I think Hendrik Hertzberg’s commentary in today’s New Yorker is the smartest, most succinct piece of writing on the Catholic abuse crisis I have seen. His first paragraph is a perfect, classic scene setter:
"On October 31, 1517, a Roman Catholic priest and theologian, Dr. Martin Luther, put the finishing touches on a series of bullet points and, legend has it, nailed the result to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg, Germany—the equivalent, for the time and place, of uploading a particularly explosive blog post. Luther’s was a protest against the sale of chits that were claimed to entitle buyers or their designees to shorter stays in Purgatory. Such chits, known as indulgences, were being hawked as part of Pope Leo X’s fund-raising drive for the renovation of St. Peter’s Basilica. The “Ninety-five Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences” touched off a high-stakes flame war that rapidly devolved into the real thing, with actual wars, actual flames, and actual stakes. The theological clash that sundered Christendom didn’t just change the face of Western religion; it birthed the modern world."