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Becoming the Lutheran He Was?

In our New Oxford Notes for June 2002, we had a piece titled “The Laity Out There in the Peanut Gallery,” wherein we noted Fr. Richard John Neuhaus’s views on the sex scandals among clergy from about five years ago. He said that the sexual abuse of minors was engendering “hysteria” and “witch hunts,” and that he found it “all too believable” that certain clergy in jail for sexually abusing minors were “railroaded” on flimsy evidence.

Then in the New Oxford Notes for November 2002, we quoted Fr. Neuhaus on the 2002 sex scandals: “Sure, some bad priests have brought disgrace upon the Church. So what else is new?”

On the other hand, Fr. Neuhaus has had a running commentary on the 2002 scandals in recent issues of First Things, and much of what he’s said has been superb, especially with regard to the state of our seminaries and the “Lavender Mafia” among clerics. Moreover, in his first installment (April 2002), he bit the bullet of zero tolerance, saying: “When it comes to priestly adherence to the Church’s teaching, zero tolerance must now be the order of the day. The enforcement of zero tolerance, in this connection [priestly sexual abuse of minors] and others, can lead to ridiculous extremes and can inhibit natural and healthy interactions, especially in working with young people, but that, too, is probably part of the price to be paid.”

But Fr. Neuhaus has a habit of taking away with his left hand what he has given with his right. In his third installment (Aug.-Sept.), Neuhaus reverses field, blasting the zero tolerance policy adopted by the bishops in Dallas. He charges that the bishops adopted “a thoroughly unbiblical, untraditional, and un-Catholic approach to sin and grace.” And he gets quite personal: The bishops have “sinned” against both mercy and justice, even suggesting that they’ve “betrayed the gospel.”

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