How do we get out of this fix?

This week I am reproducing (with permission) a leading article from the Catholic Herald of 31 August. As I had something to do with the initial drafting, it certainly expresses my view. But it may not express yours. So this is an opportunity to discuss the whole ‘abuse’ situation. How did we get to this? How do we get out of it?

“The grand jury report into Catholic clergy sexual abuse in six dioceses in Pennsylvania should shock but should not surprise. There have been many such reports on the US and elsewhere. Perhaps the most detailed is the Australian Royal Commission in 1917, following five year’s work. There are telling similarities. A commentator (New York Post) described some of the incidents in Pennsylvania as reading like scenes from a Marquis de Sade’s novel. Another, in the Washington Post, declared that the Church “has proved itself incapable of self-investigation and self-policing.”

It is this last issue which we need to address. Bishop Egan of Portsmouth has written to Pope Francis proposing a major synod on the life and ministry of the clergy. It would include the laity and other experts familiar with the whole area. It would be concerned with the rule of life of clergy, accountability and supervision. He goes on to note the lack of ministerial assessment and supervision between the diocese and the ordained. We wonder how many diocesan bishops have had the managerial training and experience needed by senior executives elsewhere.

We can easily understand the wish of a bishop to avoid scandal, to care for the sinner, and to live ever hopefully that he will repent and never sin again. And even if this is so for some individuals, we surely have by now the evidence that this is quite inadequate. The abuse of children is a grave crime. We know how children can be seriously damaged not just at the time of the offence but throughout their lives. We also know that the tendency to commit this crime is deep in the psychology of the offender. Whatever the proposed synod concludes, it must rule that such crimes, known outside the Confessional, should be reported to the police for investigation without delay. And that those in authority who seek concealment of the offender, irrespective of motive, should be treated as accessories.”

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46 Responses to How do we get out of this fix?

  1. Ann says:

    I was thinking about the ‘rules’ of confession too, regarding the abuse carried out by clergy, shouldn’t all sins known as criminal offences be reported then? I haven’t thought out how the church could be a place where sins could be forgiven, yet be reported to outside authorities, I can’t see how that would work, apart from people confessing to certain sins to a priest but then having to go into some sort of program monitored by secular and church bodies to help them with said sin/crime and protecting the victim also?

  2. Geordie says:

    Sexual abuse of children and/or vulnerable adults is both a sin and a crime. If someone comes to confession asking for forgiveness surely he/she must report him/herself to the relevant authorities before absolution can be given. A requirement for forgiveness is true sorrow and a firm purpose of amendment; we know that the sexual abuser is almost incurable and surrendering to the police is the only proof of a firm purpose of amendment. A priest must retain the seal of confession but ought to withhold absolution until the person admits the crime to the authorities.

    • Quentin says:

      We must also take into account the victim who, overscrupulously, may in some way feel guilty to acceding to the abuse and so brings it to the confessional.

  3. Hock says:

    Bishop Egan of Portsmouth is going along the right lines but again falls short of what is required. There is still an assumption that Bishops are somehow above the abuse scandal themselves when it has been amply shown that this is not the case in many instances. Even the Pope is now accused of partaking in a cover up of abuse of seminarians. True or not it goes to show that the Church just reels from one abuse crisis to another with some kind of grotesque momentum that each one is somehow worse than the one that went before.
    It should be obvious that what is need is a ‘roots and branch’ approach with everything open to
    consideration, inspection and implementation. Regrettably the Church is showing itself to be rotten to the core and has an inbuilt unwillingness to do no more than continually apologise and trot out the old hackneyed phrases about how things will improve with safeguarding measures that in effect, rely on the same woeful structures that have proved to be totally inadequate, and dangerous.

    The Church is just too big globally to bring about the changes necessary so what is required is a country that will be allowed to ‘go it alone’ in bringing in wholesale changes , that others can follow
    if the results are shown to be that we have a Church that is safe, inclusive and has a proper complaints procedure, ( independent of clergy.)

    We need to look at the hierarchal structure of the Church that has allowed this abuse to fester almost unchallenged for centuries. Some radical thought is needed. Scrap the need for Bishops and have a non-clergy structure. Women to have a much bigger role in the Church. To the Diaconate at least.
    A married priesthood and ‘short service’ priests drawn from the Catholic community and with a few months training, subject to constant monitoring by lay bodies.
    These are just a couple of thoughts but the whole structure needs bringing down and starting again. To coin a current phrase it has proved itself to ‘be unfit for purpose.’ Out with the old and in with the new.

  4. galerimo says:

    For God’s sake. Who needs another committee meeting or a synod?

    What is needed is the reporting of crimes to the police and the arraignment of the Bishops complicit in these crimes before the courts. How hard can that be, Bishop Egan? Really? A synod just to get the Church to abide by the criminal law.

    What hope have we got when the Pope in his letter to all Catholics is still talking about ‘the effort and work being carried out in various parts of the world to come up with the necessary means to ensure the safety and protection of the integrity of children and of vulnerable adults”.

    Someone should tell the Pope that these cases have been in the media since the 1990’s.
    How big an effort is needed and how long does it need to get clergy to adhere to the law of the land?

    Also it is not much comfort to hear the Pope state that “We have delayed in applying these actions and sanctions that are so necessary”.

    The Pope says “To say “no” to abuse is to say an emphatic “no” to all forms of clericalism.” I agree wholeheartedly there but where is that going to go in our Church at present?

  5. Geordie says:

    Good questions, Galerimo. Also why do bishops wait for the secular authorities to draw their attention to sexual abuse? They should be investigating sexual abuse in every diocese in the world and passing the information to the police; unless, of course, they have something to hide in their own lives .
    I’m finding it difficult to trust any member of the hierarchy. I feel sorry for good priests who brought information about abuses to their bishops’ attention and, as a result, have be ostracised.
    It has never been any use to send abusing priests to a monastery for prayer and reflection. They might end up in somewhere like Ampleforth.

  6. Iona says:

    Hock: Abuse “festering almost unchallenged for centuries” – for centuries? How do we know that?
    How could/would a non-clerical structure work, such as to avoid the sort of abuses and cover-ups which have been taking place in Philadelphia? How would it help to have married clergy (given that being married does not in itself stop people from abusing children) or “short service” priests? How could we be sure that a “lay body” wouldn’t be just as much inclined to turn a blind eye as an existing hierarchy?

  7. ignatius says:

    “The Pope says “To say “no” to abuse is to say an emphatic “no” to all forms of clericalism.” ”
    I’d like to see the context of this comment by Pope Francis because it seems to me to strike at the heart of the matter. We definitely do have a problem with clericalism which can only really be resolved by a cultural shift amongst the laity.
    Strange though it may seem the phenomena of clericalism is not always imposed from above by priests but is an institutionalised reality propagated within in the life and expectation of parishes. By this I mean that there is a kind of expectation that a priest will be some kind of remote icon, beyond the reach of normal everyday dealing….thus creating a kind of vacumn within which temptations may grow unchecked and unhealthy inclinations emerge.
    I have no personal solution to this difficulty but worry rather when we try to see these shocking revelations in our church as a top down issue only..each of us is a part of the edifice and each of us has a part to play in order that relations within parish life be healthy and normal.

    As a matter of fact though it does seem to me that progress is being made at parish level in terms of safeguarding strategies. Just to give a couple of examples: in my last parish it was the accepted norm that there always be parents present around the sacristy for the half hour before mass in order that the priest/deacon would not have to be alone with groups of altar servers, but this took a bit of time organisation and willingness to be involved. The intimacy of the confessional was safeguarded to a degree by reconciliation type services where the stations of confession remained visible.

    Basically there needs to be a kind of wholesome protective vigilance on the part of the laity as well as rigour in top down enforcement which in any case will be patchy and thin at best. Currently in our diocese a priest might get a personal visit from his Bishop once a year if he is lucky and then only for half an hour, I doubt this will change much at all so its up to us to hold the ring as well.

    I read the Pennyslvania report and it is truly beyond awful, at present I find that going round in a dog collar and clerics is to become a focus for the shame of our church so, while agonising over these issues, please spare a thought for the 97% of priests who are probably more horrified by all this than we are ourselves.

    • galerimo says:

      Here is the context, Ignatius.

      “It is impossible to think of a conversion of our activity as a Church that does not include the active participation of all the members of God’s People. Indeed, whenever we have tried to replace, or silence, or ignore, or reduce the People of God to small elites, we end up creating communities, projects, theological approaches, spiritualities and structures without roots, without memory, without faces, without bodies and ultimately, without lives.[2] This is clearly seen in a peculiar way of understanding the Church’s authority, one common in many communities where sexual abuse and the abuse of power and conscience have occurred. Such is the case with clericalism, an approach that “not only nullifies the character of Christians, but also tends to diminish and undervalue the baptismal grace that the Holy Spirit has placed in the heart of our people”.[3] Clericalism, whether fostered by priests themselves or by lay persons, leads to an excision in the ecclesial body that supports and helps to perpetuate many of the evils that we are condemning today. To say “no” to abuse is to say an emphatic “no” to all forms of clericalism.” – LETTER OF HIS HOLINESS POPE FRANCIS TO THE PEOPLE OF GOD Vatican City, 20 August 2018

  8. ignatius says:

    One final thought (I promise!) Working in prisons gives one a sense of how easy it is to be drawn into a web of complicity. it is quite possible for a normal well meaning person to find themselves covering up for unspeakable things purely through a kind of gradual departure from the original path of compassionate intention. The process of being groomed applies as equally to adults as it does to children. Also, It is true that a small percentage of those convicted of sex offences are incorrigible serial offenders, the majority however do not fall into this category and recidivism rates among that population are around 18% over a 10 year period. I am not here seeking to defend the indefensible but am merely giving a view from close up to the coal face .

    • Peter Foster says:

      Though anecdotal, this is a key fact to come out of this blog. It contradicts the popular idea that all sex offenders are beyond redeemption.

  9. John Thomas says:

    Er, it seems left to me to say the unsayable (I haven’t read these reports, I should say, firstly). While we say often, quite rightly, that abuse can and does affect many of the victims for, and in, their whole lives, this is not Always the case – some victims, thankfully, get over it – NOT that that fact lessens the crimes/sins (abuse is, of course, both of these). And more, I fear there is an elephant in the room, which I’ve never seen addressed or mentioned: are we talking priests’ abuse of girls or boys? A society which is very, very tolerant of homosexuality and men’s marriage, sadly has to accept the downside: men’s abuse of boys (just as a society which is so very, very tolerant of sexual free-for-all has to accept pornography, normalisation of sex in the media, and open affairs in high places – sadly). (It is said that the celibacy of priests in the RCC is irrelevant, since there are more cases of male clergy in non-Catholic churches, in the US, who commit abuse, while being married – but maybe they are abusing boys). There. I’m sure I’ll be villified – but maybe not on this site.

  10. ignatius says:

    Here is a good link:
    Bishop Barron talking about the Sexual abuse crisis on you tube. You may have to paste it into your browser.

  11. John Nolan says:

    As we approach the end of the second decade of the twenty-first century, children of today are at risk as never before, thanks to the internet and so-called ‘social media’ – the latter seems to me to be entirely malevolent – yet the obsession with ‘historical’ abuse of minors shows no signs of abating. No doubt future historians will try to account for it, just as their present-day counterparts try to explain the witch-hunts of early modern Europe.

    The phenomenon is worryingly irrational. In 2014 the Metropolitan Police embarked on Operation Midland, an investigation into a ‘VIP paedophile ring’ which allegedly involved senior politicians (including a former Prime Minister), the heads of MI5 and MI6, and the Chief of the Defence Staff. The alleged abuse included ritual murder. This was on the evidence of a serial fantasist known only as ‘Nick’, who will shortly face trial on twelve counts of perverting the course of justice and one of fraud.

    Operation Midland lasted 18 months and cost £2.5 million. Unsurprisingly it failed to unearth a scintilla of evidence. There was a further investigation into the investigation (again at taxpayers’ expense) and eventually apologies to those falsely accused, with compensation. But that’s beside the point. What is disturbing is that detectives of the world-renowned Scotland Yard were so easily taken in. Mention the word ‘paedophile’ and common sense gives way to hysteria.

    It’s also a question of ‘guilt by accusation’. An allegation is only credible if it can stand up in a court of law. If an accusation is made forty or fifty years after the alleged event it cannot usually be proved or disproved, and should therefore be treated with due scepticism. However, in the topsy-turvy world of abuse allegations, the further away in time it is, and the less susceptible it is to proof, the more it should be given credibility, lest the ‘victims’ be ‘denied justice’. It is not a rational way of proceeding.

    Incidentally, Spain was largely untouched by the witch-craze of the 16th and 17th centuries because the officials of the Inquisition were trained lawyers who did not give credence to false and malicious accusations, and were not inclined to listen to village gossip.

  12. Alan says:

    John Thomas “A society which is very, very tolerant of homosexuality and men’s marriage, sadly has to accept the downside: men’s abuse of boys ”

    I believe my intolerance of child sexual abuse extends to all such cases, irrespective of the sexuality of the abuser. If you see a slippery slope from tolerance of homosexual relationships down to tolerance of child abuse then I can point to the same supposed gradient for heterosexual relationships and abuse of girls by adult men. The objection that halts the slide is the same in both cases.

    • ignatius says:

      I think the subject is relevant in this case as 80% of those abused in the Pennyslvania report were boys or young men. But yes we have to face that the objectivisation of the person, through for example the comercialisation of sex and a relaxed attitude to pornography,, will lead to degradation regardless of gender.

  13. Iona says:

    16 is the age of consent, I think, for both girls and boys, for both heterosexual and homosexual relationships. Anyone engaging in sexual activity with an under-16-year-old is breaking the law. Yet one hears of girls below this age being given contraceptives and/or the “morning after” pill in school by school nurses. Isn’t this connivance in a crime?

    • John Nolan says:

      If a girl is 13 or over and the other party is not in a ‘position of trust’, the police take no action unless the girl herself (not her parents) makes a complaint. If she does not want her parents to know she is being prescribed contraception, the medical practitioners must respect this.

  14. John Nolan says:

    In an earlier post Ignatius mentioned confession. Two weeks ago I visited the cathedral of Cahors. There were confessional boxes of the traditional type, where priest and penitent are separate from one another and communicate through a grille, but they had obviously not been used for decades.
    Instead there was a trendy modern ‘reconciliation room’ (ugh!). It had a glass front but was several steps higher than the nave and the lower portion was screened, with the effect that no-one could see into it. Suitable for a child penitent? I think not.

    The homosexual scoutmaster has long been a butt of English humour yet parents were happy to pack their boys off to scout camp for the simple reason that there is safety in numbers. Surely the same would apply to a priest/deacon in the sacristy surrounded by ‘groups of altar servers’.

    It’s all very well to pin the blame on ‘all forms of clericalism’ but what does Francis mean by that? Clericalism has two primary meanings. Firstly, it means the excessive influence of the clergy in secular affairs, which might have been the case in 1950s Ireland, but was not noticeable elsewhere even then. Secondly, it means sacerdotalism, the idea that the priest has powers not given to the non-ordained, for example to offer sacrifice or give absolution. This might be repugnant to Protestants, but more or less defines the Catholic idea of the priesthood.

    Other than this it’s pejorative but lacks clear definition. Some would accuse of clericalism the growing number of young priests who take care over vesture and celebrate the traditional Mass. Others would see the Novus Ordo priest, presiding over the assembly and making himself the constant centre of attention as exhibiting clericalism. It is also used of laity who take on liturgical roles formerly reserved to ordained ministers. Like most things this Pope comes out with, it’s too vague to be of much use.

    Cardinal Ratzinger identified the elephant in the room back in 2001 when he read the sexual abuse files from the US which landed on his desk. He proposed measures to ensure that men with deep seated homosexual tendencies or who identified with ‘gay’ culture were not admitted to the priesthood. This led to his being excoriated by the secular establishment, including the London Times, which by 2005 was becoming as anti-Catholic as it had been in Victoria’s reign, albeit for different reasons.

    • Quentin says:

      What does Francis mean by clericalism? See where he explains this in some detail.

      • John Nolan says:

        The trouble is, that having read through both this (an address given on 8 September) and the quotation provided by Galerimo (above) which refers to what PF said on 20 August, I am none the wiser (and please don’t say, as FE Smith famously said to a judge, ‘but better informed, I hope’).

        PF tends to deal in platitudes which sound high-minded but on closer inspection yield little of substance. His take on clericalism, vague and all-embracing as it is, could indeed be applied to himself, taking into account his actions over the past five years.

  15. Peter Foster says:

    The narrative has moved on: from isolated bad eggs whose pleas of remorse and reform were accepted by naive bishops conditioned to forgiveness; to groups of tolerated systematic abusers.

    Two things puzzle me:
    When and how did the general perception shift from sinful wrongdoing (dealing with problems within an organisation) to recognition of a crime (informing the police)?

    When did an awareness of damage done to the victims become the norm?

    I remember a local radio programme, perhaps in 1960, in which historic sexual abuse in care homes was presented in a matter of fact way as commonplace and, I think, without raising the issues of crime or damage to the victims.

    When Margaret Hodge, a councillor, was approached by two children from a care home who claimed to have been abused, she informed the social services director. When as adults they complained, she castigated them. She was required by a court to pay them damages for her criticism of them in raising the matter; there was no question of her not reporting an alleged crime to the police.

    In 1973, the News of the World reported that some of the boys and girls attending Top of the Pops were shared out amongst the presenters and technicians and taken to parties in hotels or apartments. This reached the general press but raised no effective concern.

    The Paedophile Exchange (PE), an organisation that lobbied for a law to permit sex with underage children if it caused no harm, had an office in the National Council for Civil Liberties building. Harriet Harman and Patricia Hewitt admit to attending meetings with their members, and Patricia Hewitt supported an application to the Home Office for a grant for the PE. They were both activists working to upset traditional mores and they have expressed regret; however, note that recently in France an adult admitted sex with a child but was not prosecuted because the child had given consent.

    For many years, the police and social services and care homes in Rotherham did not see under age sex as a crime; why not?? When somebody raised this issue their computer records were wiped. Later councillor’s laptops were secretly removed. The father of an abused girl approached his member of parliament who informed the police. Nevertheless, to protect their daughter the family felt it necessary to move to Spain.

    That a large part of a local government bureaucracy was of the same opinion demands an in depth cultural explanation.
    Similarly, the cultural background underlying tolerance in church organisations needs elucidation if we are to progress beyond shame and ritual condemnation.

  16. Peter Foster says:

    True; sorry.

  17. John Nolan says:

    The current crisis isn’t really about historical child abuse, or even the bishops who, thirty or forty years ago, handled the allegations so ineptly. It concerns the activities of ‘Uncle Ted’ McCarrick and the allegations made by a former nuncio to the US, Archbishop Viganò. McCarrick was a predatory homosexual who was not only protected but promoted, despite his conduct being well-known, not least by the young ordinands and priests he targeted over the years.

    Most people who have analyzed the Viganò letter (including the Catholic Herald) judge it to be substantially true, even if they have reservations about its tone. The secular media isn’t particularly bothered about McCarrick being ‘gay’ – after all, his sleeping with good-looking young men is seen as perfectly normal, if not laudable. However, it gives stimulus to a long-held suspicion that there is an influential homosexual coterie within the Church which not only looks after its own, but makes sure they rise to positions of influence.

    How does Pope Francis react to all this? Firstly by refusing to comment, and leaving it to his cronies Spadaro and Rosica to respond, which they do by vilifying Viganò’s character (unconvincingly, as it turned out). Then on Tuesday this week, in one of his daily ‘fervorini’ at the Domus Sanctae Martae, Francis said the following:

    ‘In these times, it seems like the Great Accuser [Satan] has been unchained and is attacking bishops. He tries to uncover the sins, so that they are visible in order to scandalize the people.’

    I am probably the only commentator on this blog who is not a member of the Bergoglio fan club, so I shall forbear to comment further. Perhaps those who usually praise Francis might tell us what they make of this.

  18. ignatius says:

    ‘In these times, it seems like the Great Accuser [Satan] has been unchained and is attacking bishops. He tries to uncover the sins, so that they are visible in order to scandalize the people.’

    hmmmm…food for thought there as usual , John. Tricky to get the sense of the sentence without the context. Put baldly it can present as an impetus to cover up stuff which would ‘rock the boat’ of personal faith in the Church…must admit it has rocked mine a bit so it is easy to see where the thought is coming from. On the other hand you can take the main emphasis as being on the ‘attack on bishops’ and then a broad sketch of methodology rather than a programme of secrecy.
    By the way, I agree with your critique of the word ‘clericalism’ I’m going to stop using it from now on…for myself the term is synonymous with ‘legalism’ which is a term more commonly associated with the Protestant camp.

  19. John Nolan says:

    Ignatius, it’s easy to access the context, since it is on Vatican News. The same source has PF’s latest pearls of wisdom, which begin with a condemnation of those who ‘badmouth enemies or those who are of a different party’. This from a man who refers to Catholics who are attached to tradition as ‘self-absorbed promethean neo-Pelagians’ and who suggested that young people who were attracted to the traditional Roman Rite were ‘rigid’ to the point of being psychologically inadequate. (Even before the end of 2013 an English blogger had produced an on-line compendium of papal invective which he called ‘The Pope Francis Little Book of Insults’.)

    PF then returns to the ‘Great Accuser’ theme: ‘Life fluctuates between two invitations, that of the Father and that of the Great Accuser, who pushes us to accuse others, to destroy them. But it is he who is destroying me! And you cannot do it to the other. You cannot enter into the logic of the accuser. “But father, I have to accuse!” Yes, accuse yourself. You do well. For the other, there is only mercy, because we are children of the Father who is merciful.’

    Even allowing for the vagaries of translation, and PF’s famous discursive style, this is extraordinary. PF’s supporters (Austen Ivereigh for one) would have us believe he is leading a revolution. Another cheerleader (Fr Thomas Rosica) enthused not long ago that ‘Francis breaks Catholic traditions whenever he wants, because he is “free from disordered attachments” ‘ and that the Church is now ‘openly ruled by an individual’ rather than by the authority of Scripture and tradition.

    I think they will be disappointed. As revolutionaries go, Francis is more Feargus O’Connor than Vladimir Lenin. That said, he is still capable of causing considerable damage.

  20. John Candido says:

    I see that Pope Francis has called a meeting of bishops for February 2019 specifically to address the issue of preventing sex abuse by the clergy.

    This would be my set of unread recommendations.

    1. Abolish the rule of celibacy.

    2. Allow women to the pruesthood.

    3. Do all in your power to eliminate clericalism.

    4. Revise some doctrines pertaining to sexual teaching namely, homosexuality and masterbation.

    5. Freely marry homosexuals in church.

    6. There is to be no ban in receiving the Eucharist for men and women who have separated or divorced without an annulment if they have re-married.

    7. Abolish the practice of private confessions for the rite of penance as currently said during every mass.

    This is not abolishing the sacrament of penance.

    Forgiveness is through the genuine participation of every penitent at mass and God’s forgiveness is administered personally through the act of every priest during the right of penance.

    This reform will stop public demands for priests to break the seal of confession to report peadophile confessions of guilt to the police.

    8. Abolish the doctrine of Original Sin.

    9. Abolish Papal Infallibility.

    10. Re-examine the possibilities of rejoining lost brethren that resulted from the Reformation after these reforms have been introduced.

  21. John Nolan says:

    John Candido

    Going through your list, point by point:

    1. Theoretically possible. But there is no evidence that celibate (i.e. unmarried) persons are more likely to molest children.

    2. Impossible. The Church has ‘no authority whatsoever’ to admit women to the priesthood.

    3. See definition (or rather, non-definition) of clericalism, above.

    4. Tolerance of homosexual behaviour was part of the problem.

    5. Impossible. Matrimony predates the Church by millennia. And what would be the benefit in any case?

    6. Irrelevant.

    7. The Actus Poenitentialis at Mass is not equivalent to the Sacrament of Penance. Catholics also believe that all seven sacraments were instituted by Our Lord himself.

    8. Doctrines can be developed but ‘eodem sensu, eademque sententia’. They cannot be ‘abolished’.

    9. Ditto.

    10. Wrong way round. We pray that ‘our separated brethren’ rejoin us.

    Any more bright ideas?

    • John Candido says:

      Lots of them but they are wasted on you I am afraid!

    • John Candido says:

      Your rebuttal to point 8 is very interesting.

      You have fought tooth and nail to maintain for many years that the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church never change.

      Finally, you have admitted that ’doctrines can be developed’ John Nolan.

      • John Nolan says:

        John Candido

        If you had been paying attention over the years, you would have realized that I have always endorsed what John Henry Newman wrote in his famous essay on ‘The Development of Christian Doctrine’ (1845, revised 1878), to whit:

        ‘A true development may be described as one which is conservative of the course of antecedent developments, being really those antecedents and something else besides them: it is an addition which illustrates, not obscures, corroborates, not corrects, the body of thought from which it proceeds; and this is its characteristic as contrasted with a corruption.’

        Newman was, of course, rebutting those Protestants who claimed that some doctrines which Catholics accepted as being de fide were actually corruptions.

        You just don’t get it, do you?

  22. John Candido says:

    That definition from John Henry Newman almost sounds like a recipe for never changing any matter.

    But we know that the church has changed through two thousand years of history and has developed its doctrine over time.

    1878 seems an awfully long time ago, John!

    I would look for a more contemporary definition of doctrinal development from today’s theologians.

  23. John Nolan says:


    Apart from the fact that 1878 isn’t ‘an awfully long time ago’ by anyone’s reckoning (it’s only seven years before my grandfather was born, and nineteen years before the birth of Pope Paul VI) why do think today’s theologians are more reliable than Newman, or St Thomas Aquinas, or St Augustine, or any of the Church Fathers?

    Have you actually come across any reputable theologian who subscribes to your notion that long-established doctrine, grounded in Scripture and Tradition, can be changed or ‘abolished’ at will?

    However, someone who suggests that clergy sex abuse (the vast majority of which consisted of homosexual predation of adolescent boys and young men) can be tackled by promoting homosexual behaviour is obviously incapable of joined-up thinking.

    I suggest you toddle off and found your own ‘modern’ church based on your ten commandments. But bear in mind Dean Inge’s comment: ‘Whoever marries the spirit of this age will find himself a widower in the next’.

    • John Candido says:

      Contemporary theologians are not more ’reliable’, ’intelligent’ or ’insightful’ than past theologians merely because they are alive today.

      As all of us, the church, the laity, including contemporary theologians, cannot help being alive today, where life has changed in an unrecognisable way from people living in the past.

      All of this is bound to change our theological thinking.

      To give you just one example.

      Can anyone determine if some of the theology of the church has changed because of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution?

  24. John Nolan says:

    Human nature has not changed ‘in an unrecognizable way’ . Shakespeare’s insights are valid today because they are universal; the same can be said of the classical writers. You have always lacked a proper historical perspective.

    Technological progress does not equate to moral or even intellectual progress. You have made this clear in your enthusiasm for devices which ‘correct’ grammar and spelling. It seems to have eluded you that an inability to communicate clearly without such technological props represents a regression.

    The Catholic Church has always encouraged enquiry into the natural sciences as a way of better understanding God’s creation. Churchmen were in the forefront of scientific progress long after Islam had lapsed into obscurantism. The ‘father of genetics’ in the nineteenth century, Gregor Mendel, was an Augustinian monk.

    Catholic theology wasn’t much disturbed by Darwin’s theories; their impact on Protestantism was far greater.

    • John Candido says:

      ’Catholic theology wasn’t much disturbed by Darwin’s theories; their impact on Protestantism was far greater.’ (John Nolan)

      Out of the whole reply, this final sentence is the relevant part of your answer.

      Leaving aside the effect of Darwin’s theory of evolution impact on Protestant churches, the relevant question becomes the following.

      What effect does Darwin’s theory of evolution have on biblical exegesis generally and on the biblical interpretation of the opening chapters of the book of Genisis specifically, and in consequence, what impact does Darwin’s theory of evolution have on the church’s theology?

      • John Nolan says:

        John, get off Facebook, which is only suitable for emotionally inadequate adolescents, and do some research. A good starting point would be where a number of present-day Dominican scholars show that the theory of evolution can be reconciled with Thomistic theology.

        And don’t ignore my other points, which are relevant to matters you yourself raise. I have to say you leave yourself open to the ‘argumentum ad hominem’ which, contrary to popular misconception, does not mean a personal attack, but ‘to press a man with consequences drawn from his own principles and concessions’.

        Your own contradictions are sufficient to invalidate your conclusions, without reference to a higher principle.

      • Quentin says:

        This dialogue concerning the development of doctrine is a fertile one. Perhaps I will discuss it in one of my CH columns. Of course the word ‘development’ already suggests one approach, ‘change’ indicates another. So it will help me to have more of your ideas.

        We need to distinguish between the truths of faith and the moral order. There are well known changes in the moral order such as usury and slavery. And certainly the paranoia relating to the sexual field has eased up over the centuries. The truths of faith are also susceptible to development since the words we use are necessarily metaphorical. Even the word ‘God’ is no more than our label for a mystery we cannot know – at least as yet. Do angels really have wings or are they simply God’s messengers? As for the concept of grace – you tell me.

  25. G.D says:

    Interestingly one of the definitions of ‘develop’ – ‘is treat (a photographic film) with chemicals to make a visible image.
    Apply that to doctrine. The image being revealed was there eternally, due to exposure to the light, the physical substances CHANGE.
    Our understanding and expression of truths change, the truths remain the same.
    Understanding of eternal truth develops. And doctrine changes it’s literal expression (a physical sign post) leading to moral consequences and altered behaviour/ relations to whatever image is revealed more clearly. Doctrine is not the intrinsic truth, only a pointer to it.

    Reminds me of the Buddhist koan, and i paraphrase …. – the finger pointing at the moon is not the moon.
    I would add – the light from the moon, is not the moon either!

  26. John Nolan says:

    Indeed, G.D. As St Paul says, we see ‘through a glass darkly’.

  27. ignatius says:

    Even worse the ‘moon we see’ is not the moon that is…. 😦

  28. G.D says:

    …. Until we allow the light to remove the dirt from the glass … and see the reflected image clearly …. one ‘day’, please God!

  29. John Candido says:

    John Nolan, getting me off Facebook is impossible!

    I find the group that I regularly post in, namely, ‘US Politics’
    exceedingly interesting.

    Especially what will be the fate of the Deputy Attorney-General Rod J Rosenstein, who is Robert Mueller’s boss and who will receive Mueller’s final report, should he survive some of the inevitable sackings by Donald Trump.

    Other issues are the expected ‘Blue Wave’ on the 6th November midterm elections and the potential impeachment of President Trump.

    The ongoing risk of World War III owing to the mental health issues of Trump, and as he will probably ruin international trade through his stupid tariff impositions leading to the downturn of the American economy, the justification to use war as a diversion of his domestic and international problems will become too tempting to ignore.

  30. John Candido says:

    Oh! What will be the fate of Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the US Supreme Court?

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