History by numbers from Sir Diarmaid


In response to Silence and shame at the Sheldonian, Clovernews commented:

…it seems to me that Church teaching was historically more about the preservation of the virtues of unmarried girls rather than ‘child sexual abuse’ as such. Those challenged to quote anything about the matter from the Bible usually fall back on the one about people having millstones hung around their neck and thrown into the sea if they ‘offend one of these little ones’ [Luke 17:2] – clearly ‘offend’ can mean anything you want it to, especially after 2000 years, and in any case scholars think that passage refers to recent converts to Christ’s teachings rather than children. (See Mark 9:42 and Matthew 18:6.)

I replied to this, but forgot to mention that MacCulloch justifies his contention that the church has always recognised and abhorred child abuse not by reference to the Bible or to specific doctrinal pronouncements but by giving a historical example of “child abuse” in the church in the 17th century which the church recognised as such. Specifically, he points to a study by Karen Liebreich, Fallen Order: A History (London, Atlantic, 2004).

The clerical order in question was the Order of the Clerics Regular of the Pious Schools, known as the Piarists, which was given formal papal recognition as an order after its founder, Joseph Calasanz, had spent a quarter-century building up a network of free schools for poor children. But by 1629, according to MacCullouch, scandal arose over the sexual abuse of boys by one Father Sefano Cherubini at a Piarist school in Naples. Calasanz (who would eventually be declared a saint) covered up for Cherubini, but the scandals continued and Cherubini, from a powerful family, eventually gained control of the order, and contrived the arrest of the aging founder by the Inquisition. By 1643, with the support of the Inquisition, Cherubini was promoted Universal Superior of the Order. This led to a “chorus of outrage” from conscientious Piarists across Europe, but the response of Pope Innocent X was simply to dissolve the order in 1646.

So, in MacCulloch’s telling, we have Cherubini as a really rotten apple in the barrel; there is a classic cover-up, much the same as in the scandals of recent times; and then, finally, drastic action from the top.

All very clear and simple. Except that the story is quite dizzyingly spun by MacCulloch, so I’m not sure we can trust a thing he says. For instance, with the seeming intention of making sure the “paedo” comes out as the bad guy, MacCulloch concentrates not on any terrible sexual abuse (it may have been horribly coercive, but perhaps not) but on Cherubini’s unscrupulous use of the Inquisition. However, in a Guardian review of Liebreich’s book, we learn that the guilty party in grassing up the founder was someone quite different:

There is nasty Mario Sozzi, who shopped his enemies to the Inquisition, and was struck down by a kind of leprosy. His treatment involved being wrapped naked in the still pulsating body of a recently slaughtered ox. Sozzi died anyway – but his colleagues enjoyed eating the ox.

Also, was the alleged sexual abuse the real reason the Piarist Order was dissolved? What MacCulloch does not tell us is that the Piarists in Florence embraced the teaching of Galileo that the Earth moves around the Sun – a doctrine which could easily have cost Galileo his life when the Inquisition put him on trial over it. This dangerous connection with Galileo was alone sufficient to put the future of the order in doubt. And there was more. The Piarists were opposed by the increasingly powerful Jesuits. And Pope Innocent even had a personal reason to put the knife in: Calasanz had once slighted his sister-in-law. But what really brought about the order’s downfall, according to Liebreich, was not sex but a lack of sufficiently powerful backers.

Of this complex swirl of difficulties for the Piarists we hear absolutely nothing from MacCulloch. Instead, in his account, the downfall of the order had to be attributed entirely to a sex scandal perpetrated by a pantomime villain of a paedo and his co-conspirators. This is simplistic trash. It is History by Numbers, designed not to paint a rich and subtle picture of 17th century history, but to colour in, luridly and crudely, a pattern dictated by 21st century obsessions.

A footnote worth recording briefly is that the Piarists were later resurrected. They apparently did a rather good job of teaching the poor really useful stuff: mercantile arithmetic, such as how to calculate the interest on loans, and exchange rate mechanisms. Calasanz hoped these skills would help the pupils find jobs in banks, warehouses, counting houses and other trades. And if that sounds a bit dull, well, be it also known that among the schools’ later pupils were such totally non-dull figures as Mozart, Goya, Haydn and Victor Hugo, so perhaps the Piarists were doing something right.

Another footnote: Heretic TOC emailed MacCulloch yesterday, inviting him to read Prof. Igor Primoratz on the ethics of paedophilia, plus Jon Henley’s recent Guardian article Paedophilia: bringing dark desires to light, in a bid to encourage a less absolutist stance on his part against non-coercive “child abuse”. The email concluded:

If, however, you are content to be just another strident voice in the unedifying cacophony of hate-speak that passes for current public debate on this matter, just carry on as normal! Be as cowardly and mediocre as you wish! The high esteem in which you are held will suffer not one whit, quite the opposite!

Sir Diarmaid did at least deign to reply, this morning, albeit in brief and uncompromising terms. He said simply, “Thanks for your mail.  We will have to agree to differ on this”. Oh, well, one can only try. Full marks to him, at least, for keeping his cool.

Silence and shame at the Sheldonian


Is silence in the face of great wrongs always shameful? If so, Heretic TOC should plead guilty. By that demanding standard I should have howled the house down at the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford last week. I should have “caused a scene”, “demonstrated”, hurled thunderous, passionate execrations, pointing an accusing finger at the stage, and at one man who occupied it: Sir Diarmaid Ninian John MacCulloch, University of Oxford Professor of the History of the Church, winner of numerous prizes for his many books, presenter of the “landmark” BBC TV series A History of Christianity.

Ironically, he was there to talk about shame and I, along with hundreds of others, to listen. The occasion was an exploration of the topic “Shame : A Force for Good or Bad?” as part of the Oxford Literary Festival. MacCulloch was a panelist along with crime writer Ruth Rendell and an American historian, Deborah Cohen, who has a new book out, Family Secrets: Living with Shame from the Victorians to the Present Day. It was an excellent discussion, well worthy of the Sheldonian, a splendid Wren-designed auditorium completed in 1668, sitting right at the heart of Oxford University near the Bodleian Library.

The date was 21 March. MacCulloch, the most formidably sharp and interesting of the three distinguished speakers, reminded his audience that on this same date in 1556, in this same city, Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, had been burnt at the stake as a heretic. Cranmer had earlier recanted the Protestant “heresies” of which he had been accused in the reign of the Catholic queen, Mary. This desertion of his faith failed to save his skin. Ashamed of his weakness, Cranmer reasserted his faith in a sermon on the very day of his execution, when he had been expected to proclaim publicly the error of his ways. Then, famously, as he was being burnt, he thrust first into the fire “the unworthy hand” with which he had signed his earlier recantation. Shame, suggested MacCulloch, had in this instance been a noble force, memorably bringing out the best in Cranmer, redeeming, and more than redeeming, his ordinary human frailty.

We all feel ashamed when we fall short of our own standards, and it is surely right that we should be spurred by that shame to do better. Some might call this guilty conscience, a private matter, and argue that true shame is very different, a public affair: people are shamed into action, or into changing their ways, through community pressure. That too can be a good thing when we can all agree a common standard of good behavior, in a family, or a village; but is much trickier in large, complex, pluralistic societies such as our own. In societies like ours, paradoxically, it may be shameful to take the easy way out by falling in with the dictates of majority opinion when we have reason to believe the majority are wrong.

MacCulloch acknowledges this. In his latest book, Silence: A Christian History, he unsurprisingly sees a positive role for contemplative and prayerful silence; but he also tackles the more negative, shameful, aspects of keeping shtum, especially the failure of Christians in the past to speak out against egregious abuses. He focuses on three examples, of which these are two: slavery, and the Nazi holocaust against the Jews. So far so good. But you can see where this is going, can’t you? Yes, inevitably, his third example of negative Christian silence, in his book and in the Sheldonian discussion, is the covering up of clerical “child abuse”. This silence, bizarrely, he considers worse than the other two. Why? Because child abuse has always been against the teaching of the church, unlike either slavery or anti-semitism: the Bible depicted slavery as part of the God-given natural order of human affairs, and condemned the Jews as killers of Christ. Child abuse was therefore more shameful because it alone fell short of the church’s own standards at the time.

Well, imagine, fellow heretics, how I felt upon hearing this tosh. Apart from forgetting that the Catholic church certainly did at one time openly support real child abuse by using castrated choirboys (first authorized by Pope Sixtus V in 1589), this offensive nonsense also carries an implicit value judgment that giving a child an orgasm in necessarily worse than the chaining, whipping, beating, starving, terrifying, torturing, working to death, and outright mass murder – of children as well as adults – that characterized Nazi and slaving atrocities. Surely, I had to get up and say something? Usually, I am not shy on such occasions: I can and do raise questions from the floor. But this, I confess, defeated me. I did not trust myself to be coherent. In a room full of churchy types who had come to listen to a very prestigious ecclesiastical historian, I was worried about coming across as a raving lunatic. A moderately skeptical question might have worked, but I was just too angry to find the words.

So I compromised. At the end of the talk I knew MacCulloch would be signing copies of his new book. Being the polite person I am – perhaps far too courteous on this occasion – I bought a copy and meekly stood in line waiting for him to sign it, so I would have the opportunity to speak to him. Actually, I held back until last, so others would not be kept waiting during the substantial harangue I had in mind.

Eventually, my turn came. He signed my copy, punctiliously putting in the date. “Must have the date, eh?”, he said cheerily, “Cranmer’s anniversary.”

“Thanks,” I began. “It was a good discussion. But you seem too sophisticated a person to have such an absolutist position on clerical abuse, so-called. What if you have a priest and an acolyte who love each other?  Shouldn’t the priest have the guts to defend his love? Wouldn’t it be shameful not to do so?”

“It’s abuse,” he replied, “and the church’s teaching is clear.”

“Look,” I said, with perhaps a hint of rising anger, “I have sexual feelings for children and I am not ashamed to say so publicly. If there’s a loving relationship, why should that be abuse? How can it be right to take an absolutist stance when there is love?”

“Well, I do pretty much feel we should be absolutist on this issue. I’ve thought about it a lot.”

“Not enough, clearly,” I snapped.


“Well, you know now how I feel,” I added, awkwardly. “And now that you do know, would you nevertheless be prepared to inscribe my name along with your own?”

I handed him my business card: “Tom O’Carroll, Director, Dangerous Books Ltd”.

He dutifully wrote out my name in the book, above his own. But he said nothing. He did not inquire about Dangerous Books, nor ask anything about me. He just silently left the card lying on the table until I picked it up. It was as though he felt any further inquiry or discussion would be just as dangerous as my card implied. Of course, he was right.

What I should have told him was that he may have thought a lot about “child abuse” but perhaps studied too little, preferring to focus on clerical stuff rather than research papers in psychology: his book shows no sign of any such reading. But I was too angry for such niceties. Frankly, I just wanted to beat the complacent bastard around the head with his own book, so that I could leave him with the sound of Silence ringing in his ears.

I took my leave, still angry, but soon restored to good cheer in the company of an old friend. An Oxford man himself, he showed me his old college, St Peters, and the next day he took me for a long walk along the River Isis, past Port Meadow and the stretch of water where Lewis Carroll once shared a rowing boat with his little child friend Alice Liddell, his inspiration for Alice In Wonderland. Those idyllic days when a man and an unrelated child could keep each other’s company without scandal – despite nude photography – seemed very far off indeed.

One other discovery before I left Oxford: MacCulloch is openly gay. Suddenly the moral certainty and absolutism of this buttoned down academic, soberly conservative in suit and tie, fell into place as part of one of the defining cultural tropes of our times: the respectable homosexual, a figure whose success has largely been build on distancing himself from the “shameful” paedophile with whom he was once bracketed as a fellow “pervert” or “deviant”. MacCulloch styles his career in history as “devoted to showing up the emperors with no clothes: the smug, the pretentious, the imposters, the liars”. I can’t help wondering when he last looked into a mirror.


Bring me the head of Meirion Jones


                                                                                                                                                                      “I “I want to see heads roll at the BBC. Not trustees, or the Director-General, token sacrificial lambs. I’ll start with the despicably dishonest Meirion Jones. On a pike. Outside BBC headquarters.” – Anna Raccoon blog, 26 October, 2012

When Meirion Jones emailed me early last month, asking for an interview, I was intrigued. Here was a guy, as I soon discovered, with a big reputation as a top flight TV documentary maker, winner of the Daniel Pearl Award for his investigation of Trafigura’s toxic waste dumping in Africa and star of numerous other genuinely important exposés. Yet he was the also the man behind the wretchedly inadequate Newsnight exposure of Jimmy Savile, rightly dropped by BBC executives (who were then castigated for their cowardice) because it did not stand up. Yes, there were BBC cockups, but the independent Pollard Report concluded in December that the decision to drop the programme had been taken in good faith. Jones was also the man so ball-breakingly denounced by a woman who had been right at the epicentre of the allegations – a former pupil at Duncroft School for girls. Blogging as Anna Raccoon, her detailed assessment portrayed a “despicably dishonest” Jones who had exploited a vulnerable, unstable, supposed “victim” and failed to disclose that his own aunt had been headmistress of the school.

Strong stuff, and before deciding how to respond to Jones’s invitation, I decided I would first  interview him, quizzing him for about 45 minutes by phone over Anna Raccoon’s allegations. His mixture of plausible denial, and assurances supported by contextual detail, left me unable to nail any particular falsehood or bad practice on his part: for that I would have needed aces up my sleeve from serious investigative legwork of my own, and I had not been resourced for that. His strongest point was that his accuser had not been at the school in the era when Savile was a regular there, whereas Jones had visited his aunt frequently at her home in the school grounds and personally seen Savile on the premises a number of times. My impression remains that Raccoon is entirely right to regard the Duncroft part of the case against Savile as thin to vanishing; but that does not mean Jones was dishonest or behaved improperly.

In the end, I think, it comes down to a clash of values: what constitutes a scandal depends on what you think is reasonable behavior. Public standards have changed. Duncroft was clearly a very special place decades ago. It was a residential school for highly intelligent but “wayward” girls, as they would once have been called – the “hard to handle” daughters of elite families, including top military brass, film stars and even minor royalty. Jones’s aunt has admitted the girls were “no angels”. Many of them – including the key witness in Meirion Jones’s ditched film, who later “starred” in the ITV follow-up, were thrilled at the time to see a bit of action with Savile. It was all very St Trinians: “…an unorthodox girls’ school where the younger girls wreak havoc and the older girls express their femininity overtly, turning their shapeless schoolgirl dress into something sexy and risqué.” Would the audiences of the early St Trinians films half a century ago have been shocked by Savile’s escapades? They might have been merely amused, as they were by the films themselves.

But why, you might wonder, was Jones interested in me? After all, I’m not an old Duncroft girl, and I doubt I’d be mistaken for a St Trinians one either, even if I were to slip into a gym slip (perish the thought!) Turns out he’d been alerted to my existence as a result of discovering this very blog, Heretic TOC. Or, rather, my continued existence. He knew of my work with PIE in the 1970s – which is why he wanted to talk – but until seeing Heretic TOC he thought I was dead! Like Jon Henley of the Guardian a few months ago, he said he would like to get my views on why British society, along with others, is now so militantly hostile to paedophilia compared to just two or three decades ago. He said he just wanted an off-the-record discussion, not an on-camera piece. No particular programme had been commissioned. He wanted background because the theme is “hot” and likely to remain so for some time to come.

Obviously, it would have been crazy to hold out hopes of good publicity coming out of a meeting with a guy who had done so much to trash Savile, and I didn’t. But I was curious: on my side there was nothing to lose, as my life has long been an open book.  Besides, he was offering a modest fee and I thought such a meeting could yield some lowdown on any other looming scandals he might be nosing into; it might also offer insights into how a guy with Jones’s reputation goes about this type of story. Anna Raccoon’s “take no prisoners” views on that are entertainingly colourful but, well, there may be a touch of St Trinians in her!

So Jones and I met. Not, dear readers, clandestinely in an underground car park, but in a plain business boardroom suite chosen and hired by me in a quiet location in the north of England where I could audio record the whole encounter with good sound quality. That was one of my terms: off the record, but on my recorder! He readily agreed to that, but unfortunately I cannot go into specifics about the questions he asked: that was his prior stipulation, although he knows I’ll be blogging.

What I can give, though, is the clear impression I formed of a man who, without being in the least bit underhand or devious, so far as I could tell, is still on a mission to identify and hunt down “guilty parties” from the past – not Savile, this time, but other “powerful people in high places”, perhaps people “at the heart of government”. These and other clichés of the conspiracy-minded appear to depend for their appeal on a simplistic Manichean split between goodies and baddies, with the baddies as the evil, controlling insiders. Meirion Jones and his ilk, in another dodgy binary, appear to see themselves as heroic lone rangers, outsiders riding into town to right all the wrongs. Well, it may work with tightly focused, rather distinct wrongs, such as toxic waste dumping and – Jones’s latest big story – bogus bomb detectors, reliance on which may have cost hundreds of lives in post-war Iraq; but in matters of more complex cultural change it seems to me like a hopelessly wrong-headed mode of investigation.

It is too narrow, too blinkered. Yes, we discussed some of the “wide-ranging” background issues in which he had initially expressed an interest – the rise of feminism, for instance – but there were strong indications that to him this was all just a nebulous and irritating distraction from the real business at hand. Only when we were focusing minutely on the culture of the Home Office in the late 1970s did I sense from him any real sense of engagement, and that is not even my area of insider knowledge: he would do better to ask a conventional historian! Perhaps he will.




Researching MAPs: the B4U-ACT initiative


Glen Lamb, Science Director of B4U-ACT, sets out in this guest blog for Heretic TOC the difficult challenge of encouraging better research on minor attracted people.  He describes his organization’s developing work in this field and how it relates to differing elements of the MAP community.

Because of previous discussions about B4U-ACT on this blog, I wanted to clarify B4U-ACT’s approach and explain some differences between our approach and VirPed’s (Virtuous Pedophiles).  Because I am B4U-ACT’s Science Director, I will do this by focusing on the political difficulties in promoting better research on minor attracted people (MAPs), how we are working to overcome them, and how people can get involved.

Most existing research on minor-attracted persons has relied on people in the criminal justice system (forensic samples) or people seeing clinicians about their attraction to minors (clinical samples), sometimes voluntarily but often not.  Both of these are unrepresentative of MAPs more generally, and in both settings people often feel that it is not safe to be honest, thus leading to unreliable information.  Since becoming B4U-ACT’s Science Director last fall, my primary goal has been and continues to be to get more researchers to study community samples of MAPs (i.e., non-clinical, non-forensic samples).  Realistically, the main means of doing this will be online surveys promoted on various MAP message boards, forums, blogs, and listservs. This kind of sampling is far from perfect but would still be a major improvement over the status quo.

For researchers to do this with decent sample sizes, they must develop collaborative relationships with MAP communities or with people well-respected by MAP communities.  They need to convince MAPs they are trustworthy and that they will treat them ethically.  Basically, researchers will have to follow the same ethical guidelines they are expected to follow for virtually any other population.

Ideally, such researchers would over time develop relationships with the MAP community and come to understand its concerns and dynamics, but very few have attempted to do this, while those who do face grave skepticism (one researcher’s recent efforts to bridge the gap with MAPs online merely resulted in a flame war).  If we just wait for researchers to successfully develop good relations with MAPs, we’ll be waiting a long time, so I am trying to establish B4U-ACT as an effective middle-man.  This is no easy task.

For reasons that many have speculated about, the proportion of views on certain issues seems to be very different among MAPs than in the general population, and these are often extremely strongly held opinions.  I will not speculate here on the reasons for this, but simply state that it merits serious research.  It is also the most politically vexing challenge for my job as B4U-ACT’s Science Director, because it makes it difficult to simultaneously maintain good relations with MAPs and with mainstream mental health professionals (MHPs), scientists, and journalists.  The huge difficulties in doing this can be seen by contrasting VirPed with some of the larger MAP sites.

VirPed is as palatable to the general public as any group of pedophiles could possibly be, but they are reviled in most MAP communities where they are discussed.  By contrast, many researchers seem wary of establishing collaborative relationships with larger MAP sites like BoyChat or

GirlChat.  I suspect this is because a great many MAPs on those sites openly express disagreement with many existing laws and moral positions, and to get along in those communities, MAPs who largely agree with these laws must be willing to agree to disagree.  This differs greatly from how things are in society at large, so these sites gain a reputation among outsiders for supporting the abolition of AoC laws.  A common mistake made by newcomers to these sites is that they fail to remember that disagreeing with a law is an entirely different thing from violating it.  Based on these public perceptions, researchers do not want to be seen as being closely associated with these sites.

B4U-ACT’s mission is to promote the availability of quality mental health services for MAPs who want them and to promote the collection and dissemination of more accurate information about MAPs.  People with a wide range of views on deeply divisive issues can all agree on the need for improvement in these areas, but the great difficulty is uniting such diversely opinionated individuals to work together on these critical areas of common interest.  B4U-ACT’s commitment to promoting better research on MAPs requires that we work with researchers and that we develop and maintain amicable relations with the MAP community, ties we can definitely afford to strengthen, especially with members of various BL boards.

I have been in communication with a few researchers who want to work with B4U-ACT to research community samples of MAPs.  If these go well, we will likely be getting more requests from researchers.

However, in much of the research, there are various constructs that many MAPs find deeply offensive and may even regard as pseudoscience.  Some of the researchers with whom I have communicated have wanted to extend research with these constructs on forensic samples of MAPs to non-forensic samples.

This puts me in a difficult situation.  If I refuse to recruit for them because they use these constructs, this suggests that B4U-ACT is taking a position which it does not.  If I try to recruit widely for them, I run the risk of alienating MAPs who find these constructs offensive and think that B4U-ACT is endorsing them. Recruiting participants for the wrong researchers risks jeopardizing B4U-ACT’s potential to act as a middle-man for researchers in the future.  My personal commitment to promoting quality research on MAPs exceeds my commitment to making B4U-ACT the premier organization responsible for doing so, but we are in a better position than any other group to assist in such research.  I fear that any harm we may suffer in our ability to recruit research participants will increase the likelihood that the research simply will not happen, and we’ll be back to relying on forensic and clinical samples.

To address this difficulty we developed our Research Ethos, a document indicating what it does and does not mean when B4U-ACT recruits participants on behalf of a researcher.  This document also describes how to reduce the barriers to communication researchers face in conducting MAP-based studies.  The only alternative to B4U-ACT’s research initiative is to limit recruitment of community samples of MAPs to VirPed’s listserv of about 70 people who are more ideologically homogeneous than MAPs in general, something we’d prefer to avoid.

There are a number of ways for people to help in this effort.  B4U-ACT recently began recruiting for three new volunteer positions especially important for promoting research on MAPs.  When posting links to surveys, B4U-ACT encourages people who meet the participation requirements to take the surveys, although please note that we do not maintain an email list of people interested in taking online surveys.  If you are thinking about conducting a study on a community sample of MAPs or if you are interested in volunteering for B4U-ACT, please contact me at glamb@b4uact.org

Glen Lamb, Science Director

B4U-ACT, Inc.

P.O. Box 1754

Westminster, MD 21158

(443) 244-9920


Inspiration from history for the Holy Father


Buona sera, Pope Francis! Or should it be buongiorno at this time of day? Whatever! You should be OK if you stick to being kind to animals, nursing lepers, and all that, like, good, stuff your sainted namesake did. Oh, yeh, and the poverty, chastity and obedience thing: fine if you practise it, not so great if you preach it. We can do without poverty, thank you very much, and as for the other two, no way, Francesco!

Now St Francis of Assisi, like many of Christianity’s most impressively holy devotees, was never actually ordained as a priest. Just in case you, Holy Father, feel you need inspiration from those who were ordained, especially your predecessors on the Throne of St Peter, Heretic TOC thought you might appreciate a little reminder of the “best” of them:

Sergius III (904–911) murdered his predecessor to come to power, defiled his corpse, fathered an illegitimate son to his mistress who was 14 at the time, and then ensured it was his bastard son that would take his pontificate upon his death.

John XII (955-964) was a notorious sex fiend. He had sex with women and men in the papal palace and when visitors refused his attentions he went ahead and raped them anyway. The same hospitality was extended to his two young sisters. He held massive orgies and took particular pleasure in defiling holy sites, such as the tombs of Saint Peter and Saint Paul. He personally castrated one of his subdeacons and then cut the rest of him up. He turned the sacred palace into a brothel, blinded then murdered his confessor, toasted the devil and invoked pagan gods during dice games. He even refused to make the sign of the cross!

Benedict IX (1032-1048) Youngest pope ever, as young as 11 or 12. Like John XII he had sex with and raped men, women, boys, and girls – oh, and animals. He was also a back-stabber (literally) and tended to torture/drown/burn/flay-to-death first and then ask questions later.

John XXIII (1410-1415) Very confusing: this was “antipope” John XXIII, not to be confused with the “good” 20th century Pope John XXIII. As pope, he violated virgins and nuns, lived in adultery with his brother’s wife, engaged in “sodomy”, bought the Papal Office, sold cardinal offices to children of wealthy families, and “openly denied the future life”: Holy Father, that last one’s really pushing it!

Innocent VIII (1484-1492) Not so innocent: had 16 children by various married women. Appointed the brutal Thomas of Torquemada as the Inquisitor General of Spain, and ordered all rulers to deliver up heretics to him (Heretic TOC would not have lasted long!)

Alexander VI (1492-1503) Swindled his way onto the throne. Used his daughter Lucrezia, whom he is said to have had an affair with, to lure a succession of wealthy merchants into “marrying” her.  As soon as a wealthier merchant turned up the pope would declare the marriage invalid and she would become available to the new bidder. Alexander held “bunga bunga” parties Silvio Berlusconi would have envied. One of them, known as the Banquet of Chestnuts, is actually a part of recorded papal history. Fifty prostitutes would bring in baskets of chestnuts and empty them out on the floor. The women’s clothes would then be auctioned off and once they were naked they would crawl around on the floor picking up the chestnuts, their vulvas well exposed for clerical appraisal and selection for fucking – with the pope joining in. According to historian William Manchester, “Servants kept score of each man’s orgasms, for the pope greatly admired virility and measured a man’s machismo by his ejaculative capacity.”

Leo X (1513-1521) Leo was made an archbishop at the age of 8 and a cardinal at 13. He appointed cardinals as young as the age of 7. Really keen on burning heretics.

Paul III (1534-1549) He murdered relatives, including poisoning his mother and niece, to inherit the family fortune. He had two cardinals and a bishop hacked to death with swords when he tired of their theological conversation. Notoriously corrupt, he controlled some 45,000 Roman prostitutes, taking a cut of their earnings: so he was a pimp pope, big time! His most well-known lover was an attractive young lady named Costanza Farnese. She was his daughter!

Julius III (1550-1555) Last but certainly not least in our papal naughtiness stakes. Here Heretic TOC hands over the narrative, somewhat edited, to the Something Awful website account (see below). It’s not what I would have written, but it’s done with admirable brio: “Once he was elected pope, Julius III looted the papal coffers to renovate his mansion in Rome. He hired only the best (including Michelangelo). He was known to have a thing for younger men. Alright, he liked to have sex with kids. Okay, he was infamous for having sex with kids. That mansion of his was decorated with statues and frescoes depicting kids having sex with each other. Julius III didn’t just let slip that he molested kids, he flaunted it. He decorated his house to flaunt it. He didn’t need Martin Bashir to ask him about sleeping with some crippled white kid, Julius III was having Michelangelo chisel sculptures of mouth rape. He was blinging with child porn. Controversial poet and scholar Giovanni Della Casa wrote a poem about Julius III in which Della Casa defended the practice of sodomizing young boys. The poem was known throughout Italy and was written while Julius III was the pope. That’s like the 16th century equivalent of having a top 5 song on the Billboard charts name-dropping you as a child rapist…He had a tendency to appoint hot underage studs to the position of cardinal, but took things to a whole new level when he adopted a 13-year-old beggar called Innocenzo. He raised the kid as a sort of foul-mouthed gay slut who hung out in Rome and was bestowed with the title of cardinal-nephew. Julius slept in the same bed as Innocenzo (another misnamed “innocent”!) and boasted of the boy’s sexual prowess.”

Whew! Hot stuff! Can all this be the gospel truth? Well, the gossip and scandal mongers of times gone by were probably just as given to hype and fabrication today’s tabloid tattlers, and as I have knocked up this story in a hurry from some possibly dodgy websites I am certainly not going to swear by every detail. In broad terms, though, serious historians accept that popes in the Mediaeval and Renaissance eras were hardly as pious at St Francis. Even in more modern times the record is not exactly unblemished: as late as 1858 Pius IX kidnapped a six-year-old Jewish boy, Edgardo Mortara. And successive popes were still castrating choirboys “for the greater glory of God” at that time.  It was not until 1902 that the Vatican issued a decree banning castrati from the Sistine chapel. But recent research indicates that popes have carried on with the practice, employing castrati on the pretext that they had been accidentally castrated, for example by falling from a horse or by an animal bite. This may have gone on until as recently as 1959.

One thing is sure: priestly fondling of acolytes and altar-boys in recent decades ranks very low indeed in the long record of “historic” clerical abuse, even if we look no further than the popes themselves.

Heretic TOC acknowledges various online sources, especially Something Awful, which is really something marvelous, rather along the lines of the BBC’s inspired Horrible Histories series for kids. See The 6 Most Awful Popes for quite a lot more awfulness! Also: List of sexually active popes, Banquet of Chestnuts, Evil Popes, Canterbury Atheists, The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon, Chapter 66.

Mickey and Maria make out in kindergarten


Gail Hawkes, who co-authored the excellent Theorising the Sexual Child in Modernity with Danielle Egan, responded last month to Heretic TOC’s Being a predator is child’s play. She requested, “I would love to read some of your comments or translation of the Norwegian book.” Well, how could I refuse? My response has been a bit slow off the mark, but perhaps I can make amends by throwing in that Danielle Egan has a new book out this month, Becoming Sexual: A Critical Appraisal of the Sexualization of Girls. The title sounds conservative, but a review in Times Higher Education suggests otherwise. I’m sure it is good and I imagine Gail is rooting for her colleague’s success with it.

There’s not much space, in a reasonable blog-length, to give comments as well as translation, so I’ll focus mainly on just two passages of the latter. To recap briefly, the Swedish pre-school scene was extensively reviewed in The Lovelife of Children by Gertrude Aigner and Erik Centerwall, published in Sweden in 1983. It came out in Norwegian the following year, and my translation is from that. It is worth noting that in a cross-cultural comparison between North American and Swedish children aged three to six, more sexual behaviour was reported among the Swedish children (Larsson, Svedin & Friedrich, 2000). Among the boys, behaviour such as walking around with no clothes on, using sexual language and talking about sex, touching the mother’s breasts and touching their own sex organs in public, demonstrated the greatest differences between the countries.

In another work, IngBeth Larrson noted that “In the 1970s and 1980s, in the spirit of sexual liberalisation, some pedagogical literature on children and sexuality was published in Sweden. The books were based on the idea of ‘good sexuality’ and included advice on how adults could teach small children to masturbate using a good technique and how day-care staff could encourage children to play explorative games of ‘doctors and nurses’.” The Lovelife of Children is one of the books Larrson mentions. (Larrson, 2001)

Teaching kids to wank? That’s enough, right there, to give many Americans hysterics. Even heretics here might puzzle over the need to teach “what comes naturally”. But what if a kid isn’t doing it right, so that he or she gets frustrated over not being able to come? That’s the sort of issue The Lovelife of Children gets into. But here’s a little boy called Kim, aged seven, who clearly does not have that problem. He tells of his feelings in an account called When I think about Tina (Når jeg tenker på Tina…, Aigner & Centerwall, 1984, pp.37-8):

Every morning I get a prickling in my tummy – I think I am the only one who feels like this. I have tried to talk to Mummy and Daddy about it, and at the kindergarten with Karen and Michael who are staff – I can’t talk with Magda, she doesn’t listen, she only talks. She certainly doesn’t like children. When I think about Tina my willy goes all hard. When I’m on my own I take my cock between my thumb and three fingers and pull backwards and forwards, right till I begin to get a shudder in my body. It’s really strange, because the feeling goes right into my bum-hole, and up into my hair and down into my toes. I often want to press myself up to Tina, stroke her and kiss her, and sit and look at her. She smells s good. Her hair is golden. When the sun is shining the light shines off it. Her hands are so beautiful. I would love her to take me and stroke over my whole face. I want her to like me as much as I like her. But when there is something I don’t know, when I don’t dare ask, the blackness comes on in my eyes and tummy. Strange that I am alone in this, maybe I was really born earlier than my Mummy says, so that I am older. After all, it’s only adults who do such things. That’s what I saw in a porno magazine that Daddy had under other books and papers in a drawer of his writing desk. Besides, why did he hide it? He puts all the other magazines out on the newspaper shelf. Grownups are so strange! Why don’t they talk about what they do? How it feels to be in love – like I am with Tina, even though she is only six. I’ll ask Michael today. He is going steady with a girl, so he must know. Maybe he knows about these feelings I have, these black feelings. I wonder if girls feel the same thing?

We are not told how Kim’s story was compiled. As presented here it is a much longer and more coherent narrative than we would expect from most children of his age. Perhaps his story has been pieced together from what he said at different times; perhaps his writing truly was as precocious as many would feel his sentiments and sexuality to have been. What we may be sure of, though, is that such fully realised expressions of love among quite little children are not just a freakish quirk of an exceptionally liberal childcare system. The early sexologists Sanford Bell and Albert Moll encountered similar childhood passions over a century ago and have been rediscovered more recently by Floyd Martinson and others.

Kim’s lust, if not his love, appears to be expressed from afar. Aigner & Centerwall also present accounts of somewhat more consummated attraction in the kindergarten’s “Cosy Room”:

Maria, Susanne, Mickey and Tomas are playing “mother, father and children”. Three of them are making up the bedding in the doll’s pram: Maria, Susanne and Tomas lie the dolls on their sides, wrap the quilt over them, kiss the dolls in turn and rock them.

Mickey sits looking on through all this play, then he gets up, goes over to Maria and says: “I want to fuck you. Come on, we can do it in the bedroom.” “Wait a bit,” says Maria, but then she goes off with him into the Cosy Room, where they lie down clasped tight together, hugging and kissing.  Maria sits astride Mickey’s midriff and makes coital movements. Then Mickey asks: “Is this what people do? Maybe we’re not doing it right?” Maria answers: “It’s what Mummy and Daddy do anyway.” Mickey: “Do they let you watch? I have never seen my parents do anything like that. They lock the door sometimes, and then I try to peep in through the keyhole, but I don’t see anything. Can I come to your house and watch your Mummy and Daddy?” Maria is silent for a while before she answers: “I don’t know. No.Yes. No, but you can always stay for the night at our house one Saturday, but they don’t fuck all the time.” Mickey asks: “Can I see your bottom then?” Maria pulls her trousers down over her backside and shows it, but then Mickey protests: “I want to see the whole of your bum.” Maria says that the front side is not called bum, but lap or cunt or pussy or pisshole. “But I say ‘lap’ because that is what Daddy says to Mummy: ‘Now, Lena, what have you got in your lap today?’ ” Mickey listens and asks if it is possible to have anything there. Maria answers: “Yes, of course, Daddy’s penis or Mummy’s tampon, if she’s having a period, and sometimes she has a yearning there as well, but I don’t know what it looks like. Funny, isn’t it?”

Now Mickey wants to see the front: “Front, Front, blunt, dunt”, I can talk in rhyme he says to Maria. [TOC: “Skyød, skyød, brød, sprød”. Literally: Lap, lap, bread, nonsense word.] Maria takes an active part in the play. She takes her trousers off first, then continues by taking off her frock and becoming quite naked. She challenges Mickey to take off his clothes, but he hesitates and says: “What if Miss sees us and tells Mummy. Then she’ll be angry.” Maria answers: “Miss won’t do that. What’s wrong with being naked? Grownups are so funny, apart from mine. If you don’t take your clothes off I’ll put mine on and I won’t play with you.”

Mickey takes out his penis. Maria feels it, caresses it and at the same time says: “Daddy’s is much bigger, and the top of his penis is as big as everything you’ve got, and he can get it even bigger when it stands out straight. Then it gets hard and then Daddy says he’s sticking out and that often happens when he plays with Mummy.” Mickey says: “So exciting.” Maria kisses Mickey’s penis: “Oh, it’s so sweet, so pretty.” Mickey: “It’s standing up!” Maria wants intercourse: “Lie together, lie together, fuck, bonk, fuck!” [TOC: “Samleie, samleie, knulle, pule, knulle.” In Norwegian “samleie” is the usual polite word for sexual intercourse. It is derived from component words meaning lying together. It may be thought a small child would be unlikely to use the word “intercourse” unless specifically taught it but the more graphic “lie together” would trip from the tongue more easily.]

There is a ring at the outer door. Mickey hears it, snatches his trousers on again and runs out of the Cosy Room. Maria is less bothered. Mickey comes back and says to Maria that she should hurry up, that no one should see her naked. “And if Mummy comes soon, you mustn’t say anything to her.” Maria looks slightly uncomprehending but pretends to accept it. (pp.40-41)

The kindergarten staff were evidently able to observe and hear exactly what was going on without the children’s knowledge. In the introductory chapter much is made of the need to respect children’s sexual feelings, experience and secrets. Some would doubtless argue that spying on the children was itself a breach of their privacy and that the book compounds the intrusion by sharing these children’s secrets with a wider public. That would be to interpret respect far too narrowly. Real respect lies in keeping a distance in a practical sense: not storming into the Cosy Room to chastise the children for their sexual behaviour, not suppressing that behaviour or valuing it negatively. Keeping a secret in this case would have meant not rushing off to Mickey’s parents to “tell Mummy and make her angry”.

Maria’s remarks about seeing her father’s erect penis would set alarm bells ringing furiously in modern America. It would instantly be suspected she was a victim of sexual abuse at home. Her frankly sexual invitation to Mickey would clinch the matter. This would identify her not only as a victim but also as a perpetrator in need of treatment to prevent her “harming” other children. But would this be a reasonable reaction? Maria had not been coercive towards Mickey; neither did she disclose any coercive behaviour by her parents. It is not clear how intervention would serve any purpose, either for Maria or any of the other children in the kindergarten. The downside of such intervention becomes massively apparent, of course, when we consider the impact such interventions have in the United States, as shown here so recently.

Aigner, G. & Centerwall, E.; The Lovelife of Children (Barnas kjaerlighetsliv), Pax Forlag AS, Oslo, 1984

Larrson, I., Svedin, C.G. & Friedrich; W.N. Differences and similarities in sexual behaviour among pre-schoolers in Sweden and USA, Nordic Journal of Psychiatry 54, 251-257 (2000)

Larrson, I., Child sexuality and sexual behaviour, Linköping University, Sweden, 2001

If cardinal sinners and lordly lotharios float your boat…


Britain, I fear, will soon sink beneath the sea under the sheer weight of sex abuse claims made in the wake of the Savile affair. The first great tsunami, late last year, rolled across the land in the form of  hundreds of allegations against Savile himself; hard behind, a roiling tide fast engulfed fellow celebrities – singers, comedians, concert promoters – and  a major inquiry into “historic abuse”, implicating senior figures “at the heart of government”, crested the waves of excitement.

Now, in the last few weeks, new allegations in all sorts of unexpected shapes and sizes, like the crazily miscellaneous flotsam that all great floods bear along, have crashed into the chaotic melee: look there’s a lord in ermine bobbing about, his political reputation floating off to oblivion! Then, can it really be…yes, it’s one of the nation’s favourite TV soap opera stars, charged with “child rape”. Plus one, two – no it’s three – God it’s gone up to four; bloody hell it’s FIVE musical maestros from one of the most famous music academies in the land: all of them facing the music for vilely fiddling with their violin students! And to cap it all, we spot a red-capped cardinal, no less, struggling at first in the turbulent waters, then going decisively under. He’ll not be seen at the new pope’s election!

All this in the little island nation that once proudly boasted Britannia rules the waves! So, how to quell this terrible tempest? What to do? Well, if you can’t rule the waves you can try waiving the rules, which is pretty much what has been announced today by Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer, the weak-kneed, lily-livered former human rights lawyer of whom great things were hoped, now just a dedicated follower of moral panic-driven fashion.

Child sex abuse investigations, Starmer pronounced, put too much focus on the victims’ credibility and not enough on the suspects. He announced a shake-up of the existing guidelines, saying “we cannot afford another Savile moment”. Hundreds of cases where there was no prosecution could be re-examined. These new guidelines will be developed, with a public consultation of the draft proposals, over the coming months.

No details yet, then, but the implications are clear, and clearly dangerous. Starmer’s earlier reaction to a dodgy police enquiry into the Savile revelations was revealing. That was the one, it may be recalled, that declared hundreds of complainants should be considered as definite victims, rather than alleged victims, even though evidence had never been heard in court. Starmer lamely backed that ghastly report, thereby grievously undermining the principle “innocent under proved guilty”. Now he threatens further to erode this cornerstone of justice in ways he as an experienced lawyer should know beyond doubt will lead to terrible injustice.

The present rules are in place for a very good reason: they came after a whole string of major miscarriages of justice in completely bogus “Satanic abuse” cases when children were needlessly dragged from their homes and taken from their parents “into care” i.e. away from care, for months on end. More recently, about a decade ago, other wrongful convictions were overturned after a great panic over alleged abuse at children’s homes turned out to be just that. Men had been wrongly jailed for years, losing their livelihoods, their marriages, their reputation, their dignity, all to secure “justice”, in those cases, for bogus compensation seekers and flaky personalities drawn to the tawdry power and glory of being able to point accusing fingers, and become lauded as “courageous survivors”.

“A new genre of miscarriages of justice has arisen from the over-enthusiastic pursuit of these allegations”. Those were the words of the parliamentary Home Affairs Committee in 2002, but now the lessons of that time are being forgotten.  Mark Newby, a solicitor who formed a panel to look at historic child abuse allegations, said today he was “gravely concerned” the balance might be shifted too far in favour of the victim. “We have to be really careful not to create a whole new genre of miscarriage because of the current atmosphere and pandemonium over these cases,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. Too darned right! The perils of credulous belief in the stories of compensation hunters were highlighted vividly in a piece yesterday by the estimable blogger Anna Raccoon. Fellow heretics may recall that she was a pupil at Duncroft School, the one frequented by Jimmy Savile, and that she has blogged with admirable scepticism about the allegations.

I’d love to stop at this point, because that’s the main news right there already, in one super-compressed roll-up of many stories. The “crazily miscellaneous flotsam” does need some minimal picking and sorting, though, to note that not all of this stuff has been about child so-called sexual abuse. Cardinal Keith O’Brien, for instance, the UK’s most senior Roman Catholic cleric, resigned as head of the Scottish Catholic church after being accused of “inappropriate acts” towards fellow priests. His worst crime in my book was extreme hypocrisy: in recent years, he has been highly vitriolic in his denunciations of homosexuality, but has now admitted he engaged in homosexual acts himself. No great surprise in this really: we should also suspect that many of those who are most venomous against paedophilia are struggling to deny or repress their own inclinations.

Also worth mentioning is that the alleged sins of Lord Rennard, a senior member of the Liberal Democrats, currently a governing party in coalition with the Conservatives, were confined to extremely nebulous “inappropriate” behaviour towards some female politicians – not the most obviously “vulnerable” people, one would have thought. As Zoe Williams noted in the Guardian, “Used by the women in this case, it means touching anyone, anywhere, with whom you do not have a prior touching agreement.” So, no more than an unbidden arm around the shoulder, maybe? Yet these allegations were leading the national news for days on end. Rennard was allegedly forced to resign a party position over these accusations some years ago, but only recently have the women gone public. The “scandal” nearly cost the Lib Dems one of their safest seats in parliament in a crucial by-election last week.

What does it all mean? One obvious and grim interpretation is that victim feminism is more virulent than ever, driving zero tolerance of male transgressions (if that’s what they are) to ever more demented extremes. The good news, perhaps, is that the Lib Dems survived the crisis. Maybe the electorate as a whole doesn’t really give a damn about precisely where His Lordship’s hand was placed, or whether he “inappropriately” suggested going back to his place for a bit of hanky panky, or rumpy pumpy, or whatever words lordly lotharios use for these things. Not that I am advocating “sexual harassment” here. Just a sane sense of proportion. The thought that many voters out there have not abandoned such a sense of proportion is perhaps worth hanging onto. Or is that a case of a drowning man clutching at straws in the midst of all the tsunamis!

Older Entries

%d bloggers like this: