Monday, March 04, 2013

Hypocrite Cardinal? Hypocrite journalists?

The liberal media has got us where it wants us. Anyone foolish enough to defend Cardinal O'Brien up until yesterday has just had the rug pulled from under him by the Cardinal's apology for the 'times that my sexual conduct has fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, archbishop and cardinal' (see the full statement on Rorate Caeli). But even this sudden reversal of the Cardinal's position doesn't make clear what happened, to whom, or when, so it is impossible for anyone to place the matter into a wider context. Maybe the Cardinal made a flirtatious gesture with 'drink taken', as they say up there, thirty years ago, for which he has been wearing a hair-shirt ever since. Maybe he's been having the kind of sexual career which Archbishop Weakland had, and hasn't stopped yet. The two possibilities call for very different responses from Catholic commentators, and yet we have no idea which it is.

The lack of information is not necessarily the Cardinal's fault. He is not at liberty to disclose the secrets of others, people whom he wronged, even if they are not behaving with perfect justice towards him. Damian Thompson's rejection of the apology as too 'vague and guarded' misses the point dramatically. By announcing a withdrawal from the Conclave and from public life the Cardinal is imposing upon himself a penalty and penance commensurate with the most serious possible interpretation of the accusations, given that there has been no suggestion of criminal acts. If he had gone into greater detail, it could easily not only have given greater scandal, but whetted the appetites of the media to identify the accusers and bring every sordid detail to light.

It seems clear enough that O'Brien should never have been made Archbishop or Cardinal. This exposes a problem in the Church, but we should be careful where we assign the blame. There was much talk, at the time, of ferocious opposition to his elevation to Cardinalate by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

On the other hand, there is absolutely no reason to conclude from Cardinal O'Brien's failings that his opposition to same-sex marriage was insincere - as Damian Thompson sneeringly suggests, that it was motivated by a sense of rivalry with the English bishops. ('I know, I'll get one over the English by upholding the Gospel, making myself a national hate-figure' - nice try, Damian). As I have blogged before, being subject to same-sex attraction does not make it impossible genuinely to believe that same-sex marriage is a bad idea. One could multiply examples; as Janet Daley remarked

a straw poll of my gay friends showed about a third strongly in favour of single-sex marriage, the rest being indifferent or positively opposed.

And why not, for heaven's sake?  As for moral lapses, Shakespeare put it best:

...It is a good divine that
follows his own instructions: I can easier teach
twenty what were good to be done, than be one of the
twenty to follow mine own teaching. The brain may
devise laws for the blood, but a hot temper leaps
o'er a cold decree...

Portia (in The Merchant of Venice) is not talking about hypocrisy, but weakness of the will; it is confused with hypocrisy by people who don't believe that we have a will.* Hypocrisy is when your words, or how you present yourself, do not match up with your real beliefs - it is a form of lying. Now what about those journalists who enjoy positions of influence and respect in the Catholic world by presenting themselves as Catholics, who do not, in their hearts, actually believe in the teaching of the Church?

Peter Stanford I've already blogged about. He is quite clear in his writing that he rejects the teaching of the Church; those who think that his blog, or The Tablet where he writes, is representative in any sense of a Catholic view, have only themselves to blame for their mistake.

Damian Thompson is a contrasting case. While he has built a whole on-line persona on being teasingly open about past sins, he is extraordinarily cagey about his actual beliefs. With public figures like Cardinals, you'd expect to know more about their convictions than about their private lives; with DT it is the other way round: he seems to see himself as one of those celebrities loved for his flaws, not a commentator respected for his principles or insight. Here's a classic statement of his:

'The Catholic Church's teachings about homosexuality may (and I think will) evolve – but they will never encompass gay marriage.'

Er, right, glad we got that out in the open.

Frankly I don't give a bean what he really thinks about same-sex marriage, or same-sex sex come to that, but his studied ambiguity tells us something. Maybe his Catholic friends know that he's orthodox, and he doesn't want to alienate his secularist blog followers or employers. Maybe it is the other way around. But in either case, there is a mismatch between the way he presents himself to one half of his audience, and what he actually believes.

There's a name for that. I can't quite put my finger on it, but I think it begins with an H...

*A philosophical footnote: what happens to weakness of the will for those who don't believe in a free will? The weak-willed person has a mismatch between moral beliefs (adultery is wrong) and desire (a desire to commit adultery); the will is the faculty which determines whether we stick to our convictions or give way to temptation. A common way of rejecting this view of agency is to say that all there is, in an agent, is a lot of desires: moral beliefs, if we must talk about them, are just tendencies to act in certain ways, just as desires are. The mismatch between moral beliefs and desires is turned into a simple conflict between different desires, and the agent will act on the strongest one. If an agent commits adultery then it follows that he is being hypocritical (he is lying) when he claims he thinks it is wrong, because clearly the strongest desire in him is to commit adultery,

So please note that (a) abstruse philosophical distinctions can not only have consequences, but can actually bite you on the backside in public debates; and (b) the people saying sinners can't 'really' believe that what they've done is wrong are relying on a theory which is totally implausible when you get it out in the open.



  2. Well done. I am in total agreement. There but for the grace of God go I.

  3. Anonymous6:55 pm

    Thank you again! We really do not hear enough about will these days, and our need to strengthen it.

  4. Hypocrisy abounds in our society (and probably always has although now it is much more apparent) but I cannot but wonder if there is not another level of hypocrisy in the coverage by RC bloggers of Cardinal O'Brien's yet to be defined sexual lapses in that if the public figure under scrutiny was, for example, Rowan Williams or another Anglican prelate, so many bloggers would be milking the news for all it was worth.

    1. Rubricarius,

      You are confusing hypocrisy with bias.

  5. “no reason to conclude from Cardinal O'Brien's failings that his opposition to same-sex marriage was insincere”

    True, after all his “misdemeanours” had only indirect connection with the Catholic doctrine that marriage is the sacramental union between one man and one woman, for life.
    They were, objectively speaking, sinful (although not illegal), as is any sexual act, heterosexual or homosexual, or intent thereof, outside of such a union. The remedy is confession, a firm purpose of amendment and a fresh start.
    This is Catholic teaching and Mr Thomson should realise that this is not going to change!

    On a slightly different topic, there are lurid tales that some 25% of those in seminaries in the 70s were homosexual. Well my sympathies go out to the 75% who were not and to the celibate seminarians of homosexual inclination, all of who seem to have been forgotten in this chaos.

    Rubricarius. My comments would be different for an Anglican prelate – but only insofar as he probably would not accept the sacrament of confession.

  6. Sorry Damian, but having moral failings doesn’t exempt you from speaking out against them, nor does the existence of such moral failings on the part of agents of morality like the Bishop excuse them.

  7. Ummm .... I think the phrase "having drink taken" belongs to the culture of whiskey rather than to that of whisky.

    There is an Anglican ex-diocesan bishop who, having resigned in public disgrace some time ago, is currently under renewed police investigation; but the media seem to have very little interest in him. Moreover, the paedophile scandal in the Anglican diocese of Chichester seemed to occupy very few front-page headlines in the national press. Quite right to. There's very little news in Naughty Vicars.

  8. Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples,
    Saying The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat:
    All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.
    Matthew 23:1-3