Posts Tagged ‘grace’

Child abuse and cover-up in the Catholic Chuch

June 21, 2011
Father Kit Cunningham abused schoolchildren in his care at Soni, Tanzania.

Father Kit Cunningham abused schoolchildren in his care at Soni, Tanzania.

My conscience is deeply disturbed by the breach of trust that God placed in me as a Catholic priest. Many of you have suffered and been scarred by your experiences. After much reflection I have decided to return my MBE. — Father Kit Cunningham

In recent years there has been a litany of child sex abuse within and cover-up by the Catholic Church. The latest scandal is in Tanzania.

Sunday – BBC Radio 4
He was my priest and my friend. Then I found out he was a paedophile
Why didn’t the Rosminian order tell us the truth about Fr Kit?
Abused: Breaking the Silence

It was through a web site that victims learnt they had something in common other than being taught by the Catholic Rosminian Order, they had been subjected to child abuse.

They raised it with the head of the order, and unusually for the Catholic Church received an apology, but when they sought legal redress they were told they may have legal grounds but no moral grounds!

The responce of the Church was what it always is. To move the priests on.

the quasi-official Catholic Truth Society published a booklet on clerical sex-abuse that blames it on the “permissive society” of the 1960s.

‘Woodstock defence’ of abuse doesn’t hold water

The Pope when in Croatia had the gall to pontificate on family life. He was the one who in his previous office as head of the Office of the Inquisition covered up the child abuse scandals. Any apology has been like dragging blood out of a stone.

Statistically if you are brought up in a pious religious community lacking in grace, you are more likely to be an abuser and victim of abuse. Where normal sexual behaviour is demonised.

Rob Bell quotes Renee Altson (author of Stumbling Towards Faith) who says she was spiritually abused. Her father raped her whilst reciting the Lord’s Prayer, molested her whist singing hymns. [see Love Wins]

In The Shack, Mack witnesses his drunken father, a church elder, abusing his mother.

In Salt Lake City, Mormons think it their duty if not God-given-right to rape under-age girls to take as a wife.

If human beings are placed in abnormal situations, they behave in abnormal ways.

Some people are asexual, some are celibate by choice. It is when celibacy is an obligation it becomes a problem.

As Paulo Coelho has often said, if the Church treats normal sexual behaviour as a perversion, then sexual behaviour will turn to perversion.

My religious education

But nor should we go to the other extreme. The Lutherian Church in Tanzania requires its priests to be married. The Salvation Army requires its officers to marry within the army.

Jesus took a special interest and delight in children, they had a special place in His heart. His punishment for those who harmed children was to put an anchor around their necks and toss them in the sea.

A lack of grace

March 2, 2011

These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. — Jesus

What is it with Christian Evangelists, or maybe I should say some, for whom a more apt description would be Christian fundamentalists? They get up ones nose. I would not say I hate them, but they certainly disgust me.

Yesterday I was outside Nuestra Señora de la Peña de Francia en la Plaza de Iglesia en Puerto de la Cruz en Tenerife and overheard three people saying the church was closed. I politely interrupted them and said no it was not closed, it was open. What was apparently the mother and father walked off saying they would be back later leaving their son to look in the church.

He asked was I a Christian. I said it was not necessary to be a Christian to look in a church.

He must have thought this was a sign I needed ´saving´ as he reached in his bag to hand me some leaflets he thought or maybe insisted I should read and asked if I knew of Our Lord, that He had died on the cross to save sinners like me.

I beat him to it. I said I possibly knew more than he and showed him the first stanza of ´The Hound of Heaven´, and suggested that he read Why I Am a Christian by John Stott.

I told him God prodded and goaded.

This was a sign for him to offer to read to me from the Old Testament. He asked whether I knew a particular psalm, which I did, but I said I did not know the Old Testament well and preferred the New.

He told me both were the same God, to which I replied as was the Koran and cited the path to salvation was to believe in the one God and to do good.

This immediately put me beyond the pale. No it was nothing to do with doing good and Muslims were different and did not recognise Jesus.

I patiently explained this was not the case and was the ignorance of Christians who did not know the Koran. I explained the importance of Jesus in the Koran, and at the End of Days (in Mathew) Jesus would sit in Judgement, the sheep from the goats, ask why you did not give me a drink when I thirst, food when hungry, shelter when needed. But I did not see you my Lord. Was I not the beggar?

At this point I was not considered worthy of talking to and he walked off in a huff into the church.

In the meantime his parents had walked back and said they would see him at St Telmo.

I looked in the church a few minutes later, but he had gone.

I then found him looking out to sea looking very lost. I told him his parents had gone to St Telmo and I would take him there. I was probably the last person whose help he sought, but he had no choice. I could have just pointed it out, but I thought no, I would make the point of escorting him there.

I showed him a copy of The Big Question, but all I got was a gruff not interested.

We walked along in silence. It must have got to him as he asked me did I know Puerto de la Cruz and how long was I there? I told him yes, that I was there for three weeks, was then in England for a few days before going to Istanbul for a St Joseph´s Day party.


He was now totally confused and perplexed.

I asked him did he know when this was?

No, he did not, so I told him 19 March. I then explained why I was there, as a guest of devout Catholic writer Paulo Coelho. Who of course he had never heard of.

I explained who Paulo Coelho was, that The Alchemist had sold over 40 million copies worldwide, but that Paulo Coelho was little known in England.

He then said I must be someone very important!

We by then had reached St Telmo.

I was tempted to hand him over to his parents with the comment, here is your ungracious son, but I resisted the temptation.

I did not tell him that in Istanbul we hope to attend Friday prayers!

Why do people behave like this? Do they not realise the damage they do? They are ego-tripping, believing they are doing good.

Archbishop William Temple spoke of the sin of self, self-centredness, that salvation was the freedom from self.

The favourite definition of a sinner of Martin Luther was homo in se incurvatus, ie man curved in on himself.

Jesus did not force people to adopt His faith. Indeed, He resisted the Temptation offered by the Devil.

Paulo Coelho in The Valkeryies and Philip Yancey in The Jesus I Never Knew, both tell the same story of a Grand Inquisitor telling Jesus they were having to undo the harm He had caused by giving people free will, they had to be forced to believe for their own salvation. [see The Grand Inquisitor]

Jesus did not demand, He did not pump out propaganda, He issued a humble invitation (Matthew 11:28):

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.

Why do people lack the grace of Coelho and Yancey?

But some good of this encounter. I had told this rather ungracious young man that I had never found St Telmo open. To my surprise I found it open.

Top story in El Religion Diario (Friday 4 March 2011).

True importance

December 16, 2010
shoe Illustration by Ken Crane

shoe Illustration by Ken Crane

Jean was out walking with his grandfather in Paris.

At one point, they saw a shoemaker being insulted by a customer who claimed that there was something wrong with his shoes.

The shoemaker calmly listened to his complaints, apologised and promised to make good the mistake.

Jean and his grandfather stopped to have a coffee.

At the next table, the waiter asked a man if he would mind moving his chair slightly so that he could get by.

The man erupted in a torrent of abuse and refused to move.

‘Never forget what you have seen,’ said Jean’s grandfather.

‘The shoemaker accepted the customer’s complaint, while this man next to us did not want to move.

‘People who perform some useful task are not bothered if they hear some critics to their work, but people who do no useful work at all always think themselves very important and hide their incompetence behind their authority.

Posted by Paulo Coelho on his blog.

False harmony

December 4, 2010
false harmony

false harmony

The monk Chu Lai was beaten by a teacher who did not believe anything he said. However, the professor’s wife was a follower of Chu Lai, and demanded that her husband had to apologize to him.

Displeased, but without the courage to deny his wife’s wishes, the man went to the temple with her and murmured some words of repentance.

“I do not forgive you,” replied Chu Lai, “go back to work.”

The woman was horrified. “My husband is humiliated, and you were not generous!”

And Chu Lai responded:

“Within my soul there is no rancor. But if he is not truly sorry, it is better for him to recognize now that he is mad at me. If I had accepted his apology, we would be creating a false state of harmony, and this would further increase the anger of your husband.”

Posted by Paulo Coelho on his blog.

If we are to apologise, it has to be with sincerity, from our heart, otherwise our apology is nothing but empty words.

We also have to learn how to forgive.

Also see

What’s So Amazing About Grace

Why Forgive?

What’s So Amazing About Grace?

November 10, 2010

The Story of Amazing Grace.

Also see

What’s So Amazing About Grace?

The Jesus I Never Knew


August 20, 2010


Many of us at some point in our lives feel the need to be forgiven and to forgive ourselves. Yet it is easy to feel trapped, unable to get past mistakes we have made and the scars they leave with us and others.

At the heart of the Christian tradition is forgiveness

– forgiveness from God and God’s help in allowing us to forgive ourselves and to change.

This exercise uses our breathing to help us to accept God’s forgiveness and to forgive ourselves.

Breathing exercise

Find a quiet place where you can sit and relax.
Take a moment to quiet yourself and to breathe
deeply. You may find it helpful to light a candle
to remind you of the presence of God.

Begin to take notice of your breathing

– as you breathe in and as you breathe out.

Focus on the issue which you feel is burdening you. And then as you slowly breathe in and out pray these prayers. Think of the burden when you breathe out and God’s forgiveness and acceptance of you when you breathe in.

Breathe in love — Breathe out hate

Breathe in acceptance — Breathe out separation

Breathe in forgiveness — Breathe out blame

Breathe in peace — Breathe out anxiety

Breathe in life — Breathe out death

Breathe in gentleness — Breathe out tension

Breathe in God’s presence — Breathe in God’s acceptance and forgiveness

— dekhomai

For my lovely friend Sian whose forgiveness I seek.

Also see

Why Forgive?

What’s So Amazing About Grace?

God and real life

December 8, 2009
Feast in the House of Levi by Paolo Veronese

Feast in the House of Levi by Paolo Veronese

‘Jesus said: I tell my mysteries to people worthy of my mysteries.’ — Gospel of Thomas

Paulo Coelho posted on his blog three stories

Christian tradition

A protestant priest, having started a family, no longer had any peace for his prayers. One night, when he knelt down, he was disturbed by the children in the living room.
“Have the children keep quiet!” he shouted.
His startled wife obeyed. Thereafter, whenever the priest came home, they all maintained silence during prayers. But he realized that God was no longer listening.
One night, during his prayers, he asked the Lord: “what is going on? I have the necessary peace, and I cannot pray!”
An angel replied: “He hears words, but no longer hears the laughter. He notices the devotion, but can no longer see the joy.”
The priest stood and shouted once again to his wife: “Let the children play! They are part of praying!”
And his words were heard by God once again.

Muslim tradition

A blind man was begging on the road to Mecca, when a pious Moslem came over and asked whether the people were giving generously – as the Koran commands. The man showed him his little tin, which was almost empty. The traveler said:
– Let me write something on the card around your neck.
Hours later, the traveler returned. The beggar was surprised, for he had received a large amount of money.
– What did you write on the card? – he asked.
– All I wrote was: Today is a beautiful spring day, the sun is shining, and I am blind.

Jewish tradition

Dov Beer de Mezeritch was asked:
“Which example should one follow? That of pious men, who devote their lives to God? That of scholars, who seek to understand the will of the Almighty?
“The best example is that of the child,” he answered.
“A child knows nothing. It hasn’t yet learned what reality is,” people commented.
“You are all quite wrong, for a child possesses three qualities we should never forget,” said Dov Beer. “They are always joyful without reason. They are always busy. And when they want something, they know how to demand it firmly and with determination.”

I am reminded of the tales told by Nasrudin. The underlying theme, if there is one, of these three tales is grace, or rather the lack of grace and humility.

I see Christians (or to be exact, followers of the Church not of Jesus) attend Church on a Sunday, but a total disconnect from how they lead their everyday life. Even when they do attend church they turn up in their gas-guzzling 4x4s and people carriers, attired in what the world’s best sweatshops can provide.

There is a remote part of India known as Little Tibet. Prior to the construction of a military road, and their infection with Western culture, they lived a simple if arduous existence. Religion was not something they did on a special day in a special building, it was an integral part of their existence, it pervaded everything they did. When they planted their crops, when they harvested their crops, when they crafted their products, their spiritual existence was part of their everyday existence, it infused everything they did, and everything they did was in celebration of their spiritual existence.

I like to sit in an old country church, appreciate the tranquility and the beauty. The men, and sadly it was only the men, were communicating with God when they carried out their work. They were happy to remain anonymous. Even where no man could see, they still took a pride in their work, because they knew nowhere was invisible to the eyes of God.

I was touched by grace when I walked along the coast in Cornwall and a stunning view unfolded before my feet. I would sit for hours taking in this breathtaking view. When I listen to music by Hildegard von Bingen, who described herself as ‘a feather on the breath of God’, whose music and paintings were inspired by visions from God. Or when I listen to the Eric Levi Era trilogy, introduced to me by my lovely South African friend Estie, inspired by the Cathars who died in the Inquisition, a Catholic Crusade against heretics in France. When I sat and experienced tranquility and peace of mind under the shade of the trees in a square outside a Catholic church. When I watched a sparrow bathe in a fountain. It seemed an appropriate place to sit and read By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept.

There is a strong connection between shame and guilt and lack of grace.

Lewis Smedes, professor of psychology at Fuller Theological Seminary, has identified three common sources of crippling shame (see Shame and Grace): secular culture, unaccepting parents, and graceless religion.

Secular culture, or pop culture, fashion fascists, skinny supermodels, and contrary, junk food, and moronic music; parents who never approve or praise but are quick to criticise their failures; and for graceless religion we only have to look at much of the Church today, arbitrary rules but no love and forgiveness for those who fall by the wayside.

Paolo Veronese found himself in trouble with the Inquisition for a painting of Jesus at a banquet (now hanging in the Academy of Fine Art in Venice, Gallerie dell’Accademia). Jesus is with his disciples, in one corner a man with a bloody nose, Roman solders in another, a few stray dogs roaming around, a few drunks, midgets and blackamoors. Paolo Veronese had to explain his irreverence to the Inquisition, he defended his work by explaining these were the people Jesus dined and associated with. He escaped with his life by changing the title of his painting to a secular rather than religious title Feast in the House of Levi. As now, the Church had somehow lost its way and somehow lost the message.

Children have a natural delight and curiosity in the world. What do we do to drive it out of them?

Thoughts from a weekend conversation with my lovely friend Sian.

Also see

Past mistakes

The Gospel of Thomas

God is

Christianity Theology and Gaia

Past mistakes

December 7, 2009

‘He who cannot forgive another breaks the bridge over which he must pass himself.’ — George Herbert

‘Forgiveness is a door to peace and happiness. It is a small, narrow door, and cannot be entered without stooping. It is also hard to find. But no matter how long the search, it can be found.’ — Johann Christoph Arnold

On his blog, Paulo Coelho told the story of Buddha coming across a yogi with one leg.

During a journey, Buddha came across a yogi with only one leg.
“I burn all my past mistakes”, explained the man.
“And how many mistakes have you burned?
“I have no idea.”
“And how many are left to burn?” enquired Buddha.
“I have no idea.”
“Then it is time to stop. Stop asking God for forgiveness, and go and ask those you wounded for forgiveness.”

I see Christians, that is followers of the Church rather than followers of Jesus, worshiping in church, maybe seeking forgiveness for their sins, then leave the church with a total disconnect.

I call my mobile phone company to complain for the umpteenth time about their piss-poor service. They apologise, say they are sorry, but the the piss-poor service worsens.

Sorry is one of the hardest words to say, it is also one of the easiest.

Forgiveness only has meaning when it comes from the heart, when we show grace. Actions speak far louder than words.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa heard ‘confessions’ from those who had carried out atrocities during the Apartheid era. One of the gruesome and most moving was that from a policeman. He and his colleagues killed an 18-year-old black boy, then burnt his body to destroy the evidence. Eight years later, the policeman returned and burnt the father, forcing his wife to watch.

Asked by the judge what she wanted, she said she wished Mr van de Broek to go with her to the place where her husband and son had been burnt, gather up their ashes and give them a decent burial. He agreed. She then added:

Mr van de Broek took all my family away from me, and I still have a lot of love to give. Twice a month, I would like for him to come to the ghetto and spend a day with me so I can be a mother to him. And I would like Mr van de Broek to know that he is forgiven by God, and that I forgive him too. I would like to embrace him so he can know my forgiveness is real.

As she slowly walked towards the witness stand some in the court started to sing Amazing Grace. Mr van de Broek did not though hear the singing, he had fainted, overwhelmed.

For Sian who asked me to forgive her for the hurt she had caused.


Rumours of Another World

What’s So Amazing About Grace?

Why Forgive?

What is wrong with the church?

October 26, 2009

‘Thou shalt not abhor an Edomite, for he is thy brother; thou shall not abhor an Egyptian, because thou wast a stranger in his land.’ — Holy Bible

‘Political correctness = Church in the Dark Ages. If you don’t follow the rules they burn you.’ — Paulo Coelho

‘God loves all her children, even her straight ones.’ — protester in DC

‘Yes, I believe the words of the Lord to Mary Magdalene to be his most radical utterance. We are family – all of us. We belong in God’s family. There are no outsiders. All are insiders.’ — Archbishop Desmond Tutu

‘Many years ago I was driven to the conclusion that the two major causes of most emotional problems among evangelic Christians are these: the failure to understand, receive, and live out God’s unconditional grace and forgiveness; and the failure to give out that unconditional love, forgiveness, and grace to other people.’ — David Seamands

Listening to the discussion that has been festering for years now in the Anglican Church on homosexuality and women priests, especially that which I have heard in the last few days, I am taken back to the Middle Ages: arcane theological discussions on how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, the burning of heretics at the stake.

What is sorely lacking in the church today is grace.

In What’s So Amazing About Grace, Philip Yancey discuses a prostitute who to earn the money for her drug habit hired out her two-year-old daughter to men desiring kinky sex. She made more money from her daughter for an hour than she could make in a night, even on a good night. You cannot sink much lower than that in depravity. To try and help her she was asked had she ever thought of turning to the church for help. Her reaction was one of disbelief, were she to turn to the church they would make her feel even worse about herself than she already did as she would not be made welcome.

She was right, she would not have been made welcome.

In The Witch of Portobello by Paulo Coelho, Athena who is searching for spiritual enlightenment is turned away from a part of the church service because she had recently been divorced by her estranged husband. What is more important, compliance with the rules of the Catholic Church than welcoming those in search of Truth before God?

In What’s So Amazing About Grace, Philip Yancey describes growing up in the Deep South where Blacks were barred from the White-only churches. Now those same churches are thriving with vibrant Black congregations, the difference being all are welcome no matter what the colour of their skin.

At the weekend I heard on the radio a priest complaining about the relaxed attitude of the church, allowing sinners through its doors who had been divorced and dismissing this as political correctness. Clearly he had not come upon grace, let alone been touched by it. We all make mistakes. People marry the wrong person. Are they to spend the rest of their lives in purgatory or are they to be given a second chance? Who was this priest in any case to sit in judgment, is that not reserved for a a higher authority?

Was Jesus not a shepherd? Did he not speak of one lost sheep and when found that one lost sheep was valued more than all the other sheep?

Why the fuss about females in the Church? Are half the human race to be excluded? Or more than half if we exclude gays too?

God is not male or female, God is. God is unknowable. It is only the arrogance of a male dominated society that gives God a male appearance and deigns to call God Him.

Jesus surrounded himself with women. Mary Magdalene was one of his key disciples. It was the women who remained by his side when he was deserted by the cowardly men.

I have come across homosexuals who are tearing themselves to pieces because they feel excluded from a church that means so much to them. What self-appointed right has a handful of bigots to exclude them?

I meet Christians, that is followers of the Church not of Christ, who tell me how they go on Christian holidays, attend Christian conventions. Is this meant to impress me, if yes, then it falls flat on its face. If I go on holiday, or attend meetings, it is, I hope, to meet interesting people, to expand my horizons, not to reinforce my existing prejudices. They listen to Christian music. I listen to good music.

I have heard speakers in church brag of how they preyed on vulnerable students far from home. They were praised. I hung my head in shame. Others told of success in converting Muslims. Then there is the appalling Alpha Course, bums on seats. Has the Church descended to the competition ideology of a Wal-Mart?

The Catholic Church in the guise of the Pope has been quick to offer a lifeline to those Anglicans who lack grace but believe in dogma (they call it tradition). They will be offered an enclave within the Catholic Church, they do not even have to comply with the rules. Amazing how easily dogma can be set aside when it suits. Smacks of hypocrisy to me.

Ritual is important because it gives a sense of meaning, but ritual should never be confused with dogma.

Did Jesus not say: Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

Did Jesus himself not stick two fingers up to the church authorities of the day? Was it not he who walked into the Temple and kicked over the tables of the money changers and drove them out with a knotted rope?

Jesus excluded no one: women, children, prostitutes, tax collectors, criminals were all welcome at his side, no one was turned away.

Is the church any different today than seven hundred years ago when in the south of France the Cathars were burnt at the stake for offering a more enlightened Christianity that did not require the intervention of priests? The first Crusades were not against Muslims in the Holy Land, they were against fellow Christians in the south of France.

One of the most moving sermons I heard was from Archbishop Desmond Tutu on a trip to London, and I am very grateful that he kindly gave me a copy. In that sermon everyone was welcome, Blacks and Whites, Gays and Straights.

Would Jesus not look at the Church today and say: It has been a very long time since they allowed me in there.

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