Rotten apples? Rotten barrel?

What have these orders got in common: the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity, the Sisters of Mercy, the Religious Sisters of Charity and the Sisters of the Good Shepherd? Yes, they are all holy nuns who have devoted their lives to the love of God and neighbour. But there is another common factor: nuns from these orders appear in the recent Martin McAleese report as running the Magdalene laundries in Ireland.

Thus, some of their members apparently decided that their vocations were consistent with long-term cruelty to the young women in their care, and a denial to them of the most basic human rights.

But before we look at this troubling question we may consider another story. This is the Robert Francis report on the Mid Staffs Hospital. We may have presumed that those who join the medical professions place the highest importance on the standard of patient care. Instead, it would appear that some NHS staff have been similarly guilty of care-less cruelty to the patients in their care, and a denial to them of the most basic human rights. “Staff who spoke out felt ignored and there is strong evidence that many were deterred from doing so through fear and bullying,” the report says.

In both instances the point was made that the neglect spread to the senior authorities who had responsibility for supervising the institutions.

We are horrified, indeed deeply shocked, by the hypocrisy of the stark contrast between vocation and performance. But we should not be surprised, for these are no more than evidence of the great distortions of morality which can occur as a result of the moral tone of societies, or of groups within society. If we witness such corruption in what we might have judged to be the most holy or most caring cultures what do we expect from the secular and commercial cultures in which we move? Or indeed within our own cultures.

The very word “moral” comes from the Latin word mores, which means customs. And it is true that for most people most of the time the immediate guide to moral behaviour is the standard laid down in the culture of the group. Few people develop their moral understanding further than this, and so do not ordinarily make independent moral judgments. This moral immaturity is often the result of poor education, except for Catholics of my own older generation – when programmed moral judgment was taught as a matter of policy.

The mores of the group are hardwired into the brain by way of a neural signalling method which gives us an error signal when we do not conform, and jogs our mind to fall into line.

If that does not correct our path, the tendency of a group to shun or bully dissidents may do the trick. And, relevant to the examples we are using, a low status group, with little power, needs greater conformity for its protection. Similarly relevant is the tendency for people, who are unable to leave a group whose activities they know to be deceitful, to learn quickly how to justify such activities. We may suppose that this happened in those “respectable” banks punished for widespread mis-selling of financial products.

Moral standards founded on group consensus are surprisingly volatile. It takes a dissident view held initially by about 10 per cent to swing a group. Study the incidence of paedophile reports in the Archdiocese of San Francisco. They move from virtually nil in 1930 to a dramatic peak in the 1970s, and fall again to virtually nil by 2000. This was not an exceptional group who just happened to have in-built paedophilia. The tsunami of general dissidence which followed Humanae Vitae was psychologically predictable. Once the controlling dam of group mores is breached, the waters flow. And the higher the dam, the more powerful the water.

There is a problem here. Morally sensitive though we may judge ourselves to be, we are influenced at some level by group mores. But let me just stay with myself. It is a practical certainty that I hold on to some moral views and attitudes which owe more to my social grouping (which includes the Church) than I owe to my own moral judgment.

I conclude this from my past. I was, for instance, brought up with the idea that a sentence to eternal punishment was continually hanging over my head. It would fall if I carelessly missed Mass or allowed an impure thought, and happened to disappear under a bus. I do not now believe in this tyrant God I was asked to accept.

I finished 10 years of the finest Catholic education with the settled belief, as I watched the crowds in Piccadilly, that all these people were destined to hell. They had had plenty of opportunity to examine the unquestionable claims of the Catholic Church, and had rejected them to their peril.

While I continue to believe in the Natural Law, and thus think that the Creator’s will can properly be deduced from human nature, I now see that this deduction is far more complex and subtle than could ever be apparent to the pre-scientific thought of Aquinas and Aristotle.

If you are younger than me and think that these old beliefs are too grotesque for even the simple-minded, suspend your judgment. Ask yourself again in 20 years whether your own beliefs have changed. And if not, why not?

I leave you with Michael Deacon’s question in the Telegraph following the report on the Mid-Staffs hospital: “A problem of systems and culture, we were told. Didn’t this involve humans at all?”

Relevant links:

neural error-monitoring


Mechanism of social conformity

SanFrancisco clergy (thanks to John Candido)

About Quentin

Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
This entry was posted in Catholic Herald columns, Moral judgment, Philosophy and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

70 Responses to Rotten apples? Rotten barrel?

  1. Brian Hamill says:

    I am in the process of reading the New Blackfriars magazine dedicated to the papers delivered to the Catholic Theological Association last summer under the general title ‘Church, Credibility and Culture’; it makes disturbing reading and is very relevant to this discussion.

  2. claret says:

    The question:”What would you have done?” is a hard one to answer with any certainty. We would like to think that we would speak out against cruelty and indifference but the reality is that for many ( even most ?) of us we would acquiesce or the very best we would do is turn a ‘blind eye’ and try to give reason to our conscience which, deep down, we know is flawed.
    I think of the holocaust and of how it was born and justified by the modern phrase of ‘ethnic cleansing.’ Himmler in a speech to the SS extermination squads recognised that mass human slaughter could have an adverse mental affect on the perpetrators but went on to justify what they were doing as being for the good of Greater Germany and Europe. Yet when the tide turned they made a very effort to hide their crimes that laid bare the lies that they had convinced themselves of.
    But what would I have done if i was a young German man of that time and swayed by propaganda fulfilled an ambition by joining the SS. Finding myself posted to an extermination camp, what would I have done?

    • John Nolan says:

      In the aftermath of the Second World War the Allies embarked on a large-scale programme of ‘ethnic cleansing’, which accounts for the fact that there are very few Germans in Silesia, Danzig and East Prussia.

  3. John Candido says:

    ‘…evidence of the great distortions of morality which can occur as a result of the moral tone of societies, or of groups within society.’ (Quentin de la Bedoyere)

    The example of racist attitudes in the United States (or anywhere else); from the slavery of Colonial times, through the American Civil War during the 19th century, and to the corrective effects of the Civil Rights movement, led by Martin Luther King Jr. during the 20th century. Racism is a perfect example of immoral ‘group think’ which heroic individuals and groups have fought against the overwhelming majority of people who were in favour of it over the centuries. People such as William Wilberforce, Abraham Lincoln, Congressman Thaddeus Stevens, Senator Charles Sumner, Frederick Douglass, Gandhi, Rosa Parks, and Nelson Mandela, amongst many other individuals, have played important roles against the effects of racism during their time.

    Of course racism is as universal as the air we all breathe. It is in all of us, and can be found in every single culture, if only as a lowly example of a personal preference for one’s own ethnocultural group, without any subtle or overt prejudice, rancour or violence towards people who look and sound different to us. We can view racism’s nadir as similar to the abuses of patients’ human rights, as reported by Robert Francis QC, as happens in every institution from time to time.

    As a rough rule of thumb; the longer an institution has been in existence without an external review by a competent, objective, assessor, the greater is the chance for its culture to fail and become moribund. If this rule of thumb applies to secular institutions; can it apply to the Roman Catholic Church? In the light of the worldwide clerical child sex abuse scandal, and the abuse that occurred in the Magdalene laundries in Ireland, I certainly think so.

    I have seen the Steven Spielberg film called ‘Lincoln’ several times. I would kill in order to be able to transport myself back in time so that I may be able to see and hear Lincoln. He is that good. Thankfully the film does not portray him as a perfect man because like all men, he had his faults. Despite this, he was one of the most important men in history who was head and shoulders above most people on the subject of slavery and race equality.

    The film has also come to be criticised in recent news reports for historical inaccuracies concerning the crucial House of Representatives vote on the 13th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, on the 31st January 1865. Despite this small blemish and anything else that could fall under ‘artistic licence’, I highly recommend the film for everyone to see.

    • Vincent says:

      Lincoln is a good example precisely because he was a racist. Even shortly before his death he doubted whether the great majority of black people could really be part of ‘society’. But, because he was so far ahead of the common view, we see him as progressive. We measure him, therefore, in terms relative to his group, and not objectively.

      One of the problems of discussing this is that it is often quite easy to identify other groups who have a bad or sinful culture. It seems much more difficult to see how one’s own views might be affected. For instance, we might belong to a group of dissenters – with an instinct to judge anything done by the official Church as wrong. Or sticklers who insist that any variation from Trent is sinful.

  4. mike Horsnall says:

    “If we witness such corruption in what we might have judged to be the most holy or most caring cultures what do we expect from the secular and commercial cultures in which we move? Or indeed within our own cultures…”

    Can’t for the life of me, Quentin, see why you have such a high view of church culture- I don’t share that view myself but thats probably another issue.

    I have been taking communion round Stafford Hospital for the past 4 years, people accept the standards they come into as ‘the norm’.Though there may be disquiet this is easily glossed over or ignored-without malice-until some issure really tugs the conscience. The figures for Stafford Hospital worked out, according to my reckoning, at one case of serious negligence per ward per month. Easily passed over, don’t you think?

    • St.Joseph says:

      My late husband never ill in life, picked up C diff in hospital and died We had 9 apologies.I wont say any more about that now it is too distressing. We know all about that in the hospitals.

      also The Victory of Reason.Randon House 2005.
      Also St Wulfstan (eleventh th century) succeeded in aboloshing the slave trade in Bristol one of the capitals of the slave trade, by converting the slave traders-this accomplishment initiated a reform of the slave trade in Britain.
      Also one could read about the sufferings of the Irish by the Black and Tans. etc.
      Cruelty seems to be a part of our human existence, and probably will be as long as sin is in our lives.

      • mike Horsnall says:

        St Joseph,

        Sorry to hear about the manner of your husbands death.

        You are right about cruelty, it is with us all, often coming well disguised as self righteousness.

  5. Singalong says:

    That is a very interesting article, and by coincidence, there is one in today`s Telegraph about slavery today which is relevant

    Do we think about slavery and exploitation involved in production, when we buy goods?
    Do we always support Fair Trade?

    • St.Joseph says:

      Not forgetting the young children sold for child prostitution, anmber of children from Uk was told last year I cant remember how many but it is all corrupt.

    • Quentin says:

      That’s a very pertinent article. I particularly valued Rabbi Blue’s remark about ‘moral longsightedness’>

      • St.Joseph says:

        Not forgetting the Abortion Act.

      • Singalong says:

        Quentin, yes, indeed, it is sometimes much easier to sign a petition or send a donation than it is to be kind to our “nearest and dearest” or to see what we can do about the homeless in our own towns.

        On another thought in your Post, about the crowds in Picadilly. I never thought of them being condemned to Hell. My Catholic family and education led me to think that my own future there was much more likely. They were covered by not knowing the Faith we had, they could be doing, partially at any rate, the best that they knew. From Catholics/me, to whom much was given, much more would be expected.

  6. St.Joseph says:

    Mike thank you.
    My husband on one occasion was left for 2 hrs in continuing diarrhoea , ringing his bell, in the end he phoned my daughter. Just one occasion of his suffering.There was over 700 cases in that hospital, they did not all die thank God.But his Mum suffered too in that hospital 3 years ago.
    There are some nightmare stories-which would be hard to believe if one did not know.
    But for me now that is in the past now but forgotten.

  7. John Nolan says:

    Some very good points both in Quentin’s post and the comments which have followed it, not least John Candido’s (I shall return to one of his points in due course). I take a little bit of umbrage at Quentin’s referring to the classical and medieval ages as “pre-scientific” – the desire to aquire knowledge is as old as human history. I have taken the trouble to read Senator McAleese’s report on the Magdalen laundries (it is mainly concerned with the extent to which the State was involved from 1922 to 1996) as well as the somewhat intemperate reactions to it. Before rushing to condemnations based on media hype, 21st century liberal assumptions which are themselves open to challenge in terms of both theory and practice, and a visceral hostility to the Catholic Church, I think we should consider the following.
    1. The Irish Free State and later Republic did not set up a welfare state on the British model (which was extended to the six counties of Northern Ireland). So the traditional charitable organizations bore the brunt of social services, and in a Catholic country this means those run by the Catholic Church.
    2. The Irish penal system did not properly cater for female offenders (there were no girls’ borstals for example) so they tended to be fed into the charitable system.
    3. There is no evidence whatsoever of sexual abuse of inmates, nor of direct physical abuse (unless you count hard work as physical abuse).
    4. The laundries barely broke even in financial terms, so the inmates were not being exploited for profit.
    5. The State regularly inspected the institutions to ensure that they complied with the Factory Acts (I know this falls short of modern H&S criteria, but it was the same everywhere)
    6. The median term of stay in one of the laundries was seven months.
    7. There is no evidence that the nuns neglected the spiritual welfare of those in their charge. They were often “judgemental” in a way that is unfashionable nowadays, but have we perhaps not gone too far in the opposite direction?

    John Candido – I can’t think of a secular institution that has lasted 2000 years which has a billion adherents (and growing). The only competent objective assessor of His Church is Our Lord Himself.

  8. Brendan O' Leary says:

    It is self – evident that we are all uniquely different to each other, arising from Natural Law. Witness the perpetual drive by governments to centralise and bring to conformity – The Equal Marriage Bill is a classic example. Our Lord said, ( 8th Beatitude ) ” Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” ( Mt. 5:10 ).
    The ‘ herd ‘ , the ‘ everyone does it ‘ ,’ peer pressure ‘ factor all helps towards that numbing of conscience and the possible courting of evil. I have never been one for wholehearted joining ‘ groups ‘ or ‘ societies ‘ – probably due to some kind of personality trait as much as anything. But those secular ‘ groups ‘ that I have been bound to associate myself with in the past, I find that I am generally at odds with on moral issues. This is due like Querntin postulates, to an overarching prescence of Christianity and Catholic conviction which runs through my spiritual DNA.
    So like many of this ‘ sort ‘ we are called to ‘ stand up and be counted ‘ at something that goes instinctively against the grain..I believe that if Vatican 11 has done nothing else it has freed-up exactly what Quentin has described in his earlier up- bringing – this ‘herd ‘ mentality that so ossified Church teaching and hence peoples lives. But it did not matter so much then because of the universally accepted norms of behaviour in a ‘ christian ‘ society. The ‘ we’re all in this together ‘- so favoured by our Prime Minister !
    However, it is apparent to all that contemporary society because of this loss of religiosity in our midst , and hence a detachment to a personal ‘ faith ‘ ; we are forgetful of this universality and norms of behaviour. Therefore a courseness and lack of empathy with our fellow citizens ,is in evidence in all walks of life. Yes, it is not suprising that assaults against human dignity will occur in such a scenario. The problem is how to row back our society to a previous ‘ state of mind ‘ ?
    Pope Benedict in ‘ Jesus of Nazareth ‘ Part 1, equates the 2nd Beatitude, ” Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. ” to the 8th Beartitude. He goes on to say that mourning is a method of resisting models of behaviour that are tolerated by society that demands conformity and which often is quick to excuse or minimise such intolerable behaviour. Without this natural moral reaction society becomes anaesthetised to its responsibilities. Sadly , the last century has plenty of examples. Marana tha !

  9. ionzone says:

    The first thing that sprang to mind when I read this article were some of the most notorious psychological experiments ever conducted:

    (The prison experiment is the key one.)

    One of the most interesting things about this is that many people will now wrongly think what went on in these homes was ‘Church policy’. Not only that, but some will think vile behaviour it is outright mandated by the Bible. I heard the same thing with the paedophilia scandal and many more unrelated things. The fact is that if someone hates a group they will find a way to shift blame for things THEY have done onto that group. White supremacists blame Jews and gays for the crimes of Hitler (though not the Holocaust, because good ole Hitler would never do such a thing). Indeed, they will blame just about anything on Jews, gays, or black people since it is convenient to them to focus their energies on a perceived threat.

    This all happens because what one member of a group does is ALWAYS seen as policy for the entire group, particularly when that person has nothing to do with that group. In the first moments of reporting on any massacre, people with extreme views will come out of the woodwork to blame whoever they have focused their hate on. Nowadays this blame is more and more often pinned on Christians and Christianity as a whole, in this thinking an elderly Nun in Dorset can be blamed for a massacre in America or Europe just as much as the guy who pulled the trigger. A single crime is a nasty black mark against the whole religion and a ‘proof of failure’. The actual beliefs and motivations of the killer are, to them, irrelevant. Christianity\Jews\ the gays\black people did it. Case closed.

    Of course the mental condition of the perpetrator only ‘enhances’ their argument – now the group isn’t just guilty of this one thing, they are also a leading cause of Schizophrenia and miscellaneous psychosis! It is amazing how all of this can surface before anyone even knows what’s going on.

  10. Nektarios says:

    Seeking to answer the question that Quentin poses: “What is it that turns normal, kind, God-fearing people
    into petty monsters?

    We have sedulously cultivated through generations of tradition a morality based on will, on compulsion, a mechanical approach to life. Thus morality has been developed which is a process of discipline, of violence, of subjugation, of resistance, of imitation – all this is an intellectual development that has its roots in fear. The mechanical is overwhelmingly dominant in our lives. On this is based our whole civilization and morality.

    The various forms of moral and religious disciplines, the many impositions of social and ethical institutions, are but carefully cultivated mechanical attitude towards life which destroys spontaneity and destroys truth.
    Truth is. It is not a result of organized morality, for morality based on will is not moral.

  11. Mike Horsnall says:

    “We have sedulously cultivated through generations of tradition a morality based on will, on compulsion, a mechanical approach to life. Thus morality has been developed which is a process of discipline, of violence, of subjugation, of resistance, of imitation – all this is an intellectual development that has its roots in fear. The mechanical is overwhelmingly dominant in our lives. On this is based our whole civilization and morality.

    The various forms of moral and religious disciplines, the many impositions of social and ethical institutions, are but carefully cultivated mechanical attitude towards life which destroys spontaneity and destroys truth.
    Truth is. It is not a result of organized morality, for morality based on will is not moral…”

    This begs a few questions but comes quite close to the truth in many ways. It is a key issue in religious life I think. If one tries, even for a second, to envisage a life based in trust rather than extenal ‘morality’ then one finds oneself largely flummoxed. I said earlier that I do not share Quentins expectation that religious models of community produce caring and holiness, this is the reason why I beg to differ.
    The only thing to be said for organising around the will is that, fallen things as we are, it keeps us from even deeper mischief on a societal level. Daniel Finkenstein (a non practicing Jew) wrote an excellent article on this topic in the Times on Wednesday. In it he claimed Catholicism for a civilising influence simply because of its tradition. He argued that the tradition was able to carry fragments of wisdom and debate over fundamental issues-such as the call for social action and the reasons for living a good life – that would have been otherwise completely lost. There is an argument to say that the Church does not existt for the individuals who make up its body- but for the rest of the world. Along this line perhaps we should not expect the organising principle of Catholicsm, under which we live, to be especially productive of individual satisfactions or indeed of the milk of human kindness.

    • Nektarios says:

      Morality be it individual or collectively, like they voted in the House of Commons the other day for homosexual marriage, proving the point, when morality is a matter of will, it is not moral.
      This leads me to ask, what is goodness?

  12. St.Joseph says:

    The reading to-day 1st Saturday after Ash Wednesday.
    Isaiah. 58:9-14 also the Gospel of the day. Luke5:27-32. and the response Psalm 85.

    Very pertinent for us as Christians to mix with sinners.
    Although my husband and I always told our children ‘not to mix with bad company’ lest they be led astray!!
    But as Jesus in the Gospel reading say”s to Levi ‘Come follow me’ then went and ate and drank with sinners
    I suppose the moral is ‘to be ‘ground’ in the Truth before you venture into to darkness to enlighten others.
    It makes me sad to know how many young children do not know God.But of course many do know love.

  13. John Nolan says:

    I am reminded of the case of William Douglas-Home who was cashiered and sentenced to a year’s penal servitude with hard labour for disobeying orders in September 1944. The port of Le Havre was occupied by the Germans and besieged by the British. The German commander offered to evacuate the French civilians before the aerial bombardment began, but the British refused the offer. In the ensuing bombardment by the RAF and RCAF over 2000 French civilians were killed, in addition to 19 German soldiers. Douglas-Home refused an order to act as a LO on the grounds that he would be complicit in an immoral act. He received little sympathy from his brother officers who had been educated in the same morality as he had, but were prepared to set it aside, for whatever reason.

    • Nektarios says:

      John Nolan
      Please excuse my ignorance, but what does LO stand for?

      • John Nolan says:

        Liaison officer. The court martial ruled that to be ordered to act as such could not be construed as an illegal order. More than 40 years later, Douglas-Home, by then a successful playwright, tried and failed to get his conviction overturned. His stand, and the resultant publicity (D-H had managed to get a letter published in the Maidenhead Advertiser) does seem to have had an effect – at Calais the civilian population was allowed to be evacuated, and the British did not demand the unconditional surrender of Dunkirk.

  14. johnbunting says:

    ‘Morality based on will is not moral’
    Yes: as often, Blake had a word for it: “Bring out number, weight and measure in a year of dearth” (Proverbs of Hell)

    • Mike Horsnall says:

      John Bunting,

      John, what do you interpret Blake’s saying to mean?

      • johnbunting says:

        I think some of Blake’s sayings – like some of Jesus’s – will bear more than one interpretation.
        In this case, I take Blake’s proverb to mean that if people lose, or fail to acquire, an inner sense of morality, which instills self-respect and respect for others, then acceptable behaviour has to be imposed by some external sanction: e.g. by law or by general public disapproval. Expressing the same idea in more material terms, one might say, “Introduce rationing in a time of famine”.
        Another Blake proverb I often think of these days, with so much vulgar abuse flying around on internet blogs etc.- present company excepted, of course – is “Listen to the fool’s reproach! It is a kingly title!”
        In other words, if you’re insulted by idiots, take it as a compliment.

  15. Mike Horsnall says:

    Yes, thats my take on it too.

  16. Iona says:

    I wonder whether anyone, in the chain of command responsible for operating drones in the various parts of the world where they are currently in use, has made a stand similar to William Douglas-Home’s (and for the same reason)?
    If they had, would we know?

    • John Nolan says:

      Iona, that is a fair point, but drones can be accurately targeted and collateral damage minimised (we hope!). Unfortunately by the end of WW2 we had become desensitized to civilian casualties, not just those of the enemy nation, but also of our putative allies. The destruction of Dresden (and the deliberate targetting the next day of refugees by the USAAF) and the raid on Wurzburg in March 1945 which killed over 5000 civilians, cannot be justified in military terms. In that awful 20th century even so-called civilized nations descended into barbarism.

  17. Mike Horsnall says:

    If you did know, perhaps you’d best move house…now!

  18. Geordie says:

    ‘Morality based on will is not moral’
    What does this mean?

    • mike Horsnall says:

      Good question Geordie, we have not put it to the test. I think we are talking about a rule of behaviour which sets a ‘norm’ and the normative behaviour thus set is deemed’good’ when it may be only defensiveness or even a carefully disguised form of aggression. For example “stealing is to be punished by amputation because it sins against God” When this rule is applied by landowners wholesale against serfs in a time of famine. What was it the prophet said:
      “I desire mercy not judgement”
      Thats the kind of thing I think we mean here.

      • St.Joseph says:

        I don’t know if this will be the thinking but I believe that someone who is hanged then afterwards found out to be innocent. Even though the decision was a lawful judgement-by man.

    • Nektarios says:

      Morality based on will is not moral. What does it mean? Well none of us need look further than ourselves for an answer.
      We cultivate virtue, morality as a matter of will, to keep up with the progess we are making in other areas; but will the ciltivation of morality by the intellect bring about the well-being of man?
      Surely the conscious cultivation by the intellect is not virtue or morality. The more I think that I am virtuous, the less virtuous I become.
      All religions deliberately set about to cultivate particular qualities in the follower. This cultivation surely is of the intellect of the will of man, and not virtue or morality? It is a conscious deliberate effort. I wonder if such an effort brings about morality, as it confronts and meets the progress that the world is making? Such intellectual effort of will in morality is superficial not reaching the deeper level at all where that true revolution has to take place.

      • St.Joseph says:

        Same sex marriage what does that really mean. IVF what does that mean ,abortion what does that mean., Euthanasia what does that mean,Artificial birth regulation that cause illness’s. Money spent on flying to the Moon.And a lot more.
        Supposedly for the good of mankind and progress. The brave new world as we call it.
        Jesus told His Apostles that they would do even greater things than He did-are these the things that He meant. Or what do we think He did mean if not that. Are we moving closer to God or further away I ask for the moral dignity of mankind.?

  19. John Candido says:

    ‘John Candido – I can’t think of a secular institution that has lasted 2000 years which has a billion adherents (and growing). The only competent objective assessor of His Church is Our Lord Himself.’ (John Nolan)

    One can’t say that the ‘only competent objective assessor of His Church is Our Lord Himself’ because the care of the Church is, and always will be, a partnership between the Holy Spirit, and all of the Bishops, Priests, and Laity of the Church. Any attempt to water down the contribution of either the Holy Spirit or the efforts of all members to care for and guide the Church, would be an error. Sometimes the care or help can come from outside the Catholic Church such as official inquiries held by governments or by sociological investigations conducted by University bodies.

    The independent investigation into the sexual abuse of children by American clergy, which was initiated by the USCCB, also known as the John Jay Report, by scholars who are from the John Jay College, which is part of the City University of New York (CUNY), or the McAleese Report on the Magdalene Laundries, or the Irish government ‘Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse’, or any other independent report that tries to objectively obtain evidence of harm, abuse, or the denial of peoples’ human rights, all help the Church to recover from any maladministration, to better serve its Laity and members of the community.

    I do repeat that as a general rule of thumb, the longer any secular or sacred institution has been in existence, the greater the chance that maladministration, or a moribund culture can occur. Any established institution, including the Roman Catholic Church, can find skeletons in their closet if they look hard enough. Unfortunately their histories, like the history of any long established institution, have examples of poor behaviour. Ask any ecclesiastical historian who embodies genuine scholarship and he or she will list periods or incidences in the Church’s history that we all would rather forget. The difficulty of attaining a prerequisite objectivity, by members of institutions that need proper investigation, requires at times outside experts to assist the institution in trouble, to see what has occurred, by a truthful, balanced, and impartial investigation.

  20. St.Joseph says:

    Well now then doesn’t that just proves John Nolans point!
    Holy Mother Church will withstand all the muck that’s thrown at it.!!

  21. John Nolan says:

    John Candido,

    I did in fact concede that you made some valid points. However, most of your thinking is woolly, you are too prone to cite ‘authorities’ which reinforce your prejudices (and we are all guilty of that!) and your historical analysis throws into sharp relief the fact that you are not an historian.

  22. John Candido says:

    Although this is not a part of this discussion, Dr. Evelyn Billings, who with her husband Dr. John Billings, cofounded the Natural Planning Family Method, has passed away in Melbourne at the age of 95.

    • St.Joseph says:

      John Candido.
      Thank you for that I didn’t know may she RIP
      Dr Billings and his wife founded the mucus method of NFP,making it effective more than the Rhythm Method-which was not very reliable for women who did not have regular cycles, It can be said to be 100% however we can only say 99%…
      This was a great break through in the use of NFP,making it more important for the Church to encourage doctors scientists teachers etc to make it known.
      Also I believe why Pope Paul V1 wrote HV,because there was no reason for artificial contraception for married couples. A Gift from God. Enlightenment in other words. .

  23. johnbunting says:

    I sometimes think, “Why am I a Christian?”. Impossible to give a clear answer: all sorts of things probably led up to it. Maybe metaphysical, rather than moral. I believe – and I stress ‘believe’ rather than ‘know’ – that our existence, indeed all existence, is more than a blind cosmic accident.
    Same with morality. Parents’ influence, friends, school, reading, sermons/homilies, etc. all probably help to form – or deform – it. “If I have not charity, I am nothing”, says St Paul. Do I have it? Don’t know. I suspect it doesn’t do much good to examine one’s motives too closely.

    • John Nolan says:

      I have always believed that to be born English is to win first prize in the lottery of life. To be a Catholic is the icing on the cake. As a child in the decade before Vatican II I was utterly convinced of our superiority – the poor Prots had dreary services in English whereas we had the glorious Latin Mass. Had I been born a decade later I would not have been in the least bit attracted to parish “liturgies” but would still have found the intellectual pull of the Catholic Church difficult to resist.

      • St.Joseph says:

        When I was young-probably 10 years older than you John N, I don’t seem to remember any parish life in the Church- Holy Mass, Benediction and missionaries visiting-confession and Miraculous Medal evening once a week. Not much more.
        That was it -no mixing with other Catholics-only in London at a weekly Dance in a small hall to raise money to build the new St Joan of Ark Church,with my parents and that wasn’t very long.As I became a teenager and did my own thing. Until I got married in 1962.
        So one thing I think is better is the parish life since Vatican 2.But I believe what is lost is more important. That is just my life,as I do see now Retreats- visits to Holy Land, Fatima, Lourde, and Walsingham Knock. also all the info on EWTN and radio and computer. Maybe they were around then except the latter- but I didn’t know much about them like my children and grandchildren do now.. So is that only me-did I miss out on something Teenagers do have that in their life now if they want it..

    • Nektarios says:

      I can imagine a young student or teenager replying to you, John.
      `LIsten mate, it was your generation that created a world full of racial distinction and wars, inequalities, rich and poor – and we don’t want any of it.
      So we revolted. So many politicians jumped on our revolt bandwagon and we lost our original revulsion at your morality.Perhaps we too will become respectable, but now, we hate your morality.’

      I can imagine a crowd of people listening to that young student and applauding. `Bravo!’
      You are quite right, to deny morality, for accepted morality is the morality of the respectable, and I am afraid we all crave to be respected – which is to be recognised as a good citizen in a rotten society.
      Respectability is very profitable and ensures one a good job and a steady income. The accepted morality of greed, envy, and hate is the way of the establishment.
      When one denies the etablishment morality, not just with their lips but their whole heart, then one is really moral.
      For this morality springs out of love and not out of any motive of profit or achievment, of place in the heirachy. There cannot be love where there is the pursuit of fame, recognition, a position.
      Since there is no love in it, such morality is immorality.
      When we deny all this from the bottom of our hearts, then there is a virtue, a morality that is encompassed by love.

      • mike Horsnall says:

        “You are quite right, to deny morality, for accepted morality is the morality of the respectable, and I am afraid we all crave to be respected – which is to be recognised as a good citizen in a rotten society…”

        Partly appropriate but partly nonsense on stilts, tilting at windmills I think they call it. To make an ogre out of the concept of ‘morality’ makes no real sense. Certainly that which is true is not always that which is formalised nor that which is institutionalised. Codes of conduct are always rooted in the culture from which they arise, but they arise in response to a deeply intuited sense of moral law-Natural law in other words. This colliding with the demand to conformity. The argument put above is basically a sentimental appeal to the theory of the Noble Savage. For us fallen things it is less clear cut.

  24. John Candido says:

    Another piece of extraneous information outside of this discussion that John Nolan may enjoy,

    • John Nolan says:

      Thanks! Google translate is better at Latin than it used to be. It can cope with “Redde autem Caesari quod est Caesaris” but is stumped by what follows, “et Deo Dei”. In a 1963 lecture on the first session of the Vatican Council, Joseph Ratzinger noted wrily that many who were keenest on retaining Latin spoke it badly, whereas those arguing for the vernacular often made their case in elegant Classical Latin.

  25. Nektarios says:

    Mike Horsnall
    With all due respect, Mike, I am not making an ogre out of morality, but morality as constructed and applied by those deemed respectable and are not, and the Establishment, be they political,
    business or religious.
    Then what a true morality is, where it comes from and how to find it.
    Oh, do look a little deeper into it before posting your usual put downs. You just might find it benefical.

    • mike Horsnall says:

      “With all due respect, Mike, I am not making an ogre out of morality, but morality as constructed and applied by those deemed respectable and are not, and the Establishment, be they political,
      business or religious…”

      In which case it would seem that the word ‘morality’ is not appropriate here. Perhaps ‘ideology’ might be more pertinent, which brings us to another discussion entirely. Possibly a shared definition of ‘morality’ might stop us descending into the world of private definitions parading themselves as shared ground.

      • Nektarios says:

        Mike Horsnall
        One either accepts or rejects the social. political/religious morality with its immoral definition of what morality actually is. One cannot have a foot in both heaven and hell at the same time.

        So, to define true morality as a virtue encompassed by Love, is not a private definition
        as such, but simply in words, accurate.
        Definition is never the actual. At best it can only be an approximation, and attempt to describe.

  26. mike Horsnall says:

    Something along te lines of a simple definition for example:




    1.Principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behavior.
    2.Behavior as it is affected by the observation of these principles.

    Nothing here about the hegemony of ruling elites-not that I can see anyway.

    • Nektarios says:

      I could very easily rip this definition apart and demonstrate its preference for the respectable as laid down by elites and the Church.
      But I will restrain myself.

  27. johnbunting says:

    Re. ‘Principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong’, etc.
    Does that not still leave the question for us of what those principles should be?
    Quentin referred earlier to Adam and Eve as ‘the first scientists, who searched for the knowledge of good and evil’. I used to think, well, what’s wrong with that? Surely we need to know the difference between good and evil, so why were they wrong to search for it?
    Could it be that what they really wanted was the freedom to decide for themselves what was good or evil? And do we not all tend to do that?
    Result: a moral wilderness. Relativism, perhaps.

    • mike Horsnall says:

      John Bunting,

      Thats a good point about Adam and Eve. Implicit in the story-and this discussion- is the ‘knowing’ of God. Our two intrepid ancestors presumably ignored their inner compass and decided to find out for themselves. The story/ myth implies that, without the centrality of God in the human heart, its all a matter of garbage in- garbage out. Quentin discusses the way individuals tend to overwhelmingly draw their guidance fro their dominant grouping and ignore any other promptings so that a herd like mentality will tend to prevail.
      Of course we decide for ourselves pretty much everything! Some things we simply have ‘opinions’ on and others we feel strongly enough to act upon.Mostly we will act from self interest however that term is understood. By this I mean that altruistic acts are often self interest under a different heading. In my own view the deeper into our hearts we go we tend to find out comes both good and evil because this is simply our nature- we discover there that we are not by any means the independent, fair minded beings that we would love to be.

  28. Mike Horsnall says:

    John Bunting,
    The Kohlberg analysis cited by Quentin about stages of morality is actually quite good:’s_stages_of_moral_development

  29. John Candido says:

    A more effective way of getting to the above page is from here,

  30. mike Horsnall says:

    Ah yes, wouldn’t it be marvellous?

  31. St.Joseph says:

    It would. But then Jesus had a Divine Nature as well as human and being God- that helped!Hopefully there will be none in Heaven.

  32. Iona says:

    No rules, you mean?

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