This is a translation of an earlier post — an interview in Le Figaro with a young French intellectual who puts the clerical sexual abuse scandal in historical perspective.
Born in 1971, Fabrice Hadjadj, a young French intellectual of the Jewish faith, converted to Catholicism 12 years ago. Philosopher and writer, his latest book, The Faith of Devils (or, Atheism Outdated), (Salvator, 2009) a brilliant essay on atheism, received the 2010 prize for religious literature.
LE FIGARO: The Catholic Church is going through a crisis without precedent, how [would you] describe the morale of Catholics?
Fabrice HADJADJ: First of all, this crisis is not without precedent. There have been others, probably worse: the Arian crisis of the IVth Century, the great western schism of the fourteenth [century], the scandalous moral behaviour of certain popes such as Alexander VI Borgia: assassin, keeper of concubines, trader in religious offices and preferments, to take only some prominent examples. So it’s as well that we are obliged to recognize that the Church never stops going through crises. It is in its nature, in some way. When you look at the facts without prejudice, and the events seem almost incredible, all the other institutions have been swept aside by the winds of history: but here through over 2,000 years, ‘Peter’s boat’ follows its route, with an uninterrupted apostolic succession and a mission which essentially has developed without self-contradiction.
This exceptional longevity suggests strongly an exceptional ability to weather the storms.
The image of the Church has been strongly affected: how would you estimate the gravity of this fact?
The Church isn’t a cover-girl. She doesn’t exist to leave her picture in the media. If that were the case she would no longer seek to talk to the depths of hearts, but smooth your hair. Nevertheless, the fact remains that crimes committed by a priest are ultimately more serious than those committed by a phys-ed teacher, for example. And that is what justifies the media anger/outcry we have witnessed. The paradox is this: if we particularly attack Church members when they are corrupt it’s because we have a sense of the special purity of their mission.
From this point of view, the standing of the Church is even more affected where we believe in the holiness of the Church, because it is then that it becomes serious beyond comparison. Thus Benedict XVI, who understands the mystery of the priesthood, finds these crimes much more terrible than the non-Christian media can even conceive. That is why he has wanted it out in the daylight.
From six months of turmoil, what balance sheet can you extract?
The same summary that one can draw from 30 centuries of turbulence, and more besides, if you believe that the beautiful harmony of the world was broken back at the beginning: that is, we will never be finished with crises. And in one way, that is not so bad. You know the word “crise” comes from the Greek verb “krinein” which means to screen, or discern. This crisis situation stops us from resting on our laurels. It prompts us to ask ourselves the question of direction: to search inside ourselves and to look for a goodness more vast and deep.
(Translation: Michael F Moynihan)