Sunday 24 October 2010

Clerical Abuse

I have been away in Rome over the past week and only on returning have I been reading about Fr Michael Clifton deciding to close down his blog, "Fr Mildew" after threats from Mgr Basil Loftus, (not so much the Spirit of Vatican II as The Ghost of Councils Past), to sue him. I'm sure that the threat would never stand up but all the unpleasantness and bullying might well make someone decide not to bother.

I don't know Fr Clifton, except by reputation as a "retired Catholic priest in the traditional mould" and from what others have said about him as a kind and warm priest. I have met but, thankfully, don't know Mgr Basil Loftus either, except by reputation and from his writings (I long ago cancelled the newspaper for which he writes - mainly because of what he wrote - much of which I personally would find it difficult to reconcile with being a non-heretical Catholic). Mgr Loftus is infamous throughout Yorkshire for wreckovating every church he could reach - "I enjoyed the challenge of bringing the reforms of the Vatican Council to small country parishes" - and litigious threats. He has threatened legal proceedings against his own parishioners in various of the parishes in which he has 'served', including a few acquaintances of mine. As is usual with such people, although easily wounded by what others say about him he can be forceful in his criticism of others.

Just recently (9th Oct. 2010) in a letter to "the Pill that is bitter but of little use" he accused the head of the Pontifical Academy for Life, Archbishop Ignacio Carrasco de Paula, of 'crassness and insensitivity' for daring to uphold Church teaching on In Vitro fertilization. He writes in a letter headed "Sour response to joy":

Shortly before he became Pope John Paul I, in 1978, Cardinal Albino Luciani, then Patriarch of Venice, was asked about the morality of the in vitro fertilisation which had led to the birth of the first “test-tube baby”,Louise Brown, in this country. He replied that he had no idea, but he shared the joy of the parents. Now, 32 years later, as one of the two scientists who made that birth possible, Dr Robert Edwards, is awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine for his pioneering achievement, the head of the Pontifical Academy for Life, Ignacio Carrasco de Paula, describes the award as “completely out of order”. Are we to conclude that the “joys and the hopes” of the parents of the four million children who have been born since then as the direct result of Dr Edwards’ pioneering efforts are no longer “the joys and the hopes … of the followers of Christ”, in the words of Gaudium et Spes?

I thought that the Church's teaching on In Vitro Fertilization was clear. He seems to take issue with it. What does one call taking issue with the teaching of the Church? I think it begins with an "H". (Hint: The Angelic Doctor decribed it as:"a species of infidelity in men who, having professed the faith of Christ, corrupt its dogmas").

For further horror he has also written that an unborn foetus might be described as "an unjust aggressor" in the context of the Sister Margaret McBride case. He writes:

I wonder, however, if one further consideration could be explored. Has sufficient thought been given to the possible role of the foetus as an unjust aggressor? The existence of a negative reply from a Roman dicastery is not proof that it has. Is a victim allowed to take the life of an aggressor in order to save his or her own life, even if the aggressor had not formed, or had been unable to form, an aggressive intent? If so, would not a foetus whose objective aggression was threatening the mother's life, be in the same moral/legal position as an unwitting aggressor , or an aggressive child or mentally defective adult?

Renaming the foetus as an unjust aggressor to enable the child to be aborted is the inference. Re-classifying human beings as something else not quite fully human has long been the way to violate their rights, from slavery to the Nazis.

Mgr Loftus reminds me of something that I have often encountered - clerical bullying in the Church. It is the unspoken clerical abuse, that of clerics by other clerics - usually in positions of authority. I remember being told by a highly respected priest of the bullying he suffered in the seminary by other seminarians - two of whom are now bishops! He still spoke most emotionally about it even after so many years.

If your face doesn't fit, all kinds of ways can be found by those inclined to use their authority in a diocese or Order to get away with great unkindness and thwart any recourse someone might have - unless you are prepared to go all the way in a long and difficult battle to confront it. Not something everyone feels up to doing.

It is something I have experienced in the past and indeed am experiencing at the present moment in relation to something that should be quite usual processes as a parish priest but for me there seems to be a quite different set of rules rather than those laid down by the diocese in black and white, which I quote to no avail. Do I want a long battle? Would I get support from my bishop? Would it make life easier simply not to bother?

Well anyway, Fr Michael Clifton has my prayers. In the meantime, I await the protocols that will be put into force to prevent clerical bullying abuse. I know that canon law is meant to do that but that is the long battle that many can't face. Interesting that the Holy father in his letter to Seminarians says:

"you should also learn to understand and – dare I say it – to love canon law, appreciating how necessary it is and valuing its practical applications."

I find that whenever I mention any rule of the Church, Canon Law, liturgical directions ,etc, I am accused of being a legalist, of not being "pastoral". And thus the bullying continues!

Regarding Loftus, perhaps we can be safe in using the Monsignor's own words - presumably he won't threaten to sue as they are words he has used in describing others:
His scratchings are "execrable and appalling" and certainly "tawdry" (words he used in relation to Fr Michael Seed); and his behaviour to Fr Clifton was "crass and insensitive" (his words in relation to Archbishop Carrasco de Paula).

Mgr Loftus seems to be the re-incarnation of Mr. Frankland, of Lafter Hall, from Conan Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles: "He is an elderly man, red-faced, white-haired, and choleric. His passion is for the British law, and he has spent a large fortune in litigation. He fights for the mere pleasure of fighting and is ... said to have about seven lawsuits upon his hands at present, which will probably swallow up the remainder of his fortune and so draw his sting and leave him harmless for the future. ... there are rumours that he intends to prosecute Dr. Mortimer for opening a grave without the consent of the next of kin because he dug up the neolithic skull in the barrow on Long Down. He helps to keep our lives from being monotonous and gives a little comic relief where it is badly needed. "

Miles Malleson as Frankland in Hammer's 1959 film

Mgr Loftus doesn't seem to realise that the great liberal experiment is ending. It seems appropriate to note that he was made a monsignor in 1968, just after the so-called Summer of Love. He seems to still be living in the Age of Aquarius. It is sad to see someone so wedded to a past age! However, the Age of Aquarius is over, the hippies are all teetering around with bad backs, while Pope Benedict joyfully proclaims: “the Church is alive, and, yes, the Church is young.”