking, I don’t know if I could live through two days of that. A responsible, thoughtful doctor would have deemed the dead fetus a threat to her health and her ability to have future children and had it removed on those grounds, but in this particular case, it was a Catholic hospital and none of these things happened. So I did mean to say, I think there are a number of infants born each year whose lives everyone agrees cannot go on in any way. That doesn’t mean that–HAHA! now everyone is obliged to accept all Singer’s positions; I was honestly curious, not mock-curious, and I honestly don’t know what all Singer’s positions are. But I also meant to describe to people who haven’t been pregnant the terror of something going wrong, and how you hope you would be a good enough person to accept your baby any way she came, but you fear you’re not brave enough, not really, not truly brave enough. And that as long as she was inside maybe you could pretend it would be alright somehow? But even then there is only one feeling that is ever like this, of having something inside you that is alive, that isn’t you, that you are waiting for, and how would it be if you were waiting for nothing? That’s all. I really don’t know enough about Singer’s positions to arbitrate on any of these questions; I was just thinking, we need to hear from severely handicapped people who were written off as a total loss before we know whether he can be right. We might also be interested to hear from mothers. And I’m only the mother of perfectly healthy babies! That’s it. I’m not laying down my life for in-group sacrifice.

More of the same

by John Holbo on March 14, 2013

This is a follow-up to Corey’s post, I suppose.

Given that concerns about the character of the new Pope are immediately being raised regarding his conduct during the Dirty War and its aftermath, in Argentina, it says something that the National Review editors are attempting a bit of preemptive damage control on a different front. “His counting poverty as a social ill should not be misconstrued as …”

Really? The new Pope is against poverty? The editors looked at what this new Pope is known for; looked down the list of concerns and doubts people might have, upon skimming the first set of news stories, and this jumped out as the thing we need to be reassured isn’t as bad as it might look, because there’s two sides to the story? (It turns out to be ok because he’s not in favor of ‘statist solutions’ to the problem.)

I mean: I could understand if the editors decided to write a pure celebratory piece that didn’t mar the occasion by drawing attention to anything any critics are already saying. But that they decided to let a touch of concern show through, and this showed through – of all things.

And Republicans wonder why people think Republicans don’t care about the poor.

Popen Thread

by Kieran Healy on February 11, 2013

Pope Benedict steps down and surely Mitt Romney thinks, “One door closes, another door opens”. Or maybe the FAI could engineer a swap for Giovanni Trappatoni. Either way, the field seems wide open.

Merry Christmas, Everybody.

by Harry on December 25, 2012

Its easy.
Just take 5 minutes to give what you can:
Oxfam USA

Then enjoy yourselves:

Andrew Sullivan links to a Ross Douthat-Julian Sanchez exchange (that started as a Douthat-Saletan exchange, and concerning which Karl Smith and Noah Millman get words in edgewise, if you care to follow up the links.) Douthat suggests that secular liberalism has philosophical-metaphysical problems: [click to continue…]

David Graeber’s Debt: The First 5000 Years begins with a conversation in a London churchyard about debt and morality and takes us all the way from ancient Sumeria, through Roman slavery, the vast empires of the “Axial age”, medieval monasteries, New World conquest and slavery to the 2008 financial collapse. The breadth of material Graeber covers is extraordinarily impressive and, though anchored in the perspective of social anthropology, he also draws on economics and finance, law, history, classics, sociology and the history of ideas. I’m guessing that most of us can’t keep up and that we lack, to some degree, his erudition and multidisciplinary competence. Anyway, I do. But I hope that a Crooked Timber symposium can draw on experts and scholars from enough of these different disciplines to provide some critical perspective. My own background is in political philosophy and the history of political thought: so that naturally informs my own reactions as do my political engagements and sympathies. So mine is merely one take on some of the book’s themes.

[click to continue…]

An atheist temple?

by Chris Bertram on January 27, 2012

Any spat between Alain de Botton and Richard Dawkins is one where I’m kind of rooting for both of them to lose. On the other hand, Dawkins has some genuine achievements to his name and has written some pretty decent books, so there’s some compensation when he acts like an arse, whereas in de Botton’s case ….

De Botton’s latest plans (h/t Alex):

bq. to build a £1m “temple for atheists” among the international banks and medieval church spires of the City of London have sparked a clash between two of Britain’s most prominent non-believers. The philosopher and writer Alain de Botton is proposing to build a 46-metre (151ft) tower to celebrate a “new atheism” as an antidote to what he describes as Professor Richard Dawkins’s “aggressive” and “destructive” approach to non-belief. Rather than attack religion, De Botton said he wants to borrow the idea of awe-inspiring buildings that give people a better sense of perspective on life.

Not a runner, I think. Though there’s at least one happy precedent: Auguste Comte’s Chapel of Humanity, which Maria blogged about in 2003.

The New Apocrypha

by Henry on December 19, 2011

“Ross Douthat”:

bq. Intellectually minded Christians, in particular, had a habit of talking about Hitchens as though he were one of them already — a convert in the making, whose furious broadsides against God were just the prelude to an inevitable reconciliation. (Or as a fellow Catholic once murmured to me: “He just protests a bit too much, don’t you think?”) … where Hitchens was concerned, no insult he hurled or blasphemy he uttered could shake the almost-filial connection that many Christians felt for him. … Recognizing this affinity, many Christian readers felt that in Hitchens’s case there had somehow been a terrible mix-up, and that a writer who loved the King James Bible and “Brideshead Revisited” surely belonged with them, rather than with the bloodless prophets of a world lit only by Science. In this they were mistaken, but not entirely so. At the very least, Hitchens’s antireligious writings carried a whiff of something absent in many of atheism’s less talented apostles — a hint that he was not so much a disbeliever as a rebel, and that his atheism was mostly a political romantic’s attempt to pick a fight with the biggest Tyrant he could find. … When stripped of Marxist fairy tales and techno-utopian happy talk, rigorous atheism casts a wasting shadow over every human hope and endeavor, and leads ineluctably to the terrible conclusion of Philip Larkin’s poem “Aubade” — that “death is no different whined at than withstood.” Officially, Hitchens’s creed was one with Larkin’s. But everything else about his life suggests that he intuited that his fellow Englishman was completely wrong to give in to despair. My hope — for Hitchens, and for all of us, the living and the dead — is that now he finally knows why.

“John Sladek”:

bq. “Houdini’s ghost was not even then allowed to rest. In the same year it was summoned by another medium to Conan Doyle’s home, where, after complaining of the darkness, it said:

‘It seems cruel that a man in my position should have thrown dust in the eyes of people as I did. Since my passing, I have gone to many, many places (mediums) but the door is closed to me. …. When I try to tell people of the real truth, they say I am not the one I claimed to be, because when I was on earth I did not talk that way. I ask you here to send me good thoughts to open the door, not to the spirit world – that cannot be yet – but to give me strength ad power to undo what I denied. …’

bq. Thus, the man who devoted his life to the cause of spiritualism, by trying to rid it of frauds who feed on grieving hearts, was made to mouth this childish, demented apology.’

Myself, I find Harry Houdini a _far_ more attractive figure than was Christopher Hitchens. And I don’t imagine that Douthat is being deliberately dishonest here – indeed, I suspect he thinks that he’s paying Hitchens a compliment. But the rest of the analogy carries.

The only reason Catholics like Joe Paterno and Darío Castrillón Hoyos are able to commit such uniquely awful crimes is because they are ethical in a way that run-of-the-mill godless folk cannot understand. Plus, I hereby stipulate that raping children is, admittedly, bad, mumble.

Even shorter: I don’t doubt that people whom I have just admitted committed evil acts are, in fact good, because [makes mysterious, several-part gesture with hand and wrists which magically resolves obvious contradictions.]

I’ve been thinking about what, if anything, to write about the events in Norway. Obviously one’s first thoughts are with the victims of what was an especially horrible crime. I was in Oslo in April, and it really is hard for me to imagine an event such as this taking place there. Really dreadful and heartbreaking, especially since so many of the victims were young, committed, people who looked likely to make an important contribution to the life of their country.

I’m going to limit myself to a few thoughts on its wider significance. Obviously the killer is in some sense crazy, though whether that is technically true is a matter for the professionals. He was imbued with some version of an ideology which is widespread on the internet and to some extent in Western societies: nativism, extreme anxiety about Islam, hatred for liberal multiculturalist “enablers” of this, and so on. Ideas to be found on thousands of blogs, in the writings of wingnut columnists and neocons, in the shared beliefs of Tea Partiers and birthers, among the rabble of the English Defence League, and among the further fringes of extreme supporters of Israel. Is this fascist? I don’t think arguments about definitions are particularly useful. Some of this current predates 9/11, but in its current form it is a product of the US and global reaction to the attacks on the Word Trade Center. Plain and simple racist movements existed before 9/11, but this focus on a particular religion and its adherents coupled with the adoption of extreme pro-Zionism by the formerly anti-semitic right is something new. (This isn’t a single movement though, it is a spectrum, and elements of it have even been given cover, credibility and respectability by people who think of themselves as being on the left but who backed the Iraq war, strongly supported Israel over Lebanon and Gaza and who disseminate propaganda attacking those who take a different line to them on the Middle East as antisemitic racists.)

Following the Norway massacre many of the elite scribblers of this spectrum — many of whom have played the guilt-by-association game to the max over the last decade — are disclaiming all responsibility. Well, of course, they didn’t pull the trigger, but they helped to build an epistemic environment in which someone did. We may be, now, in the world that Cass Sunstein worried about, a world where people select themselves into groups which ramp up their more-or-less internally coherent belief systems into increasingly extreme forms by confirming to one another their perceived “truths” (about Islam, or Obama’s birth certificate, or whatever) and shutting out falsifying information. Put an unstable person or a person with a serious personality disorder into an environment like that and you have a formula for something very nasty happening somewhere, sooner or later. Horribly, that somewhere was Norway last Friday.

Belgian Bishop resigns

by Ingrid Robeyns on April 26, 2010

A Belgian Bishop, “Roger Vangheluwe”:, has resigned last Friday. He admitted that in the 1970s and 80s he has, for many years, sexually abused a young male family member (a nephew, it seems). According to the newspaper reports, last Monday a family member of the victim wrote an e-mail to all Belgian Bishops informing them about the abuse, which caused Vangheluwe to “publicly confess”: and to resign.

“According”: “to”: Peter Adriaenssens, a professor in pediatric psychiatry, who is heading a Commission that is investigating the accusations of sexual abuse in the Belgian Catholic Church, this case has triggered about 40 complaints to the Commission of other cases of sexual abuse in the Church since Friday evening. In the last two years there had been about twenty complaints.

Wondering what more will emerge. In Belgium a very large percentage of the population (officially more than 90%) is Catholic; but as I know from personal experience, this need not mean anything. In many cases it is social conformity, or (in the past, at least) primarily an admission ticket to a good school. Any Belgian who thinks this is a good moment to officially quit the Church, can find instructions on how to do so “here”:

Another Bloggingheads, this time with Brink Lindsey, covering the helicopter gunship attacks still being discussed below, David Frum, and the parlous state of Catholicism again. “One bit”: which is worth developing on a bit – I mention in passing that Ross Douthat made a ridiculous claim about the causes of the Catholic priest pedophilia coverup. The exact argument is “here”:

In reality, the scandal implicates left and right alike. The permissive sexual culture that prevailed everywhere, seminaries included, during the silly season of the ’70s deserves a share of the blame, as does that era’s overemphasis on therapy. (Again and again, bishops relied on psychiatrists rather than common sense in deciding how to handle abusive clerics.) But it was the church’s conservative instincts — the insistence on institutional loyalty, obedience and the absolute authority of clerics — that allowed the abuse to spread unpunished.

The problem with this claim is that one of the countries discussed by Douthat (a) did not have a permissive sexual culture during the 1970s (or, for that matter, 1980s and early 1990s), (b) did not notably overemphasize therapy (or, indeed, emphasize therapy at all), and (c ) was arguably responsible for the worst abuses and cover-up of all. That country, of course, being Ireland. Ireland’s public sexual mores did loosen up a little during the 1970s. In the late 1960s, a hint on public television that night clothes might be doffed on a couple’s wedding night was sufficient to produce public debate and episcopal fulminations on the rising tide of filth threatening to swamp the country. By the 1970s, the country had advanced to the stage where a soap opera could mention that a married couple might use birth control if a second pregnancy would endanger the life of the mother. By the time that I myself went to college in the late 1980s, it was still impossible to buy birth control without a medical prescription (the idea being that doctors would only prescribe to married couples), and there were regular battles between the Student’s Union – which kept trying to instal a condom vending machine – and the university authorities – which kept ripping it down in the middle of the night. Therapy was a decidedly odd notion, confined to Protestants and agnostics in a few metropolitan areas. Ordinary decent Catholics allowed their neuroses to blossom or fester, depending on their social acceptability; and in dire emergencies and near breakdowns, perhaps consulted their local priest.

Perhaps this all counts as sinful licentiousness by Douthat’s standards. What is curious, then, is how the causal impact of 1970s permissiveness extend backwards, as well as forward in time. Ireland’s “Child Abuse Commission’s report”: suggests that many of the worst abuses occurred in the 1950s and 1960s. Indeed, some of the worst institutions had already closed down by the early 1970s. In the report’s description:

The Confidential Committee heard evidence from 1090 men and women who reported being abused as children in Irish institutions. Abuse was reported to the Committee in relation to 216 school and residential settings including Industrial and Reformatory Schools, Children’s Homes, hospitals, national and secondary schools, day and residential special needs schools, foster care and a small number of other residential institutions, including laundries and hostels. 791 witnesses reported abuse to Industrial and Reformatory Schools and 259 witnesses reported abuse in the range of other institutions. … 77% of witnesses were aged over 50 years and 3% were under 30 years of age when they gave their evidence to the Confidential Committee. … Witnesses reported being physically, sexually and emotionally abused, and neglected by religious and lay adults who had responsibility for their care, and by others in the absence of adequate care and supervision.

Sexual abuse was reported by approximately half of all the Confidential Committee witnesses. Acute and chronic contact and non-contact sexual abuse was reported, including vaginal and anal rape, molestation and voyeurism in both isolated assaults and on a regular basis over long periods of time. The secret nature of sexual abuse was repeatedly emphasised as facilitating its occurrence. Witnesses reported being sexually abused by religious and lay staff in the schools and institutions and by co-residents and others, including professionals, both within and external to the institutions. They also reported being sexually abused by members of the general public, including volunteer workers, visitors, work placement employers, foster parents, and others who had unsupervised contact with residents in the course of everyday activities. Witnesses reported being sexually abused when they were taken away for excursions, holidays or to work for others. Some witnesses who disclosed sexual abuse were subjected to severe reproach by those who had responsibility for their care and protection. Female witnesses in particular described, at times, being told they were responsible for the sexual abuse they experienced, by both their abuser and those to whom they disclosed abuse.

If I sound sarcastic in this post, it’s because it’s the only way that I can write about this without being overwhelmed by bitterness and rage. These vile abuses had nothing to do with a 1970s culture of permissiveness. Douthat’s claim to the contrary is worse than lazy. It is actually quite shameful. The “pox on both your houses” insulates him – and the church he is trying to defend – from the obvious fact that it was exactly the conservative features of the Irish church and its social dominance that were causally responsible for perpetuating the rape and sexual abuse of many hundreds of children in religious institutions. These included not only hierarchy and the conspiracy of silence among the powerful, but a terror of, and disgust for, both female sexuality and homosexuality. The victims of sexual abuse had nowhere to turn, because they were identified as complicit in their own abuse, if not indeed its instigators. Being the ruination of a priest or brother was an enormous cause of shame. Failing to acknowledge this – and resorting instead to a cheap conservative trope about the sexual license of the 1970s – is intellectually dishonest and rather contemptible.

Sunday picture: Silly Putty Pope

by Maria on April 5, 2010

Over at Henry’s place earlier today, I handled silly putty for the first time in my life. Great stuff, especially when it pops those unexpected little bubbles. Henry’s missus, Nicole, showed me a great silly putty trick; you squash it onto a newspaper and make an awesome transfer. The nearest newsprint to hand was the FT’s editorial page with a great cartoon of Pope Benedict, which I now share with you on pink silly putty. Happenstance being the best form of creativity, my phone’s picture of same included an unintentional shadow that looks like the jaws of a shark or similar closing on the pope’s head while he looks worriedly away. Happy Easter Sunday, y’all.

Pope Benedict on Silly Putty

I did a “bloggingheads with Dan Drezner”: last Friday discussing, among other things, the organizational problems of the Catholic church, which seem to me to be (a) enormous, and (b) reasonably well understood in terms of Albert Hirschman’s “famous book”: If the Catholic church were a normal organization that was even moderately responsive to external feedback, one would have expected that the Pope would have resigned by now. As Duncan Black “notes”:, the issues are quite straightforward, and have nothing to do with questions of theology. At the least he’s presided over an organization that has systematically covered up for child abusers, and it seems quite plausible that he’s been actively involved in said cover-up. The problem is that there is no very good way to force him to resign, or indeed to exert significant internal pressure on the Catholic church (which is constituted so as to be highly resistant to bottom-up pressures). In Hirschman’s terms, the Catholic church has never been particularly keen on voice (it is notable that the organization tried ruthlessly to stamp out the first stirrings of protest among lay-Catholics in the US against child abusers. Nor does it seem likely to be stirred to radical reform by the threat of exit. Clearly, the church is worried that Catholics will drop away – equally clearly, it wants to respond in ways that reinforce the current hierarchy rather than modifying it (e.g. by sending an Apostolic Visitation – a class of a senior inquisitorial team – to inspect the Irish Catholic church). Hence, it is forced to rely on a kind of loyalty which rests on specifically pre-modern ideas of authority. But loyalty is likely only to go so far, even when it’s larded with “substantial dollops of conspiracy theorizing”:

bq. Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, an aide to the Pope, set the tone, telling reporters on Thursday: “This is a pretext for attacking the church. . . There is a well organised plan with a very clear aim.” This theme was pursued by Osservatore Romano, the Vatican’s newspaper, in an editorial accusing the media of neglecting facts with the “evident and despicable intent to get to and strike Benedict XVI and his closest collaborators, regardless of everything”. People close to the Vatican have been speaking in ominous tones of a conspiracy by masonic lodges and big business to undermine the church.

The church is faced with a very tricky set of organizational trade-offs. It seems to be opting for a bare minimum of external accountability (acknowledging that there is a problem, and apologizing for it, while refusing to undertake substantial reforms or to admit that the rot has spread to the top), combined with an appeal to the loyalty of the faithful. This plausibly shores up the position of those at the top – but at the risk of provoking mass exit (at least among churchgoers in industrialized democracies – I don’t know enough about the church in the developing world to speculate). Senior figures in the church have been muttering for years that, if it comes down to it, they would prefer a smaller and more orthodox church to one which had more members but had to accommodate greater heterodoxy. I suspect they are about to get their wish, although I imagine that they would prefer that it occurred under somewhat different circumstances.