The tragic (viewed from the right) and spectacular (viewed from the left) fall of Father C. John McCloskey, a popular Catholic apologist, from Opus Dei, continues to get quite a bit of ink.
Let me stress: As it should.
Before I get to a fascinating update at The Washington Post, let me pause and make an observation, or two.
No. 1: Consider this question: Looking at the American Catholic church over the past two or three decades (and at Catholic life in Washington, D.C., in particular), who was the more powerful and significant player — Father McCloskey or former cardinal Theodore McCarrick?
That’s a bit of a slam dunk, isn’t it?
Now, in terms of doing basic journalism, it appears that it has been easier to crack into the heart of the McCloskey case than it has the McCarrick case. Why is that? Is it accurate to state that Catholic officials linked to the McCloskey case have been a bit more forthcoming than those in the powerful networks linked to the former cardinal? Hold that thought.
No. 2: Over and over, people ask me why clergy sexual abuse stories in Protestant settings — evangelical flocks, in particular — receive so much less mainstream ink than Catholic scandals. There are several reasons for this:
— Many mainstream news editors think that Catholic stories are more newsworthy than those in other churches — period. I even ran into that attitude, long ago, in Charlotte, N.C., of all places.
— Catholicism has a clear structure and clear lines of authority. This is comforting to reporters who see the world through a political lens. The largest, most influential forms of Protestantism in our culture are — when it comes to polity — more chaotic and “congregational.” That’s more of a challenge for newsrooms without a skilled, experience religion-beat pro.
— As someone who HAS covered more than a few Protestant/evangelical clergy-sex stories, I think it is safe to say that many of them, if not most, center on sexual relationships and even abuse that are linked to temptations present in face-to-face “pastoral counseling.” Consider the following, from a column I wrote after the death of Dr. Louis McBurney, an evangelical with psychiatric credentials from the Mayo Clinic.
Ministers may spend up to half their office hours counseling, which can be risky since most ministers are men and most active church members are women. If a woman bares her soul, and her pastor responds by sharing his own personal pain, the result can be "as destructive and decisive as reaching for a zipper," McBurney said.
Viewed from this perspective, it appears — so far — that McCloskey got into trouble when he could not control his feelings/actions with women who had sought his help, via “pastoral counseling.”