Russell Shorto

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Monthly Archives: May 2011

There is a New U.S. Report on Priest Sex Abuse: Be Skeptical!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A 300 page report on the Catholic clergy sex abuse scandal in the U.S. will be published today, and at first glance it seems both extremely comprehensive and deeply flawed. Its goal is to get at the causes behind the crisis: why do so many Catholic priests rape and sexually assault children in their care? The main theories have been 1) celibacy; 2) homosexuality; 3) secular culture. The last of these has been pushed by the Vatican, and in particular by Pope Benedict. This is also the finding of the report. The report will surely become a useful source of information on the topic. But even before its official release, it deserves to be viewed with extreme skepticism. It was conducted by researchers at the highly respected John Jay College of Criminal Justice, but its financial backing came from Catholic organizations–mostly from the U.S. Conference of Bishops–and some of its methodologies should cause eyebrows everywhere to shoot up. One remarkable finding is that less than 5% of priests who sexually abused children are pedophiles. What possible explanation could there be for such an oxymoronic conclusion? It turns out that the designers of the study chose age ten as the cutoff … Continue reading


Ireland and the Church

Monday, May 16, 2011

Eugene Magowan, a Dublin artist, checked in with some thoughts on my Irish Catholic Church story that appeared in the New York Times Magazine on February 9. Below are: 1) his thoughts; 2) a poem of his on the same topic; 3) a painting of his, entitled “Flag,” which strikes me as not unrelated to the theme. Russell,… sorry to invade your space with unsolicited mail, but I have just been reading your NY Times article. You described well the battle for church control of the national mindset, a battle that continues and perhaps confers advantage on the church through the sense of guilt that has arisen in the wake of the tiger, as though we are being punished for our sins of excess. I had written the below poem (published by Wyvern in 2009) to try to make sense of it for myself. best regards and keep up the work of a good man. Eugene Magowan The Poor and the Needy (a jesuit reflects) It was always there to be found. In the emptiness of a church, stained light – like laughter mocking the grey stone faces. Maddening. The spell broken then by a cough or a foot on … Continue reading


go ahead big dogs

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Michael Martin (mmartin600@gmail.com) is an American poet who lived for a long time in the Netherlands, and recently moved his dog-and-pony show to Raleigh, North Carolina.  He sent me some of his work recently. It’s the kind of stuff that throws you off in just the way you want to be thrown off even if you didn’t know it. These are my two favorites. Winter across the border in germany that winter their “learn to laugh” lessons were free. here in our dutch village our canals froze and we were waking up dead too. outside the windows a slew of orphans ran, hurling bodies down to hardness like ice was the thing to slide anyone away from whatever they may begin the day knowing they are. some of us fought by linking arms around big fire. it was fueled with the oriental books that had massaged us too long with how the world wasn’t even real; we sang, go ahead big dogs, attack the gate, we will sweater you and prop you on our sleds and point your open doggie faces toward heaven where the gilded rooster lives atop the church spire, our one chicken spinning in the wind. dear … Continue reading


David Barton and the Christianizing of America

Sunday, May 8, 2011

David Barton had a good week last week. First, the New York Times wrote a lengthy profile of him, built around the fact that several would-be Republican candidates for president apparently look to Barton for advice on American history.  Then Jon Stewart had him on The Daily Show, and tried (not very successfully) to show him up as a pseudo-historian.  But the real issue is not that Barton has built an empire (his organization, Wallbuilders, sells books and CD’s and advises school districts) and has won broad influence by promoting a skewed view of American history (which he has).  The real issue is that half of the United States (more or less) wants to believe in the tenets Barton and others subscribe to: that America’s founding fathers were guided by the Holy Spirit, that God directed all of the early colonizers of America toward the creation of a new Promised Land, and that the discipline of history can be used to “prove” these claims. Religious beliefs are a personal right, and entwining them into one’s feelings about one’s country is likewise a personal right, but things do start to get ugly when you mix the two.  Americans on the far … Continue reading


Really, really new

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

One of the most under-examined stories of the current moment in history is the swift rise of right wing populism in the U.S. and Europe.  My profile of Marine Le Pen focused on her combination of far-right anti-immigrant nationalism and left wing economic policies (built around a distrust of capitalism).  As Laurent Bouvet of the University of Nice, an expert on Europe’s far right, told me, “This is really, really new. It’s not a shift to the left but to a third dimension for French politics.” Then again, it isn’t all that new.  Matthew Yglesias, in a post on his blog about my Le Pen story, noted: I think that when the far-right has been successful, it’s almost always by pairing the politics of violence and racism with a critique of laissez faire capitalism. It’s not a coincidence that Mussolini was a dissident socialist before he was a fascist, and Hitler, too, forged an alliance with the German business community while remaining critical of free markets as such. The common thread here is that this is what happens when the elites running a capitalist political economy fail. And a failure of the elites who run the system is exactly what the … Continue reading