Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Scandals and Converts

Dear Friend,

Some thoughts, unsolicited. Let's start with the bad news we all know, and then move to something more hopeful!

Through this Year for Priests, some folks have, for reasons of their own, struggled mightily to slander the whole Priesthood of Christ, by inflating crimes committed by a tiny fraction of all priests into an imagined problem endemic to the Priesthood itself. At the same time, the people who make money by estimating phenomenon frequency (insurance companies) inform us that Catholic Priests are among the least likely to commit such crimes. There are other, related problems to deal with --- tightening up vocation discernment on the part of seminaries, episcopal discipline and response protocol, etc. And I want to emphasize that no-one is suggesting the crimes themselves to be negligible, or that anyone should be less outraged than they are; the outrage we hear is indeed just, and suggests our fallen world to be capable of redemption still! It is the direction of the outrage that dismays me, even if it does not surprise. For many folk, children and adult, Christian and pagan and heathen, have been scandalized and led to stumble, perceiving the crimes of far-too-many, though thin and scattered.

Indeed, you should know the apostasy and the despair that follow from such scandals are a deeper and more lasting wound than the scars of abuse: in the resurrection, the hurts of abuse shall be comforted and redressed; but some may have so fallen away that they cannot appeal to God's mercy, and may suffer His justice for eternity. All the more heavily will it weigh on those who did cause these to stumble.

The scandal of such evils among the Priesthood may cause some to stray from the Faith. I promised at the opening to speak of hope, and it is this: the converse is also true, the holiness of the Priesthood can convert souls. Let me repeat for you some of the story of Alec Guinness:

... Then came the film Father Brown ... and on location in Burgundy I had a small experience the memory of which always brings me pleasure. ...

Night shooting had been arranged to take place in a little hill-top village a few miles from Macon. Scaffolding, the rigging of lights and the general air of bustle caused some excitement among the villagers and children gathered from all round. A room had been put at my disposal in the little station hotel three kilometers away. By the time dusk fell I was bored and, dressed in my priestly black, I climbed the gritty winding road to the village. In the square children were squealing, having mock battles with sticks for swords and dustbin lids for shields; and in a café Peter Finch, Bernard Lee and [the director] Robert Hamer were sampling their first Pernod of the evening. I joined them for a modest Kir; then discovering I wouldn't be needed for at least four hours turned back towards the station. By now it was dark. I hadn't gone far when I heard scampering footsteps and a piping voice calling, `Mon père!' My hand was seized by a boy of seven or eight, who clutched it tightly, swing it and kept up a non-stop prattle. He was full of excitement, hops, skips and jumps, but never let go of me. I didn't dare speak in case my excruciating French should scare him. Although I was a total stranger he obviously took me for a priest and so to be trusted. Suddenly, with a `Bonsoir, mon père', and a hurried sideways sort of bow, he disappeared through a hole in a hedge. He had had a happy, reassuring walk home, and I was left with an odd calm sense of elation. Continuing my walk I reflected that a Church which could inspire such confidence in a child, making its priests, even when unknown, so easily approachable could not be as scheming and creepy as so often made out. I began to shake off my long-taught, long-absorbed prejudices.${}^1$

Think about that.

When it is clear that Christ's Priests are trusty folk, little Catholic children can convert strangers, melting their "long-absorbed prejudices."

your friend in hope

${}^1$ Blessings in Disguise Alec Guinness 1985, Hamish Hamilton London


Enbrethiliel said...


That darling little boy! And he did it without apologetics! He did it without even being literally understood! (Yes, I know I'm starting to bore people . . . but I did enjoy reading the excerpt you've just shared.)

Belfry Bat said...


But E, that was apologetics, of the best sort! Apologetics, properly so-called, consists in saying to the doubter precisely what he needs to accept the Truth. Sometimes that means a long-winded letter, sometimes it means a friendly stroll under mistaken circumstances.

Certainly, there is room to question any supposed universal suitability of an apologetics industry (or even publishing niche); but at the same time, scripture exhorts us to be prepared to give an account of our Faith, too! It's an interesting tension that Our Lord Himself says not to prepare speaches against that need, but to trust in the Holy Spirit; but I still think the Spirit can work through books and study. That's why we get sermons on Sundays!

Enbrethiliel said...


Well, I do agree that the Spirit can work even through, say, Mark Shea--and that in fact, the Spirit has. But I wouldn't be myself if I didn't indulge in a point-and-laugh at the modern apologetics industry now and then! =P

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