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

Tales of the City

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

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

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Mosul falls: Talk of Iraq retaking the town, held by IS since June, is unconvincing  

Isis on the run? The US portrayal is very far from the truth

Patrick Cockburn
John Rentoul met Ed Miliband aged 23, remarking he was “bright, and put up a good fight for the utilities tax, but I was unconvinced.”  

General Election 2015: Win or lose, Ed Miliband is not ready to govern

John Rentoul
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk