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Jewish World Review March 27, 2002 / 14 Nisan, 5762

David Limbaugh

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The Pope's marines | The Catholic Church is under siege. The ongoing sex scandal involving the priesthood is reverberating everywhere, in religious and secular circles, and everyone is piling on. But if we're not careful, we'll learn the wrong lessons.

The lines are clearly drawn. The secularists and some liberal Catholics say priestly "pedophilia" vindicates their criticism of the Catholic Church. The Church, not the offending priests, is the culprit because of its repressive and onerous requirement of celibacy. The liberals' proposed panacea? Nix that priestly vow. New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd said as much in a recent column.

Conservative Catholics disagree. Celibacy does not cause sexual perversion and criminal misconduct, and marriage does not cure pedophilia. They cite an equal or greater number of infractions among the Protestant clergy, for whom there is no vow of celibacy. The conservatives' proposed solution? The Church should get back to its roots and cleanse itself.

The Church could easily buy into the liberal notion that its "antiquarian" sexual standards are to blame, and ditch celibacy as a quick fix. That's the liberal way. If there are violations of a law or a standard, scrap the law, scrap the standard.

I am not a Catholic, but I believe that we Protestants share a common interest with Catholics in preserving our respective standards against the overwhelming pressure to conform to the wishes of secular liberals. When Christians of any stripe yield to the secular tide, they damage the cause of Christianity.

As a Protestant, I have to admit that while Christian-bashing is a favorite pastime of the media, they seem particularly drawn to slamming the Catholic Church -- perhaps because it is America's (and the world's) biggest denomination.

But I have good news for you Catholics who are tired of your church being a punching bag. Finally someone has written a book defending the Catholic Church. I'm talking about "Triumph: The Power and Glory of the Catholic Church," by my friend Harry Crocker.

This book is a must read for Catholics who want to learn about their faith, its history, its influence, its schisms, its warts and its glory. But I think it is also a must read for Protestants who have only read and learned about church history from the Protestant perspective.

I don't want to mislead you. Harry has not converted me, but he has opened my eyes to an important perspective to which I had not been exposed. At some points I think Harry, in his enthusiastic zeal for the Catholic Church (and as a convert from Protestantism) is a bit hard-hitting on the Protestant movement. But I appreciate his honesty, even if I don't always agree with his conclusions. Had he tempered his remarks I think Protestant readers would be denied the benefit of understanding the Catholic perspective on the Reformation and many other issues. It truly opened my eyes in several areas.

Triumph is particularly timely given the current scandal, and should be a strong comfort and encouragement to all Catholics. Crocker wrote the book before the outbreak of this latest scandal, but his timeless message nevertheless speaks to it.

Relying on the historical record, he argues that the Church succeeds and prospers not by succumbing to political correctness or the fashions of the day but by being true to itself and its tradition. It must not abandon its standards but reaffirm them. Above all, the Church must not dilute the rigorous requirements of the priesthood. The church hierarchy is central to the church's strength, and the priesthood, Crocker says, should be the pope's marines.

On the second-to-last page of his book (p.426), Crocker poignantly quotes Graham Greene arguing in favor of priestly celibacy. "I think that for many people, especially the young, the priesthood must have the attraction of a crack unit. It's an organization which has to train for combat, one which demands self-sacrifice ... I'm convinced that the drop in vocations has to do with the fact that we don't put across clearly enough the attraction to be found in a difficult and dangerous calling."

Whether you're a Catholic, a Protestant or a non-Christian, if you begin "Triumph," you will have difficulty putting it down -- and you will be the better for it. But more than that, this book is a spirited and meticulously documented defense of the beleaguered Catholic Church by a man who passionately loves it and fervently prays for its deliverance from forces seeking to undermine it.

David Limbaugh, a columnist and attorney a practicing in Cape Girardeau, Mo., is the author of the just-released exposť about corruption in the Clinton-Reno Justice Department, "Absolute Power." Send your comments to him by clicking here.