Pope Francis at the Vatican on Aug. 22
E.J. Dionne Jr.

The major disgrace of America's Catholic bishops was to foster a culture in which priests sexually assaulted children and were then sent on to new duties as their ungodly behavior was covered up.

There is also a second failure. Thanks to the bishops, who are supposed to strengthen the faith, Catholics are now regularly asked: "How can you be a Catholic?" And, even more pointedly, "How can you stay?"

This summer, these questions became much harder to answer.

This is about the institution, not about whether to be a Christian. Christianity heroically preaches a devotion to the poor and the marginalized, and the abusive priests often preyed on the most vulnerable and least advantaged children. As a dear friend who no longer thinks of herself as part of the Church noted, these reprehensible acts turned Christianity on its head.

It's fair to ask why churchgoing Catholics, myself included, were so shaken by the scathing report from a Pennsylvania grand jury and the revelation of the reported abuses by former cardinal Theodore McCarrick. After all, since the 1980s and 1990s, we have known a great deal about the Church's malfeasance, and yet we held on.

How can you be a Catholic?

The sickening catalogue of pure evil in Pennsylvania is certainly part of the answer. And McCarrick's admirers were at first shocked and then horrified over his betrayal.

Defenders of the Church note that the bishops' 2002 reforms dealing with abusive priests, though imperfect, made a difference. It appears that all but two of the cases described in the Pennsylvania report predate the policy changes, although we may learn of more as victims feel newly empowered to report past transgressions.

But the sheer weight of the evidence brought home a reality that loyal Catholics who retain an appreciation of the good work the Church has done must confront: The great missing piece in the Church's response was the failure of the hierarchy to atone — truly, deeply, credibly — for putting institutional self-protection over the interests of the young and the powerless who were harmed.

Watching Pope Francis' mass in Dublin, Ireland, on Aug. 26 — Photo: Nick St.Oegger/ZUMA

The leadership has resolutely avoided a searching inquiry into how the Church's culture and structure contributed to a catastrophic failure of accountability. A philosopher friend who has warm feelings for the Church offered an insight that Catholics cannot avoid: "Hierarchy without transparency is tyranny."

Patricia McGuire, the president of Trinity Washington University, grasped the essential truth in a July essay written after the McCarrick revelations but before the grand jury accounting. "The utter lack of a truly empathetic acknowledgment of the victims," she wrote, "and those who truly love the victims, those who also suffer because of the abuse — their mothers and fathers and all in the universe afflicted by these grave sins — this is the most fundamental problem the Church has yet to address in a satisfactory way."

She pointed to the Church's "sad history of sometimes rendering unequivocally harsh judgment against those who violate even minor rules while looking the other way when its own ordained leaders violate the most sacred and profound rules about human conduct and respect for human dignity."

On so many questions, from climate change to poverty, Pope Francis has been the fresh voice the Church needed. But he was shamefully slow in facing the gravity of the abuse crisis. His statements acknowledging the Church's culpability, last week and over the weekend on a visit to Ireland, were at best a first step.

Hierarchy without transparency is tyranny.

Now, his papacy is under threat. Conservative commentators and prelates long hostile to Francis are focusing their attacks on the pope and progressive bishops while ignoring the failures of their conservative episcopal allies and Francis's predecessors. The campaign reached a crescendo with the release of a letter from ultra-traditionalist Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò charging that Francis long knew of the allegations against McCarrick.

Exploiting what is a blight on the entire Church to make a play for power is a further affront to the innocents who have suffered. But the descent into factional politics only underscores the high costs of the Church's long-term default.

I could detail the reasons for my personal gratitude to the Church, list the devoted people I know — especially nuns and lay women — who carry out missions of mercy, and argue that its core teachings about our obligations to each other remain urgent in our wounded world.

But like many at this moment, I am struggling, wondering whether the Church can meet its own obligations — to those it injured wantonly above all, and to the faithful who are still in search of a compelling answer when they are asked: "How can you stay?"

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Society

Oui-Haw! American Country Music Has Global Appeal

Some might ask: Why is there such a thing as International Country Music Day? Turns out the American musical genre has pockets of popularity around the world, from twanging sounds in Japan to South Africa to line dancing in France.

Japanese cover of a Dolly Parton album

PARIS — To the rest of the world, there may be nothing more American than singers with acoustic guitars crooning about beer, trucks and Southern living. But the longstanding genre has had surprising relevance faraway countries. Academic papers have even been penned on why these cultural symbols — so specific to the Yankee experience — have such global appeal.

The examples abound of the traveling power of this popular music genre that blends folk, blues slavery-era spirituals and Southern gospel. One famous story recounts that during his time as a political prisoner, South Africa's Nelson Mandela was allowed to play one song over the loudspeakers. What tune did he pick? The Dolly Parton classic "Jolene," in which the Tennessee icon pleads with another woman not to take her man.

Tokyo Sexwale, a fellow freedom fighter in the cell next to Mandela, told the podcast "Dolly Parton's America" that the choice was somehow perfectly natural: "We are all human beings. The jailed and the jailer. But we all come from one country, but we all don't want to lose. Whether it's a man or your country, nobody wants to be hurt. Don't hurt me."

With this theme of art's ability to transcend geographic boundaries in mind (and to mark International Country Music Day, here's a swinging tour of country music's worldwide influence.

Africa: Classic Country Imports And Kenya's Own Elvis

Nigerian country music singer-songwriter Ogak Jay Oke — Photo: Mgbo
  • Back in 2007, NPR reported about the popularity of country music in Nairobi, Kenya — particularly Dolly Parton and Texan singer-songwriter Kenny Rogers, who received extensive television and radio play. Reporter Gwen Thompkins highlighted how, despite cultural differences, Kenyans found strength and a common ground in songs about agriculture-based economies facing societal and political challenges. As Henry Makhoka, the head of programming at the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation, told Thompkins: "Most of the country music we play talks about country life, talks about the farm life and so on. That kind of environment was abundantly available where I was born."
  • In fact, country music has been popular in Africa since the 1950s, with local artists across the continent interpreting the genre's musical and thematic elements (see Ivory Coast duo Jess Sah Bi & Peter One and Nigerian country-disco pioneer Emma Ogosi). Many harken back to country music's roots; the banjo was in fact an instrument brought to the Americas by African slaves.
  • Currently, one of the biggest country stars is Elvis Othieno (a.k.a. Sir Elvis), who grew up in a country music-loving household and was inspired by Garth Brooks and Hank Williams. Originally from Kenya, Sir Levis has performed around the world — he started his first country band while living in Norway — and is part of a generation of African country stars that also includes newcomers Esther Konkara and Ogak Jay Oke, who hails from Nigeria.

Asia: A John Denver Classic Hits Home

John Denver in 1975 — Photo: Wikimedia Commons
  • Hayao Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli is known for its rich depictions of Japanese culture and mythology, so it's somewhat surprising that the 1995 animated film Whisper of the Heart centers around a country song: John Denver's "Take Me Home, Country Roads." Denver's ode to West Virginia is a unique fit in the coming of age story about the stress of urban life in Tokyo, but Studio Ghibli is far from the first to adapt "Country Roads" to a foreign audience.
  • The song has been covered by over 150 artists (from Olivia Newton-John to Hiwain singer Israel Kamakawiwo'ole) in at least 19 different languages, from Hindi to Greek to Hebrew, often changing the lyrics to be about the singer's homeland. Researchers in 2009 found that it was the most popular American song among college students in China. (Denver was in fact one of the first American artists to tour modern China in 1985 and his music was played widely on Armed Forces Radio in countries like Philippines, Korea and Vietnam where the U.S. had an important military presence.)
  • This ode to the Appalachian Mountains also has a special meaning for many who came to the U.S. searching for the American Dream. As Jason Jeong wrote in the Atlantic, many Asian-American immigrants see the song as both "an ode to an uncomplicated vision of the United States" and "a melancholic reminder of leaving a place they called home, and everything lost to the promise of a better life."

France: Translating Country Sounds — And Dance Moves

Linedancing in France — Photo: Country-France Facebook page
  • France, a country proud of both its language and cultural output, has a long history of rock stars pillaging country standards, often completely changing the songs' meanings: from American-French singer Joe Dassin changing "City of New Orleans" into "Salut les amoureux" ("Hello Lovers") to "Five Hundred Miles Away From Home" by Bobby Bare somehow becaming Richard Anthony's "J'entends siffler le train" ("I Hear the Train Whistle").
  • Whether it's creative liberty or cross-cultural miscommunication, this trend has been popular since the days of big '60s household names like Johnny Hallyday to Eddy Mitchell to Hugues Aufray. The result usually infuses the French ennui of the "everyday man" into these American classics.
  • Line dancing has also become somewhat of a phenomenon in France, with clubs around the country (especially in more rural areas) featuring dancers who dress the part in cowboy hats and boots. According to weekly news magazine L'Express, some 4 million people — nearly 9% of the French population over 18 — have tried country-style dances.



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