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Church wasn’t the only institution to fail to tackle abuse, says Widdecombe

By on Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Ann Widdecombe: Church thinking on abuse mirrored that of society in general

Ann Widdecombe: Church thinking on abuse mirrored that of society in general

Former minister Ann Widdecombe has said there is nothing unique about the Catholic Church’s failure to address child abuse.

Writing about the scandal in her autobiography Strictly Ann, published next week, the Catholic convert wrote that the way the Church dealt with paedophiles was in line with much of the thinking in the 1970s and 1980s, which was shared throughout society.

She wrote: “I was a Samaritan in the 1980s and we received special training on dealing with child victims but if the perpetrators rang up there was no suggestion we should call the police: confidentially was essential. It was not until the 1990s that this country had a register of sex offenders and not long before that when we finally came to understand the addictive and repetitive nature of paedophilia.

“The Church thought wrongly that if it detached a priest from the source of temptation that all would be well – as if he were attracted to a grown woman, not realising that the reaction would be simply to find another child. It was a disastrous policy but not unique to the Church.

“Child abuse is a scourge upon the innocent. It is found in all manner of churches, in the Scout movement, in care homes, in schools, in choirs and most of all in families. There is nothing unique about the Roman Catholic Church but that does not excuse what happened: it just sets it in context.”

She also added that: “Some of the loudest condemnations came from the BBC, which thanks to Jimmy Savile scandal, now appears to have been more heavily mired in this disgusting scenario than most.”

Miss Widdecombe, who was a Conservative MP from 1987 to 2010, was raised an Anglican and converted to Catholicism in 1993, describing the ordinaton of women as “the last straw, but… only one of many”.

She has since become a regular on television and used her fame to support a number of Catholic causes, including Aid to the Church in Need’s attempts to raise awareness for persecuted Christians in the Middle East.

  • Julian Lord

    the way the Church dealt with paedophiles was in line with much of the
    thinking in the 1970s and 1980s, which was shared throughout society

    Yep. :-(

  • Benedict Carter

    It may surprise many readers to discover that I do not think there is ANY defence to be made for the Church about this crisis at all. I say this after I have tried to do just that here on the CH and in other places. Mrs Widdecombe is defending the indefensible. It is quite right that the Church has been excoriated by its critics, even if those critics have been proved to be utter hypocrites (BBC et al).

    My change of mind came from reading extensively about Father Gerald Fitzgerald and the Order he founded in America:

    In the middle to late 1950′s, this Congregation, founded explicitly to support priests with serious problems, saw the first cases of predatory homosexuality. Fr. Fitzgerald wrote letter after letter to the American Bishops warning them of the incurable nature of the affliction. He saw Pope Paul VI. He gave warning after warning after warning. As we know, he was ignored. The Bishops decided against both a spiritual approach and a tough line and listened instead to the sirens of the psychologists, who, as we also know, got it totally and completely wrong.

    Fr. Fitzgerald’s letters to the Bishops are hair-raising but theirs is the voice of the true Catholic (they can be found via the above wiki link).

    Secondly, I don’t care if there have been a greater number of offences in High Schools or in Anglicanism or in the BBC. None of them claim to be the Church founded by Our Lord Jesus Christ. Why has not a single Cardinal or Bishop (to my uncertain knowledge) gone to prison, been laicised or excommunicated for this utter outrage, whether for being directly involved or because they protected their own?


  • Julian Lord

    To be fair, Ben, I think the article is a little misleading — Mrs Widdecombe is not actually “defending” anything in the given quotes, but rather exposing and qualifying the failures in question.

    Otherwise : Raymond Lahey, ex-bishop of Antigonish —

  • Benedict Carter

    Thanks for the link. Possession of child pornography! God in Heaven! Yet – where are the excommunications/laicisations of those who moved on, protected, promoted the child abuse scandal Cardinals and Bishops?

  • paulpriest

    Benedict Sexual abuse was always the tip of the iceberg and it was unfortunately inevitable that evil would enter where there was nothing to fight it…

    We spent generations where there was liturgy and prayer while spirituality waned
    There was doctrine preached in a hollow way without the apologetic why – hence knowledge was enforced like ‘Mao’s little red book’ without any fundamental understanding – we did not know God – we merely ‘talked about’ Him
    And with the clergy there was power without responsibility – hence in previous generations where clerics had been forced to adopt the leadership/guardian/protector/director mantle and yoke in order to serve his flock – the following generations usurped that power and used it like a despot playing pety power politics and psychologically and physically tyrannising the faithful…
    It was like the gifts of the Holy Spirit had been thrown on the bonfire….

    Hence when the insanity of the ‘Spirit of Vatican II’ arose the priest was suddenly able to utilise unlimited power over everything physical – church architecture, vestments, the liturgy, doctrine, morality – there was nothing over which they didn’t have unlimited power – they saw themselves as minor deities who could do anything they wanted – with no-one to stop them….

    …and so this unlimited power – with no responsibility whatsoever [and no repercussions] could overflow like a blocked sewer onto the faithful…they could be tyrannised, persecuted, favoured, deputised, expelled, bullied, ostracised or ultimately turned into a sex slave….

    Remember the very nature of the abuse – rape to despoil and corrupt – all too often it was sadistic psychological torture and intimidation to violate not merely the victim – but their families…it was a hate-filled revenge against the goodness, beauty, love and truth of families, of innocent individuals and ultimately it was a demonic defiant spitting in the face of God Himself….

    To limit this to the few who sexually abused is to make a fundamental error – there were significantly more men [and women] in positions of authority in the Church who became tyrants and torturers – because they could – nothing could stop them…and many never needed [or were too cowardly to risk] to take that step on to physical or sexual abuse – they didn’t need to when they controlled everything and everyone with an iron fist….

    …and this generation might forget the nature of this iron fist

    - it wasn’t the old Irish tinpot tyrant enforcing piety, the jansenist donatist sexually repressed puritanical pharisee constantly headbanging the precepts of the catechism or preaching the fires of hell and a merciless God and demanding money ,money money…
    …it was the hippy tyrant who enforced expulsion of the sacred and the traditional and the pious and the devotional and the doctrinal and the divine…their message of freedom and irresponsibility and huggy ‘love is all you need’ was like a collective mass-delusion where the scoundrels could thrive…

    It was the trendy hippy who was mercilessly, relentlessly cruel and dominating…
    The spoilt brat who could do whatever he wanted with whomsoever he pleased…

    …and when all the wall and barriers and bulwarks of piety, grace, sacramentals, devotions, solidarity in prayer and benignity and communal sanctity…were all laid flat and despoiled…

    …then Satan’s hordes came marching in…..

  • aspiring lay capuchin

    Poor defence madam. The church is entrusted to look after all its people especially the young. Its bishops looked the other way at the offending priests. The church threw its weight on the side of the priests that committed horrendous criminal acts rather than on the side of the victims. Its inexcusable

  • William Oddie

    Absolute drivel. She makes it quite clear that there was no excuse for what happened in the Church: what she has to say, she says “does not excuse what happened”. Are you incapable of reading what people actually say?

  • paulpriest

    Yeah but the point was that in 1962 – over 50 years ago – Cardinal Ottaviani made it absolutely clear to every Bishop across the world in Crimens Solicitationis that EVERY abuse case must be reported within 14 days on the pain of excommunication and exacting investigative and canonically punitive actions had to be implemented.

    …the Bishops [in the 'glamour' of the spirit of vatican II's conciliarity = autonomy] defiantly refused to obey orders and dealt with these cases the way they chose…systemic widespread disobedience where they chose to seek self-protective ‘psychological advice’ and easy way out cover-ups rather than exact canon law.

    Yes the actions were reprehensible, heinous, inexcusable…but it was grounded in defiant disobedience by tin pot localised autarchs…NOT in following Church directives – which ordered them to do the opposite.

  • William Oddie

    I repeat: NOT a defence. Read it again.

  • paulpriest

    Yes but Dr Oddie be fair – Ms Widdecombe is fully aware that the Church already had mandatory guidelines in Crimens Solicitationis which the local self-declared autonomous individual Bishops decided to disobey and deal with abuse cases in the way they saw fit. They disobeyed canonical directives in order to exact ‘pastoral responses’ by seeking the guidance of external ‘experts’ and followed zeitgeist secular normative practice. Hence the ensuing chaos. The ‘they did what they thought was best’ opt-out doesn’t remove the awkwardness that they weren’t supposed to be doing what they thought best – but instead what the Church ordered them to do – which wouldn’t have led to this vile fiasco in the first place!

  • Liam Ronan

    “Are you incapable of reading what people actually say?”

    Uncharitable cheap-shot. I’m certain you regretted that characterization as soon as you posted it.
    I imagine even now you are ‘editing’ your remark.

  • Cestius

    I wholeheartedly agree with Ann, and I think that the attitude of much of the media of writing it off as “just a Catholic problem” and as caused by priestly celibacy was not just unthinking and prejudice driven, but it failed to examine or call attention to the much wider problem in society generally. (In the BBC case, what was going on right under their very noses). And that is in no way defending any of the failures of some Catholic bishops, nor yet the abusers that infiltrated the Catholic priesthood (and many other caring professions as well) in order to get access to their prey.

  • Benedict Carter

    Dear Dr. Oddie, funnily enough, this question most certainly applied to you on a recent thread, didn’t it? I am still waiting for your apology.

    It would appear to apply to you here too, for Mrs. Widdecombe is not my target, as any reader of my post understands.

  • Benedict Carter

    Dr. Oddie has form.

  • Benedict Carter

    Thanks Paul. This is what I was referring to in my post below, that Dr. Oddie has so rudely attacked me for. There is no excuse. I wish we would stop trying – and just cleanse the filth from the Church.

  • charles john

    If the reports on Rorate Caeli blog are true about what the Pope has said to latin american religious, then I am now irrevocably opposed to this Pope Francis.

  • Liam Ronan

    Notwithstanding, Benedict, in addition to ‘form’ there is substance. One may have the former and lack the latter.

  • paulpriest

    …stop it! you be nice…you can both be as grumpy and belligerent as each other..Dr Oddie’s the best thing on here by far and we’d be lost without him – and you know it!!

  • Julian Lord

    Laicisations have actually become not infrequent, AFAIK — but stories about them are not shouted about to the secular media, in the lack of desire to provide topics of interest for the prurient-minded.

    The UK and certainly the US may possibly be trailing behind in this general trend, though it seems that the Church in Scotland at least is waking up and noticing the writing on the wall.

  • Andrea

    What upset you Charles?

  • paulpriest

    Dr Oddie wasn’t attacking you – it was the way you said it and from one perspective he had every right to blow his top – you took it from the angle that she was equivocating and semi-justifying it by ‘we were all as bad as each other’ – when he’s arguing that her emphasis is ‘hey yes we’re guilty – but so were the majority of our accusers too’ – both right – both right to argue for the whole to be considered…

    …and as for being rude..come off it..the pair of you can be as bad as each other…nowhere near as offensive as I can be but that’s because I’m a non-entity with nothing to lose…

  • Julian Lord

    The Rorate report on this talk by the Pope is a little forcible, as it wallpapers over the Pope’s sense of irony in his choice of language and statement in the original Spanish.

    It’s perhaps a clumsy enough speech, which clumsiness is not something to be admired, and perhaps the Holy Father may have let his guard down — but as far as I can tell the Roratethrowing of toys from the pram over the whole “3,525 rosaries” thing is a product of that clumsiness, rather than any indication of unorthodoxy or whatever. As far as I can tell, the Pope is doubtful of this practice of counting rosaries quantitatively, rather than focusing on the spirituality of the rosary.

  • paulpriest

    Sigh! You don’t realise that when it comes to most issues you’re both on the same side yet arguing from different perspectives…and yes I say this as someone who’s engaged in veritable slanging matches with the blessed Doc…but don’t waste your time in friendly fire…go for the jugular of the stuff on here which compromises,jeopardises or wilfully misrepresents the One True Faith and undermines the faithful in the Church Militant

  • paulpriest

    This report should be taken with a bucket of salt…it was published by latin american tabletista we are church types who want His Holiness to be created in their own image….but I won’t deny that even if the minutest fraction of it is factual [even in regard to the papal attitude] – then it’s disconcerting…I won’t believe a word of it until I am confronted with incontrovertible evidence to support it.

  • charles john

    He mocks people who said the Rosary for him.

  • Benedict Carter

    “Laicisations have actually become not infrequent ..”

    Which Bishops or Cardinals have been laicised for covering up sex abuse by priests in their charge?

    Name one.

  • paulpriest

    Unfortunately Jabba this ‘hispanic’ overtone makes it perfectly clear that His Holiness needs to learn – rapidly – that He’s the Pope of the whole world and needs to speak accordingly – remember the whole fiasco of the jaw-droppingly inappropriate statement about ‘coprophagic/coprophilic journalists’ ?

    His Holiness needs to realise he’s not in downtown rough-bluff Buenos Aires and off-the-cuff euphemisms and colloquialisms are going to lead us into a hell of a lot of trouble when they’re miscontrued by a far from understanding secular media – and worse by a belligerent Catholic-clade of the rorate caeli ilk just looking for him to trip up and declare ‘told you so!”

    I thought the problem with Pope Francis was going to be the overuse of hispanic polite euphemisms for the despicable and profane [e.g. his repeated use of 'sending a child back to God' for abortion]
    ..but instead it looks like the peasant-pleasing epithets are going to cause the trouble…

    Sure St Peter was a rough-and-ready fists-flying act first:think later Galilean – but there’s never a recorded word that he ever seemed mocking or mean-spirited or detractive…and although Pope Francis may be anything but this – his words taken out of context can allow inference that he’s being exactly that.

  • South Saxon

    Mr Carter. Forgive me for pointing out, but Ann Widdecombe is more decidedly “Miss”, just like one of those splendid maiden aunts we used to have in days gone by.

  • Benedict Carter

    Thanks for the correction. In case of doubt I always use “Mrs”.

  • Hermit Crab

    Is not “I’m a non-entity with nothing to lose…”, the flag around which the Holy Father has gathered us?

  • Arden Forester

    She’s spot on of course, but the secular society would have us believe otherwise. Anne also told a clergyperson that the C of E “had shot itself in the foot” which upset the clergyperson.

  • scary goat

    This is a prime example of why the Church should do its own thing….NOT follow “society”.

  • scary goat

    Sorry Dr. Oddie, but I don’t think it’s drivel. I don’t think BC is attacking Ms. Widdicombe. I see that she said it doesn’t excuse what happenned, but I’m inclined to agree with BC that any attempt to say: well, it was in the context of society at the time, does come across as not defending exactly, but “putting in context”. (I can’t find a good way to explain :-s).

    I know there are “contexts”….but this invariably seems to be where the Church goes wrong….when it fits in to the context of surrounding society instead of doing her own thing. What makes it so appalling is that it is the Church. Whatever anyone else or any other institution has done it pales into insignificance compared with when the Church does it….because it is the Church.

    I don’t think BBC employees had a promise of chastity did they? I don’t think any members of the BBC act in the person of Christ do they? Yes the actions of those people were just as vile….but surely the point is, we should know better.

  • scary goat

    I didn’t like that either :-(

  • scary goat

    If the reports are incorrect won’t we get a Vatican statement correcting it soon?

  • Granny

    I find this account of what Pope Francis said intriguing (if he said it, that is):

    “Before the Council… One feels in 1940… An anecdote, just to illustrate this, it is not to laugh at it, I took it with respect, but it concerns me; when I was elected, I received a letter from one of these groups, and they said: “Your Holiness, we offer you this spiritual treasure: 3,525 rosaries.” Why don’t they say, ‘we pray for you, we ask…’, but this thing of counting… And these groups return to practices and to disciplines that I lived through – not you, because you are not old – to disciplines, to things that in that moment took place, but not now, they do not exist today…”

    What are the implications of this way of referring to these ‘practices and disciplines’ of yore? Is the feeling for what it was like ‘in 1940’ something to be lamented or praised, something from a different time warp, quite removed and remote from that brave new world of a new heaven and a new earth which that Council is said to have brought us to – as though ‘Before the Council’ now comes literally to signify an antediluvian wasteland of BC and all good Catholics are today simply After that Date, AD? I am bemused.

  • scary goat


  • James M

    “Former minister Ann Widdecombe has said there is nothing unique about the Catholic Church’s failure to address child abuse.”

    Interesting ambiguity there.

    That aside, does she not realise that this kind of thing cannot be used as :fanfare for cliche: a “political football” ? Maybe an ex-politician has difficulty not using events that way, but that doesn’t justify using them in that way :( She may be aware – or not – that no-one claims the BBC is founded by Christ or is His Body. Such claims – and others – are made about the CC, as part of its everyday teaching about itself. So maybe the CC should be held to a higher standard than the BBC. Not to do so is – arguably – a symptom of a loss of the sense of the supernatural which used to be part of the Catholic mind.

  • James M

    Well said, all points. Father Fitzgerald leaves no excuse possible for the bishops – in the US at least. It would be interesting to know whether any other national hierarchies or members of them knew of his efforts.

  • James M

    She is palliating it, however slightly, when she says “…but look at the BBC”. The BBC does not claim to be:

    One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic
    Founded by Christ
    Endowed with seven sacraments instituted by Christ
    the ordinary means of salvation
    the Bride of Christ
    the Mystical Body of Christ
    a perfect society [ontologically - not morally]
    assisted by the Holy Spirit
    infallible in her teaching on faith and morals
    the Sacrament of the Presence of Christ in the World
    the Holy People of God

    - and so on; that’s all I can remember without consulting Denzinger & Co.

    Either the Church is serious, & honest, and accurately informed in making all these claims, and they are true; or, it is serious, but is deluded or innocently mistaken in making one or other of them; or it is the Temple of Satan the Father of Lies; or it has a colossal Christ-complex, and deserves as much as deference as the maniacs & exhibitions who say they are Christ.

    What the Church cannot say, is that she means nothing by those claims; for if that her attitude, she has no business to make them. But if these claims of her are true, they have to have some meaning. Which means she cannot with any decency or integrity try pointing the figure at others. No priest would be favourably impressed by a penitent who accused others and not himself; we are supposed to have the guts to confess our sins, no matter how shameful the memory of them. Why is the Church to be held to a lower standard ? Are bishops to be held to the same standards as those who lack the sacraments they have received ?

    “Absolute drivel”, indeed :( The OP’s question needs asking, often, loudly, and insistently.

  • Georginafs

    “the addictive and repetitive nature of paedophilia”

    Nope, child rapists. Rape is always a crime, whether hetrosexual/homosexual/paedophilics or anyone else commit them. Most homosexuals/heterosexuals/paedophilics manage to control themselves and don’t excuse their behaviour with just stupid, insincere pleas as ‘it is my nature, I couldn’t help it, etc.’

    Personally, I should like to bring back hanging for child rapists – they destroy lives and do not deserve to retain their own. Yep, I know, fascist, anti-something of me.