Bad apples or bad barrels?

For me, the saddest point in the film Spotlight was at the very end where three screens were needed to show all the places in which the local Church had managed cover ups of incidents of sexual abuse. The question asks itself: how could the Church of God, one of whose marks in holiness, oversee such cruel debaucheries, ensuring that the evil could continue over the decades? In search of an answer I am going to ask you to pause for a moment. I want you to imagine a nightmare.

The time is the 1970s. You have a son in his 20s whom you love dearly. He is a faithful Catholic and, being a charming and popular person, he has been very successful in youth work. One day you are visited by the distressed mother of a 12 year old. With great difficulty she explains that her boy has been interfered with sexually by your son. Of course you can’t believe her, but you do feel it necessary to ask your son. At first he denies it but his uneasiness makes you probe. Eventually it all comes out: the incident has happened, although he describes it as merely horseplay, your son has apparently never done anything like this before and he is overcome with shame. It’s the first time you have seen him cry for ten years. He assures you that nothing like that would, could, ever happen again. And you believe him. Is your next move to march him smartly down to the police station?

There are very good reasons to do so. Sexual abusers, for all their contrition, are prone to repeat the offences; that is why we keep a national sex register so that other children are protected. And the damage of sex abuse can be carried by the victim for life. But in the 1970s these dangers were not generally known. Archbishop Murphy O’Connor, explaining his mistake in posting an abusing priest to further pastoral duties, did not know in the 1970s, so why should you?

And, you have a second motive. You have a public position: perhaps as a head teacher. Will the publicity rebound on you? Outwardly, people may sympathise but inwardly the association is there: what sort of parent were you? Perhaps the school board would wonder about your suitability as a head teacher. Shame does not discriminate.

If you would nevertheless report your son, you will have good reason to condemn some bishops’ actions in the 1970s. But if you would have kept quiet, hoping the situation would fade away, you will understand that even bishops deserve to be judged in terms of their good faith at the time rather than through hindsight. How do we want the Almighty to judge us? But that does not excuse the continuation of abuse as the facts became clear and the extent of child abuse widened.

Yet there are considerations here, too. The situation becomes increasingly difficult as a bishop realises that he has several priests who have offended and some re-offended, and many children have been damaged. You realise that this will be an immense scandal, and the costs of putting it right may bankrupt the diocese. Even then, you should have faced the music for the sake of the children. But to do so would have been heroic. How entitled we are to expect heroism in others even if we are heroes ourselves?

The bishop is between a rock and a hard place. And one rock is especially jagged. It is called the pontifical secret. Briefly, Canon Law prohibits reporting abuse to the civil authorities, under pain of potential excommunication.  In 2010 (2002 in the US) reporting was permitted where the civil law required it — but this does not apply to countries like Italy or Poland where there is no civil requirement. Having been intended to give protection similar to other forms of professional confidence it acted, and acts, as a cover up.  Throughout many years reporting was effectively prohibited by the episcopal oath of obedience.

Don’t misunderstand me. What happened over the decades was outrageous: evil people escaped their deserts while innocents were grossly damaged when they were entitled to loving protection.  And there has been great scandal causing huge damage to the Church. But it wasn’t a plot. Bishops may have been ignorant, careless, and occasionally cowardly to a point of wickedness. But for the most part they were just like you and me – trying to do what they thought best in impossible situations. Philip Zimbardo, the psychologist, taught that bad apples come from bad barrels.  In this case the bad barrel was an old system, no longer fit for purpose, and perhaps still not fit. Let’s not put the blame too readily on the apples.

About Quentin

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

39 Responses to Bad apples or bad barrels?

  1. Galerimo says:

    Thank you Quentin. You do us a real service by holding this issue in the light even though it is painful for everyone.
    And thank you Martha for your kind words.

    Recently I met a woman walking her dog on the beach. She explained to me how this greyhound of hers was a rescue dog. She had taken the animal from the Dogs home where it had been placed after being rescued from a cruel owner.

    The lady explained to me how hard it was for her knowing the details and the extent of the cruelty.

    “How do you manage in your care for the dog knowing what you know”? I asked her.

    “It is not easy for me”, she replied, “I just keep focusing on the present knowing that the past has happened and what I can do about it is only in the present. I cannot put it from my mind. But I keep focusing on loving my beautiful dog”. The animal was very sullen but the woman loved him, I could see that.

    Our history as Church in this matter of sexual abuse is painful to behold.

    We are not the disease.

    It is a disease that we suffer and for as long as the instance of paedophilia in the wider community finds its way into the Church then our present need is to manage the inevitable as best we can.

    For this our leaders should be highly accountable as much as every one of us.

    As instance of Trinitarian love, as Mystical Body of Christ our Church puts out its great beauty always. But we are still the little pilgrims of God, making our journey through the cultures of history and as such a church, we are very vulnerable to the corrupting power of our frail natures.

    Only our care can save us from despairing in this terminal disease.

  2. Hock says:

    Whilst it is tempting to have sympathy with the circumstances that Quentin describes and transfer this to the situation in the Church it just won’t do and is yet another attempt to excuse the inexcusable.
    Quentin’s description of some circumstance that may have occurred in some way is still a fiction, and a sugar-coated one too. What is not a fiction are the endless accounts of horrific child abuse that must have been known about by those in Church authority who by the sheer volume of what went on must have had cause to discuss it among themselves. Indeed there is still a whitewash in Quentin’s description of the Bishops, a kind of supposition that they were totally innocent and bemused by the reports of child abuse.
    From the beginning of these scandals becoming apparent there was a neglect of supervisory and management responsibility by those charged with upholding it. There is evidence available that the way it was dealt with was not by some obscure oath but by ‘paying off’ the victims (usually the parents,) in return for their silence.
    Quentin’s scenario would have been better served by giving circumstances in which confronted by the power of the church , and perhaps swayed by a cash payout to families in poverty, they took the money.
    True we are more aware today of the ‘mind’ of child abusers and the desire to offend but it is no secret that laws existed to prevent sexual abuse of minors and that it was a sinful act to perpetrate.
    As for this oath of silence has not the Church denied that it exists in the issue of child abuse and that what was written ( in Latin,) has been misused. I cannot recall any circumstance where a Bishop has relied on this ‘oath’ to excuse his behavior of non-compliance with the civil authorities, but I am content to be wrong on this point.
    What I have seen is the press and media making use of the existence of this oath as evidence of a international cover-up sanctioned by the Church from the very top.
    Quentin’s original scenario does not explain as to why the evidence of child abuse is disproportionate in the Catholic Church as opposed to other denominations but even if that were not the case it is still something that the Church and it’ s adherents of today have to live with , and be accused of. It is almost a matter of shame to admit to being a Catholic and this is the legacy that has been given to us.

  3. Brendan says:

    I’ll come back to reading up on comments so far ; but ‘ a system not fit for purpose ‘ is about right . I’d never heard of the ‘pontifical secret ‘ – certainly not from the media, which makes a change – until on this blog. It is clear to me where the onus lay in all this before 2002/2010 , in bringing these abuses to light in the Church and changing Canon Law – firmly and squarely with the Catholic Bishops.
    Ultimately, we must decide just what we intend to be….. the Church of God or The Church of The World.
    Another sign of ambiguity ( confusion ) in this instance is the Vatican’s use of ‘ diplomatic immunity… but that’s another story. No wonder Pope Benedict chose to resign.

  4. Ann says:

    If a priest has an affair with a consenting adult, gets found out, repents, but then carries on the affair wouldn’t he have been fired or would the bishop just have turned a blind eye, or moved him somewhere else? I don’t see how the rape of children could have been considered less of a problem or one that some bishops didn’t really know what to do about. Priests broke their vows and harmed children.

  5. Brendan says:

    We hear a lot about the Curia – Church government and administration – needing reform. Can anyone shed any light on its working relationship with the worlds Catholic Bishops ? Is there enough trust between them both to engender a spirit of mutual co-operation ? Do ‘ad limina ‘ visits by the worlds Bishops serve a necessary and useful purpose ? eg. conveying the right perception to the Holy Father.
    There seems so much that is shrouded in mystery to the Catholic Faithful. Other than the Bishops ‘ should try harder ‘ …… what else can one say .

  6. Iona says:

    Hock: “Quentin’s original scenario does not explain as to why the evidence of child abuse is disproportionate in the Catholic Church as opposed to other denominations”
    Could you explain that a bit further, please?
    Do you mean that the evidence of abuse is disproportionate in the Catholic Church; or that the abuse is disproportionate?
    And if the latter, are you quite sure that it is? – What are you going by?

    • ignatius says:

      Yes, I wasn’t sure about that either. Neither am I clear as to why I should be ashamed to be a catholic simply because a tiny tiny tiny minority of clergy have become perverse in their ways. A tiny tiny tiny number of teachers become abusers of children too but that doesn’t mean I’m ashamed of the education system.

  7. John Nolan says:

    I am also at a loss to understand why, Hollywood movies notwithstanding, some Catholics still want to talk up this issue. Since most of the allegations refer to incidents which occurred decades ago, are they suggesting that the alleged perpetrators are still in active ministry, or that episcopal cover-ups are still the norm?

    Also, allegations (especially when made long after the event) are simply allegations, and the shambles of the Met Police’s Operation Midland shows what can happen if too much credence is given to them. The presumption of innocence is an important principle; why should it be reversed in the case of sexual misconduct?

    To take a non-clerical example, encouraging women who have been raped to come forward by offering them lifetime anonymity also encourages false and malicious allegations. I have never met a convicted rapist, but have known individuals whose lives have been ruined by allegations of this kind. The calumniators and perverters of justice are rarely bought to book ‘because it might discourage genuine victims from coming forward’. Poppycock.

    • Quentin says:

      Fr Zollner SJ, president of the Center for Child Protection (CCP) at the Gregorian University, would not agree with you. I quote from a recent article ““Six years after the sexual abuse crisis in Germany, four years after the abuse scandals in Boston, 20 years after those in Ireland and 30 years after the ones in Australia and Canada emerged, I am still facing the same patterns of cover-up, denial, avoidance, counterattack and mawkish sentimentality,” At the foot of this article there is an interesting contribution on the nature and effect of the pontifical secret.

      • St.Joseph says:

        I have not read anywhere yet where an answer would be to educate children so that they are not placed in the position to be abused. Plans have been placed in schools so why not in the church.
        Young children learn sex education in schools, surely they could be made aware of an abuser. and told not to let any one interfere with them. If so to speak to their parents, also parents should be responsible now as they know the consequences.
        Children are not so innocent in today’s age, they know all about sex at an early age.

      • John Nolan says:

        Having read Zollner’s article I am no more enlightened. If he is an academic, he needs to provide hard evidence to back up his assumptions, but instead we have subjective opinion. ‘I am still facing the same patterns of cover-up, denial, avoidance, counterattack and mawkish sentimentality.’ Why the first person singular? Is the whole complex issue his personal responsibility? of course not, yet he talks as if it is. Since he leaves himself open to allegations that it is in his interest to ‘talk up’ the situation, he needs to lay such suspicions to rest by providing us with specific examples which will stand up to forensic enquiry.

        As for ‘mawkish sentimentality’ I have seen plenty of this, but usually from those of the alarmist tendency. I would like to see accurate, impartial and verifiable statistics. Not that these will convince those whose minds are already made up, any more than patiently explaining what the ‘pontifical secret’ actually means will persuade those who are determined to pursue this particular red herring to follow more profitable lines of enquiry.

      • Quentin says:

        John, you never disappoint.

        I recall Aristotle’s remark that an educated man looks for only so much precision as the nature of a subject permits. In this case we talking about secrecy both sanctioned and supported by Canon Law. I, too, would like to see accurate, impartial and verifiable statistics; it would be marvelous if the Church establishment would provide them. In their absence, we have to depend on those who are active in the work. We cannot dismiss them on the grounds that we disagree with their conclusions. Meanwhile this is our best evidence — bolstered by the episodes to which Fr Zollner refers — where the independent investigations turned out to show a picture which exceeded our worst fears. You might like to look at ; it will give you an overall view..

      • Horace says:

        Re the Ryan Report.
        My father-in-law was brought up and taught his trade as an orphaned child in one of the institutions featured in the Ryan Report. Not only was he a good and faithful Catholic but he never criticised (or allowed anyone that he was talking with to criticise) either the institution itself or the associated clergy.

  8. Geordie says:

    Ignatius, it is not the abusers that have created the greatest problem for Catholics, it is the cover-up by the hierarchy which has made life difficult for us. Whatever may happen in other organisations, it is irrelevant. As a Christian community we should have been leading the world in rooting out the criminals but instead our leaders hid the truth from everyone. They convinced us that it was a “tiny, tiny, tiny” number and they were dealing with it but this is not the case.
    In the film, Spotlight, I thought one of the saddest moments was when one of the journalist, who had lapsed, said that he had always hoped to come back to the Church, but it was obvious, after all he had learnt, he just couldn’t return.

  9. Nektarios says:

    Has it become clear to us all, that the nature of sin is to hide in the darkness, the shadows, behind
    others if the same ilk?
    Let me say a word or two to the perpetrators who may be caught up in their passions with this.

    The Church as with a family that indulge in Child sexual abuse, and other abuses try to cover up their deeds.

    Perhaps a realisation of what happen to their soul when they leave this world and enter eternity,
    then, there is nowhere to hide, but sink lower and lower into darkness.
    Why do they do this, hiding from people know what they have done? It is quite simply because
    they know their deeds were evil.
    Here they can hide in the shadows and never be found out, but there in eternity, there is nowhere to hide, as they will be known even as they are known.

    The Lord would have compassion on them, but they can’t stand the His brightness in the glory and flee from His presence. Just like they hide themselves today be it under a cloak of the cassock or the family, or appearing a nice person.
    They will look at the saints in the glory full of joy, happiness and peace and all radiant with the glory of the Lord, while they will be loathsome ugly as the demons.

    The glory of the Lord will shine sufficiently on them that they can have no peace and seek forth darkness till they trow themselves into hell to escape from Him who sits on the throne.

    You see there is no escape, no hiding in eternity for sinners, not only those guilty of these terrible sins, but those who would hide and become children not of God, but of disobedience(the devil).

    So what are such perpetrators to do?

    In this life, there is the opportunity given to repent, to turn away from sin in this or any other form,
    but if we are attached to that and will not turn away from such thing to God, a fear eternity awaits all such.

    If one truly repents before God, then one can be washed clean of every stain, every sin one has committed, but to do that we must come to the Light of the world, even Christ Jesus our Lord.

    Lastly for now I would say to all such perpetrators who would repent to do it now, and let it now be a deficient repentance, but a complete repentance.
    For such who would do this, Heaven awaits, your joy and happiness and eternal life in bliss awaits you. Will you give all that up for a sexual passion.

    What say some, I would be thrown out of the Church and ministry, and a fearful prison sentence.
    They might even kill me in prison.
    So what , far better to truly repent and have Christ, than a long time deprived of your liberty here,
    than a lost eternity in Hell.
    It is only the Devil that keeps you attached to these horrible sins committed! If you will, come and be washed clean, and be made whole again, and following in the way of holiness.
    May God grant any child abuser or sinner the grace of God to truly repent. and when the time comes for you to leave this life and enter the next, let it be with joy rather than a fearful looking forward to eternity.

  10. Nektarios says:

    Sorry about the mistakes
    Corrections – 3rd line – should read,- others of the some ilk.
    3rd Para. first line – should read, -…..what happens to their soul….

    5th Para. – should read – ….seek for darkness till they throw themselves……….

    7th Para. ….should read – ….turn away from such thing to God, a fearful eternity…………

    9th Para. should read – …..let it not be a deficient repentance……

  11. Hock says:

    In answer to Ignatius and Iona as to the crime of child abuse being disproportionate in the Catholic Church as to other denominations I don’t suppose there are any stats that make a direct comparison. But in the Western World and here in the UK when a report of a member of the clergy being charged with child abuse is reported on the news and before they state what denomination that person is what do you think the report will say ? My guess is that I first suspect it will be a Catholic priest , or religious, and it usually is.
    In a an utterly perverse way I am almost pleased when it turns out to be an Anglican Vicar or a Methodist Minister and to my shame I momentarily forget there is a child victim who has suffered great harm ( often irreparably so.)

    As for the ‘historical ‘ allegations this is another crutch we hang onto. It matters not when these incidents occurred because what we have are repeated cases coming forward. In the Diocese where I live a number of clergy have been convicted and still are appearing in court having arrived from prison ( and being further convicted,) when new allegations relating to the same period are made by victims not previously heard.

    There is evidence in this blog of finding comfort at clinging at straws. The film ‘Spotlight’ laid bare the hundreds of incidents in all parts of the world and there are still reports pending and victims to come forward.

    In a Church that is governed by Christ , who had very strong words for child abusers, we have allowed a cancer to take hold that will never end until the powers that be ask themselves : What is it about the structure of the Catholic Church that encouraged child abusers to believe they had a home there? The institution quoted above has been corrupted and its voice of authority on moral matters seriously weakened.
    I read that the Pope has set up some kind of body to look into all this and from memory this was in 2014 but it is already in disarray and he has reportedly never even paid them a visit.

  12. Iona says:

    Quentin, I wasn’t able to read you first reference (to Global Pulse magazine) because it “told” me “you have already reached the 10 articles limit we offer free to readers” (although as far as I remember I have never read any articles on that website previously).

  13. ignatius says:

    Working in prison chaplaincy in a prison given over entirely to sex offenders I meet a lot of the people spoken of here. I do pastoral visiting and run a catechism and prayer group for sex offenders who are Catholics. It would be difficult to assess proportionality I agree because one would have to have a large array of statistics for society at large as well as for prison numbers. On the basis of my own experience and my wider reading I wouldn’t say that the Catholic population was disproportionately represented. I would say that I agree with Quentins last paragraph on this topic and I also think that the subject is an immensely complex which does not lend itself to caricature.
    I personally believe that the failings of others are no cause to abandon ones faith and do not accept a broad brush tarring of the wider Catholic church. I also read Fr Zollners report and would say his views on re-offending do not match, even remotely, the literature I have read on re offending rates in this country, rates which are in fact quite low.

  14. Brendan says:

    I suggest we don’t get lost in statistics and do as Quentin suggests and look for serious , believable quotes from respected people/organisations to bring some balance into the discussion. Working from the film ” Spotlight ‘ and its application to the previous blog ‘ snake in the grass ‘ , I have put this together.
    The John Jay Report ( 2007 ) commissioned by the American Catholic Bishops however, is too complex and thorough to summarise here ; but I take the figure of 4% to be the figure for U.S.Catholic priests involved in sexual abuse of children between the year 1950 and 2002.
    Referring back to the previous blog ; I remember finding ( I don’t think I put into my blog at the time ) that it was recognised that every state in America was perceived to have a figure running at about 2% of its Catholic clergy involved in child sex abuse. ( same report ). It would appear from ” Spotlight ” , that Massachusetts was something of a ‘hotspot ‘ in this respect with 6 % of its total clergy involved in such behaviour.
    To balance this ; an external survey by Associated Press concluded that child sex abuse was ” widespread in Americas Schools and that most of it was never reported or punished.
    In Portland , Oregon ( 2010 ), a jury found against Boy Scouts of America- awarding millions in fines -on the discovery that since 1920 the Scouts officials kept ” perversion files ” on suspected abusers – but kept it quiet .
    Reporting on such abuse ; Ernie Allen , President of the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children , told Newsweek:- ” I can tell you without hesitation that we have seen cases in many religious settings , from travelling Evangelists , to mainstream ministers to rabbis and others’. It would appear that the ‘ monolith ‘ of Catholicism was easy to firm-up statistics and therefore easy to report. Various American Protestant Churches have found it difficult to report such abuses to to the lack of a central reporting authority. Mainstream Protestant Ministers ( sounding an ominous note ) are reported to have told their flocks not to be too complacent over their own lack of concrete statistics on this issue.
    Quentin’s sadness is understandable when one sees the complete list and the shocking immediacy it bring out in one.
    David Gibson of The Washington Post ,April 18th 2010 delivered most of the above facts ; concluding that Catholic Clergy were no more to be discovered of child sex abusers that any other group in American society.
    Following the shocking expose in the film ” Spotlight ” and reflections on the ‘ worldly ‘ nature of sections of the Catholic Clergy ( Bishops and Priests ) – and if this is mirrored in the Church worldwide – I and very much persuaded that it is the ‘ virus ‘ of ” clericalism ” that has spread among’st them that is the source of a number of the Churches internal ills at present and in the past.

  15. John Nolan says:

    Brendan, I have to agree with you on most of your points, but ‘Spotlight’, though based on incidents which actually occurred, is a Hollywood movie – it’s not an exposé of facts previously unknown, nor is it a documentary based on investigative journalism (and investigative journalism, valuable though it is, must not be taken at face value). It’s drama, but then so is Shakespeare’s Richard II, and I would not recommend it as a starting point for understanding that particular king’s reign.

    At least in that case Shakespeare was dramatizing events which were not in the recent past. When film-makers dramatize very recent events, there is a tendency to blur fact and fiction and persuade the audience that they are watching the real thing, and the better the production and the acting, the more effective this technique is. It is all the more important, therefore, that those few of us who still have critical faculties have the courage to exercise them.

    If the allegations of clerical sexual delicts (which cover a multitude of sins, most of which do not contravene the criminal law) were all true (and that’s a big ‘if’), then it needs to be explained why they peaked in the 1970s and declined thereafter to the extent that they have been statistically irrelevant since the turn of the century. The measures that were put in place after 2001 were of course too late to right past wrongs, but their effectiveness can only be judged by their results. The implication that they don’t work, and that the situation is as bad as it was forty years ago, needs to be backed up with hard evidence. If Fr Zollner, a German Jesuit whose academic specialization is psychology is prepared to go public with his evidence, then I will consider it. If he isn’t, then his opinion carries no weight whatsoever. Post-nominal letters and a university post notwithstanding.

  16. Brendan says:

    John Nolan – I too see ‘ Spotlight ‘ in the sense that it is first and foremost there to entertain . it is an ‘ expose ‘ in the sense that it breaks open what has been previously hidden .eg. Watergate in respect of investigative journalism. I generally have some background knowledge of an ‘event ‘ before I go and experience it in film . I make a mental note of something that seems unlikely or even spurious in the story-line. If necessary I read /research later. I, like most people am not academically minded in this area – I just use what facility God has given. There is much that is hidden to the daily life of The Church by our confreres. In the end moral judgement is all one has to go on , while little by little waiting in hope for all to be revealed . If not then one simply reserves ones judgment. That’s how I approach this ‘blog’ for example.

  17. Hock says:

    The film ‘spotlight’ was not some written work of fiction transferred to the big screen. It is, of course , limited as to what it can portray about something that occurred over many years, and involved extensive investigative journalism , into something lasting a couple of hours in a film.
    There is no attempt to build the situation into something it was not and again we clutch at straws to try and limit what was an horrendous situation that existed in just one city by ‘shooting the messenger.’
    The film is not alarmist in the way it is portrayed but is alarmist in the content. The end of the film shows a factual record of where abuse in the Church has been exposed.
    Dodging the issue and looking for escape routes only returns us back to the days when the Church made attempts to sweep it under the carpet which lasted fro a few years but inevitably it eventually surfaced, and the damage to the credibility of the Church has been immense.
    To individual victims it has been an everlasting scar on their lives.

  18. Brendan says:

    I m going to be tied up, perhaps for most of the day. I would like to draw the attention of the blog to ‘ Guardian ‘ article dated Feb 2nd 2010 under the heading ( sic ) ‘ Catholic Bishops are not required to report clerical sex abuse cases to the authorities.’- shedding light on the inadequate response to this ongoing scandal.

  19. Nektarios says:

    So now we have discussed the issue, what clarity have we arrived at? Practically, what is to be done. The Church has a responsibility for the Church, not for the world at large its present state of immorality, apart from communicating the Gospel.

    What has God in the Scriptures to say about it all, through the OT and NT?

    Some rightly, seem very concerned about the credibility of the Church in the light of these allegations. Have we not noticed the world already sees the Church as having lost credibility some 60-70 years ago on this and concomitant issues?

    There still are those who hide in the darkness, underneath the cloak, or their bishop. It is becoming more difficult for them to hide – women as well as men.

    But the day is coming when they will leave this world where there is nowhere safe to hide.
    Will it take that terrible prospect of a lost eternity for such hiding unrepentant pedophiles to come to Christ and be totally forgiven?

    What is the Church supposed to do. You know the world is hypocritical on this dreadful sin and fires its anger at the Church when it is taken place thousands of times in society at large.

    There is only so many times a Pope can go around saying sorry with out change.
    The world is looking for proof, let it be holy living by those of us who profess Christ as our Lord.

  20. ignatius says:

    I hope this doesn’t prove too much of a diversion but it is pertinent to at least part of this topic. We do see on this thread and on every other thread discussing these issues a clear polarity of opinion. On the one hand we have the view that sees the Catholic Church as a paragon of holiness . Anything threatening this view is likely to raise acute questions about the veracity of the Church as a whole. On the other hand there is the view which sees the Church as,by its very nature tarnished. This means that the financial and sexual scandals which rock it are, sadly, to be expected. Excesses need to be punished, if they are crimes, through the application of civil law and appropriate sentencing, but this does not mean the Church itself is to be deplored.
    Roderick Strange puts this quite well in his book “The Catholic Faith, DLT, London2001

    “Christians must be realistic about the Church. They have to recognise its human side as well as its divine, and work tirelessly to purify what is imperfect and sinful. At the same time, this viewpoint can raise an acute question for some Catholics. Reared on a notion of the Church’s perfection and their membership of an elite, they can be disillusioned when confronted by this need for renewal” p48

    Strange goes on to link this polarity to the differing views of Jesus whereby one emphasises either divinity or humanity and how hard it is to hold a balanced view.

  21. John Nolan says:

    Ignatius, if the Church is, as Catholics are required to believe, none other than the Mystical Body of Christ (cf Pius XII ‘Mystici Corporis Christi’ 1943) then talk of ‘polarity of opinion’ would seem to treat the Mystical Body as something which can be argued over on a purely mundane level, which shows a singular lack of understanding.

    Strange’s polarity seems to be between the doctrinaire and therefore unenlightened on the one hand, and the nuanced and obviously more intellectual on the other. There is no mistaking where he stands, but is his concept of the Church an accurate one in terms of faith and revelation?

    In the third novel of Waugh’s ‘Sword of Honour’ trilogy Guy Crouchback is rebuked by his father for gloating over what he sees as the triumph of the Church over the Italian state. ‘Quantitative judgements don’t apply.’ Waugh wrote to Edith Sitwell on the occasion of her conversion: ‘Should I as Godfather warn you of probable shocks in the human aspect of Catholicism? Not all priests are as clever and kind as Father D’Arcy and Father Caraman … But I am sure you know the world well enough to expect Catholic bores and prigs and crooks and cads.’

  22. G.D. says:

    “John Nolan says:
    April 4, 2016 at 10:56 pm
    ” if the Church is, as Catholics are required to believe, none other than the Mystical Body of Christ (cf Pius XII ‘Mystici Corporis Christi’ 1943) then talk of ‘polarity of opinion’ would seem to treat the Mystical Body as something which can be argued over on a purely mundane level, which shows a singular lack of understanding.” ………………………

    MYSTICAL – ‘of or relating to mystics or religious mysticism.
    spiritually allegorical or symbolic; transcending human understanding.’
    BODY – ‘the physical and mortal aspect of a person as opposed to the soul or spirit.’

    The Mystical Body of Christ can not be identical to the Institutional Church.
    The two are often confused by the more nuanced intellectual gymnastics of them that consider logical understanding to be proof of what can not be understood!

    The Body of the Church on earth ( unlike Jesus the Christ ) is corrupted by it’s members sin.
    The Mystical Body of Christ ( Jesus Risen ) is the perfection it ( the Institutional Body on Earth) attains too.
    The two are not identical.

    (There is no perfection where man is involved. Only where the ‘Son of Man’ is.)

    Because of the Presence of the Holy Spirit the institution will, God Willing, eventually become subservient to that Holy Spirit and manifest that Mystical Body of Christ; a Mystical Body that transcends human understanding. And fulfil it’s true function.

    If the two were IDENTICAL the institution itself would be without corruption of any kind. Perfect.

    The Mystical Body of Christ is perfect.
    Only that ‘Church’ is perfect.
    And, as yet has not been manifest by the Church Institution.

    The two ( no matter how indivisible they might be? ) are NOT IDENTICAL. Yet!

    ……. I do not assert merely conjecture……

  23. ignatius says:

    Yes. I’m going for a short quote again because it fits:
    “…the divine origin of the Church is not to be sought in some way distinct from its human character. It is as human as the man who founded it, but as he was also divine, so is his Church. But there remains the vital qualification. In him divinity and humanity are united in a relationship of perfect harmony. Not so the Church. Christians have still to strive for and grow into that share in his life which God has granted them in Christ, but which their sinning compromises and obscures. Here is that teaching expounded by Vatican II: the Church is ‘at the same time holy and always in need of being purified’ (Lumen Gentium,8). It is not some ideal institution. It is a community of sinful people who have been given the means to become saints. And so we bear those magnificent qualities- one, holy, catholic and apostolic – while at times we still hedge on the truth and behave immorally…” Strange p48

    This resonates with me quite well. The mystery of the sinful nature ‘inhabited’ as it were by the Spirit of Christ, as an ontological fact, really IS a mystery which we can only grasp at in moments of revelation. A settled understanding of this state remains far from me though I do get an occasional inkling. Because of the deep mystery shrouded before us we tend to err towards the human OR the divine in our comprehension. This ‘leaning’ to one side or another will quite naturally colour our understanding of what Church ‘is’. Hence the way we weigh the topic under discussion probably depends on our deep and ‘unthought’ grasp of what ‘Church’ is. No matter what we as Catholics are ‘required to believe’ we can only truly believe as we individually do in fact believe.

    • G.D. says:

      ignatious, Humility to aknowledge this is a grace. Sinnners though we are, the Spirit calls us …… to be balanced. Thank you!

  24. Brendan says:

    The dark shadow of ‘ clericalism ‘ with all its manifestations , will always rise to the fore until The Catholic Church can disentangle itself from its dual role ( hopefully given a modern consensus of The Faith ) as a theocracy. The present characteristic way of thinking/acting may have served well in past centuries ( post-Constantine ) but the model seems increasingly outdated and at odds with the world in which we live.
    It’s main purpose …” go ye and teach all nations ”….is Evangelisation.

    • Nektarios says:


      I think that G.D. for the most part gets it right, at least biblically and theologically and in accord with Apostolic doctrine.
      I agree with you,there is a dark shadow of clericalism, which is to defend the Church in anything that the hierarchy and priests say and do. Close ranks brothers mindset!

      The true model of what the Church is and does, is first what Christ taught and what the Apostles taught. From that stand point it cannot be outdated, because man in his human fallen nature has not changed.
      What a man/woman is in Christ is very different, with different gifts and abilities and its relationship to its head-Christ our Lord. A new creation altogether, Spiritually alive.

      It was Augustine who said, ” I went looking for the Church in the world, and lo. I found the world in the Church.”
      He could not have been more accurate.
      The Church is so weak in our day, that it is not those Children of God who are leading it
      in all truth for the most part, but those Augustine described as ” the world in the Church.”

      Does it strike one as odd at all, there is so much confusion and sin at every level in the Churches today?

  25. Brendan says:

    Nektarios – I don’t think it odd .. ”to see so much confusion…etc ”… I think it regrettable. We might say following from this standpoint as Chesterton said:- ” The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting . It has been found difficult ; and left untried . This is no doubt the consequence of ‘sin ‘ personal and structural.
    ‘ Personal ‘ , one can deal with ; ‘ structural ‘ takes a long time ….. the one my be the cause of sin for the other. As in both , one must identify the occasion due to sin before one can address the solution . Structurally , for better and worse The Catholic Church has developed a ‘ modus vivendi ‘ which has matured into its present state. I am identifying ‘ clericalism ‘ – which I perceive from social interaction with and intuitiveness based on observation about my co – religionists given its present structure – which I believe is having ( now and perhaps in the past ) a detrimental effect on Our Lords vision for his Church on Earth.
    This tendency of course is not just confined to The Catholic Church. The difficulty is first how to address the problem ?

    • Nektarios says:

      I can agree with your posting. You are right the problems are affecting all the Christian churches, and that globally. Like you I have observed the same patterns. The trouble with a pattern being set up it is exceedingly hard to break.

      Clericalism has been with us for a very long time, and as it so often is defending the indefensible excesses of religion, its structure and its pattern are hard to break. Can they be broken? Yes, of course they can, but one needs to be grace filled not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

      The present situation within the churches may appear to us to have a detrimental effect
      concerning the Church on earth. But in reality, God’s plan of Salvation will not and cannot be changed, for it is not thought up by men, but is of God. As time rolls on, we see that it is working towards its culmination.

      How to address the problem? Well, Man cannot do it. Thank God! What has to be done was done in Christ. That work of Salvation is finished.
      The Gospel and the whole counsel of God needs to be preached. Little homilies, topics with a whole load of pychco-babble, man-centred detritus will not answer the problems either.
      The problem is not the breakdown of society and to address the social aftermath needs, which needs to be done, but the problem of man in his sin, in his ignorance, in his blindness and pride.
      Preaching the Gospel brings the Light, and deals with the whole man, not just his habits and problems, but the whole man. God can bring man out from the Kingdom of darkness to the Kingdom of Light. and so on.

      Anything less, and we will be failing this and future generations. No amount of outward religious symbolism or spectacle, deals with the whole man. That is why the Gospel
      is the only message for men in past generations, the present modern man, and mankind in the future.

  26. John Nolan says:

    We used to talk of the Church Militant, the Church Suffering and the Church Triumphant. We now have the Church Institutional. Well, you can gnaw over that as much as you like, and much good may it do you. What little Faith I have has survived bad priests, bad bishops, bad popes and bad liturgy (although I have usually managed to find an escape route from the last, otherwise I would be non-practising). Roddy Strange’s modernist theology interests me not a whit.

    I find enough sanity in those Catholics (clerical and lay) with whom I associate to (probably) last me for the few years I have left. Things that agitate people on blogs (not just this one) are, sub specie aeternitatis, utterly irrelevant. Good night.

  27. ignatius says:

    Oh well, never mind John, keep going!!

  28. Nektarios says:


    We have outlined the problem and the need of the hour, Now to answer your important and I feel
    a central question, “The difficulty is first how to address the problem ?”Let us address it.

    God voiced from heaven at one point, ‘Listen to Him’. On another occasion Our Lord said, ” What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” Mark 8:36.

    The tragedy of the modern man, we listen to them don’t we, the academic, the specialist, oh so knowledgable. If we really listen to them, we hear, Oh you know our forebears and fathers, how ignorant they were. They did not know what we know.
    Look at all our vast scientific knowledge, our learning, our books, our lectures on the television and radio and the internet – what amazing people we are.
    Why do we fail then?

    Like a distracted Martha, it is because we do not listen to Him. We think in all our acquiring we will gain something, but what of that – if we gain all knowledge possible, all wealth and power possible and lose our own soul?
    The world is so busy acquiring knowledge, even the religious world it seems,but there is only one essential question that needs answering, how can I stand before God?
    This world and its kingdoms are passing away. ‘Change and decay in all around I see’.
    Every day I get older, and the time is coming when I shall be alone with God.

    The Gospel has simplified it all for us. It tells us that all the teeming problems in the world that have arisen because men and women have lost the right to be face to face with God and are sinners in His sight and under condemnation. Do we all know, it all comes down to that.
    Alcoholics Anonymous, Marriage guidance counsellors- so many groups being set up to deal with this and that problem.
    If we were all in a right relationship to God,all these problems would be solved, Church problems too.
    That is why the Gospel talks about as necessary, a singleness of eye and a singleness of heart – this is the great principle of unification.

  29. ignatius says:


    I wonder if you could give a brief account of ‘ the virus of clericalism’ as you see it? Of course I am familiar with the concept but everyone has their own spin on these things and I’d like to hear yours.

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