Monday, June 20, 2011

Trouble with Priests

"The trouble with priests is you always let us down", so said a young man to me a some years ago when I told him I couldn't write a reference for him.
The same could be said about priests like Fr Corapi or Fr Kit Cunningham, highly visible priests so often fall short, one could make quite a long list of them. I like the idea in the Usus Antiquior of the priest making his own personal and public confession of sin,  before the servers and others themselves confess.

Looking at Church History God himself could well say, "The trouble with priests is you always let Us down". Avaricious, lustful, loose-living, drunkard, lax priests have always been part of the Church, maybe the majority. The difference today is that we seem to expect a higher standard from priests than anyone else and are devastated when our expectations are shattered. We actually expect saintliness today, though it was always desirable in the past, it was well understood when it was lacking that clergy were very human, very frail; just read Chaucer or look at those doom paintings showing damned popes, bishops, monks and clergy, along with lay people.

One of the reasons for vesting priests, keeping them behind roodscreens, closely prescibing their movements, even their voices, I am sure, was to disguise or hide them them, or at least to say this man at the altar is somewhow different from the man who drinks in the tavern, collects tythes, has a close relationship with his housekeeper, or flogs mercilessly the boys he teaches. Pre-concilliar liturgy did its best to emphasise liturgy was the work of God, not man. God worked, even if the man was corrupt and depraved.
They knew the truth of, "Put not your trust in Princes", there is something healthy in loyal anti-clericism that typified so much of Pre-Concilliarism continental Catholicism.

Nowadays vestments, sanctuary furnishings, the orientation of the Mass, the liturgy itself tends to put the priest front and centre. People talk easily about Fr X's Mass or Fr Y's Church, never I suspect has a priest's personality been so exalted in the life of the Church and never has there been a time when priests have so dissappointed and damaged people's faith when they fall.


Anonymous said...

Well said Fr Ray...

Anonymous said...

An interesting reflection Father. Thank you. I hope you are wrong when you write "Avaricious, lustful, loose-living, drunkard, lax priests have always been part of the Church, maybe the majority"".
It is the part "maybe the majority"that I quibble with. Most priests that I know seem to be good, hard working. humble and self effacing. Nevertheless there are others who struggle with what you list. God help them.
For the past twenty eight years I have offered one Mass every month "for the conversion and sanctification of the the clergy and the protection of the priesthood throughout the world". Parishioners, after their initial shock, got accustomed to that intention every first Friday.
I am convinced that the prayer of parishioners can work miracles, and bring about a renewal of the priesthood. But for that to happen maybe parishioners need to change themselves instead of praying for a change of parish priest!

servusmariaen said...

This is well elucidated Father Blake. I think another danger is when people tend to make an personality idol or cult of a particular priest. I think this is more common when the priest is well known in the media for preaching abilities etc. I didn't understand the reference to Father Kit Cunningham? what did you mean by this?

Fr Ray Blake said...

EFPastor, The model is Christ, we fail.

Servusmaraiem, there is scandal breaking about the Rosminians.

nickbris said...

The BBC is going to show another "porn"movie,they are getting good at it.It won't be half so titillating as the SNUFF MOVIE from last week as we have not had a day off from these revelations for a number of years now.

Michael said...

As the BBC1 programme "Breaking the Silence" is scheduled late Tuesday evening I suspect it will be very unpleasant viewing for loyal Catholics, priests and laity.

One Catholic reviewer writes:

"The church would urge greater understanding of human frailty and forgiveness. On a broader canvas, that distinctive demand for forgiveness in a secular society that is ever more punitive keeps me going to mass every Sunday. But for forgiveness, there must also be genuine acknowledgement of the damage done...
...As an institution, despite claiming to have turned over a new leaf, the church – still, falteringly and often uncomfortably, my church – emerges from this particular story as failing distressingly to practise what it preaches."

Your post was timely.

Richard Reeves said...

This is all very sad, and the BBC documentary is only going to put more young men off from joining the priesthood.
It seems that being a catholic priest today is to truly be marginalized from society.
So many young men start off with good intentions and solid devotion but seem to fall by the wayside. We must pray for priests in these disturbing times.

Michael Petek said...

The case of the late Father Cunningham and the case of Father Corapi are very different.

The accusations against Father Cunningham have been made out. Those against Father Corapi have not.

He has not been allowed to know what allegations were made against him, nor by whom. He states on his website that the Bishop of Corpus Christi leaned on his order to suspend him, which they did against their will and better judgement, and that the Bishop threatened to release a defamatory letter to the other US Bishops if his superiors refused to do so.

If these assertions are true, then the denial of due process and the threat of defamation are reprehensible.

Just another mad Catholic said...

@Richard Reeves

no documentry produced by a load of namby pamby liberals who swim in a sea of moral filth will dampen my desire to be a Priest and in anycase I doubt that young traditinal men even watch much television (they're to busy practising the priest's parts of the EF with their chest of drawers sumbstituting for an altar).

@ Father Blake

I to like the idea of the Priest's personnel confession of sin the EF, in my mind the NEW penitential rite (which can be ommited if the Priest so desires) blurs the distinction between the Royal Priesthood of the ality and the Sacramental Priesthood.

B flat said...

The "Sunday" programme on Radio4 ran a story on this, which can be heard on the BBCiplayer 33.50 minutes into the programme. It was led by Edward Stourton who is supposed to be a Catholic, and had comments from an RC "friend" of Fr Kit Cunningham. None of the people speaking had any clear idea that "the Church" is not identified with the Rosminians, Fr Myers their provincial, or the Pope himself.
Worse still for them, they had forgotten, or perhaps never knew, that the Church preaches reconciliation of repentant sinners, but cannot guarantee that they will be free of temptation to sin, or will never fall after their conversion. Note the double standard in the programme, which ten minutes earlier in a piece on homosexuality calls Church teaching cruel, sex-obsessed, and hateful, to allow the world licence for immorality, and at the same time becomes indignant if moral weakness (inherent in all fallen mankind, perhaps later totally overcome) appears in a priest's biography, and condemns the Church for wanting to pray for his soul after death, and to remember the good things he did. Who is being intolerant and hateful?

Public prayers used to be said for vocations on "Good Shepherd Sunday." The invocation then was:" O Lord give us priests, and Holy priests!" We knew what we wanted then. Candidates tried to prepare appropriately, and to live up to that ideal. The patron of the recent year of the priest was a good role model, picked by a wise Pope. May the old prayers be renewed, and answered.

Daryl said...

How is it possible to overcome the sense of betrayal?

Obituary tribute-Dec 17 2010
Independent Catholic News

"Every year he would help organise a children's Christmas party in the crypt .... after Christmas (why do it before when there is so much going on for the children, this could be Santa's last stop, was his thinking). He would always dress up as Santa and bring joy to all the children when they received great generous gifts two weeks after Christmas. He would never shout about this role but it was one he loved most."

Jonathan West said...

The successful paedophiles are the ones that aren’t discovered of course and there are plenty of them around. They are people who have all the social graces that you might expect in someone of normal behaviour. They’re charming, they have good conversation, they’re caring, they’re intelligent, they’re interested, they’re committed to what they’re doing, they earn respect, they appear like any other member of society quite frankly and you just can’t tell. Sorry but you can’t tell.

So said Alastair Rolfe on the documentary Chosen, a victim of child sex abuse at the boarding school he attended. From what I have heard of him, that description could have been written specifically about Kit Cunningham.

And yet, it is almost certain that somebody within the church hierarchy knew of his paedophile activities, and yet did nothing to put a stop to them.

The scandal of sex abuse in the Catholic Church is not that the priesthood has attracted some paedophiles. That's inevitable. Any occupation involving contact with children will attarct paedophiles, sometimes very cleaver and respectable-looking paedophiles.

The lesson that needs to be drawn from learning about Kit Cunningham is that since you cannot recognise paedophiles at sight, you must work tirelessly to minimise the number of victims they harm. And a key principle emerges from this. Nobody can be treated as if they are above suspicion.

What this means is that any report or allegation of abuse, no matter how trivial, and no matter who it involves, must be investigated. Moreover it must be investigated by somebody who doesn't know the alleged perpetrator, and so won't be burdened by the knowledge that so-&-so is such a capital fellow, he would never do something like that.

And if the allegation is substantiated, the perpatrator has to be removed from a position of trust involving supervision of children, even if the level of abuse doesn't amount to a criminal act.

The scandal of abuse in the Catholic Church has nothing at all to do with lax priests, or loose living, or Woodstock, or liberalism. It is quite simply that the church's policies have for decades (even centuries) been the opposite of this, and could hardly have been better calculated to cause the greatest possible harm to the largest possible number of victims had they been designed with that specific aim in mind.

Of course, this wasn't the aim of the policy, it is merely its effect.

But if you understand it in these terms, it becomes amanagement failure. The failure is on the part of the abbots, bishops, archbishops and cardinals who have failed to ensure that priests and others who are a danger to children are removed from contact with children. And until that is thoroughly understood, and measures taken to ensure that best practice in child protection is universal throughout the church, the sex abuse crisis will never end.

Edward P. Walton said...

I never knew,with only two or three exceptions, any priest I really liked.

I hope this could be considered loyal anti-clericism.

Richard Reeves said...

John West states that "Nobody can be treated as if they are above suspicion. What this means is that any report or allegation of abuse, no matter how trivial, and no matter who it involves, must be investigated".
My only concern is that this approach could lead to a modern day form of McCarthyism where accusations are made without proper regard for evidence and due process.
Teachers are afforded more rights when it comes to being accused of abuse than priests are.
However, I agree with the rest of your analysis. It amazes me that priests who have committed such crimes crave the limelight.

Sharon said...

Michael, I suggest you read what Jimmy Akin at National Catholic Register has to say about the Corapi business.

Michael Petek said...

Official statement on Father Corapi by his Order.

Jonathan West said...

Richard Reeves is concerned about "McCarthyism", but he has no reason to be concerned. What I have described is what is standard practice for the secular world already, for schools and similar places. If you take a look at the London Child Protection Procedures produced by the London Safeguarding Children Board, under section 15.2 "General considerations relating to allegations of abuse", the first subclause states "The employer must inform the local authority designated officer (LADO) immediately an allegation is made."

The teaching professional doesn't seem to have collapes under Mcarthyite witchhunts, and in fact they have come to accept and welcome the procedures, partly because they recognise the paramount need to assure the safety of children, and partly because they recognise that ultimately these arrangements protect the integrity of the teaching profession from the damage that paedophile teachers cause.

It's about time that the church accepted the need to do the same, and brought its child protection procedures up to the standard of the outside world. You can't tell a paedophile by looking at him, so you can only discover one by investigating what he has done. So you must report all incidents and allegations so they can be investigated, and you remove somebody from conact with children as soon as it is established on balance of probability that they corm a danger to children.

It's the only way. For as long as the church doesn't do this, the crisis will go on without end.

Even if the church's procedures were miraculously improved such that from tomorrow no avoidable case of abuse ever occurs again, there are still about 30 years of bad headlines still to come, as it can take years or even decades for the victims of some of the worst abuse to come forward and report what happened. But the effect of those headlines could be dramatically reduced if the church were honestly and credibly able to say "we have learned, we have changed, and this sort of thing can't happen any more".

As far as I can see, the church has been very good at fine words (the Cumberledge report, the Nolan report, the apology from the bishops) but nobody seems to want to knuckle down to the job of actually making the improvements that are needed.

Jonathan West said...

Michael Patek

I have to say i found the SOLT statement nauseating. They ask for prayers for Corapi, and for "any who have been negatively affected by Fr. Corapi’s decision to end his ministry".

But they don't ask for prayers for anybody who might have been affected by any alleged activities by Corapi that were "not in concert with the priestly state".

Don't you think that some small expression of concern for them might have been appropriate?

David Grimes said...

Mr West the church's response to an accusation of abuse by a priest is far more draconian than that imposed upon a teacher.

In fact Mr Gove's "New Deal" for teachers will afford them some anonymity when facing allegations from pupils.

When a priest is accused he is immediately removed from his parish, his home, and from his circle of friends in the priesthood. His name is inevitably published in the press. Even, if it is later determined by the CPS that he has no case to answer, a priest has to wait several months to be returned to ministry by the diocesan authorities. By that stage most priests unless extremely heroic and saintly will have been broken by the experience, and may have lost the faith or abandoned the priesthood.

Even when restored the priest will be sidelined and viewed with some apprehension by his colleagues "no smoke without fire" etc. Indelible details of the accusation and the diocesan/police investigation will remain on the internet for the rest of his life.

Furthermore, even accusations of a sexual relationship with an adult can initiate the "administrative leave" process, as the church delves into the matter with forensic scrutiny in case there has been an "abusive" element to it. Almost certainly, the priest will be forced to undergo intrusive psychological assessment and treatment either at St Luke's in Manchester or overseas in the US. The priest will be compelled to share meals and workshops with pedophiles and alcoholics.
A teacher would never be removed from their job because of a consensual sexual relationship.

I don't understand why the Rosminians failed to respond to the allegations against Fr Kit Cunnigham. However, the diocese of England and Wales have very robust procedures, and it is simply no fair to say that is has been all words and no action.

Michael Petek said...

I don think any "expression of concern for them might have been appropriate" because the allegations against Father Corapi have never been tried, let alone proven.

If you listen to his second audio statement, he says that the (unnamed) accuser barged into his office and assaulted the manager so that the police had to be called.

When a priest is accused of something, the least we can expect the Church authorities to do is make sure the accusation is properly pleaded. Then give the accused an opportunity to state which points he admits, which he denies, and which he neither admits nor denies but requires his accuser to prove.

Then, take the points which are to be proven to trial. Take witness statements. If the accuser is discredited, then dismiss the claim.

Jonathan West said...

Michael Petek
As you say, the allegations against Corapi have not been tried. The possibility that they are true did not prevent SOLT from asking for prayers for him.

Whether or not the allegations are true, the people making them are clearly troubled and in need of support. Do they not need prayers just as much? If so, why did SOLT ask only for prayers for Corapi and for those affected by his departure from active ministry?

The Murphy Report into abuse in Ireland had as a recurring theme that when considering "welfare", the church only had in its mind the welfare of the abusing priest. The welfare of the abused victims didn't rate at all.

I'm pointing this out as a consciousness-raising exercise. The Catholic Church isn't supposed to exist for the benefit of the clergy, but too often it acts and sounds as if it does.

David Grimes
When a priest is accused he is immediately removed from his parish, his home, and from his circle of friends in the priesthood. His name is inevitably published in the press.

Sorry, but I know from the events that have occurred at Ealing Abbey and St. Benedict's School in London that this is simply not the case. Or at very least that this is not the universal practice. Do a web search on "Ealing Abbey abuse".

And the Catholic Church in England and Wales smugly proclaims that it is much better at child protection than the church is elsewhere.

Ma Tucker said...

Everyone expects priests to be holier and more devout and have always done so I would say. It is right and proper that they should be more holy and devout and it is right and proper that this holiness and devoutness is recognised and appreciated. There has always been great attractions to the holiness of priests throughout history. People traveled all over to get to St. John Vianey and St Pio did they not. Do you seriously think this is a new phenomenon or somehow more exagerated. Well, have car will travel may fuel the numbers but is perfectly natural and proper that the sheep are attracted to the holiness of their priests.

If you mean the cult of personality then that is quite a different matter obviously.

JARay said...

I have read most of the comments which various people have made about the Corapi affair. What strikes me most forcibly is that he seems to be more concerned with the continuation of his business affairs than with his priestly affairs.
That does it for me.

Sixupman said...

Recently a priest was accused of abuse, he was immediately removed from his parish. I knew of the background of that priest and thought it 'fishy' from the outset and said as much. The allegation was proven unfounded and a prosecution did not proceed.

servusmariaen said...

I'm sorry to hear about the case with Father Kit Cunningham. This was the first I had heard about it.

Grace said...

@ Ma Tucker

It's human nature to seek out heroes and heroines to lean on in our insecurity.
We should never overestimate the virtues of our priests and guides.
Father Ray put it succinctly- "The model is Christ, we fail"

For most, the actions of the few are incomprehensible, even more so when they seem to be associated with sadistic behaviour.
I, for one, am deeply troubled in my incomprehension and I pray my Church will act with even greater vigilance.

Dorothy said...

I can't sleep.
I just don't understand.

servusmariaen said...

I read earlier today more of the details of Father Kit Cunningham's case. I am deeply saddened by it all on many levels. I did not know him but I greatly admired what he did with St Etheldreda's and what service he gave to the Church however imperfect. I am saddened that the young ones in his care were the victims of selfishness & sin. Above all I am saddened at the loss of faith brought about by this unfaithfulness. The soul of Father Cunningham and those who suffered from this are desperately in need of our prayers. We know in the end that perfect justice will be realised & meted out by the perfect judge Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ who has no need of our help in this regard. My Jesus mercy!

Anne Mansfield said...

Anne Mansfield

My daughter received Holy Communion from Father Cunningham in 1980. She was instructed before that by the nuns remaining in the nearby convent.
She was not at a Catholic school during that period or any other time during her adolescence as the teachings were not Catholic. Thanks perhaps to the previous non CES indoctrination, she is super devout in the kindest possible way,

What has not been noted is the conversions he made to Catholicism. Real conversions of yes, real non disturbed, people.

Father 'Kit' was a fine, hard working fellow, (Westminster Record) and a good priest during the years that we knew him. Kind, generous, dare I say trying to be holy. The ceremonies were respectful, and the music was a rare gift. (Father Charles-Roux was a great help as well -- and a brilliant and, again, holy, deliver of homilies.) Father Kit also made St Etheldreda's a place where one could (a) feed the less well off, and (b) have enjoyable gatherings in the crypt.

The rush to judgment, prompted by I guess the forthcoming television programme, is near to sinful in itself.

The brouhaha seems to be about what he might have done, perhaps did, in the 1960s in Africa. Bad stuff, but what else were the '60s'?

What seems to have not been clarified is WHEN he confessed his sins during that period.

Witch hunts, anyone? Smoke of Satan (h/t Paul VI)?

RIP (and rise in Glory) Father Kit.

Anne Mansfield

Jonathan West said...


Let's not beat about the bush. Father Kit Cunningham was a monster to those boys. It is quite probable that the men who appeared on the television last night are the ones who have coped best with it, and yet it has clearly damaged them. It wouldn't at all surprise me if there are suicides and severe mental illnesses among the other victims.

If you say "We know in the end that perfect justice will be realised & meted out by the perfect judge Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ who has no need of our help in this regard.", what in fact you are doing is abandoning responsibility for preventing such abominations from occurring again.

As for Anne Mansfield, in saying that the rush to judgement is near sinful, might I suggest that is a sin you yourself are committing? The TV programme showed written confessions by Cunningham and others. It sounds very much as if your view is that it is not a sin for priests to have sex with little boys, but it is a sin for the boys to complain about it.

I'll leave it to you to reflect on what kind of morality that represents.

And if you point out that Fr Kit has confessed and repented, I would say that the confessions shown in the programme were very half-hearted and full of self-justification.

And Fr David Myers, head of the Rosminian order, is refusing compensation to the victims, and is showing no sign at all of repentance for his part in covering up these crimes.

For as long as there are Catholic laypeople prepared to turn a blind eye, or to explain away such despicable actions, the small minority of priests who are paedophiles will continue to get away with it, and the sexual abuse scandal in the church will know no end.

John said...

@ Anne Mansfield and Dorothy

Dorothy has clearly seen the programme, heard the words of the injured barrister, and has the reaction of most of us.

Anne's reaction is similar to that of Mary Kenny:
"You just cannot put together the man you have known and the "monster". Kit's friends are dazed"
Irish Independent

Anne may have second thoughts if she could bring herself to watch the documentary.
Jonathan West quotes Alistair Rolfe:

"They’re charming, they have good conversation, they’re caring, they’re intelligent, they’re interested, they’re committed to what they’re doing, they earn respect, they appear like any other member of society quite frankly and you just can’t tell. Sorry but you can’t tell."

Nothing was said about the effect of this person and the other perpetrators at the school on the boys' faith.
The one in question brought many to the Faith and, I suspect, utterly destroyed it in others.
I wonder if sleepless Dorothy is dwelling on that aspect.
I am.

annmarie said...

I am beginning to wonder if I am daft.

As far as I understand it the priest is seen in Catholic theology as being "another Christ". If I ask what that means, the first thing that comes to mind is the passage from Philippians (2:5ff?) "Have this mind you which was in Christ Jesus .... "

I cannot think of anything more removed from that than taking advantage of minors (and if you can, please don't tell me), which has me asking what on earth sort of formation these priests had that made them think they could do as they did.

Something must have gone badly awry.

Tim said...

I need to know who knew what and when, whether the police were immediately informed and why we the congregation were kept in the dark and had to find out from the media. If the answers don't stack up or are not forthcoming how can I continue to worship at Ely Place and still keep faith with the victims? It's taken me years to find a parish in London where I can blend in and where the liturgy consoles me but it all feels tainted now.

Ben said...

@ Tim

Go tomorrow and ask a few questions.
Now is not the time to "blend in" but to work in solidarity with others to remove this menace from our Church.

St Etheldreda's Feast Day. 23rd June.

Eternal God,
who bestowed such grace upon your servant Etheldreda
that she gave herself wholly to the life of prayer
and to the service of your true religion:
grant that we, like her,
may so live our lives on earth seeking your kingdom
that by your guiding
we may be joined to the glorious fellowship of your saints; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

nickbris said...

To conduct any sort of defence for these "monsters"would be on a par with condoning what is said to have happened but somebody has to say something.

A fair trial would be extremely difficult as most of the accused are either dead or too old to go through the inquisition.

We do know however that these "monstrous acts" were perpetrated on a few boys over half a century ago and some of them have got their heads together through the internet and decided that there might be a chance to make some money.

I'm not exactly sure what is supposed to have happened as I switch off competely and tend not to follow it.

What we do know though is that discipline in Catholic Boarding Schools was generally quite strict and being caned on the backside was something never to be forgotten,having your knuckles rapped or being picked up by the ears was another favourite punishment. All that is now banned including the strap which was adminisered in all schools from the age of five upwards.

In those days masturbation was not only a MORTAL SIN it was seen as a serious danger to health and could cause blindess,epilepsy or mental illness,it had to be watched out for and stamped out whatever the cost.

If you were to be told often enough about the dangers of self abuse then some of it would of course have an effect and bring about some false memories in later life,after all if you had been made to sleep in boxing gloves to stop you going blind through excessive mastubation you would never stop blaming somebody for anything that went wrong in your life.

I went to two schools run by Presentation Brothers and nothing happened to me that was not normal for the standards of the day.

Jonathan West said...

Let nobody call this a case of a few bad priests acting against the orders of the church. Even the Catholic Herald (not a a paper noted for publishing negative stories about the Catholic Church) has nearly 60 articles tagged "clerical abuse crisis", describing cases from UK, Tanzania, Canada, Kenya, USA, Ireland, Belgium, Netherlands, Australia, Austria, Germany and probably a few other places that I have missed.

It is time to realise that this is, if not normal behaviour by priests, at least distressingly common.

It is not a problem of just the way some seminary or other has trained its priests, it is worldwide.

It is not a problem of sexual licence introduced to the world in the 1960s, it has been going on much longer than that.

It is not a problem of a few rotten apples, it is too widespread for that.

It is not a problem of homosexuality, some abusers (Cunningham himself for instance) were heterosexual.

It is not a problem of liberalism, abuse was going on before Vatican II.

Of course, this individual example of the problem is going to have to be resolved in a way that offers some degree of justice and healing to the victims. It is tragic and scandalous that Fr Myers and the Rosminians are digging their heels in against this.

But the wider causes of the problem must be addressed, and real effort put into introducing proper child protection measures everywhere in the church, and more importantly, establishing a culture of awareness and zero tolerance.

No more saying "Oh, but Fr Kit was a wonderful priest who brought lots of people to the faith", as if that excuses his actions. It doesn't.

No more saying "Fr XYZ would never do such a thing" and so failing to pass on a report or allegation of abuse. We know that priests - even very prominent priests - can do such a thing.

No more of the attitude that equates reporting abuse with an attack on the priesthood or on the church itself, unless you want the church to be in a position where it institutionalises the defence and protection of paedophiles and sexual abusers.

That such a prominent priest as Fr Kit Cunningham, who knew everybody who was anybody in London Catholic circles, should have been revealed to be an abuser will be making a lot of people feel awfully foolish and betrayed today. Let this be a wake-up call. Abuse isn't something that only affects other people and places. Nobody can be treated as being above suspicion, and robust protection measures are needed to ensure that any abuse that happens near you is detected quickly and stopped immediately. That is happening in some places, but not nearly enough.

Grace said...

@ John

"Unsurprisingly, just one of the 35 victims of abuse in those two schools still goes to Mass."

santoeusebio said...

Jonathan West writes in respect of the procedures for teachers:

"So you must report all incidents and allegations so they can be investigated, and you remove somebody from contact with children as soon as it is established on balance of probability that they form a danger to children."

I think the problem with the Church's procedures was that it apparently required the priest to be removed before any balance of probability had been established. That was over the top and looked like guilty until you are proven innocent.

The Church has obviously been very remiss in not dealing with these problems but I believe paedophilia is very much more widespread in society at large than just in the Catholic Church. In the past Magistrates have also been remiss in dealing with criminal cases. They were often content with an assurance that the priest would get psychiatric treatment when clearly a custodial sentence should have been imposed.

Reasons for paedophilia? Well some of them were abused as children and came thus to regard this as a normal sexual expression.

However in the case of the school in Tanzania it seems that several of them were at it. One asks whether they must not have been aware of what their colleagues were up to. Did they believe it was okay? Did they confess their sins? What would their confessor have done? In the case of persistence should a confessor not insist that his penitent remove himself from the occasion of sin i.e. leave any school and refuse absolution until he did? Or were these priests so hardened in their evil doings that they were not bothered and so their masses were sacrilegious?

If they did not repent then perhaps they repented later but did not know what to do or were too frightened to try and make amends?

However Father Collins seems unrepentant. He accuses a boy of masturbating but was not the boy pre-pubescent?

As for compensation it rather looks as though there was an institutional cover-up and the excuse put forward by Father Myers for not considering this is rather akin to the bank robber who pleads that he needs the money to maintain his lifestyle.

But does not all this go to the "liberals" v "traddies" argument? There has grown up an attitude that sexual morality no longer matters. The Tablet advocates the Church looking more favourably on trial marriages. Homosexuals are apparently given the green light with the Soho Masses to promote homosexual sexual activity. Cardinal Cormac allowed a situation where referrals for abortion could take place in a Catholic Hospital. He failed to stop Father Hill from carrying on with his behaviour. Cardinal Cormac should have resigned or been pushed at that point. Instead he approved the Nolan recommendations which many saw as over the top and thus did not properly follow.

We all know from what was said in Ireland that Canon Law procedures were not followed. When Cardinal Burke is to give a lecture on "The Restoration of Canon Law discipline" his talk gets torpedoed on the excuse that somebody used the word "obdurate" about the Bishops.

And then we have had the CES approving the Government's plans for sex education which strongly suggests that all forms of sexual activity are permissible including informing children as to where they can get an abortion.

I believe that the toleration of paedophilia is all part of this liberal agenda and is just a symptom of it.

Nicolas Bellord

Nicholas Dyson said...

Dear Fr,In the mid 1980s I served two traditional masses celebrated by Fr Cunningham and recieved holy communion from him .I dont think that I would have done so had I known that he was a formar paedophille priest.I wonder what attracted him to the traditional rite.I think there is a vast difference between Fr Corapi and Fr Cunnigham .May God be merciful on his soul.Nicholas Dyson.

servusmariaen said...

We can only pray that Father Cunningham was able before he passed from this life to make amends and to entrust his soul to the mercy of God. We can only pray for the victims and their healing and being made whole in the blood of Jesus. Only God can write straight our crooked lines.....Our Lord is the great and awesome judge of justice.....HE is in no need of our our help in meting it out. "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" Romans 3:23 "For the just man falls 7 times a day" Proverbs 24:16 "Revenge not yourselves, my dearly beloved; but give place unto wrath, for it is written: Revenge is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord." Romans 12:19

"Christians believe everything is reversible, any sin even any crime. While man is alive he can understand and repent. The result of your crime cannot be repented. It is the past. There is nothing to do only to grieve and to change....this renewal of the soul whenever it happens, even at the very end, this is Christianity. Otherwise one follows assuredly one's wrong path. The age tells him, "go on everybody does this" It ossifies the soul completely. People condemn themselves to complete perdition. The punishment is that man cannot repent anymore, he's lost in the stream. And in this stream he is not even a person. This is a most terrible idea."

Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Jonathan West said...

Nicolas Bellord said "I believe paedophilia is very much more widespread in society at large than just in the Catholic Church"

Paedophiles will be paedophiles. They will be attracted to occupations which involve contact with children. The priesthood is just one such. There are probably far more people who have committed sex abuses outside the church than in it.

You cannot tell a paedophile by looking at him. The London child Protection Procedures says this on the subject.

"Sex offenders have no common profile, and it is important for professionals to avoid attaching any significance to stereotypes around their background or behaviour. While media interest often focuses on ‘stranger danger’, research indicates that as much as 80 per cent of sexual offending occurs in the context of a known relationship, either family, acquaintance or colleague."

In this context, your local priest or priest-teacher comes under the category of "known relationship".

So since you cannot know who is an abuser before they first abuse, you have no choice but to put a stop to abuse as soon as possible after it starts, and to ensure that the abuser is separated from potential victims thereafter. In other words, since you have no control over the number of abusers, you must work to minimise the number of victims.

The scandal of the Catholic Church isn't that some priests have turned out to be abusers. That's inevitable, and there's no way entirely prevent it.

The scandal of the Catholic Church is that its procedures and actions could hardly have done better to achieve the greatest possible harm to the largest possible number of victims had they been deliberately designed that way. they considered the welfare of the abusing priest over that of the abused victims. They passed a priest from one unsuspecting school or parish to the next without either making an effort to separate a priest from children or even to warn the new school or parish that they needed to be on their guard.

And when the problem started to become public knowledge, the church authorities tried to cover it up, they blamed the victims, blamed secular society, blamed homosexuality, said it was just a few isolated cases, and generally did everything possible other than to recognise that their own procedures for managing abusive priests were in dire need of review.

And as a result, even more victims have been abused. That is the scandal of the Catholic Church, and the case of Fr Kit and the Rosminians is one tiny example of a pattern that has repeated itself across many countries.

Sadie Vacantist said...

I am not convinced that the majority of offenders are pedophiles. A hushed up study in Chicago revealed that of the 40 priests against whom credible complaints have been made (out of a total of 2000 working priests within the timescale of the study) only one met the clinical definition of a pedophile. The reason why this study (and others) has been hushed up are pretty obvious.

Sadie Vacantist said...

I don't except Mr. West's interpetation of events and I was abused in a parish not far from his obsession i.e. Ealing Abbey.

Having read around the issue a number factors emerge.

1) There was no cover up.
2) Priests were OPENLY being sent to treatment centres with the full knowledge of authorities including secular (examine nearly all cases).
3) Bishops were only too willing to send priests for treatment.
4) These treatment centres were not properly audited (see Judith Reisman).
5) It became impossible to get rid of a priest (see the Murphy Report) due to a bizarre liberalism of decision makers.
6) Canon law broke down completely (see Murphy Report) post-Vatican II.
7) Vatican II failed to introduce the pastoral recommendations of Fr. Fitzgerald of the Servants of the Paraclete who lost control of his order in the 1960's.
8) The synthesis of Catholic theology and modern psychology has failed and is scientifically and theologically unreliable.

Jonathan West said...


The problem here (and it is ruthlessly exploited by apologists who want to muddy the waters) is that the clinical definition of "paedophile" is a bit different from the popular understanding of the word.

The commonly understood meaning of paedophile is somebody who commits sexual offences against children under the age of consent.

I agree that it doesn't match the clinical definition of paedophilia, and therefore not all who commit sexual offences against children are paedophiles in the clinical sense.

But the offender doesn't have to be a clinical paedophile for the act to be harmful to the child.

MF said...

@ Sadie Vacantist
I would be grateful for a full reference for the Chicago study you cite please.

Those of us who have been victims do not need a strict diagnosis of the condition- an occasional secret abuser is as damaging to the molested child as a diagnosed serial paedophile on the offenders list.

I am amazed that after these revelations some seem determined to find excuses. The best way to support the Church is to encourage debate and face the reality of the problem.
Not all are taken in by the charisma of unsuspected paedophiles:

" --- said...

I assisted at some Old Rite Masses offered by RP Kit Cunningham. He re-started the First Friday Masses... His flaws, especially his drinking and hail fellow well met man-of-the-world approach were evident for all to see.

Many liked him; I did not and hated the aliturgical and disrespectful way he said the Old Rite Mass.

I doubt many knew anything about his sexual relationships.

He clearly needs some prayers and Masses offered for the repose of his Soul."

Father Ray Blake has to be commended for the open debate on his blog.

Auricularis said...

I think the lesson we need to take home from all this, is that whe should never put on faith in the "cult of the priest". Prayers for the priests concerned.

And as unpopular as he may be, I find Michael Vorris (of Real Catholic tv) take on this to be rather painfully accurate:

Gigi said...

Dear Lord. I have just watched the film and knew it would upset and unsettle me. I have been around members of the clergy in some shape or form throughout my life. My Dad wanted to be a Benedictine monk before he married Mum, and subsequently corresponded with brothers from across the world until his death. My cousin was a missionary, murdered while he was working in what was then the Belgian Congo. I went to convent infants, junior and high schools; from the ages of 11 to 14 I had a romanticised idea that I would join a religious order. Some of the nuns who taught me were more endearing than others, but the most I encountered from them was a well deserved cane on the back of the legs and a Roseanne Barr line in sarcasm. One nun who taught history and Latin ran off to Greece and had a sex-change. One parish priest fell in love with my French teacher and I hope and believe they lived happily ever after. I have worked with a wonderful former priest in the public sector; devoted to God, his wife and children. I have known deeply holy priests who defined themselves as homosexual, working selflessly for AIDS charities. Father Ray: I truly do not believe that "avaricious, lustful, loose-living, drunkard, lax priests" are "maybe the majority". I admit I have never, thank God, encountered a member of the clergy who could be described as a paedophile.
As an affectionate, tactile individual myself, I choose to remain celibate because I want to fall in love and marry. I have the sincerest respect for Catholic priests, and indeed nuns, who live with restricted physical contact and affection. I live in Brighton for pity's sake; I have friends of every persuasion and they colour my life rather than sway my own values. I understand that paedophilia as a medical diagnosis is a psychiatric disorder. But, as someone who desperately wanted to be a mother, I do not understand the covering up of child abuse. Antonio Rosmini appears to have been a devout man and philosopher, who wrote that he believed in "the inviolable dignity of every human being". How terrible then to see the the violation on the faces of these former Rosminian pupils, men in their fifties and sixties, in that film; visibly clinging to their dignity and self-belief.
I am not qualified to say whether Fr Cunnigham, Fr Collins and others were paedophiles who required understanding and help, as the entitlement of all those who are ill. Of course we must acknowledge that men like Fr Cunningham were capable of great kindness and selfless devotion. Of course we should pray for their souls as we should for the departed.
The abuse of the trust and innocence of chldren is a heinous thing. Personally, I believe the wilful ignorance and denial of such abuse is equally wicked and compounds the damage. It's already been noted on this Blog that a teacher suspected of child abuse would be removed from their post and a formal investigation instigated.
The statement from the Rosminians suggesting that any quest for compensation would detract from current charitable projects angered me to the point of tears; the suggestion that those in need today should not "suffer" because of what happened 50 years ago. Abused children grow into damaged adults. You can keep slapping heavy, dark dressings on a wound and it will never fully heal; and the treatment will never evolve. I've just read that Antonio Rosmini believed that God prompted people "through the request of someone in need; through someone speaking on behalf of a person in need". I don't feel such cases are about punishment or blame: for me they're all about acknowledgement of suffering and then tenderness, being able to say sorry and being able to forgive.

Sadie Vacantist said...

Mr. West

I haven't understood the logic of your last comment other than the accusation of "ruthless exploitation" of those who would disagree with your interpretation.

santoeusebio said...

I think one needs to go back in history a bit. I seem to remember being taught at Law School that the Ecclesiastical Courts in the UK (Anglican of course) became largely ineffectual because they lent over so far in favour of the defendant that they ceased convicting anybody. Bernanos claims that the first statements on Human Rights were drawn up by the Inquisition in the interests of defending the accused and one wonders whether the Inquisition eventually did not go down the same road as our ecclesiastical courts.

Also one has to remember the pre-Wolfenden Report days when homosexual acts were criminal. Again I seem to remember that priests who were caught by the Police doing something wrong were quietly sent off to a firm of solicitors who worked daily in the Magistrates Courts and they were dealt with probably more leniently than someone up for a parking offence. The fact of the matter is that Society at large was just not particularly bothered and abuse of children was probably seen as not much worse than importuning in a public lavatory and it was so much easier to cover up the former.

Nicolas Bellord

donk said...


Comment is degenerating when the word 'obsession' is being used pejoratively.

I am very familiar with the subject of safeguarding, and the alleged protection of children in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and to some extent Eire.

In EWS it may surprise you to know that there is no mandatory requirement to report the crime of abuse on a child. In for example the school setting about which Mr West writes, were I to report witnessed abuse of a child to the protection officer, who passed the information to the Head of the school - who then consulted with the Chairman of Trustees who is the person statutorily responsible for the 'safeguarding' in the setting, neither the Head or the Chairman of Trustees is under any obligation to report the abuse to the Authorities - which include the LADO (Local Authority Designated Officer), police, children’s or social services. A physically or sexually abused child in EWS (and as it happens Eire) is not entitled under law to have the abuse reported. This means that an abused child is not even entitled to an impact assessment for the abuse, no counselling, nothing.

The ministry responsible for the shambles is the Department for Education where safeguarding legislation is created, but it is the Home Office that puts it into statutory draft form and guides it through the house.

Of course this appalling nonexistent framework applies equally to education, sport, faith, healthcare, clubs, associations and so forth.

The US has mostly mandatory reporting of such matters - it is an offence if you fail to report actual abuse.

All that exists in education in England for example is an expectation that teachers will do their duty and report abuse. That's it. Failure to report brings no sanction, other than a teacher possibly being brought to the disciplinary panel of the GTC - which is the current Education Bill is about to be disbanded.

Most safeguarding officers believe that there is a mandatory requirement to report. I spoke to one in a huge local authority yesterday who repeatedly told me I was wrong. I sent a .pdf of counsel’s opinion to the person and suggested they spoke to their legal department.

People in safeguarding have been misled by the DfE. A visit to the DfE safeguarding site is to disappear in a smog of links to other sites, contradictory guidance, bits bobs and nonsense – misleading statement’s - it’s grim. The leading book on the statutory framework is - Child Abuse: Law and policy across boundaries by Prof Laura Hoyano and Caroline Keenan. I received and email from Caroline which described legislation in the UK in the following terms - “to start with it is important to recognize two problems in the current law relating to child abuse (i) it is a patchwork of different types of law often created as a specific reaction to a particular scandal. It has no cohesion and can be contradictory. It is, for want of a better description, the Dangerous Dogs Act writ large (ii) It is unwieldy. There are hundreds of different rules in different places.

Jonathan West said...


It is very simple. There are those in the catholic Church who don't want to believe there is a crisis about abuse. They don't want to believe that there is anything the church needs to do, because this would be an acknowledgement that the church is imperfect in a very serious way.

There are a considerable number of people who will pay lipservice to the idea that the church is imperfect, but faced when evidence of some serious imperfection involving evil done by priests, they run in the opposite direction and take refuge in wishful thinking.

That wishful thinking includes

- Clinging to the clinical definition of paedophilia, and so claiming that very few of the assaults are true paedophile actions against prepubescent boys, as if all the other assaults somehow don't count.

- Assuming that a large proportion of the accounts are fictitious

- Putting the blame outside the church, on liberalism, on the 1960s, on secularism, or on all the evil atheists for attacking the church

- Putting the blame on some other faction within the church (e.g. suggesting that it is all down to a lack of discipline and we should go back to using the old Latin mass)

donk said...


And so – what would be a huge contributor to improvement while the unsatisfactory mess we have currently is resolved?

To ensure that all child settings undertake in their publically available (many settings insist that parents have to ask for policies – an out of sight out of mind arrangement) safeguarding policies to report all allegations to the LADO. Mr West has made clear the reasoning behind this and increasingly safeguarding boards are adopting this protocol. Buy it is only guidance and can be ignored by the setting. It is down to parental pressure being exerted on the setting in question.

With this simple undertaking the opportunity for cover up and/or errors are significantly reduced. Any setting breaking this contract would be very foolish, the cost would be too great.

Now for a view from inside the church. This is Monsigneur Maurice Dooley a professor of cannon law speaking to Stephen Nolan of BBC Radio Ulster. He is speaking from Eire where there is no mandatory reporting of abuse. It is important to remember this during the interview which becomes more involving as it continues.

please forgive typos + grammar - in haste.

MF et al. said...

Father Ray
I would be grateful if you would repeat my request for the reference cited by Sadie Vacantist (Chicago study).
Unless commenters can offer supporting evidence for their obsevations I suggest the debate has become sterile.
I hope those who have made a valuable contribution to this deeply disturbing subject will not feel obliged to respond to unhelpful remarks.
This was one of the more positive examples of discussion on the Catholic blogosphere and I would suggest any protracted, argumentative commentary be taken elsewhere.
Thank you.

santoeusebio said...

Interesting comment from donk. I think I am correct in saying that in English law there is no obligation to report any crime to the police or other authority as a general rule - although there may be statutory exceptions. I think this has given rise to the situation described by donk.

My view has always been that the first thing to do in a case of abuse is to decide whether it is an allegation of criminal activity and you should seek legal advice on this. If it is then you should unfailingly report it to the Police. I would have thought that under the Church's guidelines (which of course are only guidelines and not part of the English legal system) that should be mandatory.

If you do not report a crime you should make sure that you do not become an accessory!

Nicolas Bellord

Jonathan West said...

Nicholas Bellord

What you have described is not good safeguarding practice. When an allegation of abuse comes in, for instance in a school context, the first thing you should do is pass it to the LADO, whether or not the abuse if substantiated would amount to a criminal offence. That is because the LADO knows how to go about investigating, and will not be burdened by preconceptions of what a splendid fellow XYZ is.

If the LADO thinks there is a need for a criminal investigation, the LADO will call in the police.

But abuse short of a criminal act also needs to be looked at. For instance, if a teacher were reported to have got a number of sixth-form girls individually into his office alone with him and quizzed them on what they got up to with their boyfriends, that's not illegal if no touching occurred. But it would certainly require investigation, as it would be a possible indicator that the teacher had an unhealthy sexual interest in the girls, and that he was therefore a threat to the safety of children.

If the investigation concluded that, the teacher wouldn't be charged with any criminal offence, but he might well be dismissed. If he was dismissed, the school would have a statutory duty to report the matter to the Independent Safeguarding Authority, and the ISA would then take a view as to whether the teacher should be placed on "List 99", the list of those considered unsuitable to work with children.

A List 99 entry would show up if the teacher applied for a job at any other school - List 99 checks have been mandatory for teachers since long before CRB checks were introduced.

But this whole system only works if two things happen

1. That allegations of abuse are actually reported to the civil authorities, and

2. Everybody does the necessary background checks before employing new staff.

The Catholic Church can greatly benefit from integrating itself into this system, because it can then make use of the record-keeping systems of the government. Church schools of course have to make CRB and List 99 checks anyway, its the law. But the church can contribute to keeping both itself and the outside world safe by making proper reports, so that teachers or priests who are got rid of can't get jobs in other schools (including church schools) and go on abusing.

All these measures are designed to ensure that once an abuser is found out, he or she can't get access to more victims. If the church puts in place procedures to ensure that, then the crisis will go away. You'll have some years of bad headlines, as past cases still pop up, but that will die away in time.

So the solution to the crisis is very simple. But it's not easy. It requires a degree of determination, first to accept that these sorts of measures are needed, and second to get the working effectively, at every school, parish, youth group, playcentre and similar organisation in the whole country that is run by the church.

Safeguarding is everybody's business.

Marie said...

Is this a record? Fifty-six comments and counting...
Shows the depth of feeling on this ghastly subject.

santoeusebio said...

Jonathan West: I was thinking of a slightly different context i.e. if a client e.g. a religious order came to me, as a Solicitor, for advice on an abuse case then I would advise immediate reporting to the police if there was criminality. One would also advise them to follow whatever procedures there were.

The interview with Mgr Dooley referred to by donk raised a number of issues & three different situations:

1. A parent goes to a priest to complain. Again if there is criminality surely the priest should tell the parent to go to the police and if necessary offer to accompany them. If the parent won't then surely the priest should. Mgr Dooley did not seem to agree.

2. An abuser goes to the priest and tells him of his abuse. Even if the abuser has asked for it to be in confidence I do not think the priest would be bound by that confidence in the case of criminality and probability of repeated abuse. Mgr Dooley thought differently.

3. An abuser goes to confession to a priest and tells him about the abuse. Would not the priest refuse absolution unless he was satisfied with a firm purpose of amendment and that the abuser will remove himself from the occasion of sin e.g. leave the school? Could the priest do more? I suppose not but perhaps some priest could enlighten us.

It seemed to me that the interview failed to distinguish between these 3 cases.

Nicolas Bellord

Sadie Vacantist said...

@Mr West

If you look at my list from a previous contribution, I make a few points which in no way reflect the caricature you portray or resort to anything approaching a rhetorical style. Either the Murphy report or Dr. Judith Reisman (something of a guru in these matters) confirm my points.

As a victim of abuse myself, in a case documented by the Westminster archives, I have no agenda in this discussion. I simply endeavour to state the truth. Please feel free to challenge me on those points I have made in a rational and understandable manner.

MF said...

@ Sadie V

Still no details on the Chicago study cited.

@Father Ray

Thank you for your original post and the mostly valuable comments it has produced.
As the scandal fades from media scrutiny I believe your blog has made some contribution to the debate and, hopefully, light has been thrown on methods of dealing with these continuing crimes.

Jonathan West said...


In case 1 that you describe, the London Child Protection Procedures specifies that the employer must immediately inform the LADO of any allegation of abuse, whether or not there is criminality involved. Therefore, if Mgr Dooley had been informed of abuse by another priest, then he should have reported it immediately to whoever was responsible for safeguarding within his local parish or diocese, and they should have immediately informed the authorities.

In case 2, the seal of the confessional doesn't apply, and so this comes under the same principle as case 1, it is a report or allegation of abuse, and must be passed on to the authorities.

In case 3, given what we know know of the behaviour of paedophiles, absolution most definitely should be withheld unless and until the priest has demonstrated true penitence and a determination not to let it happen again. Given the harm that has been done to the victims, demonstrating penitence probably involves repeating the confession at the local police station.

Sadie Vacantist said...


Jenkins said "a bold and thorough self-study" of clergy misconduct was done by the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago in the early 1990s. It looked at every priest who had served in the archdiocese for the past 40 years -- some 2,200 individuals -- and "reopened every internal complaint ever made against these men."

"The standard of evidence applied was not legal proof that would stand up in a court of law, but just the consensus that a particular charge was probably justified," he wrote. "By this low standard, the survey found that about 40 priests -- about 1.8 percent of the whole -- were probably guilty of misconduct with minors at some point in their careers.

"Put another way, no evidence existed against about 98 percent of parish clergy, the overwhelming majority of the group," he added.

In the Post-Gazette article, Jenkins said he is "in no sense soft on the issue of child abuse" and "cannot be called a Catholic apologist, since I am not even a Catholic."

If you look further into the reserach, of the 40 priests against whom credible complaints have been made, nearly all the victims were not "children" - as in pre-pubescent adolescents, but mostly behaviour familiar to anyone educated in a private school in Britain.

The assumption is made that anyone who makes this sort of presentation is doing so as part of an apologetics schema. No, it is simply to explain the nature and scope of the problem.

santoeusebio said...

Jonathan: I would tend to think that your solution for case 3 is breaking the seal of the confession. After all I am not sure that there is a moral obligation to confess one's crimes to the Police. In one's enthusiasm to nail abusers I think one must be careful not to go overboard.

Nicolas Bellord

Jonathan West said...


Even if the numbers you describe for proprotions of priests against whom there have been credible complaints are true (and I can think of several penetrating questions to ask about the research methodology), this still entirely misses the point.

What matters is not the number of priests against whom complaints have been made, but rather the number of victims they had a chance to get at before they were stopped.

The problem for the Catholic Church is that in too many cases that number has been allowed to become scandalously high, because of the failures of the senior leaders within the church.

Jonathan West said...


i suspect that much depends on the view of the confessor as to the likelihood that further crimes will be committed.

Given that the person's sexuality and sexual drives are often not under conscious control (otherwise he wouldn't have abused in the first place) the assumption has to be that the risk of reoffending is very high.

It seems that under such circumstances, the seal of confession, if kept, would quite likely result in more children coming to harm.

You might regard that as an acceptable outcome. I do not. I question a system of morality that would put confessional confidentiality above the rape of children.

Sadie Vacantist said...

@Mr West

I produced these figures for the benefit of MF. Your claim that there are more victims per catholic priest than other sex offenders - can you substantiate this claim with evidence that can withstand "penetrating questions" in respect of its research methodology?

santoeusebio said...

Jonathan: I think we are getting into very deep waters when we talk about "a person's sexuality and sexual drives are not under conscious control (otherwise he wouldn't have abused in the first place)".

I believe that we are not automatons and though we may have involuntary sexual desires which may be temptations to evil we should develop conscious control over those desires. Once you become orientated to a particular habit it may be incredibly difficult to change one's ways (I think St Augustine says as much) but with the help of the grace of God we surely believe that such is possible. The first port of call in getting that grace is surely confession and I would have thought that the confessor would recommend or even insist that the sinner remove himself from the occasion of sin before giving absolution (how many times are sins retained by priests these days?).

However this is where I think we will have to disagree over the seal of confession which in my mind must be absolute - if it is not then you are going to deter people from going to confession and receiving that grace which helps them to resist future temptation. You should also receive the guidance of a good priest.

I think you have to balance matters here - to destroy the seal of confession would be a graver matter than continuing abuse. It would be a situation where you have to choose between two evils.

I do get the feeling that you regard paedophiles as irredeemable and unforgivable by either God or man and once a paedophile always a paedophile.

As to modernism and liberalism I do believe they bear some responsibility. These are mortal sins, which we are talking about, which separate us from God and if we were to die in such a state one goes to Hell. Yet to-day that is regarded as an old-fashioned idea and we hear that the concept of mortal sin was just invented to frighten us, that we do not need to confess such and confessing "serious sins" (whatever is meant by that) once a year (Kieran Conry) is sufficient. We have also had the theory of the fundamental option i.e. that my long term aim is good but I cannot help myself now so it is okay ("Make me chaste but not yet").

Nicolas Bellord

P.S. Just to back a bit I would have suggested to Mgr Dooley in respect of matters told him in confidence (NOT in the confessional) that there is a legal saying "There is no confidence in iniquity".

Jonathan West said...


Quite frankly, the absolute levels don't matter either. What matters is that avoidable cases of abuse don't happen, i.e. abuse which is perpetrated by somebody already known to be an abuser.

And we need look no further than the Murphy Report for a thorough investigation which demonstrates beyond all possible doubt that this has happened many, many times.

Jonathan West said...


In practice, we would need to find out whether any abusing priests had confessed their abuse, and then gone on to abuse again because no action (or inadequate action) was taken to keep the abuser away from children.

We are unlikely to find out, because the church is most unlikely to permit the necessary research to take place, because to even conduct the research would require breaking the seal of confession to some degree.

So if that is going to be unthinkable, then if children are to be adequately protected, then the confessor has to have some means of acting to keep the abuser away from children in a way that does not break the seal of confession.

And if no such course of action is available, then you are placing the seal of confession above the safety of children. There are no words that could express the contempt in which I would hold such a system of morality.

Sadie Vacantist said...

@Mr West

What the Murphy report demonstrates is the failure of the rehabilitation programs. You have produced no evidence that Church sponsored program were any worse than their secular equivalents. We know about the Church programs because the Church "opened the books" to which Dr. Murphy had access.

Another feature of the Irish report is that it failed to provide any socio-economic, socio-historical or socio-historical context as to its findings i.e. the Irish Church was a one-stop shop for ALL social services, namely penal (young offenders institutions), health and education following the foundation of the Irish Free State in the early 1920's. Would a similar study of British state run institiutions from the period elicit different results?

santoeusebio said...


I have looked up the relevant Canon Law and there seems to be no exception to the rule against breaking the seal of confession - viz 983,984 & 1388. Perhaps someone more erudite would like to comment on this but I am afraid I can see the point of the rule. I suspect such dilemmas are very rare and one has to keep a sense of proportion. The importance of confession as a channel of God's grace may indeed trump preventing a crime. There are tough decisions to be made in choosing the lesser of two evils and a study of ethics does help to illustrate that.

Further a good confession and a firm purpose of amendment may be sufficient to prevent further abuse in a way that nothing else may in particular circumstances.

As a lawyer, I believe that one of the greatest modern heresies is that one can make a perfect society by laws, regulations and procedures whilst ignoring the personal responsibility of individuals for sins. The development of a sound conscience and the use of confession is crucial to this.

Nicolas Bellord

Jonathan West said...


Would a similar study of British state run institiutions from the period elicit different results?

Possibly not. But then the British state isn't trying to justify past abuses, and it is open about the need to make changes to improve things each time a failure is uncovered.

Studying the past has no purpose unless you are going to use it as a guide to doing differently and better in the future.

It seems to me that your approach to this is that you are studying the past in order to reinforce the conclusion that the Catholic Church wasn't really all that bad, and so nothing needs to be changed about it.

And yet, the abuse scandals have happened, all over the place. Even if we were for the sake of argument to accept the hypothesis that the church is being held to a higher standard than the rest of society. It is a standard the church has set ofr itself, and if priests fall below that standard, and bishops and archbishops cover it up putting the reputation of the church ahead of the welfare of children, then a scandal is the obvious and inevitable consequence when it finally does come to light.

So better procedures to detect and prevent abuse are going to be necessary anyway. Might as well get on with it. Fr Ray could make a start by publishing the safeguarding procedures for his own parish on the parish website.

Tim said...

Nicholas Bellord/Jonathan West
In the hypothetical case you were dicussing might not the confessor kill or otherwise "incapacitate" the abuser to protect the victim without violating the seal of the confessional as long as he then paid the penalty for murder/gbh without revealing the abuse in mitigation?

Sadie Vacantist said...

@Mr West

Where in my statements have I endeavoured to justify abuse and I am a Catholic? Where is there a statement from a serving Catholic bishop justifying abuse or indeed the Pope himself? This charge is absurd. I am a victim of abuse in a case documented in the Westminster archives with dates and names provided on request. It is unreasonable to suggest that I am justifying abuse or that any attempt was made to justify the abuse to me by any Catholic cleric. Furthermore, where in the Murphy report does Dr. Murphy quote one single authority who justifes sexual abuse?

You have made unsubstantiated claims which you fail to back up with any empirical evidence and I am left concluding that it is not the Catholic Church which holds itself to "a higher standard than the rest of society" but YOU.

Sadie Vacantist said...

@Mr West

Where in my statements have I endeavoured to justify abuse and I am a Catholic? Where is there a statement from a serving Catholic bishop justifying abuse or indeed the Pope himself? This charge is absurd. I am a victim of abuse in a case documented in the Westminster archives with dates and names provided on request. It is unreasonable to suggest that I am justifying abuse or that any attempt was made to justify the abuse to me by any Catholic cleric. Furthermore, where in the Murphy report does Dr. Murphy quote one single authority who justifes sexual abuse?

You have made unsubstantiated claims which you fail to back up with any empirical evidence and I am left concluding that it is not the Catholic Church which holds itself to "a higher standard than the rest of society" but YOU.