Not in our names

Joanna Moorhead, deputy editor of the Catholic Herald from 1988-1992 writes in today’s Guardian. The online version is headlined “The crimes of the Catholic church: not in our names.”

In the course of the article she says:

The last thing anyone would ask a bishop or cardinal about right now is prayer, or Christian witness, or how to live an upright, moral, God-trusting life.

[A]ll they seem to know about is covering up sex crimes, inappropriate behaviour among prelates, political infighting at the Vatican, and the existence of a clandestine gay cabal at the highest levels in Rome.

[I]t now seems a power-crazed, untrustworthy and corrupt institution, out to save its own skin at almost any cost.

I am angry: very angry indeed. Because my church has, quite simply, failed to give witness, at an institutional level, to the gospel message with which it was entrusted by Christ.

[A]ll around me I increasingly hear these words from my fellow Catholics: not in my name. These crimes that have been committed, this power that has been abused, this trust that has been betrayed: not in our name, Your Holiness, has it happened.

[T]his is the guilt of the hierarchy, the guilt of the priests, the guilt of the ordained men who run my church and who have been determined for centuries that they would not share the running of the church with anyone who was not one of them.

Lay women, the biggest group within the church, are the most silent of all silent majorities. They are also its wisdom, its common sense and its conscience.

This church isn’t the church I want to belong to. [I]f the Catholic church is going to pick itself up it needs to make some very big changes indeed.

It’s hard to know where to begin in commenting on the events of the past two weeks in the Catholic Church. The Pope resigns, and the Italian daily newspaper La Repubblica publishes an article claiming that his decision to resign was influenced by a Vatican report showing that the Holy See was affected by outside influences, including a “gay lobby”.

Last Sunday The Observer published the news that three priests and a former priest in Scotland have reported Cardinal Keith O’Brien to nuncio Antonio Mennini, the Vatican’s ambassador to Britain over allegations of inappropriate behaviour stretching back 30 years. The Cardinal fails to turn up to mass and the next day resigns with immediate effect.

The inappropriate behavior has to be homosexual behavior and the allegations must therefore imply that the Cardinal is gay.

People interviewed outside Glasgow Cathedral and in St Peter’s Square clearly don’t want to believe the implications of the allegations or the reality behind the stories, even though the evidence has been in circulation for years. There are many gay Catholic priests and many of them are sexually active.

I speak from personal experience. I was propositioned many years ago by the Catholic priest from one of the churches in the deanery. He thought he was coming to visit me for coffee and sex.

I hope the turmoil in the Catholic Church reaches epidemic proportions which brings about the collapse of the old order, though I fear that the all-male, Vatican-based hierarchy will fight to the last to preserve power and control – and secrecy.

I’d like to think we are entering a crisis of epidemic proportions, an earthquake of the Spirit, a tsunami of disruption, the Great Emergence of which Phyllis Tickle writes.

All Christian churches are affected by the crisis in the Catholic Church. It has revealed the extent of corruption and dishonesty, the betrayal of the Gospel, the creation of false-selves with which so many priests, bishops and cardinals live, the absence of truth and authenticity, a corporate myth of holiness and sanctity.

Churches promote false ideas about the place of women and LGB&T people in creation. The Catholic Church promotes unhealthy, fantastical ideas about marriage, divorce, contraception, human sexuality and desire, and of God. Yes, God is a victim in all of this chaos.

And these false ideas are based on what? – the Bible, tradition, the authority of the Vatican. It’s easy to use the Bible and tradition and Christian history to develop a totally false construct about God’s intention to create human beings in her image. It’s evil, and the Church of England is tarred with the same brush.

Trying to square circles in dealing with women bishops and same-sex marriage is the Church of England’s version. This argument becomes a strategic game wuth real human feelings concealed and denied by clever argument.

A Changing Attitude trustee has just emailed me. She says the Roman Catholic Church is in a mess because it has always tried to repress human sexuality. What can we expect, she says, with Mary ever virgin, poor old Joseph the earthly husband, a celibate son, and God as his father? Is that our role model family? No wonder priests, some of them straight with housekeepers, and some of them gay who can’t remain celibate, end up having clandestine abusive sexual relationships that ultimately they can’t conceal. The C of E has been infected with this repression of sexuality for centuries.

We in the Church of England must, must, must pursue qualities of truth, love, transparency, integrity, and honesty in our own Church. We have to distinguish clearly between Gospel teaching about the dignity of every single human being and the temptation to misuse teaching to dehumanise people.

Vocal minorities who exert disproportionate influence in The General Synod, Church House and the House of Bishops haven’t got the message of Jesus yet. They’ve got another message from the Bible and it results in corrupt teaching and practice in the Church. I hope and pray with all my being that the disruptive God of this era continues to rip away the facades of false piety and wisdom and discloses a Church of the liminal and pure in heart.

The new Archbishop of Canterbury and every Church of England and Anglican Communion bishop and archbishop ought to be deeply troubled by the humiliation of our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters and recalculating fast how they can muster the courage to be more Christ-centred in reforming Church life and teaching.

The Church of England needs to make some very big changes indeed, something it is instinctively ill-prepared for. Not in our name is the cry that needs to resound from all the silent majorities in our Church as well as the Roman Catholic Church. As Joanna Moorhead says: they are also its wisdom, its common sense and its conscience.


  1. Christopher Bowman says

    Colin – I love it! But I will say this and in the spirit of which you write! If we are not transparent in our knowledge of the state of the church and its leaders we are complicite in the hypocrasy! I know you have said for some time that outing is not a way forward! But is a Cardinal a biiger fish than a bishop? We have indeed been caught unawares! Perhaps the way forward is to break the mould!

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