Tuesday, August 14, 2018
Over the years, one of the persistent criticisms of my own and others' academic work and public interventions in defense of church autonomy, institutional religious freedom, and "the freedom of the Church" has focused on the undeniable fact that, often, religious leaders and institutions do wrong and cause harm.
Do they ever.
I doubt that I will read through the grand-jury report that was released today -- and I sincerely hope that the due-process rights of those who are alleged to have done wrong were respected during the process -- but what I've heard and read so far is (like what I've heard and read about McCarrick's long career of sexual exploitation and sin) sickening, infuriating, and heart-breaking. Yes, almost all the particular incidents took place a long time ago and yes, the report concedes that better reporting and prevention practices have been in place for the last 15 years or so, but . . . sickening. The increasing numbers of scholars, politicians, and activists who have contended that religious freedom belongs in "scare quotes" and that religious exercise often causes harms to others have been given -- and are entirely entitled to use -- by church leaders' and clerics' sins, a powerful, compelling argument in support of religious-freedom skepticism.
A thought: Those of us who believe that religious societies, like political ones, do make law, exercise authority, and govern themselves, might be particularly eager to see the Church's legal processes robustly and enthusiastically used against episcopal and clerical wrongdoers, despite the fact that, in most cases, the political authorities' legal responses will be limited by statutes of limitations, etc. The Church may, and should, enforce its laws against these wrongdoers, in unflinching, public, and justly harsh ways.