DOUTHAT: JOE PATERNO ENABLED A CHILD RAPIST BECAUSE JOE IS SO DARN VIRTUOUS!
Yeah, Ross Douthat really said that -- and he said it about the pedophile enablers in the Catholic Church as well:
Bad and mediocre people are tempted to sin by their own habitual weaknesses. The earlier lies or thefts or adulteries make the next one that much easier to contemplate. Having already cut so many corners, the thinking goes, what's one more here or there? Why even aspire to virtues that you probably won't achieve, when it's easier to remain the sinner that you already know yourself to be?
But good people, heroic people, are led into temptation by their very goodness -- by the illusion, common to those who have done important deeds, that they have higher responsibilities than the ordinary run of humankind. It's precisely in the service to these supposed higher responsibilities that they often let more basic ones slip away.
I believe that Joe Paterno is a good man....
I also believe that most of the clerics who covered up abuse in my own Catholic Church were in many ways good men....
They believed in their church. They believed in their mission. And out of the temptation that comes only to the virtuous, they somehow persuaded themselves that protecting their institution's various good works mattered more than justice for the children they were supposed to shepherd and protect.
I have to be fair: Douthat doesn't say this to fully exonerate Paterno or the members of the Church establishment who covered up child rape. He acknowledges that they did a bad thing.
But still: he's arguing that these people are so good that they're incapable of weakness. He seems to be arguing that some people are so darn good that they're incapable of any failing, apart from, well, inattentiveness.
Douthat is still a Catholic and I left the Church in my teens, but I still remember what I was taught, and what he's saying is not just absurd, it's contradictory to Church teaching: no one is without sin. And the secular way of putting that is that no one is without weakness (to use Douthat's word). I don't care how wonderful you seem -- you're capable of a profound moral lapse. Everyone is.
I wouldn't have thought Joe Paterno was a living saint even if this scandal had never taken place -- he was a freaking football coach; he's not living in a slum curing lepers. But even the leper-curer surely has moral flaws. We all do, Ross.