The Lucifer Effect, Zimbardo

Could you torture innocent people? Could you take part in deliberate humiliation of others to a stage where you are doing deep psychological harm? Could you subscribe to deceitful and fraudulent practices in the organisation for which you work? If you reply in the negative, then you are almost certainly one of those at danger. But if you feel that, under given circumstances, you could do so, then join the human race and be on your guard.

You might argue that your great age and experience would protect you. No it wouldn’t. You might argue that your high level of education would protect you. No it wouldn’t. You might argue that being a faithful child of the Church would protect you. Sorry, not even that.

Philip Zimbardo is one of the most distinguished social scientists of our age. His book was triggered by the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by American guards in Abu Ghraib prison. You will have seen, and been disgusted by, the photographs. But he has devoted most of his professional life to examining the situations and circumstances in which “good people turn evil”. He emphasises that circumstances do not excuse individual responsibility but he demonstrates that plenty of circumstances exist within which evil is almost inevitable. Before you look at the bad apples, he says, you must look at the bad barrel.

His founding point is his Stanford prison experiment (1971) in which a group of college graduates, monitored for their normality, were randomly assigned to the roles of guards or prisoners in a mock prison. The experiment had to end after one week because of the increasing brutality of the guards, and the patent psychological damage being done to the prisoners. You may well know the experiment but I have never read it described in such meticulous detail.

He follows this up by accounts of many other experiments and observations which demonstrate the potential for evil in normal people. And he concludes with the Abu Ghraib prison incident (very far from isolated) which became public in 2004. Reality was acting out, but with far greater harshness, the lessons which had been learnt at Stanford three decades before. Yet the brunt of culpability was laid on the guards, the bad apples, and virtually none on those who had set up and supervised the situation, the bad barrel – even though the outcome was predictable.

I am not going to describe Zimbardo’s accounts because, if you have any interest in the nature of evil, you will read this book. Indeed without doing so you will find it hard to credit his conclusions. If you do, you will, like me, suffer a number of sleep-disturbed nights. I will just whet your appetite by mentioning the account of the teacher who told her class that she had discovered that blue-eyed children were naturally superior to brown eyed; and then, the next day, told them she had made a mistake and the facts were exactly the other way round. You can laugh or cry at the outcomes.

Zimbardo is not merely recording academic accounts, he is specifically challenging us to look at our behaviour, and in what ways we are affected by the different barrels in which we live. So let me muse, without blaming Zimbardo for any implications I may make.
I start at the comfortable historical distance of the Inquisition and the Marian persecutions. How could we, with the gospels at our side, have tortured and brutally killed those who sincerely disagreed with us? It was the context, the assumptions of the system within which we lived, and our rationalisation that made this seem virtuous. We were only doing our duty. Shades of Eichmann?

Let’s take a broader span of history. Anti-Semitism has historically been a feature of the Church, and in pockets it still exists. Here the traditional rationalisation was deicide. And of course the failure of the Jews to accept the true Messiah was evidence of their inferiority as human beings. De-humanising other groups has always made their persecution easier – just as de-humanising negroes made the slave trade possible, and indeed acceptable in many parts of the Church. (In another part of the woods, de-humanising babies in the womb has served its utilitarian purposes.)

Let’s get nearer the bone. The original excuse for not taking imperative action against paedophile clergy, but simply rapping their knuckles and moving them on, was excused by our ignorance, and rationalised by fear of scandal. Arguably it was our closed system which allowed the authorities to be naive about the nature of paedophilia, and imprudently optimistic about personal reform. Who would put a known fraudster in charge of the treasury? And the fear of scandal (protecting the group) is so often the stimulus for wishful thinking. Where was our vaunted wisdom of 2000 years?

Religion is particularly prone, and ironically so because its different forms so often emerge from the best intentions. But those who share these best intentions tend to form a group, large or small, which creates its own norms. The temptation to become exclusive and to look at those outside the group as inferior is strong. Think for instance of the Puritans or, within Catholicism, the Jansenists. It is not unknown for smaller, exclusive, groups to form within a larger community – a sort of church within the Church, if you like. Often their very exclusiveness and rigour attract devotees who are low on personal autonomy and high on need for the identity given by membership. Their own moral sense is replaced by the norms of the group. Despite their worthy inspiration, group members can become as those who have enough faith to move mountains but have not love, and are therefore nothing.

As I write, a survey comes in which tells me that less than half of American troops in Iraq believe that non combatants should be treated with dignity and respect, and that a substantial proportion support torture as a means of getting information. Bad apples? Bad barrel?

But there are far less dramatic instances. Anyone reading Zimbardo is likely to be spurred into considering what aspects of our belief and our behaviour emerge from the several groupings, including the purely secular, to which each of us belong. And then to judge, as individuals with independent consciences, whether we sincerely reject or confirm them.
Having both written and broadcast on this subject for many years I find myself still getting caught out. But I find it helps to admit my own vulnerability. And every day I try to commit at least one, perhaps mild, act of disobedience to the norm to keep the muscles of my autonomy in good trim.

I note that The Lucifer Effect can be found at, prices from £ 5- £7 (free postage). You can look at selected pages on Amazon.


About Quentin

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

131 Responses to The Lucifer Effect, Zimbardo

  1. I have this on my wish list, and I think I’ll leave it there for some time yet.

  2. ionzone says:

    One of the most worrying things about the Stanford prison experiment is this: It also affected the people running the experiment. If I remember, they only stopped after someone from outside the research group (a student, I think) came in, saw what was going on and said something along the lines of ‘What the freaking hell are you doing?!’.

    I’d like to say that this was the first and last time people were abused, maltreated, or killed in the name of science, but it happens quite a lot. Particularly on people the government doesn’t care about or like, such as black people, Jews, and so on. The Tuskegee Syphilis experiment and the seemingly endless mind-control experiments they do are just two examples. They already have prototypes of a chip that can stop a charging bull at the press of a button. The fact is that whenever and wherever you give one group of people life-changing power over another group, people will abuse it.

    Christianity does act as a safegaurd against this kind of thing, unfortunately the only way to show this is to repress or get rid of it on a massive scale.

    • ionzone says:

      “I start at the comfortable historical distance of the Inquisition and the Marian persecutions. How could we, with the gospels at our side, have tortured and brutally killed those who sincerely disagreed with us?”

      I’m not too familiar with the Marian persecutions, but I will say this about the Inquisition – almost everything the public thinks they know about them is a myth stirred up by anti-Catholics at the time to discredit the Church, and for exactly the same reasons we have been discussing. What really happened is a very long story, but the potted version is this:

      In the 7th or 8th century forces from the Islamic nations invaded Egypt, the middle east, Southern Italy, and Spain, all of which were predominantly Christian or Jewish. This attack was part of an expansionist attempt to take control of Europe with a side in converting people to Islam. This is the start of the build up to the Crusades.

      After several bloody wars you never hear about because it isn’t possible to blame them on the Pope, the Europeans pushed the armies back out of Italy and Spain but not Egypt. This means that in the coming centuries Spain was a chaotic place of wildly differing allegiances. Eventually we get a king and queen of Spain who are really worried about people pretending to be Christians in order to stay in the country. Since religion and politics were seen as being linked, being Islamic meant you supported the the Muslim re-occupation of Spain. Which meant you were a threat to the crown.

      For this dubious reason the Spanish king basically blackmailed the pope into sending an inquisition to hunt down people pretending to be Christians. The Spanish Inquisition operated in much the same way as the thousands of secular Inquisitions before it, except that they were very limited when it came to both their remit and their ability to torture people. Torture, at the time, was seen as being the best way to get at the truth of the matter. To give you an idea of the level of torture in the Inquisition, their time was limited to something like ten minutes and they used stuff similar to waterboarding. Most executions were by way of ‘relaxation’ to the secular authorities, who carried it out. The total number of people killed was a fraction of those questioned and was, if I remember, a couple of thousand in total. They never did most of the stuff that they are (wildly) accused of and there is even evidence that Catholic Inquisitions acted to dampen the anti-witch fervour that arose later on.

      Now, to put that in perspective, courts in Soviet Russia didn’t actually care if you were guilty or not, they would just torture you into confessing and then pack you off to Siberia to build your own cell and be tortured a pile more in the hope that you would become an ‘enlightened’ atheist like themselves. And that is, as they say, the pre-watershed version.

      • ionzone says:

        Sorry if that came over a bit strong, by the way, I shouldn’t really be posting this late.

      • John Nolan says:

        According to Henry Kamen, a leading authority on early modern Spain, in the three-and-a-half centuries of its existence the Spanish Inquisition was responsible for the execution (after relaxation to the secular arm) of just over 3000 persons in the entire Spanish empire, from Peru to the Phillipines, in other words an average of three a year. The reason for the lack of witch-hunts in Spain was that the Inquisitors were trained lawyers and did not give credence to accusations or alleged evidence of witchcraft. See “The Spanish Inquisition – A historical revision”.

        “A myth stirred up by anti-Catholics … to discredit the Church”. Certainly, and not helped by soi-disant Catholics with a penchant for exaggeration and breast-beating. Rule one – never let facts get in the way of prejudice. Plenty of current examples.

      • Vincent says:

        Another contribution or two about the Inquisition and we will discover that it was a benign society deeply concerned with human rights and administered for the true benefit of its victims by that well known profession of honest people – the lawyers…

        So since we haven’t apparently changed our minds, we must still believe that it is good and right that the heretics in our midst should be tried by systems of law which the secular world regards as primitive and unjust. And if they persist in their view they should, in principle and often in practice, be open to torture, imprisonment or execution. This will of course be carried out by the civil state so that the Church can maintain its innocence with regard to taking human life.

        3000 executions? I think a low, because incomplete, figure. More like the number killed in the massacre of the Twin Towers. So, no great tragedy then.

        As for the Marian persecutions, these were noteworthy for the merciful way people were helped to repent and achieve salvation by the alternative of being burnt to death. They had a true choice, consistent with human dignity. They were free, so blame them not us.

        Far from being defensive and clutching at mitigating straws, we should be parading these episodes of compassionate holiness as evidence of the Church’s kindly and tolerant heart

        Or is it just possible for us to accept that some of the values shared by Catholics in the past have been deeply wrong and therefore we need to be on our guard today?

    • Quentin says:

      You are right. The person who effectively halted the experiment with, “What you are doing to those boys is a terrible thing!” was Christina Maslach, later to become Zimbardo’s wife. She was a researcher who had assisted Zimbardo in the past. When she visited the experiment she saw that not only had the subjects been emotionally damaged, but so had Zimbardo himself.

  3. Claret says:

    I don’t think we should be too surprised that group mentality plays such a big part in human relationships and that this will inevitably lead to abuse of various kinds.
    Even among families, friends and neighbours barriers are erected, groups within groups form, fall outs and life long hostility to each other arise from humble beginnings.
    The bigger group mentality can remain partly intact in the sense that loyalties become blurred and the pressure to acquiesce is very strong and yet individuals within the group can despise each other whilst retaining a group loyalty that includes a perverse loyalty to the despised person.
    So, in clerical sex abuse terms one member can be horrified on learning of the abusive actions of another but by a combination of blurred loyalties and group mentality protect that same person, and the organistaion to which they both belong, by keeping silent.
    It is a very uncomfortable fact that Pope Benedict was once a member of the Hitler Youth. We can all reason it away ( as Ionzone does with the Spanish Inquisition,) but we know little about it and what part group and national loyalty impacted upon him..

    • Mike Horsnall says:

      I was under the impression that membership of the Hitler Youth was then pretty much compulsory-also that Benedict did desert from it.

  4. John Candido says:

    The New York Times bestseller ‘The Lucifer Effect’, written by Professor Philip Zimbardo of Stanford University, has an uplifting final chapter that is called, ‘Resisting Situational Influences and Celebrating Heroism’. In it he tries to analyse the disposition and social dynamics, of those who heroically challenge the unacceptable situation that confronts them. Those individuals, who physically or verbally intervene, in order to prevent somebody else suffering further harm, are those who nobly place themselves at peril of personal harm.

    It is a lonely and dangerous calling, being a hero or heroine. They do not say ‘discretion is the better part of valour’ for nothing! Examples that come to mind are the prophets of both the Old and New Testaments, such as St. John the Baptist, etc. Members of the police force are at times called to demonstrate their integrity and courage by upholding the law, which can be at their peril.

    Scholars of the Holocaust have conveniently given us the well-known classifications of ‘perpetrators’, ‘victims’ and ‘bystanders’. A much smaller group are called ‘the Righteous’. There were many heroes and heroines who stood up to the Nazi’s, who have been called ‘The Righteous Among the Nations’, and given a prominent place of honour in Israel’s Yad Vashem, the national memorial to the victims of the Shoah . The current number of cases made available for investigation is 24,356 as of the 1st January 2012.

    Apart from heroes and heroines, there is an honourable place in all societies for those called ‘whistle-blowers’. Similar to heroes, they risk being fired, ostracised by fellow workers and vilified by their superiors. They also risk being unsupported by their spouses, family and a cross-section of the community.

    In Zimbardo’s final chapter of his book, he lists a ten-step program against ‘the impact of undesirable social influences and at the same time promoting personal resilience and civic virtue’. This can be found in chapter 16, between pp. 451 & 456.

    • John Candido says:

      As a Post Script, I would like to add that I particularly dislike pessimism, and chapter 16 of ‘The Lucifer Effect’ balances what can be described as a ‘terrible book’, in that it truthfully points to unpleasant realities concerning the human condition, in both individual and social terms.

  5. Brian Hamill says:

    I recommend in this context ‘Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland’ by Christopher R Browning. It tells the story, in a totally credible way, of the gradual moral degradation of a group of ordinary German men. The saying ‘the path to hell is begun with one step’ holds very well in this account.

  6. ionzone says:

    “Another contribution or two about the Inquisition and we will discover that it was a benign society deeply concerned with human rights and administered for the true benefit of its victims by that well known profession of honest people – the lawyers…”

    Almost every ‘fact’ that people think they know about the inquisition comes from novels, films, and rumours. The actual records on the subject tell a very, very different story.

    “3000 executions? I think a low, because incomplete, figure. More like the number killed in the massacre of the Twin Towers. So, no great tragedy then.”

    The number of people executed by the inquisition isn’t low because it is incomplete, the figure is low because it comes from actual historical records. How many do you think were killed? Millions? Show me the piles of skulls and the concentration camps! We are talking about a small group of investigators who became infamous not because of what they were doing but because people started gossiping about them during a time of great political and religious upheaval and that gossip has been built to the point that some of the figures quoted are enough to have depopulated the entire country!

    Vincent, the fact is that you are doing precisely what I have talked about in the comments of the last few posts on this blog, you are disregarding actual verifiable history in favour of a rumour you apparently want to be true. The Spanish Inquisition as evil tyrants who stalked the street like Jack the Ripper is a thrilling tale, but that’s all it really is.

    Like the Marian persecutions, what the Inquisition was there to deal with was the threat of treason in an extremely uncertain time. Time has blinded us to the historical context and the actual numbers involved. But more than that, it has blinded us to the fact that this sort of thing has always been present, it is going on right now but because it isn’t under the flag of religion people just don’t pay any attention to it – it’s only when religion gets involved that killing people is suddenly seen as a horrible crime rather than simply ‘action taken against traitors and terrorists’.

    You see the same exact thing with the Irish conflict, it is absolutely amazing how many people think that that is a war between Catholics and Protestants when the conflict itself is totally secular.

    • Vincent says:

      Ion Zone, you are missing the point. The issue is not how many executions etc (although the estimates I have given are in accord with the latest authorities; you can see a detailed analysis on Wikipedia if you prefer not to take the facts from me) but whether or not Catholics in general (and by assumption you and me had we been there at the time) held attitudes which today we would reject. That does not mean that those Catholics were subjectively wicked, but that they accepted objectively wicked behaviour.

      Perhaps you think that it was not wicked behaviour. That’s fine. You no doubt accept today’s totalitarian regimes, and approve of the Elizabethan persecution of Catholics. But perhaps you think that it was wicked behaviour but excusable through a general misunderstanding of fundamental human rights. You may then infer that there is a real possibility that attitudes and beliefs we hold today will be repudiated by our descendants. Which does seem to be the point which Quentin is making.

      (PS If you distrust Wikipedia, you may be interested in Britannica online’s description:. “The Inquisition’s secret procedures, its eagerness to accept denunciations, its use of torture, the absence of counsel for the accused, the lack of any right to confront hostile witnesses, and the practice of confiscating the property of those who were condemned and sharing it between the Inquisition, the crown, and the accusers—all this inspired great terror, as indeed it was meant to do. The number of those condemned for heresy was never very large and has often been exaggerated by Protestant writers. But during the reign of the Catholic Monarchs several thousand conversos were condemned and burned for Judaizing practices.”)

  7. Mike Horsnall says:


    Oddly enough I read around this stuff while looking into the history of Ignatius of Loyola. Apparently the Inquisition prisons of the time were among the best kept and administrated, known for their humane regimes….a bit Monty Python I know but there you go

  8. Nektarios says:

    I went into all this in the last topic on the 16 Feb’ 3.32am. Re read it!
    Are we now simply discussing here degrees of cruelty, of murder by State or Church or others?
    Zimbardo’s work on The Lucifer Effect, is indeed quite a good piece of work.
    However, I would like to ask Zimbardo and others has his work had any overall effect on the methods of behaviour by Governments, Institutions, Corporations, or the Church? I suspect not.
    The reasons being as I highlighted on the 16th Feb.3.32

    • ionzone says:

      We have gotten a little off-track.

      Who do we think is truly to blame? the apple or the barrel? Well I would say they are both complicit. In times of public panic people tend to vote in extremely nationalistic governments because our genetics tell us that in times of trouble it is every tribe for itself. Nationalism is simply the idea that the groups should close its borders and treat all other tribes as if they were a threat.

      • Quentin says:

        We have spoken of Kohlberg recently — and his schema for moral development. He would argue that most of us get stuck at the middle level — that is, a form of conventional morality which is drawn from the standards of our community. The stage to which we should aspire is one in which we decide on our own moral standards. If these standards are different from the standards of our society, it may take a degree of heroism to maintain them. There are many examples but one useful one is the occasion when Jesus’ feet are anointed by a woman of ill repute. The crowd condemn but Jesus says that much has been forgiven her because she has loved much.
        Of course the gospels are difficult to deny, But how about the homosexual rent boy? Is it possible that. despite his way of life, he has loved much?

      • ionzone says:

        Kohlberg sounds like an interesting guy, but there is a snag with what he says. When you make morality specific to each person and have no universal code you cause serious problems. What about the psychotic who thinks he is the only person who matters – and thus what is good and just is, by definition, what he wants. I bring this up because this ‘what is good for me’ selfishness is not only the foundation of many of the ‘ethical standards’ that seek to replace Christianity, but something we see an increasing amount of in regular society.

      • Quentin says:

        A misunderstanding here, I think. The independent morality is not arbitrary but it is the result of someone opening his heart to the truth of a situation uncontaminated by irrelevancies. It relies on our profound capacity to recognise the good. True illustration:

        Catholic student in Munich early 1930s. “You ask me why I haven’t joined the rest of you Catholics in the Nazi party. I may not be as clever as you but I know that a party which teaches you to hate people is no place for a Catholic.”

  9. mike Horsnall says:

    Oops, sorry Master, we rush to do your bidding….

    • St.Joseph says:

      I presume that Jesus was speaking about the woman’s love for Him .Because she saw in Him something that made her want to repent for her sins..
      There are many ways to interpret love..

  10. Geordie says:

    Are you saying that the rent boys’ love is equated with sexual activity? We’ve had this discussion on eros and agape before. Sex can have and often does have nothing to do with love.

  11. mike Horsnall says:

    “Of course the gospels are difficult to deny, But how about the homosexual rent boy? Is it possible that. despite his way of life, he has loved much?”

    What on earth could make you think that the’homosexual rent boy’ should have a heart any different than your own? Why should this person love any the more or the less than anyone else? Is there something I have missed here?

    • St.Joseph says:

      Mike Horsnall.
      Can you tell me what a homosexual rent boy is-then I will tell you what you missed-Is it a male prostitute.?

    • ionzone says:

      That is correct ‘rent boy’ is a euphemism.

    • Quentin says:

      No Mike, I don’t think you have missed anything. The lesson the Gospel teaches is clear: love (agape of course) is what we will be judged by. Jesus tells us that even those whose lives are apparently far from virtue may be very close to him. Elsewhere he makes it clear that some whose lives are apparently correct and respectable are far from him.

  12. johnbunting says:

    “The stage to which we should aspire is one in which we decide our own moral standards”.
    Well, that puts a slightly different slant on my comment, on the previous topic, that ‘deciding for themselves’ was probably what Adam and Eve were doing!
    “….it may take a degree of heroism to maintain them”
    Indeed; so who is to decide who is a hero, and who is bad or mad? Jesus went from one to the other in less than a week. In this world it’s usually a case of ‘might is right’.
    Did anyone hear the BBC4 programme on the Pope which replaced the usual ‘Today’ programme a few days ago? The Ratzinger family was described as ‘anti-Nazi’, and apparently young Joseph and his siblings had a cousin with Down’s Syndrome, who was taken away and killed, in the Nazi policy of eliminating ‘mental defectives’, and others considered a burden on society.
    Of course there were some heroic Germans who opposed the Nazis, a well-known case being the White Rose movement, Hans and Sophie Scholl and others, who were guillotined, after being denied a final meeting with their families.

  13. claret says:

    A small mathematical point but 3000 executions in 350 years does not equate to just three a year. Furthermore the use of ‘averages’ can be very misleading. Possibly the three thousand reported deaths, if an accurate figure, all came in a relatively short space of time.

    • John Nolan says:

      Indeed they did; in the case of the Spanish Inquisition in the first hundred years of its existence. However, because records were kept, it isn’t too difficult to get at the truth (if indeed that is your intention, in too many cases it isn’t). However, trying to ascertain the number of ‘witches’ executed in post-Reformation Scotland is hampered by the lack of written evidence.

      If, like Innocent III, you had been pope at the beginning of the 13th century confronted with the very real threat of the Albigensian heresy, would you have acted differently from the way he did? The modern “Church of Nice” only functions because religion is irrelevant to most people, the immortality of the soul doesn’t exist, and morality is seen through the prism of Enlightenment philosophy. The history of the 20th century should have given us pause for thought.

      With most of my life now behind me, Quentin’s and John Lennon’s “all you need is love” looks dangerously like presumption, one of the sins against the Holy Ghost.

  14. claret says:

    Forgot to add that I was referring to the stats supplied here about the executions attributed to the Spanish Inquisition.

    • ionzone says:

      “You may then infer that there is a real possibility that attitudes and beliefs we hold today will be repudiated by our descendants. Which does seem to be the point which Quentin is making.”

      This here is part of what I am saying, though the rest rather strikes me as putting words in my mouth. My fundamental problem with bringing up the Inquisition is that people make it out to have been an awful lot worse than it really was, they make it sound like the Vatican had a say in what they did or profited by it, which it didn’t, and they behave like they are the rule, not the exception. They also ignore the historical context and the fact that the inquisition was set up to, essentially, look for traitors to the Spanish Crown – so whatever way you look at it it wasn’t our fault.

      The way I look at it is that if you have to go back most of a millennium to find any really serious wrongdoing by the Church (And the Spanish Inquisition had almost nothing to do with the Church) then that is pretty good going, it shows that Christianity is a strong moderating influence.

  15. St.Joseph says:

    A good comment Horace.

    Quentin, you wouldn’t be suggesting that prostitution is a virtue. Would you?
    Jesus did not come to save the virtuous-but to save sinners.He also said he who ‘loves’. his father and mother is not worthy of MY Love.I agree with you that we can have very respectable people like an abortionist.etc.!! And they do these things for love.
    Maybe I am missing the point somewhere along the line.

  16. St.Joseph says:

    Forgot to finish quote’ He who love his father and mother and fails to follow me is not worthy of My love’.,

  17. Quentin says:

    Can’t speak for John Lennon I fear, but the love to which I refer is hard edged: “If you love me keep my commandments.” We must assume that the prostitute, notwithstanding her immoral way of life, still had a fuller love in her heart than the prigs who stood around. You may also remember St Paul’s emphasis that any manner of good works and sacrifices are worth nothing if not actuated by love.

    • St.Joseph says:

      Yes I agree with you that there are a lot of prigs even now who stand around.and criticise.
      Nevertheless in this Year of Faith we are asked to evangelize., although nothing new in that.
      Perhaps some peoples view of Heaven will be filled with Hippies and flower people(not saying that they wont be there)-all spaced out and listening to rock music ‘maken luv’
      whilst we who were busy trying to save souls.will be looking on from purgatory.

    • John Nolan says:

      Isn’t the English word ‘love’ not the most overworked in the language? St Paul said “caritatem autem non habeam”, normally rendered as “if therefore I have not charity” and once again I am shamed by having no Greek. Perhaps it isn’t too late?

  18. ionzone says:

    Horace, see my comment which answers your comment which I will post on the day that you link to that comment that you apparently want me to read.

    • Horace says:

      ionzone (or Ion Zone – the difference makes searching difficult !)
      I m afraid I don’t understand.
      My comment was simply emphasising [with a fascinating quote from the Decameron of Boccaccio] that even in the 14th Century when the Vatican was known to have been corrupt, this could be considered as evidence of of the saving presence of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps a little “off target” – sorry.
      link is search for “Horace”.

      • ionzone says:

        Ah I see. Sorry for snapping at you Horace, I really didn’t mean it the way it sounded. I just get a bit annoyed when people tell you when and where a post was instead of just linking to it because I usually can’t find it. But yes, the Church should really be the harshest critic of corruption (including its own) and we rarely see that. That isn’t to say I agree with people who say that Basilicas and Cathedrals are a waste of money since they are public buildings that are generally built though people specifically contributing money and time to the project. Bishops and cardinals driving around in limos I disagree with very strongly, but putting money into building a Cathedrals is good because they are both a tribute to God and something that directly inspires people and makes the world around them a better place. Culture is a powerful thing that should not be underestimated.

      • John Nolan says:

        Horace, I don’t want to appear pedantic, but when Boccacio wrote (c.1350) the seat of the papacy was at Avignon. After 1377 it is perhaps excusable to talk about ‘the Vatican’, although the popes also resided in the Quirinal. Before 1309 they occupied the Lateran palace, so those who talk about ‘the Vatican’ before that date (and I obviously don’t include your good self) are parading their ignorance to the extent that whatever else they have to say can usually be disregarded. As a general rule of thumb, if you’re going to criticize an institution you need first to understand it.

        However, I am going to make a suggestion which I know will be controversial. The erection of the Vatican City State made sense in 1929, but does it still do so in the 21st century? A spiritual power does not need a temporal power, in fact if it lives with the temporal power it might well exercise greater influence. Would it be a disaster if the popes moved back to the Lateran? I think most people (including Benedict XVI) realize that a reform of the Curia is long overdue, and even conservatives like myself know how in the 1960s and 1970s curial heavyweights with liberal convictions imposed a lot of damage.

      • Horace says:


        In the story – “The Jew took horse, and posted with all possible speed to Rome; . . . . [He] began circumspectly to acquaint himself with the ways of the Pope and the cardinals and other prelates and all the courtiers; . . .”
        No mention of the Vatican only “the court of Rome”.

  19. Iona says:

    “Bad apple or bad barrel” – in the case of human organisations, the “barrel” (the organisation) is surely created by people – “apples” if you like, though not necessarily the same apples which are inside the barrel and rotting. Or do we think that organisations follow laws of their own, not necessarily forseen by the people who plan and set them up? Should the target-meeting ethos of the NHS, which apparently led to patients being ignored to the point where some of them died needlessly, have been forseen by those who, in the first place, applied a business model (including “meeting targets”) to health care? It’s easy to “forsee” it with hindsight.

    • Mike Horsnall says:

      Yes, I had been thinking about this too. It does seem that apples fit in barrels quite well and its difficult to seperate one from the other.

  20. St.Joseph says:

    How did our parents and grandparents see the Reformation.How will our descendants remember it?
    How will our descendants see the Abortion act? How will they see same sex marriage if the law passes?
    There are millions of babies torn asunder from their mothers womb and continuing daily ,are we being anaesthetized to this now.
    I hope not as we are still bringing up the bad apples and barrels in the past ,we should be asking ourselves how we can make it a better future for our children morally.
    The March for Life in America, where thousands and thousands of young people priests bishops Congress men parents Nuns, all giving testimony for pro-life.Not forgetting what the Church in the USA is doing for the unborn.
    Do we see this in the UK.,only from those few who are working for pro-life-not just putting money in to the White Flower collection, which of course is greatly welcomed, but we need the voices….to change the law..

  21. St.Joseph says:

    John Nolan.
    Your comment above at 2.11.How you think that getting rid of the liberals in the Vatican will clean up the rest of the Church down to the Laity.It didn’t work with Humanae Vitae.
    Will they listen? Has it gone too far.? It must start in the Seminaries and in the home, and in the schools.I am not being pessimistic-maybe a little despairing .

  22. John Candido says:

    Liberals have become a convenient whipping boy for every conceivable malady striking the Roman Catholic Church. This pathology is called a blind spot. As a liberal, I will make my public confession. I admit that I have a direct line to Satan and Lucifer, and follow every one of their whims. This is especially the case regarding my efforts on SecondSight.

    It is all the madness of politics. To put in the UK’s terms; Labor dislikes the Conservatives and the Conservatives dislike Labor. It has always been that way and it will always be the case. I will grudgingly concede, that just as all truth cannot be found in the Roman Catholic Church, likewise, all truth cannot be found in the left-wing of the Church. In fairness, the same prescription applies to the right-wing of Catholicism. (When I say the ‘right-wing’, I am excluding the far-right lunacy of Marcel Lefebvre’s Society of Saint Pius X, and any similar groups.)

    The world changes, and the Church changes. This sums up ‘Ecclesia semper reformanda est’, which, for the Latin challenged like myself is translated as, ‘the church is always to be reformed’, usually abbreviated as ‘semper reformanda’ or ‘always to be reformed’.

    It usually takes a patient sage to carefully discern what part of liberalism or conservatism is the truth on a matter. No such patience on my part. I am an uncompromising and evil liberal. I command with immediate effect that you are all to be burnt at the stake.

    • John Nolan says:

      All I was saying was that it is not only ‘liberals’ who see the need for reform in the governance of the Church. I see that Bishop Egan of Portsmouth has recently announced plans for the radical overhaul of his own curia. This is a step in the right direction. Bishops can no longer sit on their hands, trying not to offend anyone or break step with the ‘national conference’ and expect Rome to pull their irons out of the fire.

  23. St.Joseph says:

    As far as I am concerned and speaking from my own experiences as a married cradle catholic and mother and grandparent.. The Liberal side of the Church has done so much damage with their neglect as to the Truths of our faith. Now we are trying to pull back from the mistakes made in that direction. The brave New World it was meant to be.!
    And I make no apologies to any liberal who believes it is a better fuller Church today-it speaks for itself!

    • Vincent says:

      St joseph, your general condemnation of ‘liberals’ puts them into some odd company. St Paul was the first liberal when he insisted, contrary to Pope St Peter, that converts to Christianity need not to have come from a Jewish background. (2 Gal) Another set of liberals argued that using the safe period to control conception was legitimate. The conservatives continued to fight this even after the current pope had permitted it. More recently, the liberals argued that there could well be important elements of truth, and lots of virtue, in other religions. And that people had the right to follow other religions if they sincerely believed in them.

      I could go on. Yesterday’s liberals are often tomorrow’s conservatives. The problems is to discover which liberals, and which conservatives, are barking up the wrong tree. The Church needs them both if the Spirit is to bring her to the full truth, as Jesus promised.

  24. St.Joseph says:

    Please don’t give me that old chestnut argument, I am a little bit old in the tooth to take what you say as an example for liberalism.

    Read back on posts and you will know perfectly well what I am saying.Don’t muddy the waters.I have a bit more intelligence than to not understand what you say!

    • Vincent says:

      Do explain what you mean, please.

    • St.Joseph says:

      That is just the point I make. I shouldn’t have to explain it, If you read my posts from the beginning it will be self explanatory.
      Just a small glimmer for you- The Church has always and will always teach that contraception is wrong.
      I could go on and on too.But have said it all in the past..

  25. John Candido says:

    St.Joseph, by saying that contraception will always be the law of the Roman Catholic Church; you are demonstrating a lack of historical insight, as well as a limited vision towards the Church’s future. History tells us of changes to the Church’s governing structure over time, and more importantly, changes to the doctrine of the Catholic Church. Governance and doctrines have evolved over time, and I don’t see how a simple little thing, an irrelevance, as artificial contraception is to me, could not possibly be accepted by the Church in future.

    I see the Church’s teaching on artificial contraception as the inexorable consequence of the Church’s negative conceptualisation of sexuality. I don’t understand why you are so inordinately focused on natural family planning, and so vehemently against artificial forms of contraception, that married couples could employ according to what would suit their particular circumstances. If married couples have tried natural family planning and have found it wanting, are you flexible enough to tolerate their search to see what works for them, as an acceptable exercise that is essentially harmless? I would tend to see their enquiries as an entirely private matter for them.

    • St.Joseph says:

      J C I am not always focused on Fertility Awareness. That is just the liberal punch to bring out from under their belt when they have no other argument to make.
      I have had plenty to say on other than NFP..
      You have said one true thing it is a private matter. I defend it as a Church teaching matter. Which is my duty to do…

      • St.Joseph says:

        Just a have a look back on Golden Reflections,also Candid Candido., and listen to what you wrote.Nothing new there!!!

    • John Nolan says:

      Although the Church can certainly be accused of having had a negative conceptualization of sex (I’m not sure what you mean by ‘sexuality’) this has been mollified in recent years. The teaching on artificial contraception is actually the consequence of the Church’s interpretation of Natural Law. This can of course change, but there are some methods of contraception which are of course in effect abortifacient, and this is bound to cause problems.

      As for fornication, adultery, or sodomy, by all means indulge in them, but accept that you are breaking the rules. The Church has no wriggle-room here.

      • St.Joseph says:

        John Candido.
        Little do you know it, but you are the very kind of person who is holding a women back when you object to a mother knowing her fertility. Or any women for that matter,It is what I call allowing a women to plan a family within her means of capabilities and allowing her to do that in the way the Lord made her,also not to be stricken to so many ills that artificial means of regulating birth as ‘Pope Paul V1 wrote Humanae Vitae for’and early abortions in most artificial methods-or would you rather they suffer the unnecessary ills -plus the sin when only 5 days are fertile. You really do not understand do you.You would rather make women slaves-which surprises me from someone so fond of liberation-or is it only for the male you desire that to make them free to use the marriage act when it suits them?Who in the scripture said ‘It is good to abstain in marriage,and leave time for prayer.

      • John Candido says:

        I am all for the enlightenment of all women and their individual fertility. Are you flexible enough to accept that if a couple do not find natural family planning (NFP) a practical proposition that they are perfectly entitled to find whatever works for them, in terms of artificial contraception?

      • Quentin says:

        John, I agree if what you say here. But there is, I think, a problem: once the connection between sexual expression and procreation has been broken it becomes far more difficult to demonstrate the wrongfulness of fornication and sodomy. For adultery too, but that has the added factor of the breaking of trust — assuming that the couple don’t have an ‘open’ marriage. I don’t know the answer to this, do you?

  26. Iona says:

    St. Joseph: “The March for Life in America, where thousands and thousands of young people priests bishops Congress men parents Nuns, all giving testimony for pro-life.Not forgetting what the Church in the USA is doing for the unborn.
    Do we see this in the UK.,only from those few who are working for pro-life-not just putting money in to the White Flower collection, which of course is greatly welcomed, but we need the voices….to change the law..”

    There is plenty going on in the UK. “40 days for life” is running throughout Lent in various UK cities. “Life” supports girls and women, facing problem pregnancies but who do not want to abort, throughout their pregnancies and in caring for their young babies. “Right to Life” works with parliamentarians to raise awareness of relevant facts and statistics related to abortion and “assisted suicide” (I’ve raised money for them through sponsorship); and there’s nothing to stop anyone from contacting their MP, – mine must be sick of the sight of my handwriting, I think.

    • St.Joseph says:

      Iona I have looked after pregnant girls, many , in my home until their babies were born
      What I am saying is where is the publicity and catholic MP’s standing up and speaking out.
      I was not allowed 2 years ago to place a poster up for the March for LIfe which I am involved in-the priest said I was uncharitable as it would offend some of his parishioners who may have had an abortion. I believe parish’s could do encouraging parishioners.
      Was there any news of the March for Life in America, the little news there was underestimated. the amount of people.
      We had a SPUC meeting many a time , one recently and if half a dozen turned up that would be it.
      But thank you for your publicity on the blog it might encourage others to be involved.

  27. St.Joseph says:

    John Candido.
    Thank you for your interest. I have taught for 30 years as you know by now and it needs a teacher we have had this discussion before. I have never found it not to work and have taught coming off the pill, breast feeding couples and pre- menopause- Special Circumstances.Having had 3 miscarriages in 18 months I know how important it is . NFP doesn’t mean ‘not for Protestants’ btw,it is for all women we are all made the same.I probably have taught more non-catholics than catholics. Even if I was not a Catholic I would still be convinced as many who are not Catholics teach it. They don’t. do that for any religious reason either but common sense tells them.The doubters will look back in years to come and realise how Holy Mother Church got it right.
    As we can see now how the Crighton Method is better ,cheaper and more effective than IVF, by not destroying early foetuses!

  28. John Candido says:

    ‘I have never found it (NFP) not to work…’ (St.Joseph)

    If you mean that this is your own personal experience of NFP by using it yourself for however long, then I will accept your statement as true. However, this does not mean that it will work 100% of the time for all women, given that all women have individual differences regarding their periods of fertility and infertility, as well as their own circumstances concerning the desires of their husbands that conflict with these periods. Going on news reports over many years concerning the overall efficacy of NFP, a 100% efficiency rate in avoiding pregnancy or getting pregnant is not plausible for the broad mass of women.

    Apart from the above considerations, I will repeat my question for a third time and hope that this time you will be capable of supplying your best answer to it.

    ‘Are you flexible enough to accept that if a couple do not find natural family planning (NFP) a practical proposition that they are perfectly entitled to find whatever works for them, in terms of artificial contraception?’

    • St.Joseph says:

      John Candido.
      I didn’t or don’t intend to answer your question. and I find it impertinent of you to ask me to judge someone else’s conscience, is that what you do. I taught to help those who wished to know their fertility.
      Read my post clearly and you will understand that TEACHING for 30 years at my own expense we don’t charge) I never found it not to work.,only when the rules were broken and that was by their own admittance. If someone gets into a car and doesn’t know how to drive properly eventually they run risks.They won’t be judged because of their lack of knowledge but by their neglect and carelessness.
      Obviously those who don’t have proper teaching, it will fail like all things in life-including the teachings of the Church.The same applies to them ,we have to take responsibility for our lives.
      We must remember that NFP for married couples should not be used indiscriminately.
      John there has been a lot of research gone into knowing a females fertility to make it 99% effective, more so than any other birth control method including vascetomy,and I don’t think it is up to someone like you who doesn’t take the effort to study this and to treat it like some Quack doctors opinion especially when a persons health depends on it. And it is Gods Will in
      the first place.
      It seems to me that you are a single person so I will forgive your ignorance in this day and age when an informed conscience and knowledge is available.!

  29. Iona says:

    St. Joseph – “I was not allowed 2 years ago to place a poster up for the March for LIfe which I am involved in-the priest said I was uncharitable as it would offend some of his parishioners who may have had an abortion.”

    That seems very short-sighted of the pp, as anyone who had had an abortion and was still within the Church – or had returned to the Church – probably regretted her abortion very much and might have been glad to take part in a March for Life or at least to know about it.

    As regards the exchange between you and John Candido, I understand that with the present level of accuracy in judging the fertility cycle, NFP can be almost 100% effective and certainly as effective as any contraceptive, provided the couple stick to the infertile times. I think what John Candido is saying is: What about couples who find it very difficult to stick to the infertile times, e.g. because one of them works away from home much of the time and they may only be together for a few days at a time, and those few days may be just when she is fertile. Or, couples who are not in full agreement about NFP, – one of them wants to go with it but the other one doesn’t want to be so constrained?

    I am bewildered as to why, whatever subject starts out as the topic of discussion (i.e. in Quentin’s initial blog post), we always end up talking either about contraception or about liberal/conservative issues within the Church.

    • St.Joseph says:

      Well tha’ts Catholics for you!
      Now as far as the PP was concerned I and others had the same problem with pro-life papers etc also Divine Mercy St Pio devotions,Magisterium etc.
      Not my parish anyway.That is what I mean regarding liberalism. Like the Golden Anniversary Post here last year or before. Back to JC and his question.
      Do you really believe that a husband who is away for a month would want his wife to be using a method of birth control that would be a health risk Now what they choose to do when he comes home for his weekend is up to them, not me-I taught NFP NOT what they do in privacy.And I find it impertinent for anyone to make me responsible for their conscience.Or even to ask my opinion.It is irrelevant.
      Am I responsible what I taught NFP.?
      As far as ones husband or wife not prepared to abstain in the fertile time One needs to be a marriage guidance Counsellor and one will find out that couples marriages breakdown more than for those reasons.Does a Marriage depend on sexual activity only.
      I do not understand those who make these objections to fertility awareness- Do you or JC believe that the Church should stop teaching it because of those who are unable to come to terms with it. That just seems ridiculous to me-It would be a slippery slope.and not what Jesus preaches.- He preaches forgivness and confession(go show yourself to the priest)’
      This is the whole point of our faith and it surprises me that there are those who don’t understand or are ignorant how it works.!
      I answer questions on the blog when I am asked and defend. I don’t bring up the subject.
      Just defend it! And I always will on other subject too which are equally as important to me a Catholic? Otherwise what’s the point of being on a blog in the first place..

    • Rahner says:

      “I am bewildered as to why, whatever subject starts out as the topic of discussion (i.e. in Quentin’s initial blog post), we always end up talking either about contraception …..”
      I agree, the obsession some Catholics have about sex is really quite bizarre, one can only wonder about the underlying psychopathology…..

      • St.Joseph says:

        I think you are over estimating the fact of contraception ending up with posts.Have a look back and count them-then say it.

  30. St.Joseph says:

    John Candido.
    Tell that to the women I have taught and I have plenty of communication and thank you letters to the newspapers reference my teaching over the years.
    Your last comment says it all!! By placing yourself in Gods Judgement Seat.

  31. Singalong says:

    Iona, going back to Quentin`s original Post, as you have mentioned, and his three questions, for most of us, I think the answers must depend on our characters, and on our spiritual strength.

    If saying No, and refusing to take part in really serious harm to others, would result in severe punishment, deprivation or torture, it would be very hard and sometimes heroic to do so, as the experiments and book cited shows very clearly. It would be especially agonising if one`s family were to suffer badly also as a consequence.

    Our faith should help us, and prayer, but the temptation could still be too strong. On the other hand, as well as heroic saints, there are many people who, without seeming to have any obvious faith, have resisted, at great cost to themselves, because of their innate goodness, or perhaps because they have naturally stronger personalities.

    As the experiments illustrate, situations often develop gradually and insiduously, so that we could easily be led down the slippery slope from mild harm, which we could easily rationalise, or turn a blind eye, to very serious damage to others, which would shock and make a huge impact if we walked into it cold, as Zimbardo`s student and future wife did.

  32. St.Joseph says:

    John Nolan and Rahner.
    One last point I will make on the subject and it is important to remember.
    Fertility Awareness is NOT a contraceptive!! I repeat Not a contraceptive.
    Work that out for yourselves.
    It is also a very good way of telling a woman who may have problems in the future and early diagnosis to problems at the time..
    As for me knowing my fertility probably saved my life.ending up at under 6 stone and very very ill.So I am eternally grateful for the knowledge I received.And I thank God for that.

  33. Nektarios says:

    None of the mainstream denominations that have joined State and Church, or in the case of Roman Catholic its own State and Church can avoid the history full of brutality, murder and a host of other crimes. So don’t look to the Church institution to provide an answer. If it did it would be hyocritical!

    Where State and Church are joined, there is the desire to control everything, dominate over every aspect of life, so it is not surprizing that the Church wanted to pontificate, judge and condemn those who were not totally conformed to it.
    The mainstream demoninations are still acting in this way, instilling fear.

    These demominations blame secularism, liberalism, nihilism and a host of other isms for the problems and fragmentation in society, but all these ism came about about out of the abuses to the populations around the world, yes, even the Reformation and Protestantism which has faired little better by these control freaks of State & Church religion.

    There is of course the fallen nature of man with all its sinfulness and leanings towards it, and the only way I can think of that delivers man out of the bondage to slavery, out of ever judging, condemning, or controlling other fellow human beings, is Christ.
    One may say one is a believer, yet seeks power over another, – there is only one desire a Christian has with another and that is that theycome believe in our Precious One, Jesus – who alone saves us.
    The best thing that could happen to State & Church setups would be to be consigned to oblivion.
    Then, that simplicity of believing and following Christ faithfully that once was, begins to take place.

    • St.Joseph says:

      A good post. I have thought in mind and that is I know plenty and I mean plenty of people who believe in Jesus and still believe in abortion, how would you explain that?

  34. Iona says:

    St. Joseph: –
    they’re not thinking things through.

  35. Nektarios says:

    St. Joseph
    While agreeing with you and with Iona’s point, ` they are not thinking things through’, it is much, much more pitiful than that.
    They are caught in their sins, trapped, conitioned in their minds to accept such a thing as abortion.
    But abortion is not the only sin, is it?
    I say it is pitiful because these poor souls really don’t know the Lord at all. They may know some things they were taught in Sunday school or what they have read, but knowing Him is to love him,
    and to follow Him.
    It seems there are so many who will gladly say thy will or do follow Jesus, but not on His terms,
    which is the only way one can follow Him.
    I know, you are well versed about NFP and all the hideous abortion issues and do what you can.
    But as long as that does not interfere with your relationship with Christ. Yes it is personal, He is personal, and He knows the exceeding sinfulness of men.

    We are or were discussing the topic around The Lucifer effect by Zimbardo. The topic opened up
    how some people who are normally kind, God- fearing folk can become cruel full of fear and resorting to murder of which abortion is one case in point, but like I say it is not the only one.
    People who resort to such crimes and sinfulness, show they have no love in their heart and as we have seen in parliament recently, the concept of love is a distortion and so ones judgement of things in measure become equally distorted.

    Let’s make sure we are alert, attentive to the One who alone can forgive our sins, redeem us,
    sanctify us and see us safely home to Heaven. Yes let us, stick close to Him and sticking close to Him, which is not going to be easy for anyone, but we must, and in doing so, find a very different heart emerging that is able to withstand these winds of adversity, propaganda, cruelty and will know what to do. Ones heart is taken up with the Lord, and in turn His love is shed abroad in our hearts, and that love makes one accomplish the most amazing things.

    • St.Joseph says:

      Thank you for your deeply thought out comments,and with you all the way.
      There is one thing I will say in reference to ‘as long as it does not interfere with your relationship with God’
      The way I see it is because ‘of our relationship with God’ that we do these things in the first place.
      I all my life I would have loved to just be alone with the Lord and I used to be told to stop dreaming,Oh the Peace the wonderful Peace to just look on the Lord and let our minds rest in Him.
      However that’s not what I was ‘only’ called here to do-I know that..Nothing will separate me from Him. but there is work to be done and we each have our own calling and responsibilities,but all here to love and Worship Him.
      I chose the married state or maybe God chose that for me. But what ever state we are called to in this life, it is always one that we must be prepared to carry out our duties to God and our neighbour, and It know that the unborn is as much my neighbour as the one who lives next door or walks in the street, the poor the down hearted etc etc etc.
      Eternity when we pass over will be as we know a long long time no ending, so we must really get a glimpse of it it this life, then we hopefully will be prepared to meet Him, and say is ‘I tried, I did my best’.!

  36. Singalong says:

    St. Joseph and Nektarios, your deep spirituality is genuinely inspiring and humbling, and must be the ultimate answer to evil and temptation.

    However, it is undeniable that much evil is resisted and heroic deeds are performed by atheists, agnostics, and people of little religion. Are these people of exceptionally strong character, do they sometimes perhaps enjoy being different? Is it just the circumstances of the events? Are they numbered among the other sheep Christ has, who are not yet of this fold?

    There is an interesting website discussing some of these questions, which also mentions Zimbardo:
    It refers to a book by Scott Allinson, a social psychologist: Heroes: What They Do and Why We Need Them, who talks about intelligence, courage, charisma and selflessness, and a finding that people who act heroically have often had previous experience of volunteering in non threatening situations such a soup kitchens.

    • Nektarios says:


      Of course there are non-Christian heros with acts of bravery, selflessness, courage and charisma that is undeniable.
      While similar in many respects, to non Christian heros, Christian heros and martyrs
      and those who truly fight the good fight of Faith, overcoming the passions and receiving at the end their crown from the King of Kings puts Christian heros in a different bracket,
      though on the surface they may appear much the same.,

  37. John Candido says:

    ‘…once the connection between sexual expression and procreation has been broken it becomes far more difficult to demonstrate the wrongfulness of fornication and sodomy.’ (Quentin de la Bedoyere)

    I have heavily based my reply on Chapter 6 of,

    ‘Just Love, A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics’, by Margaret A. Farley, (2006), Published by Continuum Books, New York.

    Farley is an American feminist theologian and taught Ethics at Yale University Divinity School between 1971 and 2007. She is past President of both the Society of Christian Ethics and the Catholic Theological Society of America. She is a religious sister with the Sisters of Mercy.
    Not surprisingly, ‘Just Love’, has run into trouble with the CDF, who has declared it to be inconsistent with the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. Her book has nonetheless received support from both the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and the Catholic Theological Society of America.

    It is useful if we could find a set of principles that will help us to determine the wrongfulness or otherwise of various sexual acts. These principles have firstly to be based on human love, as expounded in the ‘Sermon on the Mount’ in Matthew 5: 1 – 48, and I Corinthians: 13: 1 – 13. As our starting point is love, as defined by the previous two passages, the following preliminaries are useful.

    Farley admits that it is not possible to perfectly define human beings. Our knowledge will most likely be permanently limited, the evolution of our understanding of humans through science and medicine, and the many culturally conditioned perceptions of people, and this being subject to change over time.

    1. ‘The Concrete Reality of Persons’, (Farley, 2006, …pp. 209 – 211).

    Farley describes people as complex; part physical and spiritual, needing food, clothing and shelter, that have the capacity for procreation, free choice, and can think and feel. We are also relational, who have interpersonal and social needs. We can choose to be open to others, as well as to God. People exist in the world, which includes their history and location, as well as their political, economic, social, and cultural circumstances. People also have a particular relationship to institutions. People also have their present actuality, as well as their potential for development or diminishment. Every human is unique, as well as sharing their humanness with others. Although this is obvious, all of this is stated so that everybody is on the same page.

    2. ‘Obligating Features of Personhood’, (Farley, 2006, …pp. 211 – 215).

    There are two basic characteristics of personhood; autonomy and relationality. These characteristics oblige us all ‘to respect persons as ends in themselves and forbid, therefore, the use of persons as mere means’, (Farley, 2006, …p. 212). We all have a human obligation to respect one another, ‘in whatever way we relate to them, sexually or otherwise’, (Farley, 2006, …p. 212).

    ‘Freedom of choice…is a capacity for self-determination…which means a capacity to choose not only our own actions but our ends and our loves’, (Farley, 2006, …p. 212). Our freedom is also our capacity to determine our own agenda and the meaning of our own lives, ‘whether it is one that is good for us and others or not’, (Farley, 2006, …p. 212).

    The capacity for relationship also needs to respect people as ends in themselves, while simultaneously acknowledging that we ourselves are ends as well. Through relationality, freedom and love, we are in a unified and dichotomous sense, self-transcendent and self-possessed (Farley, 2006, …p. 212).

    ‘Each and every person is of unconditional value.’ (Farley, 2006, …p. 212). It is the obligation of freedom and relationality that form the basis of general or sexual ethics.

    Consider this post as Part One, with more to follow.

    • John Nolan says:

      Spare us, for pity’s sake! “Through relationality [sic], freedom and love, we are in a unified and dichotomous sense, self-transcendent and self-possessed …”. If this is an example of her prose style, I shan’t be rushing out to buy the book. It’s not just pretentious, it’s quite literally meaningless.

      Memo to the Palazzo del Sant’Uffizio: This particular heretic ain’t worth the kindling.

    • Nektarios says:

      John Candido

      Sister Farley is operating out of a feminist agenda. All that she says will therefore be coloured by that agenda. She is therefore not truly exploring her subject, because, to truly explore her subject, she needs to be free to enquire.
      One is not free to enquire if one proceeds with an agenda.
      Also, Sister Farley’s view of Freedom, meaning by her definition, freedom of choice,
      Self determinism, individualism, is not freedom at all, but propaganda and a lie, and bulding anything on that sand foundation is shakey ground indeed and won’t stand up for long.
      Like so many serious academic writers these days, – up front, one gets truisms, undeniable facts, but what then follows is their interpretation follwing an agenda which actually stops them from enquiring further, or clouds the whole issue with the agenda which means in Sister Farley case using it s a platform for her feminist propaganda

      • John Nolan says:

        Nektarios, there are two features of this style of writing. One consists of stating the obvious but dressing it up with jargon to give the impression that it’s somehow original. The second is to juxtapose so many abstract nouns (some of them of your own devising – gosh, how clever is that?) that the gullible reader thinks that his failure to extract the meaning must be due to the inferiority of his intellect, whereas in truth there is no meaning there in the first place.

        Benedict XVI, who unlike Farley is a real theologian, was able to explain quite complex theological issues in accessible language.

      • John Candido says:

        You are a real nit-picker John Nolan.

      • John Candido says:

        So what! Where is the harm in being a feminist theologian?

  38. John Candido says:

    Freedom and relationality are profoundly connected to one another. We grow in freedom partly through nurturing relationships, for example children in families, and the personal development through love between adults, whether sexual or not. Human sexuality can have multiple meanings, aims, or motivations. Some are distorted and destructive, while others are appropriate and creative. Given all that Farley has said previously, just sexual love and desire must ‘not violate the concrete reality of human persons’, (Farley: 2006…p. 214).

    ‘Pleasure, communication, the union of love and its intimacy, empowerment, and a desire for offspring are each great human goods. If sex is an expression of love that is just, then each and all of these can be the aim or part of the aim of sexual desire and activity’, (Farley: 2006, …p. 215).

    In footnote number 9 on page 215, which is related to the above quote, Farley states that, and I quote,

    ‘I am not espousing the view that sexual activity can be justified only when it aims at or is at least open to the possibility of procreation’, (Farley: 2006, …p. 215).

    The following principles are used to help determine the justice of sexual acts.

    1. ‘Do No Unjust Harm’.

    As all human beings are ends in themselves, and possess dignity. Harm can be physical, psychological, spiritual and relational. This can occur in ‘failure to support, to assist, to care for, to honour…’ (Farley: 2006…p. 217). She also lists all forms of violence, pornography, prostitution, sexual harassment, paedophilia, and sadomasochism as harmful to others.

    2. ‘Free Consent’.

    The outcome of self-determination is an ‘obligation to respect the right of human persons to determine their own actions and their relationships in the sexual sphere of their lives’, (Farley: 2006…p. 219).

    3. ‘Mutuality’.

    ‘Central to its meaning (about sex), necessary for its fulfilment, and normative for its morality when it is within an interpersonal relation is some form and degree of mutuality’, (Farley: 2006…p. 222).


    ‘Equality rules out treating a partner as
    property, a commodity’, (Farley: 2006…p. 223).


    ‘At the heart of the Christian community’s
    understanding of the place of sexuality in human and Christian life has been the notion that some form of commitment, some form of covenant or at least contract, must characterise relations that include a sexual dimension’, (Farley: 2006…p. 223 – 224).


    This can mean the arrival of children and their
    rearing, as well as an open generosity to others outside the marriage (Farley: 2006…p. 226 – 228).

    7.‘Social Justice’.

    This is social justice as it relates, ‘to the kind of justice that everyone in a community or society is obligated to affirm for its members as sexual beings. whether persons are single or married, gay or straight, bisexual or ambiguously gendered, old or young, abled or challenged in the ordinary forms of sexual expression, they have claims to respect from the Christian community as well as the wider society.’ (Farley: 2006…p. 228).

    And ‘these are claims to…freedom of choice in their sexual lives.’ (Farley: 2006…p. 228).

    • Nektarios says:

      John Candido
      I stand by what I wrote and can see Farley’s clever manipulation of the facts, stop opposition with statements like,” they have claim to respect from the Christian Community as well as the wider society. (Farley 2006…p.228).

      In an earlier comment you made, John, what is wrong with a feminist theologian? 2nd March. 11.24.
      Everything is wrong with it. The same as there are atheists who claim to be theologians too.
      Get rid of those rose coloured spec, John.

      • John Nolan says:

        He won’t. The CDF knew that as soon as it identified her book as being incompatible with Catholic doctrine it would become a best-seller and she would be able to pose as a victim in the eyes of the liberal press (including the Guardian whose anti-Catholic bias is well known). However, since she is still technically in the consecrated life, and moreover poses as a ‘Catholic’ theologian, the Congregation did its duty in warning the faithful concerning manifest error.

        Candido believes that the further removed from Catholic doctrine an opinion might be, the greater its veracity. I was once prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt as a gullible individual obsessed with ‘modernity’ and the infallibility of social scientists (the more letters after their name, the better). I find I can no longer do so.

    • John Nolan says:


      • Nektarios says:

        John Nolan
        Now that you see that, really see the fallibility of social scientists and others, then an action has taken place in you that can be both liberating and life-enhancing. If you have just give mere words, then nothing will have changed.

    • Horace says:

      1) ‘Do No Unjust Harm’. Agree – fairly obvious
      2) ‘Free Consent’. Agree – fairly obvious
      3) ‘Mutuality’. Don’t understand – how is this different from 2 above?
      4) ‘Equality’. Agree – fairly obvious
      5) ‘Commitment’. Dont understand – what does “relations that include a sexual dimension” mean?
      6) ‘Fruitfulness’. “children and their rearing” yes; but what does “open generosity to others outside the marriage” mean?
      7) ‘Social Justice’. Agree with para 1, but is this relevant to “freedom of choice in their sexual lives”?

      • John Candido says:

        I will concede that ‘Just Love’ by Sister Margaret Farley is not great literature in the sense that it could have been better written, which is somewhat of a letdown. However, the central message of the book is justice and fairness for people regardless of their sexuality.

  39. John Candido says:

    Apparently the demands of justice are irrelevant to John Nolan. Have a look at what is happening in the UK with regards to the legal recognition of the right of homosexuals to marry. Is this progress or is marriage is being undermined? Could a coalition of Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Labor, be driven by the desire for justice, or are they gullible as well? Change is a part of all societies; knowledge is the inevitable outcome of our curiosity.

    What Nolan, St.Joseph & Nektarios will never concede to liberals is that the world will never stop changing. The expansion of knowledge has a multifaceted impact on culture. One important consequence of this is that theology will never finally arrive and remain forever settled. Theology will never settle and ossify as a formula.

    I would rather have ‘rose-coloured’ glasses than opaque ones that are fixated in the past Nektarios. As for gullibility John Nolan, I think that you have this faculty in spades. Being a Catholic fossil requires an inordinate amount of gullibility. Despite your insulting remarks about Sister Margret Farley posing as a Catholic theologian, she is a reputable ethicist and theologian as her CV attests.

    • St.Joseph says:

      We can not change Truth.
      Jesus said ‘I have not come to change the Law but that you will understand it.
      Maybe that is where your are getting confused.

      • John Candido says:

        Unless you are talking about mathematical axioms, truth is subject to change. Religious truth or doctrine has changed or evolved over two thousand years. History tells us this repeatedly. I am afraid that you don’t get it.

  40. Nektarios says:

    John Candido
    Please don’t mix up or get confused with truths as perceived by men. In the case of science
    for example, we have learned a lot at least in the areas of the mundane, the repetitive and technological and other areas. With progress we have had to adapt, modify our perceptions of these assumptions and it will change and change again as the years go by.
    That which is The Truth, God in Christ, changes not, being the Alapha and Omega, the beginning and the end. Has always been and always will be, the same eternally.
    It is not Truth that changes, just our understanding of it.
    In fact, having to point this out ,demonstrates to a point, that we are losing sight of the Truth as such and not following after and obeying that Truth in love, each turn to their own understanding
    and think that is the Truth, when in fact that is delusion.
    All that we have discussed in the last three topics has this base, not Truth, but our little,often petty, applications of that Truth as we turn or lean to our own understanding. It is quite a worrying trend.

    • John Candido says:

      You don’t get it either.

      • Nektarios says:

        John Candido
        Oh I do get it.
        No one knows all the truth at anytime. None of us knows the truth as one ought.All I am saying, John, is, if we abide faithful to the Lord and the Truth revealed, then that which is lacking in our understanding is completed changing our lives bit by bit as we become more Christlike.
        Of course there are observable truths about mathematics and a whole raft of other subjects, none of which are really life changing, necessary some of them perhaps, but in fact the opposite as they produce more problems further down the line.

      • St.Joseph says:

        I wonder how long it will be before homo-sexuals will want womb in plants and hormone treatment.Because of the central message of justice and Sister Margaret Farley’s.thinking.

  41. John Nolan says:

    JC, you are beyond argument or even parody. Where have I said that the world does’t change? Where did I deny the concept of justice? I have been quite indulgent towards you, not least because Quentin reminded me over a year ago that the ethos of this blog is one of tolerance, and my strictures smacked too much of ad hominem. At the time I agreed with him. However, in future I shall tell it as it is. If it means I am barred from this blog while you are given rein to talk bollocks, then so be it.

    • Nektarios says:

      John Nolan & JC

      Are you greater than your Master?
      Do we not realize that which puts us down, is doing our soul good.
      Did Christ receive justice? What did He do when accused falsely?
      Before hs accusers, like a lamb to the slaughter, he remained dumb
      and said nothing.
      Return to your Peace – both of you.

      • John Nolan says:

        Oh, and JC, if you say “history tells us” once more, I will swear. Leave my subject alone, and stick to your own, which I identified in my comment at 2:47 as being a duality of round objects. If there’s anyone that “doesn’t get it” it’s you, spectacularly.

      • John Nolan says:

        Nektarios, if everyone followed your advice, yourself included, this combox woul be empty.

  42. John Candido says:

    At the very least, a professional historian is somebody who has a doctorate in history, which is usually awarded by two academics having read and passed a doctoral thesis that is your original work, completed with a plethora of references. After this preliminary qualification, somebody who aspires to be called a historian usually goes on to lecturing at a University and writing historical articles for specialist journals. Some of the very best professional historians also write books so that the public can benefit from their scholarship. Some of the ones that I am familiar with in the UK are Sir Ian Kershaw, Eric Hobsbawm, and Sir Richard Evans.

    I don’t know you personally John Nolan, so you will have to take what I say with a grain of salt. I remember you writing by way of introduction that you had a Master’s Degree in history or some other discipline. You are probably a highly intelligent amateur historian, of whom there are many located in any number of countries, and long may it be so. For all I know you may also have written several books on history or any number of articles for any number of magazines about some aspect of history. You obviously know a lot about history; more than I know about this subject. All of this activity can blur the distinction between amateur and professional, be that as it may. This however, does not make you a professional historian.

    There always has been a tradition of amateurs who have a passion for one or more disciplines, and this occurs even in something as abstruse as mathematics. At times amateurs gazump highly qualified professionals on some aspect of their work. And I say all power to them. Incidentally, Abraham Lincoln never attended a single day of formal schooling, but taught himself law and became a lawyer. He was a very intelligent and ambitious man.

    Credentialism is an unfortunate overreliance on qualifications in conferring social status or job allocation. In lots of instances, such as medical, nursing, teaching, priestly, scientific, engineering or legal contexts, this cannot be avoided. Of course one does not have to be a professional historian or theologian for example, in order to read these subjects in order to make up your own mind on an issue.

    If it is fair enough for you to give us the benefit of your historical insights as a secondary school teacher and an amateur historian, it is also fair that I may draw on some aspect of history, theology, politics or sociology, as I see fit on any other subject, as an amateur on SecondSight. As an amateur, I make no claims to any originality of thought, or to be an authority on any subject. All I have by way of a qualification is a Bachelor of Arts.

    If you don’t agree with any of my points, clearly and carefully elucidate your objections. Ad hominem attacks are irrelevant. You might remember your assistance to me when I was involved in ad hominem attacks against Dr. Scott Lively, who was one of the authors of the anti-homosexual polemic called ‘The Pink Triangle’. Can you follow your own advice?

    • John Nolan says:

      One aspect of ‘credentialism’ is an exaggerated reverence for post-nominal letters. Martin Middlebrook was a Lincolnshire poultry farmer who left school at the age of 17; in 1967 when he was thirty-five a visit to the Somme battlefields inspired him to write military history, and since then he has produced a number of books on both world wars, and two books on the Falklands War – one from the British POV, and the other from the Argentinian. Sir Max Hastings is a journalist with no formal qualifications in history but with an impressive series of historical works to his name. AN Wilson, a journalist and novelist has ventured into medieval Florentine history as well as writing an acclaimed biography of Hilaire Belloc.

      The writers of ‘popular’ history are the ‘professional’ historians who can make money from their books and television series. Some of them are also ‘academic’ historians who have research degrees and teach at universities. The vast majority of academic historians could not make a living from writing history, so they have to teach, whether they want to or not. So to define a professional historian as someone with at least a PhD is misleading. An amateur historian, in my book, is usually someone with an interest in a particular aspect or period of history who has spent his spare time studying it and has acquired a considerable amount of knowledge. I remember a part-time master at school who was a local vicar. His knowledge of the American Civil War was encyclopaedic and he was fascinating to listen to. I think he taught mathematics. An Honours degree in history from a good university combines in-depth study with a broader overview which militates against using historical evidence selectively to justify a polemical point.

      You claim that other commentators don’t directly engage with your points. But in most cases you are not making points yourself, but regaling us with other people’s, either by an excessive use of hyperlinks or, as in the case of Margaret Farley by quoting extensively and uncritically from one of her books. She might have a reputation as an ethicist and a theologian with a CV as long as your arm; if you can make any sense of her turgid and jargon-ridden prose, good luck to you; If you agree with her conclusions, fine. However, her support for abortion, going back to 1984, and her attempts to legitimize homosexual genital acts are in direct contradiction to Catholic teaching, and the CDF would be failing in its duty if it didn’t point this out.

  43. Nektarios says:

    John Nolan

    Perhaps, but there again, many more might contribute if they knew they were not going to
    be given the third degree on everything they said.
    As most of us has limitations, hence specialists in what ever subject, is necessary. Sometimes though, the paths of various disciplines merge or cross over and of course specialists are up in arms, one saying things in a most ungracious manner against the other, a bit like yourself, perhaps justifiably.
    However, Christian, we are called to love one another. If there is a breakdown in relationship (even on the blog) let us also be the first to be reconciled, one to another.
    I only say this by way of an encouragement to you and J C. Now who will be first to extend the olive branch?

    • Nektarios says:

      John Candido

      It was C.H. Spurgeon who, because he was not an academic as such, gifted of the Lord as a Pastor and a preacher he certainly was, fell foul of the Establishment of his day.
      He was hounded by academics of the Church of England around 1870 odd roughly.
      It was called the Downgrade Controversay. Rev. Spurgeon suffered a great deal
      on account of it.
      He noted after that all blew by, that the Church was being filled up with men of degrees –
      and was slowly being emptied by degrees.
      It is the same today.
      So be careful before the Church, presenting your academic credentials, it of little or no importance to the soul of man on their way to their eternal home.
      I personally have qualifications and at times an original thinker, however, I see myself as nothing. I am the least among you.
      I will finish with a quote from C.H.Spurgeon: “If one raises oneself up more than two inches above his fellows, one is already too high, for we are nothing.”
      Please, instead of justifying your position rightly or wrongly, be reconciled with you brother in Christ John N. and may God bless you both.

  44. John Candido says:

    While I don’t agree with everything you have written about me; that was an interesting post and reply. Well done.

  45. St.Joseph says:

    ‘Just Love’Sister Margaret Farley thoughts..
    What is Love?
    God allowed His only Son to suffer and die for Love’
    We have to suffer and die too for Gods love – die to sin, it means giving up things that are against Gods Law.Jesus said ‘Your will be done. in the Mount of Olives. We could say that is ‘not loving our neighbour’ not to let them have all that they wish for,.and that was His only Son-now we are all His son’s and Daughters, would we say ‘Your will not mine be done.
    One does not need to be a theologian to know that.Or have a degree in History

    • Nektarios says:

      St. Joseph,
      What is Love?
      Is love sentiment, emotion, sex, surley not?
      Love can have sentiment, emotion and sex along with it, but it is not Love.
      Love is something else, other, have no beginning or end and has divine intellegence.
      Love knows how to behave itself, conduct its discourse with others, and what to do.
      So Love is, right thinking, with right action, at the right time.

      • St.Joseph says:

        Jesus’s expression of love -when he scattered the money lenders in the Temple.
        was that right thinking, right action, at the right time.-or His human nature losing control.
        Do you think?

  46. Nektarios says:

    St Joseph
    God is Love. Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us, so it follows that the actions of Jesus
    when he scattered the money lenders and others in the Temple was, right thinking, with right action at the right time.
    Consider, St. Joseph, why He did it, what he said and consider what happens today?

  47. John Nolan says:

    John Candido

    Nektarios is right. Enough of this sparring. I would, however, like to set you a challenge. Go to the LCWR website and download the keynote speech given by Sr Laurie Brink of the Sinsinawa Dominicans on 12 August 2007. Apart from anything else some of the context of this led to the investigation of the LCWR in respect of its fidelity to Catholic doctrine. Read it with an entirely open mind (it is descriptive rather than prescriptive and her own opinion can only be inferred) and then offer a criticism of it without lengthy quotations, but without being afraid to state your own opinions. I will then give my take on it. I have read it carefully four times. Sr Brink is a considerable Biblical scholar and her extensive use of Biblical analogies enlivens what was in any case an interesting and thought-provoking address.

    • John Candido says:

      There is no doubt about the desire of religious sisters to examine the crisis of vocations in their ranks. It was interesting that she mentioned the asceticism of the coenobitic way of life, and how it is a mainstay of monasticism. The ‘desert’ and communal life are essential means of becoming holy. All of these ideas interest me because they closely reflect my understanding of Christian meditation, as provided by the Worldwide Christian Meditation Community (WCCM), headquartered in London. Sister Laurie Brink’s address is prophetic in my view. She speaks of the need for religious life to move to the margins, or in other words, a radical holiness, in order to recapture their integrity.

      You probably are going to choke on your breakfast when I tell you that I don’t subscribe to postmodernism. I find it a cop-out that has little to do with reality. I believe in the dichotomy of objective and subjective entities. I am a rationalist who believes in the power of logic, rational thought, and scientific endeavours to understand ourselves and the world around us. I absolutely believe in truth and in our capacity to determine it in either religious or scientific contexts.

      Religious truths are a personal matter of faith which for me is based on theological enquiry on the one hand, and in the impact of a changing world on theology. Where we probably differ is that I am a liberal and less doctrinaire. I see truth slowly and carefully evolving from past understandings to contemporary understandings. This evolution or change can only be justified by careful theological research.

      I agree with Sister Brink’s four broad directions that the Leadership Conference of Woman Religious or LCWR need to discuss policy directions amongst themselves, namely, ‘Death with Dignity and Grace’ (allowing your congregation to pass), ‘Acquiescence to Others’ Expectations’ (a return to obedience), ‘Sojourning in a New Land not yet Known (exploring new ways of being religious), and ‘Reconciliation for the Sake of the Mission’ (adding their prophetic voice to assist the Church’s with its many problems).

      I really appreciate Mary Katherine Hilkert’s notion of a multitude of prophetic voices that speak the truth with integrity and love, with at times great risk to themselves. Sister Brink mentions the condescension they experience as women religious by the Church, and the deafness of the hierarchy towards their message that married men and women should serve as priests. Women religious are seeking equality in dignity with the hierarchy in that they have an authentic voice that if ignored, will make our Church a poorer place.

      • Nektarios says:

        John Candido

        I do see that LCWR are quite radicalized and political.
        While I believe there is what they term, theologically, God’s Creative Ordinance that is
        the way God ordered things in creation including Male and female.
        However, the way this has been interpreted over the centuries is an invention primarily
        by men and has led to abuses of women.
        All this came in after the Fall.
        Women, unfortunately are not knowing the truth of the matter either, as it concerns them in God’s Creative Ordinance, and they seek the same equality with men, especially in power and authority.This is, on the part of Women is an invention too.

        We have had women’s lib and all the rest of it, Feminists all doing the same thing, clamouring for equality with men in authority and power in the worldly world.

        So, it seems to me, both men and women need to revisit and understand each their place in God’s creative Ordinance.
        That way, there will be a true order, a true harmony and a true realization of each others place and potential.
        However, I am not optimistic I will ever see it happen.

  48. St.Joseph says:

    The Catholic Church has plenty of women in Religious Orders who understand their place in God’s creative Ordinance, Even plenty of married women.who not are hankering for the priesthood-although we are the priesthood of the laity.
    There are the Poor Clare’s of Perpetual Adoration, EWTN, there are enclosed orders.
    Women who are members of ‘Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice. Association of Catholic Women.Third Order Of Our Lady of Mount Carmel’ who I am one’ and others, all defending Holy Mother Church and keeping the Feminists at bay, and will continue to do so., following in Our Blessed Mothers footsteps not her shoes-to whom we are not worthy- until our dying breath.
    Rest assured-don’t be pessimistic.It is happening and will continue.

  49. Nektarios says:

    St Joseph
    Yes, the true does exist. Those truly taught of God do exist, but it is rare to find them.
    It is even rarer to meet one and listen to what they say.
    When one does, it often appears too simplistic, easy to understand, yet there are great depths
    to swim in, and much to discover.
    The fact there are so few that one hears or can reach or talk with, is I feel on account of so much of our rather unspiritual and often course approach.
    I have heard it said on Mt Athos, if one wants to argue with an Elder, one will be disappointed,
    for that Elder will not respond, but leave.
    What treasures we hold in earthen vessels.

  50. John Nolan says:

    Sr Brink describes herself with remarkable candour as “the product of the abysmal catechetical preparation of the 1970s” who grew up “without a Catholic subculture and with no sense of tradition”. This doesn’t say a lot for the post-Conciliar Church! Yet later on she is rather dismissive about those congregations which are attempting to reconnect to tradition, headlining it as Acquiescence to Others’ Expectations. Since the ‘Others’ can only refer to the Catholic Church, and the congregations themselves are not autonomous groups of people but institutes of consecrated life erected by the authority of the Apostolic See, this description is revealing. She does, however, concede that the more traditional congregations are attracting young Catholic adults and retaining them.

    Of the four options or directions she says at the outset that “not one of the four is better or worse than the others” and that the important thing is that the congregation is united in discerning the direction to be followed. This is relativism at its worst. A ‘trad’ Catholic blog would welcome direction two for obvious reasons, but would also cynically approve one and three, because of the end result. Direction three has drawn the most flak, and Sr Brink’s defenders have been quick to point out that moving beyond the Church or even ‘beyond Jesus’ was not something she advocated. This is true, but she gives it at least tacit support, praising those groups who have left the Church for their “integrity, insight and courage”, and claiming that “men and women are hungering for their leadership, insights and inspiration”. This comes close to endorsing apostasy. Another remark is jaw-dropping in its import. “Who’s to say that the movement beyond Christ is not in reality a movement into the very heart of God?” I wonder what St Dominic would have made of this patently heretical remark? By the way, I get the impression that Sr Brink is confused about the meaning of ‘sojourn’ – its about stopping, not travelling.

    Sr Brink spends a lot of time on direction four, and at the end admits this is her preferred option. ‘Reconciliation’ is something she often talks about, and interestingly believes it is up to the sisters to initiate this, on the grounds that they are the victims of injustice at the hands of the institutional patriarchal Church which is ‘reneging on the promises of Vatican II’. The issues between the LCWR and the hierarchy go back to Paul VI’s reign and are in a sense peculiar to the American Church, although of course they have resonances elsewhere. All the facts are out there, and thanks to the internet can be accessed without difficulty. The fact that there have been in the past prophetic voices from outside the hierarchy, St Catherine of Siena being one example, does not mean that everyone with a radical agenda is a prophet, or that the hierarchy is necessarily wrong. There’s no point in Sister X insisting that ‘the Spirit’ calls for women priests; Rome replies “No, He doesn’t”.

    John Candido, I’m glad you have no truck with the post-modernists, or for that matter the post-post-modernists; trendy approaches to literary and art criticism are irrelevant. However, when discerning religious truth, Christians rely primarily on revelation, something you don’t mention. Many thanks for your prompt and pertinent observations.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s