The Enemy Below

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)
Unconditional Election
Limited Atonement (also known as Particular Atonement)
Irresistible Grace
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.

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15 Responses to The Enemy Below

  1. nordiccatholic says:

    Moral corruption in the Roman Church.

    There will be a reckoning, a judgement against Christendom if this is not sorted .The possibility of a major breakdown of trust in the Roman Catholic Church is a realistic possibility. So Pope Francis needs to take urgent steps, a 2000 word apology just does not cut it, drastic action is called for.

    Such as, suspend the 300 priests implicated in the USA abuse scandal. Set up a Holy See lead tribunal, located in the USA, to examine all the evidence, allegations, witnesses, etc and pronounce judgement. Those found wanting must be excommunicated. Stripped of their orders.

    Action is required, nothing less will do. If Francis fails to restore confidence, and the rot is not stopped, I fear the Almighty himself will take action – and Rome will be much diminished.

    • Well, I read Francis’ letter and just thought to myself “nobody believes you anymore.” This problem seems to be a uniquely Roman Catholic one, and the result of a corrupt institution equally addicted to material power in this world and the pursuit of an unattainable ideal of sexual morality, probably borne of an innate contempt for women.

      Does excommunicating or suspending these predators undo the harm they have done? That would seem a tad “theoretical” to parents and survivors, and a lengthy prison sentence would be called for. Personally, I would echo Fr Anthony’s comments and call for a suppression of institutional Roman Catholicism in all countries and for an international force to invade the Vatican.

      • Luxury flats for sale in central Rome next to a vast sports hall in the former St Peters Basilica. Billionnaires only. Prime property prices – that is, the top 5% of homes valued at £5m and above – have risen faster in the former Vatican last year than any major city. There are also more prime suites and apartments in the former Inquisition building, once reserved for residential districts in Rome, luxury apartments are now being snapped up in the buildings in the old Vatican gardens, thanks to the increase in residential hybrids offering the chance to live, work and play all within one impressive location.

        The Istituto delle Opere della Religione has been taken over by the Rothschild Bank and business is roaring with the Banco Ambrogiano and its former subsidiary Banco di Spirito Santo. Former churches in Rome have been turned into mosques, fashion shops, concert halls, all sorts – and Rome is set to become a desirable playground for the jet set. You just have to be able to afford it. The former slums in Trastevere are now selling for £700,000 a pop.

        Its all very exciting for the International Paedophile Syndicate and its centre of exchange for trafficked children bought from Syria, Irak and Afghanistan. This is much more exciting than a load of creepy priests!

        Interesting idea, but one I only mentioned as a possibility, hardly something desirable considering the alternatives.

      • Dale says:

        Patrick, it is not by any stretch of the imagination simply a Roman Catholic issue, please look up the following This monastery belonged to the people you are now associated with, and was protected for years. I personally knew, and disliked Fr Paul Alderson, who was very creepy, to use an American term, but was still consecrated a bishop. When I met him as a young seminarian he was in charge of the Orthodox orphanage outside of Paris. From my one visit even I knew that there was something wrong with him and his relationship to the children (

    • Almighty himself will take action ? – perhaps with the fist of Allah… I shudder at the thought, but it happened when Constantinople became Istanbul.

  2. nordiccatholic says:

    Patrick – no, suspending priests and defrocking offending clergy will not undo the damage done. That will take years of committed pastoral work – but such action will send out a powerful message to both the clergy, and in general that such nonsense will not be tolerated, and it may help restore confidence in the Church. Ultimately the problem revolves around clericalism and the abuse of power.

    Fr Anthony – I cannot help but think that the the 16th Century Catholic Church was kind of asking for the Reformation. The Indulgences scandal and other abuse. Perhaps the Fist of Allah will be a new reformation – Vatican III ? But whatever happens, Francis has to get a grip..

  3. chriscontramundum says:

    Dear Father Chadwick,

    I hope you enjoyed camping. I’m sorry you had to serve among creeps. To me, you’re point about Mr. Savile is the most important: Horror stories in nursing, education, law enforcement, etc. work just as they do in the Church. If there’s misconduct (or even just accusations), admin may use the fear of scandal to rationalize cover-ups and settlements. Some institutions end up with such a bad name that nobody *with qualifications* wants to work for them.

    After the protests and riots in Ferguson, Missouri, for example, the first thing police officers feared was that protesters would discover their home addresses; the second was what would happen if decent young recruits started to look for jobs elsewhere, forcing police to lower hiring standards. Those concerns. In that order. In cities hundreds of miles away from Ferguson.

    We live in a time when no public institution has trust. But we have modern medicine, a literate society and historically-low levels of homicide. The Roman scandal is disgusting, and clearly needs to be addressed. I’m sorry for those effected. But it’s also true that in the days of Borgia influence, that sort of sin was compounded by war crimes and intrigue! Do you ever get the feeling, as I do, that our world’s anxiety increases even as our cause for thanksgiving increases?

    I used to be in journalism, and it seems to me that private individuals are as paranoid and unhappy as those who study tragedy for a living. That was never true before. What happens to nursing, education, law enforcement and the priesthood when nobody looks up to those professions? Anglicans won’t be immune to the consequences just because we’re not “Roman,” or even because we do a good job. To the public, priests are all just guys in black robes.

    And increasingly, I think the public doesn’t care even when servant leaders do a good job. As the Preacher said, it’s all vanity and vexation of spirit.

    • I can see how the temptation to nihilism, the sort that blows up schools and shoots children, or puts out fake news about the earth being threatened by Planet X or a meteorite – that some claim to be able to survive. It seems to me that much depends on how each of us lives. You might be settled with a wife and family, a house, all your finances in order and a good paying job – all very mainstream. Some of us have been put off all that somewhere along the way, and seek alternative views and ways. That is what happened with some of the saints as they founded monasteries or embraced life as hermits. Views of society and sin are then seen from a different perspective.

      Much of the post-modern view of institutions is little other than nihilism and anarchism as described by Dostoyevsky in late 19th century Russia, the roots of the 1917 Revolution and bloodshed. Many want a war or a catastrophe to validate their own paranoia. We do indeed have to be careful and cross check every bit of alternative news we find on YouTube or Facebook or elsewhere. To some, corruption in the Roman Catholic Church is a mere excuse for nihilism, atheism and anti-clericalism. We have to be critical and sceptical, of a scientific mind.

  4. Stephen K says:

    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.

    This statement appears correct to me. The important thing to keep in mind, however, is that the clerical system rests on the foundation of an unhealthy subservience of people to a self-referential caste which has through the centuries actively promoted such subservience. The result was that priests and bishops got away with all sorts of things because of the promotion of a spurious mystique and theology of orders, wherein people could not readily equate the priesthood with evil – Father would always be believed: ‘how dare you say such things of the priest!’.

    Sex abuse is not confined to clerical perpetrators, but that it was trivialised, mischaracterised, concealed, and denied within the Roman catholic church was due to the grossly damaging misconception by higher clerics that nothing could be admitted for fear of losing the moral authority the Church asserted.

    Well, they failed. The Church’s moral authority is well and truly dashed. The doctrine at the heart of the denial is that they speak for God and that their Church was founded and guaranteed by God, and this is the doctrine that has to be abandoned, otherwise nothing will change for the better.

    There will always be a tension so long as the mission of the Church is bound up with the concept of a priesthood which is set apart exclusively to administer grace through most of the “sacraments”. I think this is a corruption of the original vision of Jesus.

    More than ever I believe that the challenge for a Christian is to seek the kingdom of heaven in his or her love and respect for neighbour and the contemplation of the mystery and fragility of life and mortal things, so that theosis may come about.

    • What do you think is the original vision of Jesus? Should there be any sacraments? Should the sacraments and Eucharist be celebrated by all the baptised. Should only monks be ordained if you don’t do away with ordination? Should we embrace Gnosticism and bring it into our time and do away with exoteric Christianity? Should we have no religion and find some kind of spiritual life on our own?

      It is one thing for the new wave of anti-clericalism to destroy dioceses and parishes, sell the Vatican to the highest bidder or turn it into Italian government buildings. It is another to have a positive vision. Nature abhors the vacuum. Ideas would be welcome.

      • Stephen K says:

        I think the original vision of Jesus was that people would see that it was in their individual action towards others and all creation that the seed of the kingdom of heaven was to be found – that people were called to contemplate their relationship to God through others – to avoid trying to “master” God but accept the mystery of God’s love for all things – to be as a sparrow, or lily or child in the face of such mystery. Imagine the power of One, multiplied. But I cannot ensure or guarantee others: I must simply pursue right action, right love, right forgiveness, etc, without thinking others must join me to validate it. I may seek guidance from others, but once I focus on organisation I lose the plot, so to speak. In a manner of speaking I must be “post-church”. I don’t fully understand the process but I think that mysticism is the essential mode but that it is an intensely individual one. A community of “ones” may grow out of it, but I think the adherence to traditional structures and systems is distracting.

        So, to answer your questions in a simple way, accepting that the simple answers will not do justice to the issues you raise: I think there are sacraments, but many more than seven; I think the Eucharist should be celebrated by all; I see ordination as the commissioning of a person for service to a community, but that this is not necessary for the embrace of the Way I think Jesus was trying to promote; I think the monastic community is a type or model for the kind of spiritual journey and process I am trying to describe (which others e.g. Ted Nottingham, Krishnamurti describe so much more knowledgeably); I think Gnosticism should be rehabilitated as a term for this process; I do not think one should worry about doing away with what I think you mean by exoteric Christianity, because the process I am trying to describe is not one of a focus on organising or imposing without but a very personal one; it is not a case of not having religion or finding spiritual life “on our own” but seeking that spiritual life which pertains to myself. I am not describing a program to destroy parishes or sell the Vatican, but a personal program that is free of worrying about whether they exist or not. I hope this clarifies my ideas.

      • Stephen, What you say is very beautiful and a great contribution to the increasingly difficult task of rediscovering Christ and his originality in relation to institutional Judaism or the way the Church was taken over by men of the same mind as the Scribes and Pharisees. I think you are slightly older than I am, but we both come from the Baby Boomer generation that sought something fresh in relation to 1950’s conservatism (which many are nostalgic about). Many of our generation were too shallow in their aspirations to find something deeper and more authentic than the hypocrisy they had known.

        Monastic life is a zweischneidiges Schwert, which can be beset by the same oppressive institutionalism as elsewhere. The Cistercian reform of Cluny was an example in history. Perhaps very small communities can be better.

        Between integralist Catholicism / fundamentalist Protestantism and Gnosticism, I think it is a no-brainer. Repressive religious structures are no better from the secular structures that persecute them when they have had enough of the imbalance of power. It was not Germany that composed the Brandenburg Concertos but J.S. Bach, a person. Everything great is the work of persons, not structures and institutions. Gnosis is the complete knowledge of the divine within us and in which everything participates.

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