Look At Your Sin

Look At Your Sin June 4, 2014

One of the most arresting scenes in Shakespeare’s Hamlet is when Hamlet confronts his mother Gertrude with the image of her dead husband, and compares it with the image of Claudius, her new husband. Gertrude has committed a great sin: she has married Claudius before she was done grieving for her husband; and maybe, deep down, she does know or suspect that Claudius killed her husband but doesn’t admit it to herself. Hamlet violently confronts her.

Look here, upon this picture, and on this,
The counterfeit presentment of two brothers.
See, what a grace was seated on this brow;
Hyperion’s curls; the front of Jove himself;
An eye like Mars, to threaten and command;
A station like the herald Mercury
New-lighted on a heaven-kissing hill;
A combination and a form indeed,
Where every god did seem to set his seal,
To give the world assurance of a man:
This was your husband. Look you now, what follows:
Here is your husband; like a mildew’d ear,
Blasting his wholesome brother. Have you eyes?
Could you on this fair mountain leave to feed,
And batten on this moor? Ha! have you eyes?

“Have you eyes?” Hamlet repeats. And Gertrude sees and she is stricken with grief:

O Hamlet, speak no more:
Thou turn’st mine eyes into my very soul;
And there I see such black and grained spots
As will not leave their tinct.

But her instinct is to look away, to try to forget:

O, speak to me no more;
These words, like daggers, enter in mine ears;
No more, sweet Hamlet!

But Hamlet won’t let her; his language gets even more pointed and fierce:

A murderer and a villain;
A slave that is not twentieth part the tithe
Of your precedent lord; a vice of kings;
A cutpurse of the empire and the rule,
That from a shelf the precious diadem stole,
And put it in his pocket!

This scene has everything. Hamlet has just killed Polonius in a rage. The scene happens in the Queen’s “closet”, her private bedchamber, and as many stage directors have emphasized, there is a suggestion of incestual urge to Hamlet’s bodily, manly confrontation of his mother. Eros, thanatos, incest, murder, sin–everything is there, mixed up in this brew that Shakespeare makes us drink.

“Speak no more; / Thou turn’st mine eyes into my very soul; / And there I see such black and grained spots” We are all Gertrude. Down to the first sinner. When God confronts Adam about his sin, he shifts the blame to Eve. “It’s not me!” It’s never me. It’s always somebody else. It’s always somebody else’s fault. Somebody else’s sin.

And in denying our own sin, we also deny our responsibility to help care for our brothers and sisters. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”, the complaint of the murderer, shirking responsibility. “What’s it to me?” “What can you do?” “How does this concern me?” “That’s life.” C’est la vie. Am I my brother’s keeper? Am I responsible for all the evils of the world? No, of course not–I’m not even responsible for my own evil.

“Have you eyes?” Jesus asks this also. Sometimes we need to be manhandled like Gertrude, sometimes we need someone not just to say things to us but grab us, sword in hand, and rub our face in our own muck, open our eyes, rub our own face into our ugliness. Gertrude is an adulteress, she worships at the altar of a false god, the god of security, the god of obedience, the god of pleasant daily voluntary ignorance.

“Have you eyes?”

Here is a headline from the Washington Post: “Bodies of 800 babies, long-dead, found in septic tank at former Irish home for unwed mothers

In a septic tank. 800 babies. Let that sink in for a little.

Here is more:

The grim findings, which are being investigated by police, provide a glimpse into a particularly dark time for unmarried pregnant women in Ireland, where societal and religious mores stigmatized them. Without means to support themselves, women by the hundreds wound up at the Home. “When daughters became pregnant, they were ostracized completely,” Corless said. “Families would be afraid of neighbors finding out, because to get pregnant out of marriage was the worst thing on Earth. It was the worst crime a woman could commit, even though a lot of the time it had been because of a rape.”

Have you eyes?


According to documents Corless provided the Irish Mail on Sunday, malnutrition and neglect killed many of the children, while others died of measles, convulsions, TB, gastroenteritis and pneumonia. Infant mortality at the Home was staggeringly high.

“If you look at the records, babies were dying two a week, but I’m still trying to figure out how they could [put the bodies in a septic tank],” Corless said. “Couldn’t they have afforded baby coffins?”

Have you eyes?


Special kinds of neglect and abuse were reserved for the Home Babies, as locals call them. Many in surrounding communities remember them. They remember how they were segregated to the fringes of classrooms, and how the local nuns accentuated the differences between them and the others. They remember how, as one local told the Irish Central, they were “usually gone by school age — either adopted or dead.”

According to Irish Central, a 1944 local health board report described the children living at the Home as “emaciated,” “pot-bellied,” “fragile” and with “flesh hanging loosely on limbs.”

Have you eyes?


Corless has a vivid recollection of the Home Babies. “If you acted up in class, some nuns would threaten to seat you next to the Home Babies,” she said. She said she recalled one instance in which an older schoolgirl wrapped a tiny stone in a bright candy wrapper and gave it to a Home Baby as a gift.

“When the child opened it, she saw she’d been fooled,” Corless told Irish Central. “Of course, I copied her later and I tried to play the joke on another little Home girl. I thought it was funny at the time…. Years after, I asked myself what did I do to that poor little girl that never saw a sweet? That has stuck with me all my life. A part of me wants to make up to them.”

You can read the whole thing. You should.

Here is my point. You did this. I did this. We did it. This was Catholic Ireland, not so long ago. It wasn’t the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition all those eons ago. It was yesterday. These were nuns. These were members of the Body of Christ. “Bon Secours” nuns. Good Help. Taste the bitter, bitter irony.

The Christian Bible says that we are condemned because of the sin of one man, not us, and we are saved because of the work of one man, Jesus Christ–not by our own works.

If you accept these doctrines, then you must accept your own responsibility for all the sin in the world. This is what original sin means. Who is Adam if not you and me? We are all guilty of original sin because original sin is in each of us, and original sin is the primordial sin, the sin that leads to all the other sins, the seed of all the other sins. If you are a Christian, you must accept this. You did eat the apple. You are your brother’s keeper.

I am a Roman Catholic. I believe that Jesus Christ founded a Church, which is His Body, a New Covenant for the salvation of humankind, a body through which I am incorporated by baptism and faith, one Church, holy, catholic and apostolic, infallible in matters of faith and morals, endowed with the Spirit, and with which I sustain communion through sacraments and good works, and that through the Church’s treasury of merit, bequeathed in and by Jesus Christ, I can be saved by the grace of God. I believe these things with all my heart.

But if I share in the treasure, it means I share in the sin. My sin is the sin of the Church. And the sin of the Church is my sin. This sin, this maltreatment of babies and young children, this offense against the most precious and good of creation, against the least of these, against these images of God created out of pure generosity and destined for eternal glory, this offense, it is ours. It is mine. The Church did it. Not “some sinners in the Church.” Not some people over there. Not Eve. The Church did it. Which means I did it. You did it.

Have you eyes?

A murderer and a villain;
A slave that is not twentieth part the tithe
Of your precedent lord; a vice of kings;
A cutpurse of the empire and the rule,
That from a shelf the precious diadem stole,
And put it in his pocket!

This is the Church. This is your Church. Look at it. Have you eyes? Not the glorious body of the Risen Christ, but the battered, weaken, humiliated body of Calvary, crucified on your order. Not the Spirit of Life of Pentecost, but the demon of disfigurement and division which we know so well–and if you do not know him, do not worry, he knows you. Have you eyes?

This is it. This is us. “The Church does not need reformers, it need saints”, Bernanos wrote. How many saints does it have? You? Me?

My Church did this. This Church which I love with all my heart. This Church which gave us the greatest theology, and the greatest philosophy, and the greatest art and music and architecture, and–praise the Lord in all His Glory–the greatest saints, and so much science and knowledge and wisdom and universities and schools and hospitals and charities, this Church which conquers the world, which brought the Roman Empire and the Soviet Union to their knees, and did it laughing, this Church which sends martyrs singing to their death and which shelters the homeless, this Church which faces down all the powers and principalities, this Church did this. My Church. Me.

Zosima was right, and is right, and will always be right:

There is only one salvation for you: take yourself up, and make yourself responsible for all the sins of men. For indeed it is so, my friend, and the moment you make yourself sincerely responsible for everything and everyone, you will see at once that it is really so, that it is you who are guilty on behalf of all and for all.

This is the Church. This is our Church. We did this. Just like we are accomplices of astonishingly unjust homophobia in Uganda and so many other places, and God knows what other evils, and I know you can think of a few. And until we realize this, until we realize that the Church can only be a penitent Church, and that we have to be penitents, and we are guilty on behalf of all and for all, until we do these things, we have no right to go by the thrice-holy name of Christian. We have no right at all.

Look at your sin.

Confíteor Deo omnipotenti
et vobis, fratres,
quia peccavi nimis
cogitatione, verbo,
opere et omissione:
mea culpa, mea culpa,
mea maxima culpa.
Ideo precor beatam Mariam semper virginem,
omnes angelos et sanctos,
et vos, fratres,
orare pro me ad Dominum Deum nostrum.

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  • mochalite

    “Ah, Holy Jesus … I it was denied Thee; I crucified Thee.”

    My internal weeping for those poor little souls continues. Please, God, tell me that I wouldn’t have been one of the women of that day who rejected those girls and their babies. And God doesn’t even need to say anything back to me … in silence, He confirms what I already know. Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

    Your words are beautiful, and battering, and so true. Nathan to David, “You are the man!” And lest any of my Protestant brethren read this and think smugly that’s it’s just Catholics, here are a couple of our most recent sins. Systematic child abuse: http://www.christianitytoday.com/gleanings/2012/october/lawsuit-charges-c-j-mahaney-sovereign-grace-ministries.html?paging=off. Enslaving foreign students: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2014/05/25/south-carolina-bible-college-president-is-placed-under-detention-for-slavery-and-exploitation/

    We are ugly and completely hopeless without the saving grace of Jesus Christ. “Ah, Holy Jesus” again (written in 1630): “Think on Thy pity and Thy love unswerving, not my deserving.” And the notion that we can take advantage of God’s pity and live as if we’re justified, in no need of humility and penitence, is quite simply a lie from the pit of Hell. God forgive me today and open my eyes to how I can serve your people in my little corner of creation!

  • NicholasBeriah Cotta

    For proof of your argument, you referenced Hamlet and Dostoevsky, yet where are the references to saints, the catechism, or the Bible? I couldn’t even really get a good sense of this article because it seemed so grounded in personal opinion and not the magisterium- I found it difficult to place which parts are Church teaching and what is your opinion, so I don’t know what I should accept as Gospel and what I should merely ponder.

    For instance, we are all responsible for each other’s sin in one way, but through original sin? Original sin, I had thought, gets washed away through baptism. To be sure, the Church teaches that the consequences of original sin persist through baptism (CCC#405) but I don’t see this nuanced truth depicted here,

    “If you accept these doctrines, then you must accept your own responsibility for all the sin in the world. This is what original sin means. Who is Adam if not you and me? We are all guilty of original sin because original sin is in each of us, and original sin is the primordial sin, the sin that leads to all the other sins, the seed of all the other sins. If you are a Christian, you must accept this. ”

    Original sin is a mystery, to fight its consequences in other parts of the world would also be mysterious. I think that is noble but noble in the way that a rich guy feels guilty about his riches – it is not in fact, the whole truth. In terrible tragedies like these, which the quotes you offered bare an astonishing witness to, we do have recourse. We look to Jesus, the wiper away of original sin and the One who keeps at bay through his grace.

    The ending says our Church is a penitent Church and “can only” be a penitent Church; it also is a holy Church, and “can only” be a holy Church. I understand that our Church, like an elephant, can be only examined by us in pieces – this piece strikes me as a deformity. Matter of fact, I think it turns things in to an abstraction to look to repent for abstractions – this is real and tragic, but can we just not call each other to look, and to pray? Must we preach something near total depravity?

    To feel guilty for far off sins and to pay penance for them is the easy way to make someone feel holy – like they can substitute abstract penance for real penance, abstract problems for local problems. People in Upper Manhattan lofts surely speak of the depravities of the world, blaming their own race, but in another way, they absolve themselves by comforting themselves in words and ideas, and not actions. (This phenomenon is best described by Louis CK-http://www.pandora.com/louis-ck/live-at-beacon-theater/soldier-on-plane)

    I might have been fine with this whole diatribe if it merely ended with a call to give a mere dollar to your local orphanage. We don’t just “realize” our depravity by thinking or talking about it, we realize it by doing something about it. This is what makes our Church holy – the both/and – we aren’t just called to repent, we are called to act within repentance itself.

  • KelsQualeymit

    upto I saw the draft of $7025 , I be certain
    …that…my mom in-law woz like they say truley making money part-time on
    their apple labtop. . there sisters roommate had bean doing this less than 8
    months and at present repayed the debts on their house and bought a brand new
    volvo . look at here now M­o­n­e­y­d­u­t­i­e­s­.­C­O­M­

  • Antiphon411

    A bit histrionic, but then the canonization of John Paul the Greatest Ever will probably unleash torrents of this stuff–can’t wait for Francis to get in on the act.

    The Catholic Church is the spotless Bride of Christ. Her teachings were given to Her by the Lord and the Deposit of Faith is safeguarded against error.

    The entire membership of the Church is made up of sinners. They have often done evil things–some horrendous. In so doing, however, they are departing from the purity of the Church Herself. Just as the Lord is without sin, so too are His Mother and His Bride. Otherwise, we should consider every crime committed by a baptized Catholic the Church’s sin. If a Catholic murders his wife, the Church is responsible, etc. Nonsense.

    It would be nice to see Catholics defending the Church in this Her hour of tribulation. Instead so many (from laity on up through the ranks to the man in white) seem intent on giving the world and its prince more ammunition to use against Her. Sad.

    • Alexander S Anderson

      Dude, let the Prince of this World have his ammunition. He would much rather have the defenders of the Truth deny truth to save it. By not calling evil what is evil, we abdicate our responsibility to truth, and that goes double when we fail to admonish our brothers and sisters when they commit evil.

      • Antiphon411

        I think the devil’s greatest glee would come from sons and daughters of the Church calling Holy Mother Church evil. The Church is not evil. The Church does not sin. Her members most unfortunately and scandalously do.

      • 🙂

    • Jim Dailey

      I agree. We should be busy defending the Church. Further, the Catholic Church should start to go on the offensive. That is, it is time for the faithful to point out the hypocrisy of the mass media digging up decades old allegations of child abuse, while blatantly ignoring the fact that in the United States it is estimated that one in ten children in public schools are subjected to sexual abuse. It is time for the Church faithful to demand that public school officials and agnostic government officials to be held as accountable for these sins as the bishops and the Church were held accountable.
      An earlier post suggested that Hamlet should have tried to save the kingdom rather than bully his mother.

  • JohnMcG

    I’m wondering if you can expand on what this looks like.

    Because on the one hand, you post that we should “rescue” feminism, anti-homophobia and other projects from the poor stewardship of their activists. The millions of dead unborn children doesn’t make “feminism” a bad word. The sins and excesses of these movements don’t mean they should have a diminished voice in public life.

    On the other hand, you council us to focus on and repent for sins that, while terrible and recent, were also committed far away from most of us and before we were born.

    It seems that one (intended?) by-product of this is a reduced voice for Catholics in the public sqaure.

    Yes, we should not measure ourselves by the same standards as secular movements, regardless of how noble their causes. Nevertheless, the double standard still rankles a bit. We’re supposed to politely ignore the dead unborn children to join forces with feminists, but we don’t dare speak ourselves without atoning for sins we had nothing to do with.

    • JohnMcG

      One reason I mention that is that in looking at large scale sins that the Church or Catholics have been involved in, often a root cause has been loyalty to a political movement or ideology that probably started from good intentions, but evolved into a growing comfort with evil.

      And so, the Catholics becomes a Democrat because the party stands for the poor or for peace despite it being pro-life. And he starts rubbing shoulders with people from Planned Parenthood, and finds out they’re not so bad after all, and maybe there’s better ways than legal banning to end abortion. And how dare those pro-lifers call my friend a “murderer” when they won’t support decent health care? And then they’re in.

      The same story could be told of the Republican who ends up supporting waterboarding.

      Maybe that’s not what PEG is talking about. Indeed, it’s possible he is issuing the same warning, not to let our ideological commitments blind us to the truths just because they are told by the “other” side.

      But, to this reader, it occasionally comes off as recommending that Catholics approach these movements with our hats in our hands rending our garments for our past sins and make no demands of them. And that will only lead us to further complicity in sin.

      • The phenomena you’re describing are indeed sins I condemn.

        But yes, there should be more rending of garments. More penance. More admission of sin. That is an idea that is hardly foreign for Catholicism. But, I forget, it’s always the other who’s the sinner. Never me.

        • JohnMcG

          I guess I see the opposite going on.

          Publicly claiming complicity for a sin I didn’t commit on behalf of a group I belong to, but have some disagreements with, can also be a way of distracting my actual sin. My focus becomes reforming the Church in my own image rather than my own soul.

          I know this sounds accusatory, but I just don’t believe that *you* think *you* are responsible for this, but rather that *those* Catholics are responsible, and *they’re* the ones that need to change. I thank God I am not like that self-righteous Catholic over there who refuses to confront his own sin.

          I acknowledge that this is a bit of a trap that is difficult for any public commentator on morality to avoid.

          • JohnMcG

            To make it less personal, one way, which I think would be incorrect, that this could play out would be for one to say, “This was a result of the lack of value on young, vulnerable lives. I live in a society that doesn’t value young, vulnerable lives, as manifested in that the unborn have no legal protection. My sin is that I have not done enough to change this. So I will double my contributions to pro-life candidates, write my bishop to deny communion to pro-choice politicians, and focus all my public efforts on this.”

            What I think you would really want us to do is see if the single mother who lives down the street or hall could use some help.

            But I think this framing of accepting culpability for global sins can very quickly turn to thinking our primary moral responsibility is to judge and stop other people from sinning, rather than confronting how we treat the people we encounter every day.

            If our response to things like this is to keep advocating for the things we were already advocating, then we haven’t really taken responsibility.

    • Antiphon411

      There is no real logic. No more than there was when JPIItG(E!) apologized for everything Catholic and then prayed with witch doctors and Anglicans. Post-V2 = suspension of logic.

    • BTP

      I agree with PEG in part and dissent in part. The dissent is, as you point out, his inability to recognize opponents: implacable opponents… well, they tend to be difficult to bargain with. I don’t think PEG quite gets that.

      My agreement is with this post of his. It is so difficult to find yourself…

      Look, I don’t think the right response to the story is to say that evil women did evil things to the innocent, though that is entirely true. I think the response is properly to wonder and fear: if women devoted to the religious life — to living for Christ — and whose practical work was a ministry for the weak and helpless, who had thousands of years of proper Christian examples to follow could find themselves disdaining and starving children, what makes you think you would be different? What makes you think you are better than a hundred nuns?

      You and me and those wicked nuns — we all suffer from the same disease. We aren’t in a particular culture or occupation that makes these sorts of acts possible, but that’s not really to our credit. It is so difficult to go against the crowd.

    • Oh no! Anything but a reduced voice for Catholics in the public square!

      • JohnMcG

        If we are the only one or one of the few speaking up for those without voices, which may include some like those babies who were found in the spetic tanks, then that is not a negligible loss.

        • For sure, and I do indeed want a very big Catholic voice in the public square, but if one thing is absolutely crystal clear from the moral Tradition of the Catholic Church, it is that the ends do not justify the means and some acts are always and everywhere gravely unjust no matter the intention or the circumstances. A Catholic voice in the public square is a great good. But repentance of sins is a greater good, and always mandatory for the Christian.

          Furthermore–and this is quite beside the point–I do believe that more public repentance by the Church will lead to an increased Catholic voice in the public square, because while the Prince of this World ensures that some people will always hate the Church for any pretext, many people, for genuine and sincere reasons, do not pay attention to the Church because they view it as hypocritical–and not without reason at all. Facing up to this reality would be very healthy for the Church, and a healthier Church is one that is better able to bear fruit in the public square an everywhere else.

          But again, that is, in a fundamental way, quite beside the point. We Christians are not consequentialists. We are called to do what is right, regardless of the consequences.

  • Iwishyouwell

    No. I did not do this. This BS where you get to deflect, deny, blame when YOUR Church is caught ONCE AGAIN perpetrating some of the most heinous crimes against humanity ever recorded is getting really, really old.

    I did not do this. Blame those that did. Blame the institution that encouraged it and then covered it up.

    Do not blame me.

    Those were REAL women and children, not just fodder for your self-serving blather. REAL people. But what do you care as long as you can get a blog post and the praise of your blog buddies out of it, because it’s all about you.

    With this post, you just shoved those women and children right back into a pit in the ground. Shame on you.

    • JohnMcG

      I’m not completely on bard with the tone on this, but I do think there is a point.

      Can PEG point to a specific sin he committed that contributed to these babies’ deaths?

      Or even his involvement in some sinful structure that contributed to it?

      Declaring “we’re all guilty” has the feel of accepting accountability and responsibility, and can also be a way to escape it.

      This is especially true when one doesn’t completely identify with the “we” one is accepting culpability on behalf of.

      Is PEG going to behave differently as a result of this sin? Or is it a call for *other* Catholics to behave differently?

      Does PEG really believe that he and Catholics like him are responsible for this? Or is it *other* type of Catholics?

      • Iwishyouwell

        And it sure as hell comes off as deliberately dehumanizing to those of us who were victims of similar abuses by the Church.

        If people don’t like my tone, too bad. Imagine how the tone of this pile of horse manure sounds to me.

        Ack. Enough. There is no point to anything Catholic anymore. Same old same old. Whatever.

        Catholicism is a dead, dead thing, something only stupid, evil, ignorant people hang on to anymore.

        Seriously so not worth even trying to figure out anymore. So freaking not worth it.

        • I sincerely do not understand–but respect–why you see calling attention to abuses by the Church, calling for more repentance, and accountability, and holiness, as dehumanizing to victims of abuse.

          • Iwishyouwell

            When you tell victims of abuse it’s their sin too, you abuse them all over again.

          • Ah. I see it now. Yes, I can see how you would read it that way. Believe me, it is absolutely not what I mean.

          • Alexander S Anderson

            It’s my understanding that he’s directing this to those who’s first instinct is to deflect, to try to minimize, or try to explain away abuse when it is revealed.

    • Sleepingbear

      The “institution”, the Church in Ireland preached no homilies, published no catechisms, wrote no books, no creeds, no official doctrine praising the cruel and inhuman treatment of orphaned children. There was no ideological theological justification for such actions. No public honors bestowed on the nuns with full knowledge of their alleged crimes. No corporate awareness that this was going on….so how can anyone ASSUME it was the institution’s fault and not the fault of the individuals involved?

      If some company has a stated, published policy – but an employee secretly disobeys it, gets away with it for years before being caught or leaves and the corruption is discovered…. how can anyone rationally claim everyone else was ‘really in on it an therefore guilty”?

      Try using the criteria used on the Church on any other group. How about the Jews, gays, public school teachers, politicians….. shall we blame the entire industry of move making for the crimes of a few producers? Shall we lay at the feet of all Jews of all time the crimes of a few Jews? Are all gays guilty of pedophilia because some are caught with minors? No. Funny how for every OTHER group under the sun, we’re able to distinguish between the group and individuals within the group….except the Catholic Church.

      • Iwishyouwell

        In Ireland, at that time, the Church held more power than any other entity in Ireland. The history of the Catholic Church in Ireland proves they were heartless, brutal tyrants who had very little regard for human life, especially that of women and children.

        I get that cowards like you have to keep your heads buried in the sand because the truth is too frightening for you. That’s your problem. You go ahead and keep on lying to yourselves and to each other to preserve your idols. I answer to God and I will not lie to protect your false gods.

  • Guest

    This sin makes me so angry. So yes, I am looking at it. It is having an emotional affect on me and I am so frustrated with the horrifying history that is seen as synonymous with my Church. It keeps coming, over and over. I am forced to “look at” this sin, and so many others, repeatedly. But I have a hard time assigning culpability to every Catholic for the sinister acts committed by others; others who chose evil, and others today who choose to be evil. I sin enough on my own, I don’t need any more help. What I need help with, what this church needs help with, is fighting the evil that manifests in the likes of people like these “nuns”. The Catholic Church is salvation and salvation is not evil. But we, its members, are definitely a band of sinners and our clergy and religious are not immune. This incident is sickening and as a Catholic I am forced to own it and answer for it. I do see the sin; all too clear. But I did not perpetrate this crime. However, those who did this should be exposed along with every single count that they were responsible for. The evil perpetrated by some Catholics in Ireland alone has cemented a new era of a darkened legacy that will never go away. We will suffer long for this.

    • I applaud your instincts. We ARE, however, responsible for each other’s sins. Which is okay, because God’s grace is infinite. But it’s still true.

      • Guest

        Interesting. I grasp we are all fallen. But I do not grasp that each sin committed by another person is through my personal fault. Is there a catechism reference that states this the way you have described it? I’d like to take a look and see if I am missing something. Thank you.

  • Michelle

    First, I don’t think that orthodox Catholics are looking away. And I think this article might be a little emotional. But there is something to be learned from the Fathers, especially St. Augustine. First, this has been the state of the Church from the beginning (the net with both kinds of fish) and will continue to the end, and as St. Augstine says really from the beginning with Abel. Second, there is a spiritual purpose to this kind of suffering for those whose desire and try to live piously in the Church. From St. Augustine’s “City of God”, Book 18, Chap 51 for Catholics:

    “For it is not to be thought that what the same teacher says can at any time fail, Whoever will live piously in Christ shall suffer persecution. 2 Timothy 3:12 Because even when those who are without do not rage, and thus there seems to be, and really is, tranquility, which brings very much consolation, especially to the weak, yet there are not wanting, yea, there are many within who by their abandoned manners torment the hearts of those who live piously, since by them the Christian and Catholic name is blasphemed; and the dearer that name is to those who will live piously in Christ, the more do they grieve that through the wicked, who have a place within, it comes to be less loved than pious minds desire. The heretics themselves also, since they are thought to have the Christian name and sacraments, Scriptures, and profession, cause great grief in the hearts of the pious, both because many who wish to be Christians are compelled by their dissensions to hesitate, and many evil-speakers also find in them matter for blaspheming the Christian name, because they too are at any rate called Christians. By these and similar depraved manners and errors of men, those who will live piously in Christ suffer persecution, even when no one molests or vexes their body; for they suffer this persecution, not in their bodies, but in their hearts. Whence is that word, According to the multitude of my griefs in my heart; for he does not say, in my body. Yet, on the other hand, none of them can perish, because the immutable divine promises are thought of. And because the apostle says, The Lord knows them that are His; 2 Timothy 2:19 for whom He did foreknow, He also predestinated [to be] conformed to the image of His Son, [The image of Christ crucified] Romans 8:29 none of them can perish; therefore it follows in that psalm, Your consolations have delighted my soul. But that grief which arises in the hearts of the pious, who are persecuted by the manners of bad or false Christians, is profitable to the sufferers, because it proceeds from the charity in which they do not wish them either to perish or to hinder the salvation of others. Finally, great consolations grow out of their chastisement, which imbue the souls of the pious with a fecundity as great as the pains with which they were troubled concerning their own perdition. Thus in this world, in these evil days, not only from the time of the bodily presence of Christ and His apostles, but even from that of Abel, whom first his wicked brother slew because he was righteous, 1 John 3:12 and thenceforth even to the end of this world, the Church has gone forward on pilgrimage amid the persecutions of the world and the consolations of God.” comments in [..] are mine.

    • You are certainly technically correct in all you say, but I detect a kind of “Oh, what can you do” attitude that I see in a lot of orthodox Catholics when the evils of the Church are mentioned, and this attitude does, indeed, make me emotional.

      • Michelle

        I can assure you that is not my attitude in the least. My purpose in posting was to direct those pious Catholics who despair over these incidents, especially converts, to a way of looking at these horrible incidents that brings good into their souls. You can’t take a good soul down your article’s path of desolation without showing the way of consolation too. It would be uncharitable. Maybe a better way for me to describe your article would have been as emotionally charged.

  • Ajay

    As a non-Christian who reads many Catholic and other Christian blogs (and occasionally, you know, essays and books), I’m wondering if you could write more at some point about how you understand the idea that “we are condemned because of the sin of one man, not us”. I find original sin to be one of the most plausible Christian doctrines, because my own experience trying to live morally has led me to realize that there are deeply wrong impulses that are very much a part of my nature and which I didn’t choose. However, I also feel very sure that I’m in some way responsible for these impulses (and I take it that’s central to the idea of original sin anyway), and it’s not clear to me how that’s possible if they aren’t in some way the product of my choices rather than someone else’s. You’ve sort of suggested in the past that you have some sympathy for related ideas (https://twitter.com/pegobry/status/410662555687063552), so I’d love to hear more about how you understand the sense in which original sin is unchosen if you get a chance.

    • NicholasBeriah Cotta

      I hate to, *gulp*, quote Pius XII but this is from his encyclical Humani Generis,

      “37. When, however, there is question of another conjectural opinion, namely polygenism, the children of the Church by no means enjoy such liberty. For the faithful cannot embrace that opinion which maintains that either after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parent of all, or that Adam represents a certain number of first parents. Now it is in no way apparent how such an opinion can be reconciled with that which the sources of revealed truth and the documents of the Teaching Authority of the Church propose with regard to original sin, which proceeds from a sin actually committed by an individual Adam and which, through generation, is passed on to all and is in everyone as his own.”

      Not only that, why would you shirk a historical Adam – science has not disproved that he existed. You can ask Richard Dawkins if it is possible that all the humans on earth descended from one man – he would say, “possible? it’s definitely true! But-” and then he would explain how haplogroups/Y chromosome Adam works.

      This is a great place to read about how science and Genesis work together: http://www.strangenotions.com/science/evolution/

  • Kathleen Worthington

    I’m curious as to why you chose Hamlet as your lead-in. The scene you quote is a son bullying his mother, whatever her sin may be. Hamlet is a man of revenge (when he works up the will to act) and not a man of justice. I would argue that Hamlet’s example of figuratively holding Gertrude’s head, like a master pointing a dog at its mess, does not advance your intention. However, I would agree that the tragedy of the Home Children is Shakespearean in scope. The news is almost indescribably painful. Any Christian who doesn’t say, “There but for the grace of God go I,” is a fool.

    • BTP

      You should read some OT prophets sometime. You think Hamlet is rough on his mother, try reading Ezekiel.

    • We could go a long time on analyzing Hamlet’s psychology. 🙂

      I agree with your last three sentences.

    • JohnMcG

      Right — one of the reasons Hamlet is a tragic hero and not simply a hero is that he spent so much time doing things like confronting Gertude rather than directly avenging his father’s death, and so brought half of Denmark down with him.

      Gertude is not the villain of Hamlet. She is not without sin, she is not an altogether sympathetic character, but she is not the villain.

  • Elizabeth K.

    “The Bon Secours Sisters last night welcomed an inquiry “to establish
    the full truth of what happened”. Another order, the Sisters of the
    Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary who ran three of the largest mother and
    baby homes, also backed an investigation.

    However, the Garda last night said there is no probe into the mass graves.
    A spokesman said: “The grounds in Tuam were being surveyed in 2012 and
    bones were found. They are historical burials, probably going back as
    far as Famine times.

    “There is no suggestion of impropriety and there is no Garda investigation.

    “Also, there is no confirmation from any source that there are between 750 and 800 bodies.” ”

    I’m all for an investigation, but I think we should all get the facts first before we start pointing fingers at anyone, including ourselves. The WaPo headline is vilely misleading–no one has opened a tank, no one has found any bodies in it. They very well may, and then there will be an investigation, as there should be. But please, let’s all tamp down the hysteria a bit. We’ve been down this road before.

    • BeaverTales

      The WaPo headline is vilely misleading…

      Only if you believe the nun’s spokesperson who was quoted, and not the forensic scientist also quoted in the link you provided. The guilty are likely just protecting themselves.

      They are historical burials, probably going back as far as Famine times.

      Tuam was established as a Magdalene Laundry from 1925-1961. Please tell us what famine occurred during those years and only killed newborns and small children? Wikipedia says the last Irish famine occurred in 1879,

      I think we should all get the facts first before we start pointing fingers at anyone, including ourselves.

      I agree that we need the facts…but let’s get the correct facts, not reinterpreting them in ways that we only wish were true.


      • Elizabeth K.

        The WaPo headline is misleading because the connotation of “mass grave” implies the burial of 800 bodies buried within a relatively short time period, as we’ve seen happen elsewhere in the world; this took place over forty years, and was known to be a graveyard by the townspeople for that time period.

        The Garda’s reference to “famine times”, as I understand it, is a reference to the fact that the burial site predates the interment of the Tuam children, andprobably includes corpses from the famines of the late 1800, given that this is in Galway. The famine isn’t a reference to the children, who, again, died of various causes, each of which is listed in their death records. These causes of death vary and are consistent with the types of diseases and hardships experienced by Irish children during those same forty years.

        As for the facts, Catherine Corless herself is rather horrified that the way the story has been exploited and is trying to have her voice be heard:


        As for me, I’m not reinterpreting anything, I’m interested in what happened here and elsewhere in Ireland at the mother-baby homes. I don’t think they were any kind of place I’d send one of my own family members, and I am saddened by many of the stories about them. At the same time, I don’t think they were hell on earth, either, and I think they need to be seen in the context of what would have happened to these girls had the homes not existed. Victorian England gives a snapshot of that possibility, as do various places around the world today where mothers and babies are, literally, thrown away like trash. These women were given home and shelter against the cruelty of the outside world; that they often met cruelty within its walls is an awful truth but not necessarily an indictment of the entire system. It seems like they should have been a lot better than they were; it also seems like they were a lot better than the alternative for many people.

  • captcrisis

    Guilt. This post is drenched in crushing, debilitating Catholic guilt.

    What happened was not your fault and not mine. Your attempt to spread the blame will not work on mentally healthy people. I’ll bet the nuns who threw these kids in the trash thought of themselves as guilty, soiled and sinful too.

    • Do you support the Catholic Church?

      Then you are a part of this.

      And a part of every crime the Church has inflicted on my neighbours..

      • captcrisis

        You’re making the same mistake as Pascal, only in the opposite direction.

  • No. I did not do this,

    This was done by your church to my people.

    I did not dispose of these children. I did not rape and enslave thousands of women in the laundries. I did not slaughter thousands of my neighbours in the Troubles.

    You did that. You and everyone else who props up your corrupt and deranged criminal syndicate.

    Am I angry? You bet. Galway is my home. How much more abuse do we have to endure at your hands. How many more bullets and bombs and child rape pay-offs are you going to pay for with your offerings until we are so broken down we are damaged beyond repair?

    • Sleepingbear

      Anger is no substitute for facts. Anger doesn’t make you right or just.

      it wasn’t “the Catholic Church” that ran than orphanage, it was a group of women who called themselves nuns. Virtually every female religious convent or organization is semi-autonomous – there’s no 24/7/365 surveillance of their every move by some Catholic CIA or NSA. Homilies were not preached extolling the virtues of being cruel to orphans. No catechism, no creed, no doctrine preaching as official doctrine that nuns ought to starve, beat and torture orphaned children. No ideological justification by august journals, media, pop culture, or saints depicting cruelty as a good Catholic thing to do.

      If they did was was alleged then it was themselves on their own.

      Anger? You have no idea of anger. How is it just to blame an entire group of people for the secret crimes of some of their members? How is it fair to paint a broad brush on everyone?

      You’d be the first to deny all atheists are to blame for the Communist gulags, the Cambodian killing fields, the torture camps of atheistic North Korea. So why a different moral code when judging theists?

      Because you don’t believe in individual moral responsibility perhaps? You are into scape goating?

  • Michael Boyle


    I agree that all of us who consider ourselves Catholic are responsible for these acts, and it is important that we acknowledge that. I am very glad you did that is such an honest way. I had a similar reaction. http://soundofsheersilence.blogspot.com/2014/06/counting-cost.html

    But that acknowledgement is only the first step. Genuine repentance is about identifying the causes that led to these actions, and then casting those things out of our collective life (“If your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. . . .”)

    I believe that an underlying cause of this is the Catholic Church’s historical attitude toward sexuality in general, and female sexuality in particular. Those distorted and negative attitudes, and the shame culture they generate, created the conditions under which it was OK to treat the women and children in the manner they were treated. Strides have been made in the last 50 years to offer a more positive view of sexuality, but they do not go nearly far enough and run up against the obsession with justifying some of the traditional moral positions of the Church at all costs.

    I hope this is a wake-up call for all of us. I worry that we are going to fall back into our standard defensive crouch.

    • Sleepingbear

      This is patent absurdity. I’ll grant that Ireland’s culture – post famine, under cruel British rule, a refugee society in a pressure cooker environment where gossip is a national sport…. is an unhealthy culture that’s bound to have skeletons. But then that’s the culture’s fault, not Catholicism’s fault.

      As for treating women and children….. the Sexual revolution and its partisans have far more blood on their hands than all the ‘bad Catholics’ of this age combined. If these nuns truly did what is alleged about them, then how was it “society” or the Church’s fault? Everyone knew that they ran an orphanage. It was no secret – the whole point of an orphanage is to shelter children. There was no Catholic faith push to kill children. No force of arms or patriarchy forcing unwilling nuns to be cruel. If cruelty was the norm, then it was entirely their fault, not anyone else’s.

      Unless you want your moral criteria used on all your groups and allegiances. Shall I give you a taste of your own medicine and blame YOU, personally, for any crime committed by any person named Boyle?

    • JohnMcG

      And we see where this accepting of collective guilt leads…

      • Michael Boyle

        Yes, God forbid we ask any questions about the Church’s attitude toward sexuality. After all, we know that the core message of Jesus was telling people not to have sex. That must be preserved at all costs, regardless of what concrete effects it might have or what it might do to obscure the other parts of the Christian story. It must be sexuality user alles.

        • JohnMcG

          Yes, that’s a fair summary of Catholic sexual teaching…

        • JohnMcG

          But, I suppose that’s only fair, given the intense cultural soul-searching we’ve had about the sexual revolution after say, Dr. Gosnell’s trial, or the reports of campus sexual assault, or any other violence that could be rooted in the new culture of sexual permissivieness.

          Oh, that’s right. That soul-searching never happens, and those that dare bring those questions up are dismissed as glib opportunists.

        • JohnMcG
          • Michael Boyle

            And clearly the proper solution to this is to throw all of these girls into a group home where they will be shunned and used as slave labor.

            And there were certainly no back-alley abortionists before Roe.

            Come on.

            I know that it is easy and comfortable to look at everything before the “sexual revolution” as wonderful and everything after as wicked, but it is a fantasy. I get that one might believe that, on balance, the old ways were better. I disagree, but I see how you could come to that conclusion. But we are not even having that conversation, because most people inside Catholicism are not willing to even acknowledge that there is a balancing to be done. And this is story is a perfect example of that.

          • JohnMcG

            I did not say that the solution was to lock everyone in a group home. Nothing in Catholic teaching required this, and nobody is defending that practice.

            I am rejecting the also-easy notion that if only the Catholic Church changed its sexual teachings to mirror Western culture, everything would be great.

            The sexual revolution has its own impressive body count to account for as well, in addition to damaged souls.

            I am not clinging to old teachings at all costs; I am saying that changing it has its costs as well, that its proponents are equally, if not moreso, unwilling to confront.

  • Sven2547

    The “culture of life”.

    • IRVCath

      Abusus non tollit usum. If a scoundrel is right, his being a scoundrel doesnot change that fact.

      • Sven2547

        You think these nuns were right?

        • I think it’s that their wrongness doesn’t tell us the value of the Consistent-Life-Ethic or Catholicism.

  • Sleepingbear

    Oh for Pete’s sake.

    I did not do this, you or we did not do this. If a few Jews or gays are proven guilty of some heinous crime against humanity what is it that we’re all brow beat into accepting? That they’re all guilty and must all pay for the crimes of a few? No, that the group cannot be guilty of a crime they had no knowledge of. That merely being a Jew or gay does not make one responsible for everything some other Jew or gay person does.

    And that’s how the world rolls – that’s how every civilized country’s elites considers itself to be enlightened and fair and just. One cannot blame an entire group of people for the secret actions of a few of its members. Obama is not personally at fault for some evil deed done by some low level employee somewhere that he didn’t know about or would never have approved of had he known. Responsibility only goes so far.

    And we accept this all the time in the Media and in the public square….until the topic is Catholicism and the Catholic Church. Then suddenly it’s tossed out the window and we’re on a Jihad to wipe out everyone with the name “Catholic” for the crime of some nuns.

    Then as now, there are nuns who do their own thing without oversight, without approval, without “society” or “the hierarchy” being aware of the details of their lives. Most nuns are semi-autonomous – there’s no CIA, no NSA snooping on their every move. Most of the time great corruption can go on for years before the hierarchy knows about it – which is why we have pro-abort nuns working for Planned Parenthood for years as escorts before something is done about it.

    But I get it, there’s a huge need to scape goat and shift blame off the sisters onto anyone else. It’s got to be nameless hierarch’s fault, right? or general “old people” to blame for this, right?

    Couldn’t possibly have been the nuns all on their lonesome?

    The measure by which you use to judge others will be used to judge yourself. So if all Catholics (Irish or not) are to blame for the actions of these nuns – against the Bible, against all council, popes, saints, synods, holy books, catechisms, etc. against common sense, against basic human decency…. if their sins and crimes are to be laid at all of our feet such that we all need to be guilty and surrender to our enemies and jettison our doctrine as all wrong and rubbish….then when shall I expect every OTHER group under the sun to follow the same road to salvation?

    • Yeah. Although I sort-of get what he’s saying, I can see how it largely just plays into anti-Catholic people. Also I think a generalized “The Church must atone, we all must atone”, though generally true in that all people are sinners, might ignore or elide that there may well have been specific pathologies in Ireland.

      Also I’m a little perplexed and confused by how much many important Catholics love Dostoyefsky. I like some of his works, but the guy was pretty intensely anti-Catholic and as others state he’s not a theologian or saint. (Not even to Orthodoxy, I don’t think, as he was reportedly pretty harsh to people) So I don’t know that one should be putting too much weight in what he says even if I like his criticisms of utopianism, for example.

  • BTP


    Perhaps one of our sins is being too willing to believe the worst about others:


    As I’ve said, it is so difficult to argue against a crowd. And, in our defense, we have a number of bishops who have given us reason to make this sort of assumption. That doesn’t let us off the hook, though, for jumping to the most awful conclusions; neither does it change the core insight if, in fact, the reports had been true.