Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Invasion of privacy=personal abuse

The "peeping tom" is a despicable, sleazy character who uses people for his/her own pleasure. The denial of privacy is a form of abuse. Invasion of privacy is like burglary. Those who have had their homes burgled know what it feels like - it feels like personal defilement. Some journalists consider anyone fair game in the pursuit of a story - even to the extent of bugging, phone-hacking, obtaining information by illegal means (perhaps even by breaking and entering - who knows!). Whether they know it or not, these journalists are indulging in personal abuse for the sake of profit - and even if it is for what they consider a good purpose, profit is still involved. When traditional Christian morality is swept aside in what used to be a Christian country or where a form of Christian ethics is taught where the ends justify the means we are heading not just for moral relativism but for moral confusion and even moral collapse.

The invasion of privacy is related to other forms of abuse. The irony cannot be lost on those journalists who will do what they can to uncover stories of child abuse whilst hacking phones to the extent of causing suffering to innocent people. Perhaps this is considered to be a kind of collateral damage. People in the public eye are considered fair game. The attitude is often expressed that if a person is a celebrity he/she deserves everything they get - not only in terms of monetary rewards and material possessions but in the sense of being dragged through the mire by the press. What kind of ethics does the media follow?

It is my belief that all kinds of personal abuse are linked. One common denominator is lack of respect for the person. When I say "person" I am including all those things that have traditionally been connected with person-hood - including the right to privacy. The media, both news and entertainment, have gradually worn away the traditional respect for individual privacy. Films show graphic sex scenes - and even show people going to the toilet. This is considered to be legitimate entertainment. Popular songs are often sickening, replete with lurid images and four-letter words; stand-up comics crack jokes with the f-word in every other sentence and paint the most disgusting scenarios - all in the name of entertainment and in the pursuit of money and fame. Sometimes, almost by their own admission they derive pleasure out of shocking people and making some feel very uncomfortable. We have accepted all this and the Church has hardly whispered about it. But all forms of disrespectful behaviour point to a lack of respect. I do not want to go too far with this. I enjoyed listening to Fr. Hunwicke's defence of satire - and I agree with him. Satire and biting humour are necessary - but NOT invasion of privacy, degrading images, filthy words and gross insults.

The greatest form of abuse is abortion - no argument. The direct killing of innocent human life is the greatest offence on the planet, but we have to realise that in so far as we accept this we open the door to every other form of abuse, physical or not. Of course, abortion, as we know it now, did not come first - we already had extortion, bribery, theft - and rape. Outside the recognised evil of murder, we had muggings and bullying. What media people - news and otherwise - need to recognise (and let's hope they finally wake up to it) is that the abuse of a person's privacy, beliefs, sensibilities is wrong. The truth has to be told, and sometimes that is painful, challenging and even shattering. Truth must be told especially in cases of gross injustice where innocent lives are threatened. Sometimes, in pursuit of justice "sensibilities" are rightly disturbed, but in so many cases injustice is perpetrated by those who claim to fight it. When the ethical base - such as it is - supports a double-mindedness it needs to be reconstructed. The Catholic Church has failed in many ways in recent times, but our social moral teaching is the best in the world. It is time not only to spread and celebrate it but to live by it so that others can see what we have to offer against the moral confusion of our times.


  1. Absolutely right Father. Thank you for this post.

  2. Well said Father.

  3. Yes, so true. Lack of human respect leads to every kind of abuse.
    It is so important to keep joining the dots, and seeing where things lead.
    Guarding the dignity of every human person is a vital part of the Gospel of life.
    Thank you for the reminder.

  4. Interesting.
    Thank you, but I wish you hadn't referred to the person whose future is "deferred".
    The recent audio recording online is illustrative of non-productive satire and humor of the kind that is not welcome in the Church, hence the deferment.

    We do not wish our priests to be stand-up comics or after-dinner speakers. Frankly, he gave me indigestion.

  5. Well, Perry, I respect your opinion and - to some extent - share it. I was trying to avoid being too complicated about that. I think he makes a very good point about the "weapon" of humour (as re C. S. Lewis and Chesterton for example) but in his own case, as you point out, there is clearly something amiss.

  6. Father John, why does everybody (including me) call Fr Hunwicke, Father.

  7. "Father John, why does everybody (including me) call Fr Hunwicke, Father".

    Not a SILLY QUESTION!First of all, out of courtesy, secondly because we do not know if he is a genuine priest or not. Many Anglo-catholic priests were ordained with the assistance of either an Old Catholic bishop (the usual case) or by an Anglican Bishop who, himself had been ordained a bishop in that way. The Old Catholics broke away from Rome after the definition of Papal Infallibility. They have valid orders. Also, at some point after the Vatican declaration that Anglican orders were "null and void" some Greek Orthodox bishops re-ordained some priests and- perhaps - bishops. So the fact is that as far as Rome is concerned we just do not know who has valid orders and who does not in the Anglo-Catholic community. For example, the late Mgr Graham Leonard, ex-Anglican bishop of London had documentary evidence that he was validly ordained. I met another Anglican bishop a few years ago on pilgrimage. He was friends with an Orthodox bishop and a Greek Catholic bishop. They both said that they had seen documentary evidence that the Anglican bishop was validly ordained!