Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary
Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary

all these ridiculous distinctions

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Dec 31, 2009

Fr. Timothy Radcliffe, O.P., recently addressed a gathering of Dublin priests and shared some husky confidences on how the scandal of the clergy sex abuse crisis affected Fr. Timothy Radcliffe, O.P. Truth to tell, it nearly spoiled his entire weekend:

Former Master General of the Dominican Order and author, Fr Timothy Radcliffe, told a two-day gathering of Dublin priests that “I’m convinced this whole sexual abuse crisis is deeply linked with power and the way power operates in the Church at all levels, from the Vatican to the parish sacristan. Often, it is not the power of Jesus who is gentle and humble of heart.”


Calling the current crisis “'terrible”, he said it was “much more than a crisis about sexual abuse; it is a crisis of a clerical culture, [a culture] which lifts us [the clergy] up in our high towers, a whole understanding of priesthood so often in terms of power.”

But that’s at best only half an answer. Power, even autocratic power, can also be used to solve problems and uproot corruption. Besides, what needs to be accounted for is not a culture of power but the staggering moral cowardice of those in authority, their failure to take quite ordinary unheroic action in the face of wickedness.

Fr Radcliffe said: “Most priests are holy, humble, unpretentious people but this is often in the face of a clerical culture, fighting against a clerical culture which values high titles and positions -- your Eminence, all these ridiculous distinctions, right reverend, very reverend ... this crisis may be the beginning of a profound renewal of the Church.”

But he warned: “It is potentially a time of enormous renewal for the Church. It challenges our perception of power, often with remoteness from the people, morality in terms of control. Painfully, the Lord is demolishing our high towers, our lofty walls, our pretensions to glory and grandeur.”

Methinks Father Timothy doth exaggerate the force of “morality in terms of control.” As a clergyman who claims to find a Christ-figure in Billy Elliot, however, the controls in question may chafe more than is common.

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