alas poor gerry

By Diogenes (articles ) | May 13, 2007

Remember Gerry Nugent, the trendy priest from Glasgow who gained celebrity through his relevant liturgies, his hook-ups with hookers, and the dead gal under his church floor? Wasn't his fault. It was mandatory celibacy and insufficient pay. Don't take my word for it: some clever chap in the UK Guardian says it right there in print.

Nugent admitted having sex with Kluk, the Polish student who was killed in September and whose body was found in an annexe under the confessional. In court, he said this had happened three or four times [note from Uncle Di: he means the transgressing of ministerial boundaries with Kluk happened three or four times, not the deposit of corpses under the confessional] and that he 'felt shame': 'I was disgusted at myself.' Since then, he has admitted to sleeping with prostitutes. The trial ended in the conviction of Peter Tobin, a 60-year-old handyman. Usually, such events reflect the banal awfulness of society, but this one reached for the other end of life in all its weird horror.

Now don't pretend you've never been guilty of the same lapse. All of us tend to brush the handyman's mishaps under the confessional carpet -- it's a sacrament of reconciliation, after all -- and as for liaisons with ladies of uncertain virtue, if Gerry actually got to sleep during the encounters as our author suggests, his attention span must have been remarkably short (I wonder if they leave the meter running; that would explain the budget problems mentioned below).

Banned by his vows from marrying, Fr Nugent lived alone in apparent penury.

Dry the starting tear. If I marry Brenda, I'm banned by my vows from marrying Janet. And Emily. And Rachel. And Stephanie ...

Nugent was self-employed. His job was to care for people in a tough area, to advise them on the misery of their own lives. Thanks to his vow of celibacy, he was meant to rely on the ecstasy of Christ for his support. He was employed in a lonely role, working an area full of prostitutes and businessmen. In this, he is hardly unique. It's difficult not to stand in awe at the commitment of those who are prepared to become parish priests in the Catholic church, the ones who can stay true to Jesus's teaching for such a pittance.

It's not the care he gave that's the problem, mate, but the care he received. Nor does Gerry's loneliness explain why he was found guilty of contempt of court for contradicting himself under oath during his handyman's murder trial. Yet my favorite paragraph in the article -- in fact the best thing I've ever read in the Guardian -- is the thundering peroration that follows.

It is different if you become a power in the church. Then you can end up in Rome, working in exquisite surroundings. Not only that, but if you are a member of the Jesuits, you'll be surrounded by intellectuals with whom you can while away your days bathed in divine light.

Ah yes. Well, your Uncle Di can only dream of the exquisiteness of those exquisite surroundings -- not that he'd want to bathe in anything in particular while surrounded by intellectuals, mind you. And yet surely, in spite of the slighting way our author speaks of life in Scotland, it can't be the case that the higher thought is wholly blockaded from greater metropolitan Glasgow. Could some kind person, please, send a copy of the Guardian to Father Gerry's parish? I feel sure he'll find it consoling.

Reuters photo.

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  • Posted by: - May. 14, 2007 2:57 PM ET USA

    Nor was I, Lisieux, making a comparison between religious in mission territories and any clergy in city centres. My intention is to compare like with like.

  • Posted by: - May. 14, 2007 1:05 PM ET USA

    Sagart: I think that the Jesuits working in Mugabe's Zimbabwe, or in the poverty of Guyana, or with AIDS patient in South Africa, would not necessarily agree that a Glasgow priest had it so much more difficult - different temptations and different dangers, certainly. I belong to a Jesuit parish in England, and Jesuits working in these places (run by the British province) have spoken in our church. I'm not supporting their often liberal theology, but I admire their courage and dedication.

  • Posted by: - May. 14, 2007 9:41 AM ET USA

    Wasn't there, once upon a time, an elderly pope in our collective past who had occasion to supress the Jesuit order? I'm thinking Benedict XIV. Even if the circumstances were murky, I enjoyed this bit from the Catholic Encyclopedia: "The object is to represent the order as having occasioned perpetual strife, contradiction, and trouble. For the sake of peace the Society must be suppressed." I like that. For the sake of peace, perhaps we should try again. :)

  • Posted by: - May. 14, 2007 5:36 AM ET USA

    But to be fair, life in a cosy religious order (intellectual stimulation optional) is far easier than living in one of the city's 'siege parishes' totally on your own, with minimum support from Clyde Street, or Corsehill Road, or Bishop's House...

  • Posted by: - May. 13, 2007 9:32 PM ET USA

    Look at the bright side. He didn't violate the American bishops' Charter for the Protection of Young People. He is a man who knows his boundaries. I bet he even passed the fingerprint and criminal background check.

  • Posted by: - May. 13, 2007 8:36 PM ET USA

    Hilarious. Particularly the part about the Jesuits. Clearly, the writer is miffed that his lot deprives him of the company of those who discuss philosopy. "Ah, yes Father, but don't you think that Thomas' theory of the efficient cause really precludes your rather ambitious assumption of the correctness of Kant's position on the unknowability of the noumenon?" Not the Jesuits of today, Charley.