Skip to comments.Britain is a pagan society, says Cardinal
Posted on 01/26/2003 9:30:33 PM PST by Coleus
Britain is a pagan society, says Cardinal
In a rare and wide-ranging interview, the Roman Catholic leader tells Jonathan Petre and Daniel Johnson that he believes the Church can survive its crisis
Britain has become a pagan country over the past half century, creating a vacuum in which people will believe in anything and everything, according to Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, who leads the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales.
In unexpectedly robust mood for one who has recently had to weather a fierce storm over the issue of child abuse, the Cardinal said he was anxious to reverse the Church's recent defensiveness by highlighting what he sees as a broader spiritual malaise.
"Christianity as a culture has been gravely diminished in this land," he said. However, the way in which Christian people had to face the new world did not mean the Christian voice has been vanquished.
People were not dismissing religion, God or "the spiritual side of their character", he said.
At our meeting in his elegant study in Archbishop's House, behind Westminster Cathedral in central London, it was clear, however, that the controversy of recent months had taken their toll on the Cardinal.
After months of criticism over clerical child abuse, you must have hoped that there were not going to be more cases emerging in the media. However, two more emerged last week. Isn't this drip-drip effect going to undermine you? And is there more to come out?
There isn't. There were allegations that I had been covering up. That is totally untrue. Every allegation that came to me in Arundel and Brighton I dealt with competently and authoritatively and with a view to the protection of children. This last case [involving Fr Tim Garrett] wasn't a cover up.
The Catholic Church has been on a learning curve in the way it deals with child abuse. I think that the Church will before very long be a model for child protection procedures.
Referring to the case of Fr Garrett, would you have done things differently now, with the Nolan guidelines? Maybe you wouldn't have accepted him into your diocese or given him parish work?
I think in the light of Nolan I wouldn't have accepted him today. I do think, however, that the decision that I took to accept the priest at the request of the bishop after the professional assessment was not unjustified. In fact since that time there has never been any complaint about that priest.
Some people might say that was more by luck than judgment.
I was absolutely sure when I took him that there wouldn't be any danger to children from that priest, and there hasn't been.
Isn't there a problem about priests who have been investigated but not convicted but where there are still grounds for concern? Why should lay people and indeed clergy trust the bishops in these cases? Isn't there a problem that because of the scandal over the last few years that that trust has been undermined, and there has to be something more objective than trust in one person's judgment?
The bishop now isn't relying just on his judgment. He has a child protection team. If there have been cases which haven't come to court or some allegation made in the past, it is the duty not just of the bishop but of those involved in child protection to make sure that that priest undergoes, for example, a risk assessment.
So even if it happened years ago this would happen. The recommendations of Nolan, particularly with regard to what was called historic cases, are now being fully implemented in every diocese. So people can have very great confidence in the judgment of the bishop with the assistance of those in his diocese who work with him that his judgments will be secure.
If there are any doubts about that, we have now this national body whose job it is to make sure that in every diocese these recommendations are being implemented.
For those priests about whom there is concern but no conviction, is there any position in reality in which they can work. If they remain a priest they can persuade people they can be trusted.
If there is any doubt at all there will be a risk assessment to assess whether that priest is in any way a danger to children. If he is, then he won't be in a position where he can have contact with children.
It is still going to be a matter of judgment, and there may be cases where judgments are going to be wrong.
Judgments are always fallible, but, as a result of Nolan, of where the bishops are now, the judgment will come down on the paramountcy principle, the safety of children. That will sometimes make it very difficult for the bishops and some individual priests.
Shouldn't priests always be automatically laicised if they are convicted of these offences?
There are clear guidelines now. If there's a conviction in a child abuse case, there is immediate suspension, it is very likely that he will be laicised. If there are serious offences, then there's no doubt about it.
It's not automatic at the moment, even under Nolan, is it?
It's not automatic.
Should it be?
I think a judgment quickly should be taken in every case.
Would you expect a moral obligation on any bishop in the future, if they are found to have failed to uphold the Nolan guidelines or if they are found in the past to have covered up cases, to offer their resignations?
With regard to the past, bishops in my view have not covered up in this country. I cannot think of any bishop who has deliberately covered up cases and therefore I cannot think of a case where a bishop should have resigned.
What would your position be? If one of your bishops was found to be failing in his obligations, will you, as the architect of Nolan, feel your position under threat, as national leader?
I think my position is the Archbishop of Westminster. I'm concerned with my diocese. Every bishop is concerned with his diocese. A bishop is not beholden to me. But as president of the conference, if I found that the bishop was ignoring the guidelines, I would bring the matter up before the whole of the bishops.
It is very clear that every bishop is appointed by the Pope, not by me, and therefore a bishop's responsibility is given to him by the Pope and to the Pope he is responsible.
So in your diocese you would take responsibility, and if there was a serious breach you would take responsibility as you would expect other bishops to do?
I am responsible in my diocese for what I do and if I fail seriously in implementing Nolan then I must face up to that and take the consequences. But I won't. I am absolutely confident that is not going to happen.
Hasn't there been a deep seated culture of denial in the Church, and how are you going to demonstrate that it has been swept away?
There was a curve in understanding of firstly the addictive nature of paedophilia, secondly the great damage that is done to children and people say we should have known all this 20 years ago but I don't know.
Personally, and its true to say that not only among bishops but in wider society, this was not known. Therefore the way a number of the bishops acted were ways in which they wouldn't act now because they don't have the knowledge they have now.
There is a sense in which every bishop is a brother to his priests and understands forgiveness, that a person needs another chance. Now we know about the addictive nature of this terrible thing, this evil, which is child abuse.
What is your reaction to the story that you, via Bishop Howard Tripp, offered Hill £50,000 for his silence?
I thought that was preposterous and absurd and a prefabricated story which I utterly deny, as has Bishop Tripp.
I have had no contact with Hill since he has been in prison or since the trial whatsoever. Therefore I totally deny that story and I've made a very serious complaint to the Press Complaints Commission.
Do you regret that you didn't report the Hill case to the authorities in 1994, when the bishops first brought in child protection guidelines? You couldn't say that you were ignorant about abuse then.
I had no knowledge in 1994 of any particular crime that Hill had committed, so I didn't do it. Again, we were on a learning curve. The Hill case is past. I've admitted making a serious mistake in appointing him to Gatwick. I have said that I never moved a priest from place to place knowing he was a paedophile.
Even the move to Gatwick was one thinking, mistakenly, that this man would not offend again and was away from children. That's past. I apologised for a serious mistake.
I think in a way I have learnt on this rather painful curve, but I have also learnt well, and it has made me utterly determined with my fellow bishops that not only it will never happen again, but that the Catholic Church will be able to hold its head high in this whole area of child protection.
With Canon Law it is not easy to enforce discipline against priests. What will the procedures be?
The Nolan recommendations make provision for this. They are doubly careful now. If there is a written contract with a priest you rely on him to keep it. If he doesn't keep it he is called to account.
There are problems with the monitoring, aren't there? Those who are keeping an eye on these priests may be their friends, and turn a blind eye. There might be an old boys' network.
The Nolan proposals are being implemented. There is no doubt that now bishops are to be extra careful. If there is need for any monitoring or care I'm quite certain that every bishop now will make sure that if there is a contract it will be observed.
Bishops might be thought to hide behind the Nolan regulations now. They might say they have followed it by the letter but people might say that they haven't followed by the spirit because they haven't devoted sufficient energy to it?
You can make any case really, but I think that bishops will make every effort now to follow Nolan not only in the letter but also in the spirit. Bishops after all have an intense concern for the protection of children. They don't want the shame and the scandal and the evil. Even if one priest commits child abuse it's a terrible thing.
How has the whole scandal undermined or overshadowed your ministry as Archbishop and your ability to put across the message you want to put across?
It has been very painful, but in a strange way it has strengthened me in my resolve, not only with dealing with child protection with my fellow bishops, but also in my resolve to do what I must do as Archbishop of Westminster. I have a vision of what I want to do as Archbishop, what I want with my own people in the diocese in terms of a renewal of faith but also in the sort of things I want to say to the people of this country.
I am a religious leader and in a strange way the people of England and Wales need to hear religious leaders and I am determined that in any way that is open to me that they will listen to me.
. . . our society has got very mixed up, it thinks it is a sort of freedom to be, free of restraint, freedom to chose exactly what I want. Whereas freedom is freedom for the purpose of living for what is true. One of my tasks is to speak about what is true.
How badly damaged has the Church been by the scandals about child abuse in America, Ireland, Australia, here and elsewhere?
There is no doubt that it has damaged the institution of the Church. I would be foolish to deny it. On the other hand the Church is about death and resurrection. It has nothing to fear from the truth.
When it faces what is true, whether it is about child abuse or anything else, and it confronts it and repents and says this will not happen again, the Church will I think emerge with greater credibility.
How do you give the crisis a spiritual dimension? For Catholics, isn't it a time of anguish, testing their faith? How do you explain God's purpose?
The Church is made up of saints and sinners. When the Church acknowledges sin and repents of sin, takes the means to avoid sin, then that conversion to God, to Christ, which is at the heart of the Church's message, brings comfort and healing and strength . . . And I am convinced that out of this great crisis and scandal, the Catholic Church will emerge stronger, more a listening church and a church that reaches out to people, particularly those who are victims.
How have you, personally, got through this period?
It has been a very painful time for me. I have been 25 years a bishop, and it has been God's providence that it has fallen to me to deal with this scandal. As soon as I got to Westminster I realised, and that is why I set up the Nolan committee. Yes, it has tested me as a man, particularly the last couple of months. We go through difficult times and joyful times.
How I face the sadness and trial of being a bishop is between me, God and my people. If God has allowed this to happen to me, then there is a purpose behind it all, if I undertake it in the right way, if I don't let it undermine me, but make me more determined to carry out my task.
Have you ever thought of resigning or regretted taking up the post?
I can honestly say I've never thought of giving up and I've never regretted accepting being Archbishop of Westminster. I was asked to come here by Pope John Paul and I've had no indication from Catholic priests or people that they want me to go.
Has the Pope offered you any support?
We're talking about only a few months during which this campaign or onslaught has been going. I haven't been in personal touch with the Pope [during that time] but he did write me a letter a couple of weeks ago, on the occasion of my 25th anniversary [as a bishop], assuring me of his commendation of what I had done in general terms.
What do you think of Rowan Williams, the new Archbishop of Canterbury?
I welcome the new Archbishop-elect, I'm glad about his appointment. I think he is a spiritual man and a very gifted man. I think he wants to confront society with the message of the Gospel, and therefore I look forward to working closely with him.
Has this become a pagan country?
In the last 50 years it has become, from a Christian point of view, very pagan. Children are really not taught religion in most schools. And yet, even though it is a pagan country, people don't dismiss religion, don't dismiss God, don't dismiss the spiritual side of their character. Therefore the opportunity to evangelise, to speak about the good news of Jesus Christ, there is an audience out there ready to listen. If people don't believe in anything, they will believe in everything.
Can the cardinal shake off his tormentors?
Whatever he does, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor seems unable to shake off the suspicion that he is guilty of covering up a series of clerical child abuse scandals in his former diocese.
At a hastily called press briefing on Monday, he sought to bury suggestions that he had closed ranks to protect erring priests when he was bishop of Arundel and Brighton in the 1980s and 1990s.
Appearing flustered, the cardinal faced a series of hostile questions from some of his most persistent persecutors in the media. He insisted that an independent review of 10 "historic" cases in the diocese had found no significant continuing concerns.
But his protestations that, apart from the Michael Hill case and one or two minor lapses, he had acted by the book are unlikely to prove sufficient to stem the attacks.
"We are investigating stuff that could prove 10 times worse for him," whispered one television reporter conspiratorially after the briefing. Another commented: "He has painted himself into an even tighter corner. If anything comes out now, he really will be on the skids."
How has the most senior Catholic prelate in England and Wales found himself in such a parlous position? And does he deserve the level of opprobrium directed at him by sections of the media and campaigners on child abuse?
When he was appointed to succeed Cardinal Basil Hume as Archbishop of Westminster in the spring of 2000, he must have had little idea that a grave error of judgment he made in the early 1980s would come back to haunt him.
However, within a few months of his arrival at Westminster, the case of Hill had been resurrected by the media, and his dark night of the soul had begun.
There is no doubt that, in this instance, the cardinal, while bishop of Arundel and Brighton, acted extremely naively. In 1980, a couple had a meeting with him at which they complained that Fr Hill, their parish priest in Godalming, Surrey, had groped their 13-year-old twin sons.
Aides to the cardinal later disputed this account of the conversation, saying that the couple had merely expressed concern about the "interest" being shown by Fr Hill towards the boys.
Nevertheless, Hill was referred for an assessment at the Dympia Centre in London, which apparently judged him fit for parish work. He was transferred to a parish in Heathfield, East Sussex, where he repeated his behaviour, abusing two altar boys, aged nine and 10, when he was reading them bedtime stories about Jesus.
In 1982, the parents of these two complained, the priest had his licence suspended and he was sent to the Servants of Paraclete at Our Lady of Victory, a therapy centre in Stroud, Glos, dubbed the Church's "theological boot camp."
Doctors who treated Fr Hill wrote to the bishop warning him that the priest was still a "high risk" to children. One doctor said Fr Hill was suffering from a "psychosexual disorder" and had acknowledged "numerous episodes of sexual behavior with young people over the past few years".
Despite all this, Bishop Murphy-O'Connor failed to report the case to the police. To compound the error, in 1985 he gave Fr Hill a job as the industrial chaplain at Gatwick Airport, where the priest abused several other children.
Although child protection guidelines were introduced by the Church in 1994, the previous concerns over Hill were not reported to the police. In 1997, he was jailed for five years for indecent assault on nine children and gross indecency over a 19-year period.
The cardinal apologised profusely for his mistakes, but argued in mitigation that as soon as he had strong suspicions about the priest, he had sent him to a specialist clinic. He said doctors there had not ruled out an industrial chaplaincy for Hill, where he would not come into contact with children.
Moreover, the cardinal has argued, with some force, that little was understood then about the compulsive nature of paedophilia, either by the Church or other authorities, including the police or the judiciary.
Child abuse campaigners, a number of whom are themselves victims, called for his head. Many felt that his actions, though not necessarily sinister, betrayed an instinct to close ranks.
Within a few months, however, the cardinal neutralised media criticism by commissioning the former judge Lord Nolan to come up with a comprehensive report on child protection, building on the weaker 1994 guidelines.
This was a radical step: for the first time there was to be a central body monitoring child protection that could intervene in the traditionally autonomous dioceses.
Nevertheless, the cardinal's past came back to haunt him once more. On Nov 19, Hill was back in court to plead guilty to six other offences to which he had admitted, and he was jailed for a further term.
The following day, the BBC's Today programme, which had been carrying out an investigation into Arundel and Brighton, alleged that there were a series of other cases in which the then bishop had failed to act appropriately.
Although many of their claims were made by unnamed victims or in anonymous letters, the item started a fresh flurry of media attacks on the cardinal, from which he is reeling.
In attempting to respond, the cardinal's office has been floundering. First the cardinal attacked sections of the media, then he switched his message, saying the media were not to blame. Then he reluctantly bowed to pressure to give a televised interview on Newsnight. At Monday night's press briefing, all cameras were banned.
But what do the new allegations add up to? There is much smoke and little fire. Apart from the Hill case, the cardinal appears to have reported all allegations against his priests of child abuse to the police or appropriate authority. None came to court.
The child protection guidelines appear to have been followed, although it has emerged that one priest, Fr Christopher Maxwell-Stewart, who allegedly abused a nine-year-old girl, has failed to honour an agreement with the diocese not to conduct regular parish services.
The files have been inspected by a solicitor in Leeds, who has declared himself satisfied that they have been satisfactorily dealt with. At Monday's briefing, the cardinal made a robust defence of himself, saying he had acted properly throughout.
Sussex police, who have been examining complaints that the cardinal perverted the course of justice by persuading the parents of alleged victims not to go to the police, have not asked to interview him.
Nevertheless, by refusing to disclose further details about these historic cases on the grounds of confidentiality he has failed to dispel the suspicion that there are more revelations to come. However unfair some of the stories have been, there is widespread cynicism about the Catholic Church's perceived culture of secrecy that many are prepared to believe the worst.
Public scepticism has been fuelled by the far bigger clerical child abuse scandals in America and Ireland. Sections of the media meanwhile have a big target to aim at, and a story which they can portray as a moral cause.
There are also genuine worries. The disclosures about Fr Maxwell-Stewart raise fears about how the new guidelines are going to be effectively policed especially in the most difficult cases where a priest escapes conviction but remains under suspicion.
In contrast to other bishops, the cardinal has sometimes appeared to reflect the old school, instinctively closing ranks to protect the good name of the Church rather than displaying the sort of openness that his own Nolan Report encourages.
The cardinal has been operating on the traditional principles of justice; that a priest is innocent until proven guilty.
Unfortunately, in these febrile times, suspected child abusers are often regarded by the public as guilty until proven innocent and the cardinal, as the perceived protector of his clergy, is seen in the same light.
His efforts to demonstrate his innocence, a notoriously difficult task, have so far been bungled. If there are no more skeletons in his closet, however, he can still win the public relations battle.
As long as it doesn't become a Muslim one we're all happy.
... or fascist
all other forms of power-isms.
In what way?
You bet, TrounceLiberalLunacy. Huge segments of the Church have embraced (and even encouraged) homosexual behavior. Many of the seminaries are half homosexual brothel. Whole orders (like the Jesuits) are highly homosexual, and homosexual activity is commonplace. As long as this condition exists, parents will NEVER trust priests to be around their sons, and they shouldn't. The Church is just so, so weak. They should dequeerize the Church, and bring back normal men to be priests. But it is hard to move, given society's embrace of homosexuality, and the fact that a huge percentage of the priesthood (especially in the west) is homosexual and wants homosexuality to be condoned by the Church.
The fact is, a great, great many Catholics now believe, correctly, that segments of their Church are dens of sodomy. They have greatly devalued the priesthood, and the Church as well.
The same can be said of civilization, and civilized behavior.
It always amuses me to hear a Cardinal under the most Marian pope ever to call anyone pagan.
Are you sure he's saying that's a bad thing? Maybe calling Britain a pagan society is his way of saying, "any further work there is unnecessary."
I guess I'll have to read the article to be sure.
The mother of Jesus was, and is, no pagan. You dishonor your savior by saying as much.
I didn't say the mother of Jesus is a pagan. But the mother of your Jesus is different from the mother of my Jesus if you believe RC doctrine. Therefore your Jesus is not the same as mine. I'm comforted that my Jesus is the one from the bible.
This is funny too but you left out bigot. If you were a Mormon calling me hateful and ignorant I'd lose just as much sleep BTW. Why not shock me to death and show me that I'm wrong in saying that your Mary is not based on the bible. Show me how all of her RC attributes are expressly in the bible or show me how the bible says they don't have to be expressly in the bible to be true. Or just show me how the bible doesn't matter which is really what seems to be the case.
On what grounds do you believe in the Bible? Because it makes you feel good?
Do you even know how the Bible made its way into your hands?
On what authority do you decide what is Biblical and what is not? Are you a prophet or an apostle?
No reasonable grounds whats so ever. The exact grounds that I believe in Jesus.
Do you even know how the Bible made its way into your hands?
Yawn. Not the ole "We gave you the bible argument". In other words we gave it to you so don't go telling us to believe it.
On what authority do you decide what is Biblical and what is not? Are you a prophet or an apostle?
Wake me up when you want to open the pages.
Now we're getting somewhere. Why do you believe?
Um. Because in Honduras many years ago I asked a Christian what I have to do to go to heaven and he said believe in Jesus Christ. I walked away and believed.
That's descriptive, but not explanatory.
What convinced you? His manner? His conviction?
What convinced you? His manner? His conviction?
That's the mystery. He said very very little and he didn't say it particularly well, and I didn't like him. I was an athiest. I might as well have been Paul on the way to persecute Christians when suddenly a voice spoke to me. "No man can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him" John 6:44
Were you raised as a Christian, or were your parents atheists?
I answered this and the post didn't take?
My parents are flaming liberals and we only went to church a couple of times in my 18 years with them. It was a Methodist church, which I also don't think of as Christian. So I guess my parents remain a mystery to me.
I was unsure whether your parents were open atheists or simply irreligious - or if they had raised you as a Christian and you had never really been convinced, had fallen away, and then you experienced this authentic conversion.
So, getting back to the discussion - you took this man in Honduras at his word and experienced conversion to Christ.
How was Scripture involved? Did the man witness to you out of the Scriptures - showing you proofs of his teaching from them? What convinced you that Scripture was true and exclusive?
I discovered much later that our very brief conversation was almost exactly Acts 16:31 but he didn't give the reference, he just gave a very simple biblical answer to a simple question. The supernatural parts were where the Lord caused me to care enough to ask the question, then He allows the testimony from one man to another, then I believed as I was predestined to do.
I don't get the question. What do you mean by fulfulling responsibilities as a Christian?
I will say that as a new born Christian I didn't grow much at all in my first year or 2. I didn't start to grow until I got into fellowship, read the bible, and got discipled.