Monday, March 22, 2010

In Defense of Catholic Clergy

Elizabeth Lev looks at how the clergy were vilified on the eve of the French Revolution, saying:
After the National Assembly diminished the authority of Louis XVI in 1789, anti-monarchical literature dwindled, but fierce accusations against Catholic clergy for misdeeds past and present increased. Isolated cases of clerical immorality were magnified to make depravity appear endemic to the entire priesthood (ironically, in an age where sexual libertinism was running rampant). The French propagandists labored night and day, dredging the past for old scandals whether decades or even centuries distant.

In his Reflections on the Revolution in France, published in 1790, Burke, a Protestant, asked the French, "From the general style of late publications of all sorts, one would be led to believe that your clergy in France were a sort of monsters, a horrible composition of superstition, ignorance, sloth, fraud, avarice and tyranny. But is this true?"

What would Edmund Burke make of the headlines of the past few weeks, as stories of a clerical sex abuser in Germany a quarter century ago, made front page headlines and top TV stories in US news? What would he think of the insistent attempts to tie this sex abuser to the Roman pontiff himself through the most tenuous of links?

In 1790, Burke answered his own question with these words: "It is not with much credulity I listen to any when they speak evil of those whom they are going to plunder. I rather suspect that vices are feigned or exaggerated when profit is looked for in their punishment." As he wrote these words, the French revolutionaries were readying for the mass confiscation of Church lands.
As the present sales of church property to pay settlements swell the coffers of contingent-fee lawyers and real estate speculators, one has to credit Burke for a profound and historical sense of human nature.


Holly said...

We were just talking about this here in the office last week! We saw the news story and I mentioned to my boss I feel sorry for all the Catholic clergy that are out there doing the right thing who have to suffer for the misdeeds of a few errant priests. I think Edmund Burke summed it up perfectly :)

elena maria vidal said...

Thank you, Holly, it is such a terrible trial for our good priests to bear.

xavier said...

Maria Elena:
Let's not overlook the main factor that facilitated such slander: the destruction of the Jesuits by their most Catholic majesties.

Without the Jesuits' formidable intellectual presence, the ancien régime didn't stand a chance against the propagandists by the Enlightenment intellectuals.

Had the Jesuits not been surpressed, the French revolutrion would've taken a very different course, it might not've happened

elena maria vidal said...

Very true! I emphasize that in my novel TRIANON.