John Walsh: Reminding the faithful of the resurrection of Christ isn't for wimps

Tales of the City

Share
Related Topics

It's been a tough Easter weekend for Catholics. Devout adherents of the Church of Rome take the spring festival far more seriously than they do the Baby-Jesus sentimentality of Christmas, and the Easter liturgy, reminding the faithful of the death and resurrection of Christ, isn't for wimps. You need a strong constitution to endure the grisly reading of the Passion on Good Friday and the Holy Saturday midnight ritual with the paschal candles. The image of 200 faithful souls standing meekly in the dark at my church in Battersea, waiting for a single flickering light to appear through the doorway and save them, is a potent memory indeed.

How do they feel, though, about the news from Rome that a letter has surfaced from 1963, written by a Fr Fitzgerald to Pope Paul VI, recommending that priests "who have been addicted to abnormal practices, especially sins with the young" should be "laicised", i.e. made to join the laity or non-religious world, rather than returned to "active duty"? It's clear that Fitzgerald knew the that Vatican's usual response to "abnormal practices" in 1963 was to ship the miscreant to another diocese where it hoped he might wait a while before fiddling with fresh supplies of children.

Did the Vatican take his advice? Evidently not. It hushed up embarrassing outbreaks of sexual abuse, or relocated the guilty to provincial dioceses, as one might try and cure a cholera outbreak in Kent by sending symptom-bearers to Dorset.

Modern Catholics will be appalled that such things were common (and commonly covered up) 50 years ago – but also puzzled to think of Fitzgerald and others like him in the Church. If they'd thought something should be done about the abuse around them, why didn't they speak out?

I think I know. In 1963, I was nine, a London Catholic kid and weekly altar-server at Mass. Despite the short trousers (and the winsome manner) I was never abused by priests, at my Jesuit school or in my church, but I remember the unthinking respect in which they were held. Even the pink-necked, nervy ones from Irish seminaries were treated as if they were ambassadors from a great empire, and if the Papist faithful learned one thing, it was obedience.

Obedience! How that word, and its opposite, dinged through my childhood. In any recitation of sins at confession, it always came first: "Bless me Father, for I have sinned. I was disobedient to my parents three times..." Doing as you were told was all-important, far more crucial to being a good Catholic than Being Kind to the Poor, or Avoiding Occasions of Impurity. You learned not to question what you were told to do by parents, teachers, priests and nuns, no matter how illogical or perverse it seemed. Their authority as grown-ups was back-lit by the fires of hell, and woe betide you if you questioned them.

Fitzgerald was head of something called Servants of the Holy Paraclete, dedicated to looking after priests in trouble. The name is typical: they may have existed to deal with human failings among priests, but they were still "servants" of the Holy Ghost, and therefore of the Holy See. Their chances of taking action independently of their Vatican bosses were nil. It would be disobedient to the Pope.

Today, you can hear in Pope Benedict XVI's voice, in his body language, how appalled he is to be brought to account for the things he did or failed to do while running the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. People who expect him to behave like a modern politician, and apologise for not shopping his paedophile clergy, are living in dreamland. Pope Benedict's attitude, like that of all senior Catholics, is: Do not defy me, do not disobey me, do not question or judge me, for I am above such concerns. I am the candle coming through the door of the darkened, musty church to bring you enlightenment. Suck it up, believers.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £45,000

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a solutions / s...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £45,000

£18000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

Recruitment Genius: Test Development Engineer

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you inspired to bring new a...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Motor Engineer

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Kennedy campaign for the Lib Dems earlier this year in Bearsden  

Charles Kennedy: A brilliant man whose talents were badly needed

Baroness Williams
Nick Clegg (R) Liberal Democrat Leader and former leader Charles Kennedy MP, joined the general election campaign trail on April 8, 2010  

Charles Kennedy: The only mainstream political leader who spoke sense

Tim Farron
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific