The Morning Jolt


The Catholic Church Drives the Nail into Its Own Moral Authority

(Morteza Nikoubazl/Reuters)

I expect no sympathy, but bear with me as I try to restart the mental engine with caffeine after a whirlwind — awaken early Sunday morning in Salzburg, Austria, and get the suitcases, wife, and children to the train station; take the train to Munich, Germany; change trains to take the S-Bahn to the airport; check in; wait in the long lines to get through security and passport control; take the flight to London Heathrow; then wait in the long lines to get through security and passport control again when your name has literally come up in a terrorist plot of the Irish Republican Army; and then get on the seven-hour flight back to the United States, where Dulles awaits with its own incompetent disinformation about which bag is arriving on which carousel. (It wasn’t all bad; the Mobile Passport app is sent from heaven.) It all adds up to about 24 hours from door to door. More on what I saw in Europe in a bit, but first:

The Catholic Church Drives the Nail into Its Own Moral Authority

When you research mass shootings, you encounter the tragic and maddening fact that many times, people around the shooter knew he was dangerous and reported their threatening encounters to university or school officials or company HR departments, with little or no consequence. But those institutions have limited legal authority. They can expel a student or bar him from campus, or a company can fire someone, but that doesn’t deal with the real problem, which is the risk of imminent violence. I’ve written in the past that if you think someone is a dangerous threat to others, you have to go to the cops. They’re the only ones who can detain someone, who can send them to a psych ward, and who can, if necessary, remove their access to firearms through the courts.

The abominable new round of allegations and accounts of widespread sex abuse and coverups the Catholic Church in Pennsylvania are teaching us, in an extremely painful manner, that only the police can properly deal with allegations of child abuse by religious authorities.

Only the cops and prosecutors and judges and juries are equipped to investigate and prosecute these crimes and ensure that the abusers are no longer in a position to hurt children again. We have learned, brutally painfully, that we cannot trust the Church to respond even close to adequately. These are not administrative or clerical matters, they are crimes, and it is stunning that for so long they were treated as something less than that.

Every U.S. attorney beyond Pennsylvania should be sniffing around, because if it could happen there, it could happen anywhere. There’s no reason to think this culture of complicity would flourish in just one state.

The Catholic Church in the United States is about to learn an extremely hard lesson on squandering moral authority. This is not a gray area or a hard call. This is sexual abuse of children. If the Church can’t be trusted to do the right thing in those circumstances, why should anyone trust their judgment in other circumstances? The Church found it difficult to guide American society in its preferred direction on a slew of issues: abortion, euthanasia, gay marriage, the death penalty, immigration, social services for the poor, and war. It will only find that task more difficult, probably for at least a generation, because it made millions upon millions of followers feel like fools for thinking the issue had been addressed after the last round of shocking and horrifying abuse scandals. The Church’s leadership stepped into the role of the villain, and it will take an extraordinary amount of time and effort before many can look at it with trust again.

Twitter Doesn’t Inform You

When I picked up foreign newspapers in the past week, I learned . . .

  • The Turkish economy is in free fall, the lira is collapsing, Turkish president Erdogan is more autocratic and paranoid than ever, and it may be time for that “Who lost Turkey?” finger-pointing argument that the U.S. and Europe have put off for close to two decades now. The Economist notes, “In normal times, Turkey’s Western allies might help by telling Mr. Erdogan to change course. But European governments are scared to upset him, lest he open the gates and let Syrian refugees flood into Europe.” That sounds like a terrifying illustration of the argument, “If you don’t have borders, you don’t have a country.”
  • The United Kingdom is approaching do-or-die time on Brexit. This week the current Conservative government will release the first of 84 reports of how they will handle a “no deal” separation — that is, if U.K. and European Union officials can’t negotiate a smooth, amiable departure. This involves all kinds of aspects of U.K. life, from imports of food, medicine, energy, driver’s licenses, passports, and student exchange programs to the roads between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. What happens if enough Britons recoil from the “hard exit” plan?
  • The United Nations accused China of forcing more than a million ethnic Uighur Muslims in re-education camps in the western region of Xinjiang.
  • Speaking of China, they’re spending billions on infrastructure projects in . . . the Caribbean nations, and those countries’ governments are starting to purchase arms and ships from Chinese companies. This is awfully far from their shores and traditional “sphere of influence” and awfully close to ours.
  • Last week the Taliban took over the Afghan city of Ghazni, the country’s seventh-largest city, which is strategically located on the road from Kabul to the south. It’s only two hours away from the capital. Afghan forces retook the city after a few days, but it’s another frustrating example of the fact that after nearly 17 years of war, the United States and its allies are not close to establishing a stable government there.

And then this morning . . .

  • Iran’s oil minister says France’s oil giant Total has pulled out of Iran after cancelling its $5 billion, 20-year agreement to develop the country’s massive South Pars offshore natural-gas field over renewed U.S. sanctions.”

When I checked Twitter last week, I mostly found people arguing about the latest in the war of words between Omarosa and President Trump.

Lighter Observations from Europe . . .

A couple of things that I noticed last week in London (briefly), Munich, and Salzburg . . .

Heat. I don’t know if it’s global warming. I ran into Jay Nordlinger in Salzburg — who is in town to host interviews for the Salzburg Festival, so if you enjoy opera, classical music, or the high arts, check out his podcast — and Jay told me the lack of air conditioning in most central European buildings partly reflects an Austrian traditional cultural wariness about breezes and drafts. I would think that if you accept the arguments about climate change, then you probably accept the evidence that it is irreversible, short of a worldwide change in human behavior it is simply unimaginable at this point. If Europeans think hot summers are going to be a fact of life for the foreseeable future, maybe it’s worth it for them to invest in that air-conditioning unit.

Bees. The locals don’t seem to be bothered by them that much, even if a good eight or nine of them will climb into any unattended half-full beer stein. (I half expected to see PSAs about the terrible social costs of bee alcoholism. If you hear people raving about the honey, maybe this is why!) The locals dismiss them with a casual wave; my sons almost always reacted by going to DefCon One, proposing evacuating the area for a five-mile radius and then burning the entire area with fire just to be sure. There’s nothing quite like being in a beer garden, carrying a tray with plates full of sausages, sauerkraut, spätzle, and heavy glass steins that would make a convenient murder weapon, and then having your sons swatting wildly around you, terrified that the bee version of Mothra is about to impale you with a stinger.

Muslim women in full niqabs, a topic that got UK parliament member Boris Johnson in trouble recently. I heard the wealthy from Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia and U.A.E. come to Europe to escape the summer heat and fulfill the wildest dreams of saleswomen in the luxury stores. I know it hurts to be stared at — my pale face was walking around Cairo, Egypt, two months after the Iraq War started — but the bottom line is that the niqab is really different from western attire. If you step into a culture and look dramatically different from the locals, you’re going to get a lot of stares and double takes — that’s just human nature and no law or custom is going to change that. The difference is that if you wear a niqab in a Western city you’ll just get some uncomfortable looks; if you try to walk around Riyadh in a miniskirt, you get arrested. If you wear a loose hijab in Iran, you’ll get beaten.

Advocates of the veil have to accept that not being able to see someone’s face throws off most Westerners, and it’s never going to be accepted as “normal.” In the West, someone who is obscuring their face beyond their eyes is either robbing a bank, skiing, welding, or Batman.

ADDENDA: Thanks to Mark Antonio Wright and Theodore Kupfer for sitting in for me last week.


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