The title of this posting is suggestive of a classic film about submarine hunting during World War II. It makes me think also of the mystery of good and evil in human personalities. The more I encounter or read about evil in all its forms, the more I oscillate between my desire to believe in human goodness and intrinsic value, and my temptation to give consideration to the extreme Augustinian ideas of men like Calvin and Jansen.
I have said nothing here and very little of Facebook in response to the scale of child sex abuse by Roman Catholic priests that has just been revealed by legal authorities in countries like the USA, Australia and the UK. The tendency is to blame the Church, clericalism, celibacy, men of homosexual tendencies.
I have been watching a documentary about Jimmy Savile:
This is just a short one. There are others on YouTube that discuss this energumen in greater detail, but already the ten minutes this video lasts sickened me. He was knighted by the Queen, congratulated by Lady Thatcher, admired for his humanitarianism and work for handicapped children – when he wasn’t buggering them. Finally the lid came off, and now he is dead. He was not a priest or a part of the clerical structure.
However, it is true that the culture of clericalism and secrecy in the Church can become the preserve of men without conscience or empathy, whose intention in life is evil. What happens now will depend to a great extent on the media and the way it is all politicised. There have been anti-clerical purges before, the nearest to home being the French Revolution and the Separation of Church and State in 1905. There was also intense anti-clericalism in Italy in the late nineteenth century, and the Kulturkampf in Germany. It is easy to sympathise with this destructive current that seeks to root out evil, but all too often replaces one evil with one that is far worse.
Paedophilia is but one manifestation of the harm evil priests and others have done from positions of status, power and influence. To understand this phenomenon, we need to have more insight into human sexuality when it deviates from mutual love (typically in marriage) and the family. It is something that is cleverly dissimulated behind a façade of charm. I have personally known two clerics who ended up in trouble with the law for sexual abuse. One was the self-styled canon Serge Clivaz, a Swiss priest ordained in a Spanish diocese through a kind of “ratline” in Rome finding diocesan bishops willing to fill in papers for some favour. (I know who was involved, but I won’t mention any names other than Fr Gregor Hess and Bishop Pavol Hnilica who are now both dead.) Clivaz was eventually employed as a priest at a traditionalist chapel in Lausanne, Switzerland and came across as someone very sure of himself, slick and worldly wise. I thought nothing of it. The local bishop (Geneva, Lausanne and Fribourg) wanted that priest out, and the patrons of the chapel then came to me to ask me to be a paid caretaker of the chapel. I did this job between March 1990 and November of the same year when I went to Gricigliano to pursue the priesthood. I wasn’t yet ordained, so one of my jobs was to find priests willing to come and celebrate Mass for us. What happened to Clivaz? No one would say anything clear. Finally, he was heard of from France, and it was about his being caught abusing young boys and committing suicide. This gentleman had heard about my “taking his place” in Lausanne and tried to stop my diaconate in 1993 by accusing me of looking for sexual partners in a public park. Monsignor Wach disbelieved the calumnies and had me ordained. I was not surprised to find out that he was the promiscuous abuser!
Another one I knew was an American, Fr Timothy Svea, whom I had known with the Oblates of Wisdom in Rome (1985) and at Gricigliano. The Institute of Christ the King’s lawyer was quoted: “the institute became aware of the accusations in March 2001 and had known nothing of them before that“. He seemed a model of piety with his rosary and breviary, and none of us suspected anything. How can such men be screened out? Scopolamine? Systematic psychoanalysis? Torture? Sorry to be facetious.
The clerical system obviously doesn’t cause sexual perversions and paraphilias. It will protect perverts if they are “discreet” and show talent in some other way. Those with charm and a thirst for power can go far as in politics and business, any human organisation where bureaucracy hides human defects.
To many people, the solution would be the suppression of the Roman Catholic Church by an international organisation like the UN, a repeat of the Kulturkampf and the French anti-clerical laws of the 1900’s. The winners would be big business getting the buildings and even worse psychopaths getting into control. Even Hitler didn’t dare invade the Vatican!
We can’t legislate against evil. Our police and law courts can catch as many bad people as possible, put them in prison or execute them. The demon whose name is Legion will send many more, and more after that. The sin and the evil are hidden and under our feet. Is it in all of us? We all sin in one way or another. There is a difference between losing our temper or saying something nasty about someone – and premeditated murder and rape. Most of us would be incapable of such heinous crimes, because we have consciences, care for other people, and would feel intense guilt and remorse if we so much as hurt someone by accident.
The evil psychopath, sociopath and narcissist are types of personality. They are born with it and are made so by an abusive upbringing. Perhaps that fact seems to confirm Calvin’s TULIP:
Total Depravity (also known as Total Inability and Original Sin)
Limited Atonement (also known as Particular Atonement)
Perseverance of the Saints (also known as Once Saved Always Saved)
– at least for the question of total depravity. Are certain human beings born to be damned? Are they human? Are they demons disguised as humans? A story was told about the Curé d’Ars in nineteenth century France. A lady went to confession to the Curé of Ars. After she knelt, he began to tell her events from her past life. The story would have been told by her, since priests are bound by the seal of confession.
– Do you remember that you went to a ball on such-and-such occasion?
– Yes, I remember.
– Do you remember that at a certain moment a handsome young man entered the ballroom. He was quite elegant, appeared very upright and danced with several young ladies?
– Yes, I do.
– Do you recall that you had a great desire to dance with him?
– I recall that.
– Do you recollect that you became sad because he didn’t ask you to dance?
– Yes, I do.
– Do you remember that by chance you looked down at his feet and saw a strange blue light coming from them?
– Yes. I remember.
The priest added:
– That young man was none other than the devil who had taken that shape to tempt several of the young women there. He was unable to approach you because you are a Daughter of Mary protected by her, and you were wearing the Miraculous Medal.
The Curé d’Ars fought against traditional folk dancing in the villages. Imagine it if he were around today and saw the night clubs and the sexual revolution of today! As an Anglican, I am a little sickened by a lot of the gooey stuff about miraculous medals and various devotional practices that easily become fetishes in the older meaning of this word. On the other hand, if someone has the Faith and is devoted to the Mother of God, this might clarify things a little… The point is that some beings that appear to be human are not human but incarnated evil spirits. Is this something to which we can give any credence?
Was someone like Ted Bundy a human being or a demon? One of the founding principles of evil – something we learned from the Nuremburg trials – is that refusing the quality of humanity to certain persons banalises the act of killing them and absolves the killer from guilt. This is one big question I have about capital punishment as well as the crimes of such evil people.
Psychologists call this kind of evil by the three types of personality mentioned above: psychopathy, sociopathy and narcissism. All of these come in the form of a spectrum between the subtle manifestations to unscrupulous businessmen and politicians to electric chair fodder like Ted Bundy. Psychopathy concerns a very small minority of human beings or appearances of human beings.
It is all a big mystery, and we will never get to the bottom of it. Most of us know that we are not sexually attracted to children, and that we put the child’s integrity and innocence before anything else. I am personally repelled by the very status and power those personalities seek. Indeed people on the autistic spectrum are at the opposite extreme, like east from west, from those who want power and are devoid of empathy or indeed any kind of spiritual life. I remember the conversation at the retreat house in March 1993 with Monsignor Wach about Fr Clivaz’s accusations intended to stop my diaconate. I asked him how people could be like that. Was the Redemption by Christ limited as the Calvinists and Jansenists claimed? I am often overwhelmed by such thoughts, and I look to Nietzsche and his reflections on nihilism. There, we approach the heart of the mystery. The Russians seem to express it better in the Devils of Dostoyevsky and the philosophical studies of men like Berdyaev. Evil is nihilism, non-existence, nothing. Goodness is creation, the Word made flesh.
These are the thoughts of the Christian Holy Week and especially the Triduum with the iniquity of those who sent Jesus to die, from Judas to the High Priest and Pilate. Pilate sinned through weakness and the banality of his functions like a Nazi Obergruppenführer. The High Priest sinned through religious fanaticism and his good relations with the occupying Roman power (and Herod), and Judas would have been a common criminal interested in money and power. The Gnostics had a less comfortable notion about Judas against which we should not shut our minds. St Peter also sinned through weakness and fear of the evil around him, but he repented and “wept bitterly”.
Those who comment on the bureaucratic dimension of large “mainstream” churches and their clerical power structures have a point. There is much less likelihood of something like this happening in a little Church like the one I belong to. I say this, not in a spirit of self-righteousness but an observation of the fact we know each other. Perhaps, tomorrow, we will be shaken to the core on learning that one of our priests has been arrested by the police for child abuse! God forbid! The evil of the evil is hidden and disguised under a thick aura of charm. The real difference is that we would not cover up such evil under a shroud of secrecy and bureaucracy. We would not be complicit with the evil-doer, but rather with the side of law and decency, the good of the victims.