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Personal choice does not trump right and wrong

As the sad cases of teacher-pupil affairs show, abandonment of traditional morality leads us to tragic incoherence

By on Friday, 28 September 2012

Megan Stammers' mother Danielle Wilson and stepfather Martin Stammers Photo: Clive Gee/PA Wire

Megan Stammers' mother Danielle Wilson and stepfather Martin Stammers Photo: Clive Gee/PA Wire

Pupils having affairs with their teachers is not as uncommon as you might think. There has been a film on the subject called Notes on a Scandal in which Cate Blanchett plays a teacher having an affair with a fifteen year old boy. Currently the news media are covering another case, where the fifteen year old is a girl. One has heard of other cases where youngsters have had affairs with teaching staff or their spouses. Today’s Daily Telegraph carries a personal testimony from a woman, who, between the ages of fourteen and sixteen, had an affair with an older man who taught her. The affair led to a pregnancy and an abortion. You can read what she says here. 

The story in the Telegraph makes very sad reading, and I hope that all who read it, whether they are religious or not, will agree on this. Girls of fourteen and men of twenty-five, thanks to the disparity of age, are a tragic combination, and the disparity of status is also worrying, not to mention the way that the pupil-teacher relationship must be compromised, indeed destroyed, by a love affair.

What can be done?

The intervention of the police and the courts comes usually only after the harm has been done, when the affair has come to an end. At this point, one feels, it is already too late. What needs to be done is to prevent these affairs happening in the first place.

One reaction one often hears is: “Where were the parents?” This is understandable, but probably mistaken in many cases. Few parents would ever encourage such behaviour, indeed no one rational should. But to imply that teenagers have affairs with adults because of a failure of parental supervision, is not really to the point. Of course, parents must supervise their children, but they cannot lock them up, and they cannot be with them all the time. In the end, teenagers have to exercise self-control, which is more effective than parental control. It is the job of the parents to teach their children self-control.

But here we really hit the big problem: how do you teach self-control to children in a society which is very much about self-indulgence? In the amatory sphere, desire is seen so often as the only arbiter of right and wrong. If I want it, it must be right for me, and no one has the right to stop me. Personal choice is, it is claimed, the only criterion of morality.

Well, it isn’t. Personal choice in fact comes quite low in the pecking order of what makes something right or wrong. It is overshadowed by the objective nature of the act itself; and it is simply not true that acts have no objective nature, and are only right or wrong in so far as we give them meaning. Pupil teacher relations of this sort are wrong of themselves: but how are we to convince either the adults or children involved of this, when both adults and children live in a society which constantly mocks the idea of a pre-established moral order?

At present these sorts of affairs are illegal, and can lead to the adults involved going to jail. But if the girl is sixteen, and past the age of consent, legal intervention would be on shakier ground. But if truth is told, that something is illegal is not much of a deterrent. What deters us from doing wrong and misguided things is our conscience – the inner judgement that tells us that something is to be avoided, at all costs, because it is incompatible with good.

One remembers the fifteen year old Lydia Bennett, in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, a girl who has no conscience at all and no consciousness that her actions are wrong, damaging to herself and to her family. But Lydia had no excuse, as she lived in a morally coherent world. Contemporary fifteen year olds are in a different ethos, one where our abandonment of traditional morality leads us towards tragic incoherence.

  • paulpriest

    Meanwhile we have CES-endorsed Connexions in Catholic schools providing [same] sex advice to the underage with contraception & abortifacient provision and abortion referrals – all in the strictest confidentiality while Parents,teachers & governors remain oblivious to the statutory rapes, self-harming and suicide attempts of students – because the right to confidentiality trumps everything!!

    The National Church has at least proximately materially co-operated in all this by allowing CES into Catholic schools and paying them through the nose for the ‘privilege’ – and even if Governors/Head Teachers have imposed a ‘career advice only’ remit on them in their school – the funding still endorses Connexions’s remit being furthered in other schools.

    An obscene scandal – and until we kick them out we have no right to claim the moral highground while this systemic child-abuse continues…

  • Patrickhowes

    As a parent,I would be very interested to know you have any articles to support this?

  • paulpriest

     Check out the Catholic blogs – start with James Preece’s “Catholic & loving it” or Laurence England’s “That the Bones you have Crushed”…

    But ordinary lay-Catholics have been screaming about this scandal for years; but it doesn’t really interest our cultural elites and chattering classes…

    …and it’s a kind of unwritten rule that one daren’t complain about the CES because all the scandal & outrage was fomented during the Oona years…

    [don't forget she'd helped to draft the last governments HSE Bill which would have outlawed Catholic moral teaching in schools outside RE lessons  and would have forced Catholic schools to promote and teach an 'objective, impartial non-partisan' [i.e. permissive]  view of abortion, extramarital sex, contraception and homosexual acts etc]

    …and Oona was +Vin’s appointment; the CES was his pet-project for years!

  • am-s

    When I wrote as a concerned Catholic parent to Archbishop Vincent Nichols about the goings on regarding sex ed and the CES in April 2010, I was fobbed off with a press release from his ‘Policy and Briefing Manager’. And no, the press release answered none of my questions.

  • Lazylyn

    “Pupil teacher relations of this sort are wrong of themselves…”  Yes Father , and they are illegal if the student is under the age of eighteen , not sixteeen ( the age of consent in this country). I think you are mistaken that ” legal intervention would be on shakier ground “. No one who is a doctor , counsellor , teacher , lecturer , priest should have a sexual relationship with someone he / she knows in a professional capacity. The relationship is not one of equality – one would think that the doctor etc. that I’ve listed would be aware of their own vulnerabilty , let alone the welfare of the other.

  • Patrickhowes

    Thanks for that.Iam particulary interested in this as my eldest sons are going through sex education at the mo.I will blog a bit later.What happened to this awful Oona?

  • Hermit


         Invoking conscience is morally right only if
    the conscience is right. Conscience speaks for itself: cum scientia, i.e., with
    knowledge. Conscience without knowledge is no conscience at all. Which
    knowledge? That imparted by Christ through his one holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. 
    Conscience is not an oracle which can draw the truth from its own
    obscure depths or even create it.


         For each individual conscience is the norm of
    moral conduct. This is the subjective norm, but it is always dependent because
    it is a norm which must conform to a higher norm, an objective norm. Conscience
    must always seek first the objective norm of truth in order to be correct and
    valid subjectively.


         Conscience has a voice of itself, but not a word
    of its own; it is the word of God which speaks through its voice. God has
    created conscience and God speaks through conscience. Before Original Sin
    conscience evoked God’s law clearly but after the Sin, conscience has darkened
    and so it now needs information. That is why God has sent his only Son to
    redeem us and, as part of his redemption, he set up his Church to teach us what
    is good to be done and evil to be avoided.

  • scary goat

     Be aware that some schools teach dubious material in science lesson rather than PSHE because it is a compulsory subject and you cannot remove your child from the lesson.  They don’t even have to tell you or send permission slips home.  One of my children was shown a video of cartoon characters “experimenting with themselves” in a science lesson about puberty.  It came out 6 months later when my child and her friend eventually tried to ask the friend’s mother about it.  They were confused and worried by it.  The other mother and myself had a fit at the school.  After a lot of arguing, the science teacher, who had tried to defend the use of the video, said she would get that scene edited out for future use.  When my next child goes to the school, it had better be edited out, or I will be having another fit…not at the school this time!

  • Alexander VI

    Father, when was this golden age of traditional morality?

  • Benedict Carter

    I notice that the 15 year old in the news now is represented at news conferences by her mother and a stepfather. Isn’t it possible, maybe even likely, that her attraction to the married teacher twice her age has something profoundly to do with the great probability that she has lived as a child through divorce and the ending of her relationship with her father? 

    Easy divorce, co-habitation, zero responsibility, the prevailing culture of so what the hell you want. Result? Psychologically damaged children and their need to find loving fatherhood elsewhere. 

    THIS is where the problem lies and the answer must be to make divorce difficult again. But without the Faith, even that is plugging holes with an impermanent and unsatisfactory cement. 

    Priests and Bishops MUST drop its modern love-affair with the world and its values, and must urgently start teaching the eternal verities again with force, strength and courage, giving no ground at all to the siren songs of the progressivist “Non Serviam!”.

    A self-confident Church again radically in opposition to the world, peopled with holy priests and a laity educated in the integral and inviolate Faith!

    This is what this girl and her maths teacher needed to have heard years past! 

  • scary goat

    Good post mr C.

    I have a lot of jumbled up thoughts on this, so I don’t know if this will be very coherent, but I’ll try.

    1. While I agree entirely with your post, I feel we need to be a bit careful not to “blame” the family.  (cultural context must be taken into consideration) I am sure it wasn’t your intention to blame anyone, but some might take it that way.

    2.  Although it is not a good way to go, a married teacher running off with an under-aged pupil, I must admit I have some sympathy.  This is very different from a teacher/priest/anyone else simply exploiting a teen with no genuine intentions.  This young man has thrown away his career (and his marriage?) and actually run-off with the girl, presumably with the intention of staying with her.  I know it can’t be good for his wife, but again, cultural context where there is no security in marriage any more.

    3. Related to 2 other threads on here: “culture of death” and “salvation” in Bp. Egan’s speech.
    What you have said above is exactly what we need….people who are able to translate Church “mumbo jumbo” into real life in a way that people can understand. I am pretty sure when we talk about “culture of death” people think we are talking about physical, practical death. Abortion and euthanasia (only). And in a material society, they counter this with saving the sick from more suffering, or compassion for the woman with a crisis pregnancy, just a bunch of cells etc. And salvation? I am pretty sure they understand this only in terms of “going to Heaven” which they then dismiss as mumbo jumbo. They do not understand the “bigger picture” of counter-culture of death v the fullness of life.

    People think Church rules are old fashioned and spoil their freedom of choice and their fun or even that the rules are oppressive.  They don’t get it that Holy Mother Church has our best interests at heart.  This is what needs to be explained clearly.

    Culture of death isn’t just about abortion and euthanasia. It’s about destroyed lives, destroyed love, destroyed trust, destroyed respect, loneliness, isolation, lack of value, lack of coherence etc etc. The list is endless. 

    In a very sceptical age, I’m not sure that talking “religious mumbo jumbo” will get through to anyone.  We are way too far down the slippery slope already.  I think talking “Church social teaching” with good solid explanations related to real life experience is more likely to catch people’s attention. There is a lot of misery out there….if we can show people that we have got something better, then they might begin to wonder why. Of course, the snag is, to be able to do that, we need to have our own house in order first, as you have rightly pointed out.

  • Benedict Carter

    Thanks for kind words Scary. I don’t blame the family at all, no; people are being tossed about by the maelstrom of the liberal-progressive New World Order war on Christ like so many leaves, which is how the devil wants it. 

    Agree entirely that we have to have our own house in order first. Solving the crisis in the Church is of course the key to solving the crisis in families, in communities, in nations and in the whole world. 

    While it’s doctrinal in nature, I don’t believe that’s the core of it. The centre of the crisis post Vatican II is a crisis of Faith at the very top. 

    This is what we know of the part of the Third Secret of Fatima that has still not been released. To whit:

    “In the Third Secret it is foretold, among other things, that the great apostasy in the Church will begin at the top.”

    (Cardinal Mario Ciappi, Household theologian to Paul VI, John Paul I and John Paul II. Cardinal Ciappi acknowledged that he had read the Secret).

    In 1984 Bishop Alberto Cosme do Amaral of Fatima confirmed, after meeting Sr. Lucia, that the Third Secret of Fatima is not about atomic war or the end of the world, but instead concerns the Catholic Faith, and specifically the loss of that Faith throughout (at the very least) Europe.

    In her 1957 interview with Father Fuentes, Sr. Lucia spoke of a decisive battle between the Blessed Virgin and the devil.

    What does she mean by “decisive battle”? In her interview with Father Fuentes, Sister Lucy discusses this theme, saying:

    “Father, the devil is in the mood for engaging in a decisive battle against the Blessed Virgin, and the devil knows what it is that most offends God, and which in a short space of time will gain for him the greatest number of souls. Thus the devil does everything to overcome souls consecrated to God, because in this way the devil will succeed in leaving the souls of the faithful abandoned by their leaders, thereby the more easily will he seize them”.

    What does this have to do with the 15 year old now on her way back to England, or with the total breakdown of the Church from the mid 1960′s on? 


  • scary goat

     Yes, exactly.  It’s heartbreaking really.  I see so many sad things around me, and I try in my own little way to open up the eyes of the people around me to the Catholic faith…..but the response? Catholic Church? Their clergy are a bunch of paedophiles. There’s got to be something badly wrong with that!  We know how to separate out the person from the teachings of the Church, but that doesn’t mean much to people outside.  They see “by their fruits ye shall know them”.  The whole clergy abuse scandal goes much deeper than the immediate harm done.  It has effectively cut off our potential for evangelising on a massive scale.  It looks to me like Satan is laughing…..and the joke is our clergy.  (of course, in reality, numbers are something like 4%, which leaves a lot of innocent clergy, but the fact that it’s happened at all has had a devastating effect). Then we get something like the German Church tax.  I’m not arguing the rights or wrongs of that here, but it LOOKS bad.  Like we don’t look bad enough already! Sometimes I wonder how we can ever live the scandals down and make any progress :-(

  • Benedict Carter

    The Church has lost the sense it and we all had fifty years ago: the intimacy with God and Heaven. This happened so fast it must be planned and deliberate. 

    May I suggest that you spend some hours over a period of time listening to all the radio and other recordings made by Fr. Malachi Martin on youtube? Some of these are in several parts, each about 10 minutes long. 

    Would be very interested in your thoughts in a couple of weeks’ time.

  • JabbaPapa

    of course, in reality, numbers are something like 4%, which leaves a lot of innocent clergy

    The reality is that about 4% have been accused — but as is exactly the same with teachers, the vast majority of accusations are false and malicious.

    The % of guilty (of at least one crime, most of which are BTW relatively minor in severity) in the general population is about 2-4%.

    The proportion of plausible accusations made against clergy is below 1%, and the % found guilty of paedophile crimes is something like 0.15 – 0.20 %.

    I can’t remember the entirety of the statistics off-hand, but I worked out at one point that — concerning paedophile crimes only, that is victims aged 12 or lower — the ratio between paedophiles in the general population and in the clergy is about 30:1 — ie, your next-door neighbour is 30 times likelier to be a paedophile than your parish priest.

    The ratio of crimes by homosexuals against adolescent boys (including statutory rape) OTOH is directly comparable among men outside the Church and among clergy. These represent the VAST majority of sex crimes committed by clergy upon minors.

  • scary goat

     Ok.  Will do. I’m also still sitting on some semi-formulated thoughts regarding our previous conversation concerning SSPX. I’d like to come back to you on that at some point too.

  • LocutusOP

    Well diagnosed, Father ALS, and well put as well.

    If we can get this across to self-identifying Catholics, we might just have a chance of getting things right. The question is how we do that when even most of these people don’t use the Gospel as a guiding light.

  • scary goat

    ” The reality is that about 4% have been accused — but as is exactly the same with teachers, the vast majority of accusations are false and malicious.”

    I would not like to make such a presumption.  There is a lot more to it than simply who has been found “guilty” in law.

    I don’t want to argue about statistics here, as that is not really my point.  I also don’t think it’s particularly useful splitting hairs  about the definition of paedophilia.  It doesn’t make it any less vile if a child is 14 rather than 10. 

    The “paedophile” scandal has caught the public’s attention because it is the most heinous end of a scale of “crimes” by which I don’t mean the legal definition of a crime.  Even without the “paedophile” element, the clergy are already a “joke” because of supposedly “consensual affairs” with adult women.  They are supposed to be CELIBATE.  (Again, I am not arguing here whether the rules on priestly celibacy are right or not, that’s open to debate.)

    The point is ANY sexual misconduct of the part of clergy causes a loss of credibility in the eyes of the public, and the worse it is, the more it will catch people’s attention, and whatever the level of misbehaviour, multiply its impact by 1000 because they are clergy.

    I am inclined to agree with mr. C that this has got something to do with a loss of faith amongst some elements of the clergy.

    Whatever the exact % figures might or might not be, the point is we have a massive credibility problem in the court of public opinion.  I have the greatest sympathy for all the innocent priests who are now in a horrible position, constantly under suspicion for what some  of their brothers have done. 

    But, the loss of credibility in the eyes of the public seriously hampers any efforts at evangelising…..and this is my point.  Satan is having a field day.

  • Benedict Carter

    Would be glad to hear your views and discuss further.

  • JabbaPapa

    I would not like to make such a presumption

    “presumption” ???

    This is not based on guesswork, it’s based on lengthy study of the facts of the matter.

    Well over 90% of accusations made against priests in these matters are false and malicious.

    The % proportion of false accusations made against the teaching profession is BTW very similar.

    I also don’t think it’s particularly useful splitting hairs  about the definition of paedophilia

    Well, you’re wrong — not least because the anti-Catholic brigade is manipulating the statistics to make it sound as if the clerical sex abuse of minors had nothing to do with teh gayz.

    But also because paedophiles (clinically defined as such) simply do NOT target the pubescent.

    The truth is (in a nutshell) — around 90% of accusations made against priests are false accusations ; around 90% of sex crimes involving priests and minors involve homosexual priests and adolescent boys. And no hair-splitting.

    I am inclined to agree with mr. C that this has got something to do with a loss of faith amongst some elements of the clergy.

    That’s a sweeping generalisation — a friend of mine (well, ex-friend from his own choice) was defrocked relatively shortly after he was ordained as a priest, and that wasn’t because he lost faith, but because he fell in love and gave up the priesthood.

    In fact, every separate situation is an individual one.

    If I were to make a generalisation on the basis of my research, most cases involve a temporary weakness of the faith rather than a loss of it, because most clergy guilty of a sex crime involving a minor not only have very small numbers of incidents, one usually, and feel honestly guilty and shameful at their actions, and genuinely seek repentance. That may help explain why the offense does not automatically lead to defrocking.

    But, the loss of credibility in the eyes of the public seriously hampers any efforts at evangelising

    This, however, is very much true … :-(

  • scary goat

     Ok. Wow. That’s some pretty hairy stuff!  I have listened to one and part way through another.  I’m mind boggled.  I need to listen to some more and take it more slowly to make sure I get my head round it properly. 

    I wanted to chuck a bit of an instant reaction at you, just something to think about, but I’ll come back to it properly when it’s sunk in a bit more.

    1. I did notice that Fr. MM said the Church was in  “self destruct mode” and the result will be to jettison the baggage and be left with a “leaner meaner” Church.  He said this before the current Papacy, and that seems to be where Pope Benedict is going. 

    2. Vatican II having opened the door to all sorts of things…I have some thoughts on this but it’s too complicated and I don’t know enough.  I need to do my homework.  (The link you sent me the other day for a start).  I have some thoughts but I want to make sure I’m not talking rubbish first.

    3.  A thought off the top of my head regarding SSPX.  Don’t take offence, I’m not anti-SSPX, I’m just playing with ideas. 

    I’m thinking “on this Rock I build my Church” so we need to hang on to that.  Also I’m thinking love unites and sin/evil divides.  Lets suppose VII (unintentionally) opened the doors to confusion and division.  If SSPX remain “divided” from the mainstream, doesn’t that serve Satan’s purpose? Divide and conquer? Also thinking about demons convincing people that “it’s ok” when it isn’t ok, using their weaknesses like pride, greed etc.  What I heard is that Pope BXVI lifted the excommunications and engaged in discussion. Bp. Fellay was in favour of reconciling but the others weren’t.  Isn’t reconciling exactly what we need? Pope BXVI seems to have the Church in correction mode. If he is trying to get SSPX back into the fold, that sounds like a very good idea to me.  Wouldn’t a Church in correction mode + SSPX be a good strong combination? Is it possible that the other bishops have become too “insular” and old resentments die hard, and don’t see that the time is right to reconcile?

    In our diocese, which some have mentioned on here as being overly liberal, they have already introduced some occasional Latin Masses, and we’ve started some lectures for the Year of Faith. I attended the first one, and I did notice they shipped in a proper “heavywieght” to give the lecture.  He didn’t mince words about sin etc.  The tone is changing. 

    I do know there are saints who have been previously excommunicated.  I’m not “anti”-SSPX  for this reason, and in some ways I can see that they have a point. (more research needed).  I prefer to sit tight with the Successor of Peter, but I would like to see SSPX back on board.  I am just questioning whether it’s a good idea to drag their feet now.

    By chance I live just down the road from a large SSPX centre. I always say a little prayer for unity as I go past. 

  • scary goat

     Ok, sorry, maybe presumption wasn’t the right word.  I didn’t mean guesswork, I just meant I think there is more to this than what statistics will tell you. I have also taken a good look at statistics and unfortunately I have also seen some of this stuff in real life. I wish I hadn’t.  I wish I didn’t know some of the stuff I know. I have seen the other side of the coin, genuine complaints that never got made through fear, and the turning of a blind eye by other clergy, the hush-up tactics used against those with concerns. 

    I think we are talking at cross-purposes about the definition of paedophilia.  I don’t think the general public care if the child concerned was under or over age 12. It is still vile.  Whether it is technically paedophilia or gay “sexual assault of a minor” or whatever else you term it as, the public will still be outraged, and I would have thought rightly so.

    There may well be anti-Catholic bias in the press etc.  I don’t deny that, but if it hadn’t happened they wouldn’t have had anything to use against us.  A temporary weakness of faith? Ok I’ll accept that.  But for the one, or small number of victims, the consequences can be devastating.  It’s not something to be dismissed lightly.  Never mind cold statistics on paper, imagine how you would feel if that one victim had been you, or your child.

    I am also sure that it was love for the Church and a desire to protect the Church from scandal that motivated the bishops to cover up. In reality, by doing so, they have made the scandal 100 times worse. 

    But, the loss of credibility in the eyes of the public seriously hampers any efforts at evangelising

    This, however, is very much true … :-(

    This was my whole point. And I don’t know why my text has gone bold, no emphasis intended.

  • scary goat

     ok….so it didn’t come out bold when I posted anyway.  :-s