Tough Talk in the Times

Maureen Dowd is mightier than a nun with a ruler in her Sunday column. Some singed vestments out there. John L. Allen of the National Catholic Reporter argues that Pope Benedict has done more than his predecessors to combat child abuse. No doubt this is true, but not convincing. Let me explain using a parable.

Once there was a man who bought a huge old house that had been divided up into apartments. He used his life savings to buy the house and moved into the landlord apartment on the top floor. Soon he discovered a problem.

The plumbing, which was as old as the house, had never been upgraded. The previous three owners had done almost no upkeep. To do the job right would be hugely expensive and disruptive.

Soon some of the tenants from the basement apartments began to complain of stopped drains and bad smells. The landlord hired the same handyman who had done work for the other owners. Duct tape was applied.

It was only a matter of time until sewage backed up into the basement shower. The landlord had his guy remove the shower and cap off the pipes and all was well for a while. But then a bad smell started to rise from the cement floor. The landlord had his guy put down a new coat of cement. The smell was gone but the tenants had started to complain. They wanted a real fix, instead of having to wonder when the old pipes were going to fail again.

“Why me?” the landlord asked them. “It’s not fair to blame me for all this. I’ve done more to fix this problem than any of the previous owners. Besides, no one on the top floors is complaining about bad smells. I think you are just persecuting me.”

That’s my answer to John L. Allen. The Catholic church did not invent child abuse and they are not the only organization plagued by revelations of crime and cover-up. But the Church has to take responsibility for what’s coming up the drainpipes. If Benedict has done more, it’s basically because he has no choice.

Real fundamental reform of the institution would not be cheap or easy, but if they do not fix the mess, then no one will want to live in the house.

ANOTHER VOICE: Sinead O’ Connor was sent to an Irish reform school as a child, she writes about the culture of abuse that should not be allowed to prevail.

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