Dreher and Neuhaus

Over at Rod Dreher’s place, a few commenters are unhappy with Rod for his post in which he relates some unpleasant experiences he had with Richard John Neuhaus — in particular, an episode in which Neuhaus simply shouted at Rod in an attempt to dissuade him from writing about sexual abuse by Catholic priests and its coverup by Catholic bishops. “Don’t speak ill of the dead” is the general view among this set of readers.

Well, first of all, most of them are neglecting the many very positive things Rod says about Father Neuhaus. And second, I think it’s okay to tell the truth about the dead, even when that truth is not so pleasant, as long as one is fair and balanced (to coin a phrase).

But still, there is something that troubles me about Rod’s story. If someone has mistreated you, or done anything discreditable in your presence in private, and you wait until he is dead to tell the story in public, you’re ensuring that he doesn't get the opportunity to give his side of the story, to clarify or correct — and above all, to apologize and ask for forgiveness. He is forever, and publicly, the person who acted badly towards you; whereas if the story had been told while he was still alive, he could have been the person who repented and apologized for such behavior.

The story Rod tells is not malicious — it makes a legitimate and germane point about the varying attitudes of equally committed Catholics to the clergy abuse scandals — but it would have been equally germane to any number of pieces Rod has written about these matters in the past few years. So while I don't think Rod was simply wrong to tell the story now, I don't think his decision was the best one. I wish he had published the story while Father Neuhaus was alive, or not published it at all.