The Magazine

Sin No More

Apologies differ, and so do the reasons to apologize.

Oct 13, 2008, Vol. 14, No. 05 • By JUDY BACHRACH
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

She hasn't the faintest idea. Instead, she moves quickly on to another oddity: "The outcry for [Bill] Clinton's admission of wrongdoing was matched four years after by a call from the pews of the Catholic church: a demand that the Catholic hierarchy admit its own sin in allowing known pedophiles to 'minister' to children," Bauer writes.

Now let's parse that a bit. On the one hand we have Clinton, who after falling briefly for a thong-snapper, did what most men do on being questioned about it. He lied. And on the other we have Bernard Cardinal Law, bishop of the Archdiocese of Boston, who had sheltered and reassigned a number of criminal priests who were repeat child molesters.

Cardinal Law's first response when a Boston newspaper reported the scandal was to say, "We would be less than the community of faith and love .  .  . were we not to attempt to respond both to victim and betrayer in truth, in love and in reconciliation." When that didn't go over so well, he tried an apology. In other words, when caught he didn't lie; but by then, who cared? The guy was toast.

In fact, in practically every chapter, Bauer manages to ignite a spectacular incineration of her premise. "Law's three apologies had not averted blame," she writes. But Clinton, who didn't apologize until really late in the game, "was able to arouse a certain public sympathy for his lies."

Why? Once again the author doesn't seem to know, so I'll tell her. Clinton survived because everyone understands that politicians are mass seducers. That's their central talent, and it's really hard for any of them to stop plying their trade in private. The reason Cardinal Law had to go is that most people also understand that someone who coddles child molesters has nothing to say, however self-abasing, to the rest of us.

Nothing we want to hear, anyway.

Judy Bachrach is a contributing editor to Vanity Fair.