|Fr Kit Cunningham|
Sin’s a funny thing. Back in the 1950s there was really only one sin – sex, in thought as well as in deed. We knew that sex was the only sin because the Catholic Church told us so. It was the one you heard preached against and the one you knew for sure would land you in hell. Everything else shrank in importance alongside it. OK, the odd Sunday you might get a sermon about doing an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay ( translation: there are a lot of lazy workers in this parish) and gossiping (translation: God, some of the women in this parish!), but sex got front-and-centre sin attention. You could be a paragon of virtue in every other area but sexual sin stained all that out of existence.
Have things changed? Yes, completely, and at the same time not at all. Two examples.
Bishop Eamon Casey (remember him?) did sterling work for years with Irish emigrants in London; all that shrank to nothing when he was found to have fathered a child with an American woman. He fled the country, pursued by national contempt.
This morning on BBC Radio Ulster/Raidió Ulaidh, a writer talked about a Fr Kit Cunningham. This English priest apparently spent a lifetime doing good work, particularly with the marginalised in society. He was a friend and confessor to the writer, who even named his son after the priest. Then Fr Kit Cunningham died and it emerged that he’d been guilty of the sexual abuse of children. Interviewer William Crawley and the writer appeared to agree: the man who’d seemed thoroughly good had been in fact thoroughly bad.
In the 1950s, sexual sin was the only sin and everything else shrank in importance alongside it. Today, sexual sin is the only sin if we’re talking about Catholic clergy. Everything else they may have done – good and bad – shrinks in importance alongside it.
If we’re loud in condemning the blinkered ethics of the Catholic Church in the 1950s, why aren’t we equally loud in condemning blinkered ethics by its critics today?