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nil nisi verum

By Diogenes (articles ) | Jan 06, 2010

Glasgow priest Fr. Gerry Nugent died earlier this week. Nugent became notorious in 2006 when the body of a 23-year-old woman, murdered by a handyman, was discovered in his church. This from yesterday's UK Daily Record:

During the trial, [Fr. Nugent] claimed to have had a sexual relationship with Angelika Kluk, a languages student who was working in Scotland and lived at the church's chapel house. …

The self-confessed alcoholic was also found guilty of contempt of court because he did not give straight answers in the witness box during the trial. Fr Nugent, who gave evidence over four days, changed his story during three separate phases of evidence.

He was sentenced to 100 hours' community service and placed on probation for one year by judge Lord Menzies.

Nugent brought his priestly life to a sorrowful and shameful termination, failing in chastity when the heat was off, and, when the heat was on, lacking even the schoolboy courage to tell the truth about his failures when directly asked about them. His fellow Christians can hope that in his last months he repented and had begun to make reparation. For Nugent's bishop, apparently, the penitential note is the wrong one on which to end:

Archbishop Conti acknowledged today that Fr Nugent's ministry will always be connected to events surrounding Angelika's death but he praised the work carried out by the priest over his many years in the priesthood.

In a statement, he said today: "I am shocked and saddened to hear of the sudden death of Fr Nugent. He wrote to me just before Christmas to let me know he was finding contentment [!] in his retirement.

"Though his ministry will be forever linked to the terrible events surrounding the death of Angelika Kluk and his own shortcomings which were laid bare at the time, it would be impossible to ignore the enormous compassion and pastoral care which marked his priesthood.

"Perhaps his own vulnerability made him particularly attentive to the most vulnerable in our society: the homeless, those beset with addictions and the rejected.

"He was a kind and welcoming pastor for four decades in Glasgow and his loss will be mourned by many within and far beyond the Catholic community."

Aw, knock it off, your Grace. Precious blather of this kind is an offense to truth and encourages the self-serving mendacity by which Nugent perjured himself. You are under no obligation to speak at all on Nugent's death. If you do break silence, you do no one a service by minimalizing the damage done by Nugent's free choices; rather, your avoidance of disagreeable facts increases the suspicion that bishops are unable to acknowledge the vices of their fellow clergy as vices, and are more willing to ignore the consequent harm to the faithful than to admit failure.

Most Catholics, Archbishop, are tougher than you think. They can face the hard facts of life. They will be more dismayed by ecclesiastical attempts to varnish over Nugent's flaws than by those flaws themselves. They join you in the hope that Nugent's solicitude to the poor was well-motivated and that God will reckon it to him as righteousness. But to suggest that Nugent's moral vulnerability made him a better priest is rubbish.

First off, one way a priest shows compassion towards his fellow human beings is by refraining from committing mortal sins with them.  Those sins endanger their salvation as well as his own. If Angelika Kluk was sexually intimate with her pastor, is it likely that her Catholic faith was strengthened thereby? Was she more likely to have been in the state of grace at the time of her murder? Is your episcopal insouciance in the matter of her spiritual destiny meant to encourage us to greater piety and trust?

Second, if Nugent were truly compassionate toward the vulnerable, his compassion would have made him honest about himself and his failures. What does his lying under oath do except reinforce the notion that shame is stronger than truth and some sins deserve to stay hidden? If this is love, where is its boldness? What we're invited to embrace instead of compassion is its sentimentalist counterfeit: viz., sexual sins aren't serious for those who are generous toward the poor. Let's remember too that Nugent was no obscure barefoot saint padding quietly among the destitute on their cots but was moderately famous in Glasgow for his dissident opinions and progressive liturgies.

Third, many Catholic recusants suffered martyrdom for "contempt of court" because they refused to betray their comrades and protectors to their prosecutors while on trial. Nugent's contempt of court, by contrast, proceeded from simple moral cowardice. As archbishop, you might have touched on the connection between the truthfulness of your clergy and the trust of the faithful. That connection was damaged, and your timid evasiveness makes the situation worse yet.

Finally, your cooings about Nugent's vulnerability imply that his sexual couplings were slips, that in his weakness he was over-mastered by the temptations of the moment. Perhaps this was the case. But what if it wasn't? What if Nugent was not the seduced but the seducer; what if he gratified his sexual urges by exploiting the vulnerability of those often-defenseless persons to which his ministry gave him access? It is not unknown that a priest widely celebrated for "outreach to the marginalized" turns out in reality to be a predator. Are you positive Nugent doesn’t belong to this category? Do you have any information at all on the question except from Nugent himself? Do you not see a problem with Nugent's testimony on the matter?

****

In sum: Christian piety entails no need to dance on Nugent's grave. A decorous silence on the part of Archbishop Conti would have sufficed. Half-truths, however, do not console the hurting.

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Show 4 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: happycatholicmom8648 - Jan. 11, 2010 4:18 PM ET USA

    It's not about good deeds and bad deeds "balancing," as if you had to work to get enough credits to get into heaven. Your bad deeds could outweigh your good almost entirely but if you sincerely repent before you die, "Welcome to Purgatory." And you could be almost as saintly as Bl. Teresa of Calcutta but sin just once mortally and unrepentantly at the end of your life and, well, you know where that gets you.

  • Posted by: GabrielAustin9013 - Jan. 09, 2010 12:18 PM ET USA

    There is much truth in nil nisi bonum. None of us have any way of knowing the soul of Fr. Nugent. Perhaps his good deeds balanced his bad - wheat and tares as Our Lord reminded us. And as Harold Macmillan said at the time of the Profumo scandal "Thank God it was with a woman". The bishop does come across as mealy-mouthed. But then so do most of our bishops these sad days. But then I suppose it has been thus throughout the history of the Church. Consider the number of Arian bishops.

  • Posted by: Pseudodionysius - Jan. 07, 2010 8:12 AM ET USA

    I'm confused. I thought it was "all about the children!". Who let the poor in?

  • Posted by: Gil125 - Jan. 06, 2010 3:13 PM ET USA

    But his Grace is doing nothing more nor less than almost all of the rest of the episcopacy in regard to the wider sex scandal of which Fr. Nugent was only one part. As you (and I, in my small sphere) have observed so often, the sins of the priests aren't as damaging to the Body of Christ as those of the bishops in dealing with them in just this way. And the bishops, save for those in Ireland who have done the right thing in the past couple of weeks, continue having their rings kissed.

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