The 14 3/4 Biggest Ideas of the Year July/August 2010

The Catholic Church is Finished

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This was the year when the cover-up of priestly sex abuse, a long-simmering crisis for Catholicism, became something much, much bigger. It was Watergate. It was Waterloo. It was another Reformation. The pope had to apologize. No, the pope had to resign. No, the pope had to be arrested. The Church could be saved only if every bishop stepped down. No, the Church could be saved only if a Third Vatican Council was convened. No, the Church could be saved only if it became as liberal as the Episcopal Church, and quickly. No, nothing could save the Church: it was too corrupt, too compromised, too medieval, too anachronistic. And now, at last, it was finished.

A little historical perspective suggests otherwise. The Church has been horrifyingly corrupt in previous eras and still survived. It’s been led by ecclesiastics who make Bernard Law’s hands look clean, and still survived. It’s faced fiercer enemies than Richard Dawkins (think Nero, or Attila, or Voltaire) and still survived. Time after time, G. K. Chesterton wrote, “the Faith has to all appearance gone to the dogs.” Each time, “it was the dog that died.”

But if the Church isn’t finished, period, it can still be finished for certain people, in certain contexts, in certain times. And so it is in this case: for millions in Europe and America, Catholicism is probably permanently associated with sexual scandal, rather than the gospel of Jesus Christ. And as in many previous dark chapters in the Church’s history, the leaders entrusted with that gospel have nobody to blame but themselves.


14 3/4. Reefer Sanity
by Joshua Green
7. Information Wants to Be Paid For
by Walter Isaacson
14. It’s Too Easy Being Green
by Kai Ryssdal
6. The Kids Aren’t All Right
by David Leonhardt
13. Teachers Are Fair Game
by David Brooks
5. Bonfire of the Knuckleheads
by Jeffrey Goldberg
12. The Rise of the Drones
by Martha Raddatz
4. The Power of No
by Michael Kinsley
11. Obama Is No Liberal
by James Bennet
3. Boredom is Extinct
by Walter Kirn
10. The Triumph of Free Speech
by Jeffrey Rosen
America Is No. 2
by James Fallows
9. The Catholic Church Is Finished
by Ross Douthat
1. The End of Men
by Hanna Rosin
8. Deficits Matter
by Megan McArdle
PLUS: More Ideas of the Year
From TARP to sleeping with Tiger Woods
Ross Douthat is a columnist for The New York Times.
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Ross Douthat is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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