I knew quite a few older journalists who had reported on Vatican II (1962-65), then described as “Vatican-ologists”: they were a merry and optimistic lot who welcomed the aggiornamento (bringing up-to-date) of the Catholic Church, as did, I believe, the general public.
And there was one point on which Vaticanologists agreed: the Church had in the past focused too intensively on sexual sins, and far too little on wider issues such as social justice and other values spelt out in the New Testament. Christianity was about more than the Sixth Commandment, and the obsession with controlling carnal impulses was repressive and neurotic.
And yet the cycle of life brings us back, currently, to that very issue which the enthusiasts of Vatican II felt should be stressed less: everywhere we look the focus is on sexual sins, or even in some cases, misdemeanours, catching up with individuals and institutions.
Actresses dress in black at film awards to denote their opposition to the sexual harassment which has apparently been part of performing arts. Equity, the actors’ union, is considering banning nude and intimate kissing scenes as being what pre-Vatican II preachers would have called “occasions of sin”.
Workers for charities like Oxfam – and caring agencies within the United Nations – are exposed for exploiting young girls sexually. Brendan Cox, the admired widower of the slain MP Jo Fox, has resigned from charity work after admitting to behaving “inappropriately” towards women while working at Save the Children. He has apologised “deeply and unreservedly” for past behaviour and “for the hurt and offence that I have caused”.
Meanwhile, two of the photographers who produced renowned portraits of Princess Diana – Patrick Demarchelier and Mario Testino – have been accused of sexual misconduct (they deny the allegations). Two Cabinet ministers have fallen on their sword, under a similar charge. And we know how much devastation sexual abuse has brought to the Catholic Church itself.
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