Yes, many Catholic priests are hypocrites. But so are the new morality police – journalists

From Telegraph blogs, March 7, 2013

I’m sure many of you listening to Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor on Radio 4 the other day shared my disgust at how such a large and powerful organisation – one always lecturing the rest of us on morals – could be so full of sexual wrongdoers.

But that shouldn’t negate all the good work that the BBC does, nor its central moral message. It’s just that, like the Catholic Church, its members are bound to fall short of the moral demands made of them.

Dr Tom Wright has written an interesting piece for the Guardian about our attitude to hypocrisy, and why there is such an obsession with the Catholic variety. He writes:

The joke here is that it is usually the media that tell people how to behave. Yes, the church sometimes “speaks out”. But if it’s moralising you want, turn on the radio. Or pick up a newspaper. And the institution the media especially love to attack is of course the church. There is a logic to this. The media want to be the guardians of public morality, but some people still see the church that way. Very well, it must be pulled down from its perch to make way for its secular successor.

Don’t be fooled when “religious affairs correspondents” look prim and solemn and shake their heads at the latest clerical scandal. They are enjoying every minute of it. It keeps them in a job (did anyone imagine that the real “religious affairs” of this country, the prayerful and self-sacrificial work that goes on under the radar every day of every year, would ever make headlines?). More: it makes it easier to sustain the fiction that the journalists have taken over as the nation’s moral police.

Contrary to what is often said, the commentariat aren’t anti-clerical – they want to be the clerics, and they become more priest-like the more secular the country; the BBC is the new Church of England, and as capable of steering the nation’s morals as the Church once was.

The new priesthood may not view sex outside marriage as wrong, but there are plenty of other forms of behaviour that have replaced it as socially deviant, including the holding of deviant opinions (views that can get you sacked or deemed to be unsuitable parents, just as atheists once were).

And just like the old priesthood, the new one has its hypocrites. How many of those who pay homage to green politics use aeroplanes or engage in other environmentally damaging behaviour? How many supporters of egalitarianism have fixed it for relatives and cronies to get into positions? How many champions of diversity live in rural idylls or upscale parts of cities where high housing costs protect them from its downsides? And how many of their neighbours are socialists who send their children to the best schools and have holiday homes in southern France or northern Italy? Quite a few; there are saints who make the sacrifice for their beliefs, but human nature never changes.

Hypocrisy is built into the human mind; projecting a moral attitude is necessary for popularity, but such moral rectitude normally carries high personal costs, and temptation is strong. The more idealistic and utopian the political system, the more such hypocrisy becomes overwhelming, the most extreme example being the Soviet Union, which demanded absurd levels of personal sacrifice. In reality everyone strived for the best houses, western goods and the elite Moscow schools (even the USSR failed to achieve egalitarianism in education, a fact that doesn’t deter some British commentators).

The Left still makes high moral demands of its supporters, which perhaps explains the venom towards Catholic hypocrisy. In contrast lots of young British Tories are libertarian, the thinking being presumably that since every moralistic worldview is bound to lead to hypocrisy, the best thing is to not ask anything of anyone and revel in avarice. That’s an unpopular stance, since humans have an innate need to be moral in some way, but if you don’t have priests you just end up with equality and diversity officers.

It doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t strive for morality, whether it’s suppressing lust, greed or racial hatred, but we are all hypocrites, and always will be.

What do you think?