Jude Collins

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Sin and the curious case of Fr Kit Cunningham

Fr Kit Cunningham

Sin’s a funny thing. Back in the 1950s there was really only one sin – sex, in thought as well as in deed. We knew that sex was the only sin because the Catholic Church told us so. It was the one you heard preached against and the one you knew for sure would land you in hell. Everything else shrank in importance alongside it. OK, the odd Sunday you might get a sermon about doing an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay ( translation: there are a lot of lazy workers in this parish) and gossiping (translation: God, some of the women in this parish!), but sex got front-and-centre sin attention. You could be a paragon of virtue in every other area but sexual sin stained all that out of existence.

Have things changed? Yes, completely, and at the same time not at all. Two examples.

Bishop Eamon Casey (remember him?) did sterling work for years with Irish emigrants in London;  all that shrank to nothing when he was found to have fathered a child with an American woman. He fled the country, pursued by national contempt.

This morning on BBC Radio Ulster/Raidió Ulaidh, a writer talked about a Fr Kit Cunningham. This English priest apparently spent a lifetime doing good work, particularly with the marginalised in society. He was a friend and confessor to the writer, who even named his son after the priest. Then Fr Kit Cunningham died and it emerged that he’d been guilty of the sexual abuse of children. Interviewer William Crawley and the writer appeared to agree: the man who’d seemed thoroughly good had been in fact thoroughly bad.

In the 1950s, sexual sin was the only sin and everything else shrank in importance alongside it. Today, sexual sin is the only sin if we're talking about Catholic clergy. Everything else they may have done – good and bad – shrinks in importance alongside it.

If we’re loud in condemning the blinkered ethics of the Catholic Church in the 1950s, why aren't we equally loud in condemning  blinkered ethics by its critics today?


  1. Christ, is it not enough that you look like a paedophile?

  2. I think you look like a lawyer but what it does for the debate I have no idea.

    Everybody looks like a paedophile. That's why they are so successful in plying their trade. The public can't discriminate and where they manage to they end up standing out side the door of some pediatrician screaming 'Paedos out.'

  3. AM : Thanks for comments - much appreciated.
    'Everybody looks like a paedophile' - I think you touch on a central point. Because there's something uniquely nasty about paedophilia, our society has become obsessed with it - we look for it everywhere and in doing so damage good and important aspects of adult-child relations (ask any male primary school teacher). It's also blotting out other bad things that happened and are happening. I was on Stephen Nolan t'other morning discussing a Hearts player who sent obscene messages to an under-age girl. When I suggested that footballers involved in night-club punch-ups where they broke someone's jaw wasn't a good role model either, a guy who'd rung in dismissed this as more or less harmless rough-n-tumble. I sometimes think we've gone mad. PS: Can I sue for you saying I look like a lawyer??

  4. You take a lot of abuse from anonymous posters. This 'evil old cunt' stuff and suchlike on the basis of nothing other than you expressing an opinion without the cover of anonymity seems so invidious. I sometimes wonder why you let it on. Fair play but they can hardly scream censorship when they censor their own identity for the purpose of hurling abuse. I think you are wrong on quite a bit but that is a far cry from thinking it the malign outpouring of somebody evil.

    Sue if you want but you will have better luck with Eoghan Harris! He has more money than me!

    I think the paedophile discussion needs aired but the lynch mob mentality it gives rise to is something we can do without. Moreover, I guess there are more children in Ireland going hungry than are being abused sexually, yet hardly a word about it.

  5. More bald eagle than Legal eagle...