The verdict in the Andrea Yates case has rubbed relativism the wrong way, reverting as it seems to do to a simpler rule of determining legal responsibility when insanity pleas are raised. The old M’Naughten Rule: did the defendant know what he was doing, the nature and quality of his act, and could he distinguish between right and wrong at the time of the offense. It’s been around since 1843. Attempts have been made to parse it, dilute it, pervert it, but by and large it speaks to what juries comprehend in reflection of their life experience.
There is the “irresistible impulse” defense, one that the Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia found irresistible in 1954 in the Durham case, but which the same court junked in 1972 in favor of the simpler test embedded in the model penal code.
But none of this counts with the average pundit, or the street, which has determined that Mrs. Yates should not be held accountable simply because of the horror of the crime, its multiplicity. We are still likely to be transported into the wood of the modern alienist who can find diminished capacity, irresistible impulse, uncontrollable impulse, automatism, or a dozen variations of the theme to excuse culpability. This is our millennium mission: to avoid culpability. To stand naked in the world and cry, “Here am I, Lord, a sinner — but that guy over there made me do it.” To somehow find Andrea Yates innocent of crime, a victim of other unseen impulses, would make us all feel better, knowing as we would then that no one is really capable of such horror without the intervention of another force. We are all really okay, now, aren’t we?
So it is that Roman Catholics are now treated to the posit: celibacy for the priesthood may be a bad thing. The wellspring here, the exposure of widespread pedophilia among those who have taken a vow of celibacy in dedicating themselves to the love and service of Christ. An editorial in the “Pilot,” the official newspaper of the Boston Archdiocese, suggests the church must acknowledge the question of whether to drop the celibacy requirement for priests. The editorial seems simply to ruminate out loud on the question, not to take a stand, which would be a challenge to Rome.
Missing from that sectarian argument is a matter of law and fact. Who is suggesting that marriage is a cure for pedophilia? This current curse of the Church is not priestly philandering with adult parishioners. What is appalling and what is costing is the admitted abuse of children, young boys who, in some cases, grow to knowledgeable adulthood before the statute of limitations has run. It is not a matter of celibacy but of law, God’s and man’s.
But again, the desire for unaccountability drives the argument. Marry them off, sanction the relief of their prostates and testes, and again we will have avoided the need to acknowledge another covenant broken. After all, wasn’t it found years ago that abstinence from the consumption of red meat on one day a week was too great a burden for the laity?
If there is any balm to be found it must lie in an appreciation of the good. A decent respect for those who labor on under heavy burdens, more acknowledgment of the woman who struggles to meet the responsibilities of a large family, encouragement and insight from those near her. And a new regard for men who take on in a world teeming with the trappings of indulgence the self-denial required by their Church in the salvation of souls.