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Sins are not meant to be a form of public entertainment

The existence of the seal of the confessional reminds us that these things belong firmly in the internal forum

By on Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Sins are not meant to be a form of public entertainment

I feel very sorry for Ryan Giggs, his wife and his family. Mr Giggs did his best to keep this story of his adultery out of the public domain, but in the end his efforts may well have been counter-productive. The last few days must have been nightmarish for him. Something similar happens to a character in George Eliot’s Middlemarch: Mr Bulstrode, the very pious evangelical, goes to extraordinary lengths to preserve his reputation, but the facts come out in the end and he is hounded out of society. The same thing happens to the eponymous hero of Thomas Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge.

There are two reasons, I suppose, why people make such efforts to keep their private life private. The first is the obvious one: some things are simply private of their very nature. No one could possibly want strangers to pour over one’s bank statement or one’s tax return, could they? Likewise, when it comes to ordinary (that is, non-criminal) sexual matters; these are no one’s business but our own. The desire to pry (or what is called voyeurism) is very strong, but it ought not to be indulged. There was a good example of this recently when Ann Widdecombe stoutly repulsed Piers Morgan’s efforts to get her to talk about her private life on television. “Some things are meant to stay private,” she said to him; and the audience, quite rightly applauded; that shut Piers up.

The second reason is this: if facts about our private lives are made public this exposes us not to the sympathy of the general public, but to the fury and cruelty of the mob. There is a very long history of the so called gutter press using sexual imagery and stories to torment people they do not like. Witness what happened to Marie Antoinette in the years before the French Revolution. Mr Giggs is now open to ridicule at the very least, torment at the worst, by a crowd that is itself not noted for its moral standards. Moreover, this crowd is not motivated by anything other than cruelty and the desire to humiliate someone who has until now been its idol. We often hear the phrase “sense of fair play” and of its association with the British character. If only this were true. People should leave Mr Giggs alone. Yes, he has sinned, but we are all sinners. We should remember what our Blessed Lord did when confronted with another adulterer.

We should pray for him and all who find themselves in these difficult positions, and hope he and his family can get through this ordeal.

Dr Oddie has commented wisely on this matter, and I agree with everything he says. Catholics in particular should reflect on the fact that the Church has always striven to uphold the seal of the confessional, out of compassion for sinners, in order to protect them in their weakness. Mr Giggs’s private life is a matter for him and God, and his spiritual adviser, if he has one. The existence of the seal of the confessional reminds us that these things belong firmly in the internal forum, whose integrity is to be preserved at all costs. They are not meant to be a form of public entertainment or used to sell newspapers.

Finally, we need to reflect on ourselves. Do we rejoice in the wrongdoing of others? Do we enjoy reading about their failures and misdemeanours? Taking pleasure in the sins of others is in itself a sin. St Paul says as much in one of his most famous and memorable passages.

  • ms catholic state

    Who is talking about finding entertainment in the wrongdoings of others?!  I don’t know any Catholic or anybody that finds it entertaining….though people are naturally nosey.  What is at issue here is that the courts should not be used to protect adulterers from the consequences of their sins.  It’s no business of the courts.

    So stop accusing people in the wrong.

  • Anonymous

    I’m sure they’re already selling tickets for your appearance before St Peter, Ma’am.

  • Ratbag

    Imagine if you are a prominent Catholic who has erred in a blaze of publicity. If you have enough of fibre and remorse, you go to confess your sins to a priest in the privacy of the confession box;you are very sorry for what you have done and the priest gives you absolution. It does not stop the publicity machine from perpetuating your misery on the telly, on the internet, or in print. It is up to you to put a lid on it with quiet dignity and fortitude with the support of your Church and your family.

    The vultures will soon get bored and go on to something else.

    Many don’t have that advantage.

    Father, if you look at what is upon the shelves of your average newsagent or channel-hop or surf the internet, it becomes disturbingly apparent that sin has become the new entertainment. There are many smug individuals who will either tut-tut at their shenannigans and/or take pleasure out of their misery and bad/desperate behaviour.

    I, for one, don’t take pleasure or sport in reading about the publicised sins of the rich, famous and pathologically desperate. I feel pity and frustration for their families who have these printed toilet rolls shoved into their faces by complete strangers in the street or any public place.

    If your famous mother or father is seen falling out of a taxi into the gutter, drunk as a skunk with nothing to cover their modesty or with white nostrils, it is milk and honey for those who take the photos because of the money they earn from ‘exclusives.

    I’m angry at these superinjunctions taken out by those who have money to burn. They are doing it because of what happened to Tiger Woods. He went from hero to zero in 3…2…1… and had to publicly bare his soul on world television and apologise profusely… and had to work darn hard to restore his reputation.

    No superinjunctions there.

  • Ratbag

    Furthermore, it is true that we are sinners. We should never lose sight of that.
    Why is the sacrament of Confession not given the open discussion it deserves? 

    Back to the famous… 

    When Diana, Princess of Wales died back in 1997, the wailing and gnashing of teeth from the public was profound. The paparazzi were made into pariahs.

    Did anyone stop and think to ask themselves about the part we played in that tragedy … or Diana’s? The washing of the Wales’ dirty linen in public and their spitefest did not stop us from buying the rags or watching the television. The paparazzi were feeding that insatiable binge for her image, her every move, her every sneeze, her every cornplaster… 

    The goalposts of the publicity machine have been moved so speedily in the past fifty or so years, you’d think they were on castors.

    If you throw the boomerangs of publicity, expect them to come back and hit you where it really hurts… and don’t moan or whinge when they do!

  • Ratbag

    When I said ‘Why is the sacrament of Confession not given the open discussion it deserves?’, I meant for the clergy to talk about the healing it gives to body as well as soul…

    …. not for the open discussion of matters discussed in the ‘seal of the confessional’

    I just wanted to clear that up.

  • Ratbag

    I’m sure Old Nick is booking the Royal Albert Hall for you!  ;-)

  • ms catholic state

    I totally agree…..I don’t find such things entertaining….deeply sad and sickening yes…but not entertaining….so I don’t read them.  Otherwise you would just despair at the cruelty and misery of it all.  But of course as Catholics we don’t despair.  but I’m sure many secularists do….which is why their suicide rate is high.  Very sad when there is a lack of love.

  • Anonymous

    I’m not the one wanting to re-ntroduce the scarlet letter am I ratbag?

  • Ratbag

    Har de har har! ;-)

  • AngelaNG

    Dr Lucie-Smith is just amazing. If only there were more priests like him!

  • Anonymous

    Why is @ratbag angry at superinjunctions?  They may occasionally fail to protect privacy but nothing else will succeed.  ‘Newspaper’ self-discipline is non existent.  The British public has gradually developed an addictive taste for soft pornography and voyeurism and the whole industry of publicists and paperazzi which has grown up to provide material for this unsatisfiable demand, must resort to every trick to defeat the emerging claim to privacy which would signal their demise.  It is horrible to watch and we must hope for greater ingenuity by lawyers and the courts to hold the line.  It is irrelevant that the wealthy are leading the fight for privacy.  No one can justify an interest in the genital activities of ‘C’ list celebrities let alone the unknown poor.

  • ms catholic state

    You mean….nobody can justify using the courts to hide the truth about their sins.  That’s not what courts are for. LOL! 

  • Anonymous

    Courts are about enforcing the law in this case the law of privacy.  They have nothing to do with sins which are the concern of God.  It is a sin for newspapers to report about people’s private life but this would be irrelevant if Parliament had not enacted Human Rights as part of a person’s inalienable rights.