Benedict makes a fair point

Benedict makes a fair point London in the 1960s

Pope Emeritus Benedict has met with some criticism and mockery on social media for writing, in a Bavarian journal, that the sexual revolution of the 1960s was one of the causes of the clerical abuse scandals – ushering in a general ‘collapse’ in morality.

I lived through this period of the 1960s – in the heart of ‘Swinging London’ too – and what Benedict says makes a degree of sense. There was a widespread belief that all the old rules were now old hat, and that personal liberation was the greatest goal. The prevailing motto of the era was: “If it feels good, do it.” Fuddy-duddy restrictions were “square”.

Since these ideas swept through western societies, it would be surprising if Church people, high and low, weren’t also affected by it.

A recent new book about the 1960s by Virginia Nicolson illustrates how the attitudes of males changed in this decade – instead of thinking they needed to woo women, men began to develop expectations that all women were ‘on the Pill’, and willing to be easy with their favours. Generations later, the #MeToo movement is a kind of reaction to this casual sexuality.

However, the situation is complex and multi-layered. Abuse of minors has occurred at all periods: it should go without saying that every measure should be taken to deter the sin from occurring and punish the crime where it has occurred.

But there were some positive aspects of 1960s liberation movements, too – challenging prejudiced or entrenched thinking and holding authority to account.

Yet Benedict surely has a point, and reactions should be honest and enquiring, not merely dismissive.


Dev’s Brexit solution

We can all learn much from history – one reason why the subject should always be taught in school – and if British politicians knew more about Irish history they might, I suggest, find an answer in their search for a compromise between committed Brexiteers and committed EU ‘Remainers’.

A solution could lie in Eamon de Valera’s prescription for Ireland’s relationship with the British Commonwealth in the 1930s: a sort of halfway-house called ‘External Association’.

Dev didn’t see Éire (as it then was) as a full member of the Commonwealth, since he wanted to affirm Irish sovereignty. On the other hand, he thought it was useful for this country to have certain links with the Commonwealth of nations, which might provide a bridge to the North. Moreover, Canada and Australia often extended a helping hand in formulating independent foreign policies.

Thus his invention of ‘External Association’ – or what Churchill called “half-in and half-out”.

Today, perhaps the somewhat divided UK could settle on an ‘External Association’ relationship with the EU, as a compromise between being totally out of Europe, which one half of the population dislikes, or being totally within the EU structures, which the other half abhors.

The Dev solution seems to me a very sensible option!


Appropriate sense of repentance

For many people, the end of the calendar year is a time to examine our lives – either to count our blessings or to question where we have gone wrong. And then to look forward to the new year and make our resolutions.

It’s a good and practical procedure, but for me, Holy Week is also a time for such reflections. If it is emphasised that Jesus died for our sins, what better time to think about the errors and waywardness of our lives? What better occasion to reflect on how many times we fall than the journey of the Stations of the Cross?

Perhaps older people have a deeper understanding of this: the conversations that I so often have with my peers are about regrets – the wrong and stupid things done, the contemptuous way we treated advice from our parents when they were only trying to guide us in the right paths: about our misguided pride.

My late husband, an Anglican, often recited, ruefully, from the Book of Common Prayer, whose origins were in the universal Catholic faith: “Almighty and most merciful Father: we have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; and we have done those things which we ought not to have done. And there is no health in us.”

It is a beautiful passage, summing up that sense of repentance which is piercingly apt for Holy Week.