8 February 2016

Sex abuse

By the skilled work of the Enemy, the evil of sexual abuse by clergy continues to harm the Body of Christ. A crisis has arisen in Rome with regard to a man abused as a child, now a member of the Holy Father's Committee on Abuse, with whom his colleagues find it difficult to work; and who, in a logical ellipse which is far beyond me, considers it relevant to his predicament to attack the teaching and practice of Catholics and Orthodox with regard to the veneration of the relics of the Saints. And now the subect of sexual abuse in the Church of England is apparently raised in a book which would have been published this week, had not the publisher's lawyers required the recall even of the review copies.

I have a few rambling observations leading to a couple of unexciting conclusions.

Last year, Bishop Peter Ball, who began his bishoping in the Chichester diocese, was sentenced to a term in prison for using public office to procure his own sexual gratification. A little after, an associate, Fr Vickery House, of the same diocese, was sentenced for offences including offences against an under-age boy. It then transpired that a previous Bishop of Chichester, George Bell, now long dead, was accused of offences against an under-age boy, and that the Church of England had paid compensation and apologised both for the act and for the cover-up. In the modern style, Bell, no longer alive to defend himself, is considered guilty because he has no way of demonstrating his innocence; and the Diocese of Chichester cannot even bring itself to say whether or not those who made this decision had asked themselves or their legal advisers the questions "Does this evidence put the matter beyond reasonable doubt?" and "Does this evidence reach the bar of the balance of the probabilities?" (Details about the specific allegations concerning Bishop Bell have apparently just been printed in the Brighton Press.)

I knew Ball well and disliked him, although I had no actual evidence at all that he was breaking the law. My memory both of him and of House is that other people sat spell-bound during their sermons and addresses ... while what struck me was that they both carefully avoided doctrinal, or, indeed, any intellectual or solid or objective content, whether good or bad. Their homilies seemed often to regard reflexively the preacher himself rather than any broader topic ... our Holy Father might have reached for the term narcissistic. Ball, in particular, rarely omitted a paragraph or two of name-dropping. When the vote for women 'priests' took place in the 1990s, he ostentatiously abstained, sitting in the Chamber 'agonising' with his cowl over his head and face: I had no doubt at that this moving public performance was to avoid taking sides so as not to put at risk the adulation in which he was held by both 'sides'. For Ball was commonly regarded as a Walking Saint, 'the wisest and holiest man in the Church of England'. Although he admitted sexual misbehaviour towards a novice monk in 1993 and accepted a Police warning, he promptly set about convincing people that his admission was made simply to save the Church of England from the embarrassment of a public trial. Such were his reputation and his very considerable plausibility that this exculpatory campaign was widely successful; and so a whiff of Martyrdom was added to his already bloated public reputation. Numbers of the Great and the Good wrote letters in his defence, which can now be read on the Internet. Establishment figures seem so often to combine a quite extraordinary gullibility with an equally remarkable confidence in their own judgement; I remember being condescendingly told off by one of those letter-writers because I made it clear - having by then myself seen the written evidence of which the police were in possession - that I considered Ball guilty of very disgraceful conduct.

Bell, also commonly regarded as a modern Saint, has had since 2010 a liturgical commemoration in the C of E (on October 3). I never knew him, but, of course, I was aware of the immense reputation which led to the widespread assumption that he had been unjustly prevented from being appointed to the See of Canterbury. All sorts of organisations, places, and objects, and not only in Sussex, are named after him: they will find it a complicated business to do a complete Jimmy-Saville-style damnatio memoriae. There is even an altar dedicated to him in the Cathedral here in Oxford. I wonder if the C of E will reconsider the current cheerful and slapdash way they stick people on to their liturgical calendar without any forensic process of enquiry. If they had had anything like the sort of process which the Catholic Church has for beatification, surely the calls for information might have brought to light the evidence against him ... assuming of course that he was in fact guilty. If you make a habit of sneering at the legalistic and pompous procedures of the Catholic Church with regard to who can be commemorated at the Altar, and of going for a low-key approach, you may find you get more accidents.

Not that it's any of my business any more. But I am entitled to wonder how much greater the Media interest would have been if similar offences or alleged offences had been brought home to bishops of the Catholic Church in this country.

And have I learned anything from all this? My experiences have led me to conclude, over the decades, that glamorous and 'charismatic' people can be extremely dangerous people, and are best kept at arm's length, or more, or more.

18 comments:

Timothy Graham said...

Regarding Bell, see the Bp. of Durham's intervention in the House of Lords on 28th Jan, when he said (with regards to C.ofE.'s official response to the allegations against Bell) "if noble Lords read very carefully the statements that have been put out, they will see that there has been no declaration that we are convinced that this took place." In other words, they used the word "victim" of the beneficiary of the pay-out, suggesting that they took Bell's guilt for granted without explicitly stating it. This is cowardly behaviour, whether Bell was guilty or not. Why was it publicised if the accuser wished for anonymity and they had no way of getting at the truth of an accusation first made 40 years after his death? I think one would be wise to reserve judgment in this case - and hope and believe in charity that some explanation will emerge that does not make Bell a predator, or his accuser a base liar.

Jacob Hicks said...

Bell has been accused of offences against a five year old girl, rather than an under-age boy.

Richard P said...

Idols with feet of clay, indeed. Well said!!

Alan said...

My understanding, Father, was that Bell's accuser was a woman, and that the complaint related to an alleged incident about seventy years ago.

In Ball's case, something was certainly known or suspected many years ago, but that "something" was the prevalence of homosexuality in his circle, which the Grauniad, for example, has studiously ignored in its unpleasant damnatio memoriae of +Eric Kemp. (His obituary, interestingly enough, was a model of fairness on the part of the Graun!) Deafening silence from the C of E on Ball's conviction for "misconduct in public office". Is an Anglican prelate now no different from a police constable or a middle-ranking civil servant?

The posthumous vilification of +Eric seems to me the nastiest aspect of this case. Faced with a diocese in which a substantial number of homosexual priests worked, he behaved like a Christian, regarding the way in which they dealt with the associated temptations as matters for the priest's conscience, his confessor and God. Or, as Canon Fraser prefers, "a camp, misogynistic vestry culture....."

Charlesdawson said...

If we are going to talk about stubborn and gullible protection of evil men by the great and good, the Catholic Church needs to look first at the beam in its own eye: Marcial Maciel.

GOR said...

I agree with your conclusions, Father. I am regularly put off when any cleric gets much media adulation or appears to revel in it. We have recent examples of this here in the US, in Ireland and, of course, even in Rome with the Maciel debacle.

The last case may even be advanced in demonstrating the fallibility of Popes in day to day matters, as it was stated by those in the know that Pope St. John Paul II refused to entertain any criticism of the man, who was considered a ‘walking saint’.

I wonder if - like St. Padre Pio - the reverse may prove to be true in the case of Fr. Manelli, the much-maligned founder of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate…?

Matthew Roth said...

Charlesdawson, we already punished that priest.

Mike Hurcum said...

I would say that the appointment in Rome was done as are so many decisions in the Church today, without prudence. They are done I think with a false sense of sensuum fidei. It is just as Fr has explained about the anglican bishop

Ruari said...

Charlesdawson said:

"If we are going to talk about stubborn and gullible protection of evil men by the great and good, the Catholic Church needs to look first at the beam in its own eye: Marcial Maciel."

Have you not been keeping up? One of the first things Pope Benedict did when he was elected was to go after Maciel. He had tried while he was Prefect of the CDF but vested interests got in the way. Once he was able to call the shots, he did so. Maciel was denounced and his behaviour exposed. The organisations he founded were put under what could be described as "Special Measures". Very special indeed. There is no chance whatsoever of Maciel being beatified or canonised. He is remembered now as a dreadful example.

Charlesdawson said...

My point was, posters above, the damage that Maciel was able to inflict while he was being protected by very senior clergy indeed. Poor Pope Benedict himself was prevented, while Card. Ratzinger, from stopping this for years. I don't think the Church can congratulate itself for locking such a stable door so long after the horse had bolted!

Tee Pee Gee Eff said...

@Charlesdawson. Fr Hunwicke is not the Catholic Church. Throughout this blog he speaks with (I would say excessive) respect of the CofE. He is certainly not favourably comparing the behaviour of Catholic with that of Anglican clergy. "I don't think the Church can congratulate itself for locking such a stable door so long after the horse had bolted!" Where does the Catholic Church do this? More to the point where does Fr Hunwicke do this?

Lepanto said...

"... our Holy Father might have reached for the term narcissistic". Indeed.

Paul said...

Bishop Peter Ball began his "bishoping" in Chichester diocese - is "bishop" a verb?

Charlesdawson said...

Father, I wonder if you will permit me to muse a little further on this question? It seems that human nature, being flawed, invariably generates societies in which one or other group of persons are protected and given a free pass, for behaviour which would not be tolerated in others, simply because of who they are; the so-called "aristocratic model". I am thinking of Alcibiades, for example, or the antics of Publius Clodius; down the centuries they emerge, shown as people who have come to believe that the silly old rules of their society don't apply to themselves; being halted in their progress only when their behaviour finally irreversibly outrages either public opinion in general, or starts to harm those one step higher in the hierarchy. And it doesn't matter which type of society: reports periodically emerge of the misbehaviour of the offspring of bigwigs in Communist China, and we have the testimony of Svetlana Stalin. Look at the very different fates of the plebeian Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas: one publicly vilified and punished, one protected and cosseted into believing none of the mess was any of his responsibility. There are plenty of examples from societies-within-societies, such as the military, and the Civil Service, where certain individuals of quite amazing incompetence and/or unreliability, but social acceptablility, are boosted into positions of great seniority, and it is only when the death-toll or the treason reaches scandalous proportions that they are removed, or flee, from post.

It seems to me that both Maciel and Ball illustrate this model nicely in the context of their respective Churches, for church hierarchies are, after all, societies-within-society. In the terms of their inner societies, they were both extremely acceptable, learned to play their systems (as you have illustrated in the case of Ball), and it was only when their behaviour became too widely known as scandalous for even the most besotted admirers to brush off critics as jealous or misinformed - and the norms of the enclosing societies changed sufficiently in the area of sexual behaviour - that opportunity arose to stop them.

Palam├Ęde de Charlus said...

Concerning Dr Bell, I think that, if you read the account the victim gave to the press, you will agree that it rings true. In particular I was impressed that she describes Dr Bell in apron and gaiters, while clearly not knowing what they are. She gave her account because she was distressed about not being believed. I know from personal contact with victims of clerical sexual abuse that this is one of the most difficult things for them. Even when a clergyman has been guilty of the most dreadful acts, he will find defenders, or those willing to excuse his behaviour, or those who simply will not accept that saintly Fr X could have done such things, and he is the victim of a wicked smear by wicked people after money or publicity or motivated by hatred of the faith. Just put yourself in the position of the victim and imagine how that must feel.

On the Common Worship kalender, yes, some very rum names have made it in there. Some not even Anglicans. I wonder how some of the puritans included feel about being commemorated at Mass in the established church?

ChrisB said...

In the case of Maciel, Joseph Bottum, one-time editor of First Things, in that same journal, wrote that Cardinal Ratzinger when Prefect of the CDF, had judged the evidence of wrong-doing against Maciel to be credible, and that he had argued for action against Maciel by Pope JP2, but that Cdl. Sodano (not yet of unhappy memory)was somehow in league with Maciel and protected Maciel, fighting against Ratzinger. Unfortunately, Pope JP2 did not tip the scales against Maciel.

Then when Ratzinger became Pope Benedict, Sodano et al could no longer protect Maciel, and Pope Benedict called him to justice. Just as he called the several Bishops of Ireland to justice and demanded their resignations. And as he did with some 400+ clergy.

I am certain that many in the Church "establishment" really began to fear Pope B when they saw that unlike Pope JP2, Pope Benedict was going to take disciplinary action against Bishops and clergy when action was called for.

Mike Hurcum said...

what does, "The bishop is double-gaited mean?"

Little Black Sambo said...

'Bishop Peter Ball began his "bishoping" in Chichester diocese - is "bishop" a verb?'
In that sentence, obviously yes.