The Cracked Teflon of Priests

BY DOMINIC WIGHTMAN

During some rainy days of holiday this summer, I was forced to watch some Poldark episodes by my persuasive wife and I confess that I enjoyed the performance of the actor Christian Brassington as the loathsome Reverend Osborne Whitworth. Hardly what you’d expect of a Man of God, Reverend Osborne is a lecherous hypocrite and a slave to deviant thoughts. Unable to find satisfaction at home, he seeks out extra-marital relations with a series of Cornish lasses and is continually scoffing grub – he’s a typical, boundless greedy man; “the greedy man is he who sits, and bites bits out of plates, or else takes up an almanac, and gobbles all the dates.”

As a former altar boy and brought up in the Catholic faith, I was forever surrounded by priests or nuns. Some were greater than others. When my father died, the Catholic mafia descended upon our family home and nuns and priests were never far away offering to pray with you or share a dog walk. I always preferred a pint with mates.

As you can tell from my tone, I do not believe for one millisecond that priests or nuns (or C of E reverends for that matter) are ontologically different from the rest of us – after all, that would make them not human. I have seen their human fallibilities and witnessed their grave mistakes first hand. Accounts since then of church abuse scandals have not helped convince me of priest pre-eminence. Catholic Jimmy Savile’s lifetime of private confessions and subsequent forgiveness did nothing to restore my trust in them either – how can child abuse ever be paid off in Hail Marys? The sex scandals that have engulfed the churches are not at a higher rate than for the rest of the population but are still grim, and revealingly human.

Looking back, I became especially attuned to priest frailty when one dinner at my Catholic boarding school I received a note from a certain priest – after I had been busted behaving naughtily (I recall that particular occasion involved a mini cab full of beer tins, a bottle of gin and a human chain of first-year mercenaries). The note read: “don’t worry, Dom! From someone that knows, we all make mistakes”. That same priest, who was a nice fellow, committed suicide a week or so later. A waste. I have kept that note – it reminds me that much of our behaviour is mere projection and what’s behind the projection really matters.

Maybe it’s just a case of me getting older but I see politics (the Green Blob and socialism) increasingly entering sermons and priests behaving as if they were somehow woke, when by their very nature they are incapable of bypassing the coolness of the average Daddy-dancer. The Pope seems a committed Marxist with a sprinkling of Christianity on top – forever ranting about the dangers of populism while waving over St Peter’s Square to his doe-eyed populus, in between staged PR car stops to cuddle disabled kids. Meanwhile the current Archbishop of Canterbury is a former oil trader with a sudden penchant for socialism who should choose his words about Brexit far more carefully. Everyone knows that secular, capitalist Jesus, manifested in the Holy Spirit, is an ardent Brexiteer (ask yourself, if Jesus were a Remainer, why did Remain lose against all the odds?)

Which brings me in a winding way to the point of this article… Reverend Osbornes.

Priests are human and they make mistakes like the rest of us but they, above all humans – with the many hours of ethics training they have been given, and the time they have had to pray with all kinds of people in their parishes – should be the first of all of us to have the empathy to apologise. For apologising is surely a key requisite of a civilised society? If we never apologised, we’d soon run out of other humans with which to collaborate. Where would the world be then?

Why is it then that we are faced with priests who will not apologise for abuse and a Pope so reluctant to apologise personally to victims of abuse? Still worse, why when priests have been caught in flagrante delicto committing some error or sin, do they not make a public point of apologising in front of all of us so we can look towards them as examples? Priests should be the first to set themselves up in stocks in the public square and take tomatoes on the chin.

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