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

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.

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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.

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