Who's Cutting Slack for Whom?

It's been a while since "permissiveness" was blamed for America's social ills. Wall Street thievery and wildcate ventures including Bernie Madoff's helped set aside the notion that the old nemesis could be invoked on liberals with impunity -- and permissiveness talk sort of went away.

Now the pope's letter to the Irish, and the premise behind Rome's investigation of nuns, signal a revival. In one case, Benedict says child abuse was in large measure egged on when the "renewal" called for by Vatican II "was sometimes misinterpreted," a situation made more confusing by "profound social change" in and around it.

Nothing Benedict says indicates he thinks anything is wrong with church laws and discipline. Things just got lax and the church sheriffs were distracted from enforcing those laws. The remedy is to do a better job. There's no need to reform the system itself.

Unmentioned is the permissivness angle. Bishops are told they "failed, at times, greviously, to apply the long established norms of canon law to the crime of child abuse." But so far the bishops face no sanctions for this permissive behavior.

His sorrow for the victims and their families is poignant. Perhaps the families will accept this compassionate apology as the end of it.

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But the assumption that the church's existing laws just needed to be applied more assiduously ignores the discussion of systemic reform and resorts to the "few bad apples" approach. And aside from a little scolding, the pope's gives a pass to those in charge while the sordid record of decades of child abuse.

Meanwhile, Cardinal Rode and other church officials let it be known that the investigation of American nuns would be pursued because too many nuns had abused the directives they'd received from the Council. They were,in effect, being punished before examination, without predisposition. Not even the harshest critics of progressive nuns accuse them with abuses anything like criminal charges such as those leveled against Irish clerics. Most nuns, by contrast, stand by the decisions they made in renewal as a fulfillment of the Council's intentions. At most there have been honest differences of perspective.

A double standard on permissiveness? Seems so.

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