Sunday, November 29, 2009

Cranmerian obtusity

There’s nothing so driven and so single-minded than a blogger with an agenda.

In this instance the blogger is Adrian Hilton, a Tory across the water who blogs under the pseudonym of Archbishop Cranmer.

Despite Irish history, Melancholicus is a bit of an anglophile, and he must admit to rather enjoying Mr. Hilton’s blog; its self-description as an “august blog of intelligent and erudite comment upon matters religio-political” is no idle boast. Mr. Hilton is indeed intelligent and erudite, and is possessed of a formidable and persuasive eloquence.

But at times Mr. Hilton can be remarkably, vindictively—almost pathologically—anti-Catholic. Melancholicus does not object to such anti-Catholicism in itself (since Mr. Hilton is a convinced Protestant and clearly believes in the truth of that religion) but his conspiratorial superstition is irritating coming from a man of such intellectual prowess. One might have hoped Mr. Hilton would be above the hysteria of sixteenth-century polemics, as its effect, sadly, is to undermine his considerable authority as a political commentator.

Occasionally, this anti-Catholicism descends to the level of farce. While Melancholicus shares Mr. Hilton’s attitude towards the European Union’s increasingly oppressive centralization—at least in general—the latter’s urgent warnings against a secretive and sinister cosy relationship between the EU and the Roman Catholic Church are so divorced from reality as to be laughable. Such nonsense lands him squarely in Dan Brown territory and cannot be taken seriously.

More recently (27 November), Mr. Hilton posted on the difficult subject of the recently-released Report of the Commission of Investigation into the Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin. His scathing criticism of the culture that allowed depravity to flourish unchecked is well merited. But Mr. Hilton cannot content himself with denouncing clerical turpitude or episcopal negligence; he must attack Catholic theology (witness the sarcastic reference to the sacrament of penance) in general, and the Church’s discipline of celibacy in particular.

Here he allows his anti-Romanism to run wild, taking his reason with it. For in order to denounce the Roman Church in the matter of clerical sexual abuse, he must perforce denounce the discipline of celibacy; and in order to denounce celibacy, he must portray it as a source of innumerable evils, even to the extent of perverting the sexual identity of one who embraces that state.

The last two sentences in particular are such crazy nonsense one might say they constitute calumny in their sweeping generality:

While the novice, priest, bishop, and cardinal have vowed and aspire to be asexual, in reality they cannot deny their human nature, and so adopt the masculinity of the hermaphrodite. And as their public face is that of purity and holiness in deeply-fulfilling celibacy, the private paradox is confused, constrained and yearning deeply to express itself. And if it cannot be with a woman, as St Paul observed, it will be predatory upon the malakoi - the ‘soft’ or ‘effeminate’ prepubescent ‘pet’.

What sort of a mind can produce such verbal ordure? If Melancholicus may here quote the venerable Fr. Hunwicke, “Ee, for an apparently intelligent man, that’s a bloody silly thing to say”.

Since when are the clergy required to “aspire to be asexual”? Mr. Hilton had better consult his Oxford dictionary, since he clearly (deliberately?) minsunderstands the term. We shall pass over the peculiar intrusion of the hermaphrodite and proceed to the last sentence, in which Mr. Hilton goes so far as to put words into the mouth of St Paul. Was the apostle really the sort of determinist that Mr. Hilton implies? Here Mr. Hilton has shorn sin of its voluntary character, which in effect means it is no sin at all, for if a man MUST act in a certain manner without the freedom of will to choose otherwise, how is he guilty of sin? Perhaps this is just the fatalism of Mr. Hilton’s Protestantism asserting itself against his reason and common sense. Mr. Hilton also has some special insight into the interior lives of Roman Catholic clergy denied to the rest of us; Melancholicus wonders how the man can blithely assert “the private paradox is confused, constrained and yearning deeply to express itself” as though he were privy to the inner psychology of countless individuals he has never met. Of course every person must express himself; but here Mr. Hilton means a specifically genital sexual expression, without which, apparently, a man is warped to the extent of becoming a danger to all around him—especially the children.

Mr. Hilton’s post has attracted considerable attention (74 comments at the time of writing) but not one commentator—not even the Roman Catholics among them—has seen fit to rebut the harmful notion that lacking an outlet for genital expression must necessarily result in the corruption of one’s moral and sexual identity, at least among the generality of men; that celibacy is of itself a source of homosexuality or pederasty.

Mr. Hilton expresses horror and outrage that the number of criminal clerics should be as high as FORTY-SIX (capitalization as in the original). He is right to express such outrage. But if his views on the harmful effects of celibacy were true, one would expect to find a much higher number involved in such acts; well over a thousand secular and religious priests have ministered in the archdiocese of Dublin since 1975.

So what is Melancholicus’ interest here? It is not to play down the horrible reality behind the disclosures of the Murphy Report; these things must be published and faced by the Irish Church, especially by those who enabled and facilitated the abuse. Nor is it to defend the discipline of the Church. Celibacy is not a doctrine, and is not de fide. It is a discipline, which might be emended or revoked at any time without prejudice to the deposit of faith.

Rather, Mr. Hilton must be confronted where he makes erroneous and unwarranted claims about human nature, particularly where he implies that the sexual appetite is so imperious that it simply must be exercised lest it twist an abstinent soul into a child-molesting monster. What an incredible insult, not only to the majority of Roman clergy who are innocent of such crimes, but to any person living in the world who has not yet found a suitable partner for marriage. Mr. Hilton must also surely be aware that marriage is no panacea for sexual corruption. A sexual deviant will be no less a deviant in wedlock than in the single state. This is so obvious as to need no demonstration; a brief perusal of the newspapers on any day of the week will bear it out.

The clergy of the Church of England have been permitted to take wives since 1549. Other Protestant denominations likewise boast a married clergy. Rabbis are married. So are Imams. On the basis of Mr. Hilton’s logic, one should expect to find no incidence of sex crimes among Protestants, Jews and Muslims. Melancholicus thinks Mr. Hilton would shrink from such a claim, yet it is the logical conclusion to his thesis.

Or are the Romish clergy necessarily wicked because they are Romish? Whores of Babylon, and all that?

I wonder.

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