And finally…

…a word in defense, even if it is oblique. Alec Guinness, in recounting his conversion to Catholicism in his memoir Blessings in Disguise, tells a story from the days when he was filming The Detective (a film based on Chesterton’s Father Brown stories). Guinness, still in his priestly costume, is walking back to his hotel in France as it gets dark:

“I hadn’t gone far when I heard scampering footsteps and a piping voice calling, ‘Mon pere!’ My hand was seized by a boy of seven or eight, who clutched it tightly, swung it and kept up a non-stop prattle. He was full of excitement, hops, skips and jumps, but never let go of me. I didn’t dare speak in case my excruciating French should scare him. Although I was a total stranger he obviously took me for a priest and so to be trusted”

The boy takes his leave as they pass his home, “and I was left with an odd calm sense of elation. Continuing my walk I reflected that a Church which could inspire such confidence in a child, making its priests, even when unknown, so easily approachable could not be as scheming and creepy as so often made out. I began to shake off my long-taught, long-absorbed prejudices.”

Of course, such a story carries a note of deep sadness today. The scandal has indeed been scandalous. But it is a good story, all the same.


  1. AnotherCoward says

    You know, I bet Alec Guinness is glad not to be a canonized Saint. Can you imagine how many prayers he’d receive starting: “Help me Obi-wan Kenobi, you’re my own hope.” He’d be the patron saint of Sci-Fi.

  2. AC,

    Could you imagine the religious orders he would inspire?

    It wouldn’t be a tremendous jump from invoking Solomon’s birth name, Jedidiah, to something a bit more familiar….

    Instead of veils, would the nuns be required to wear their hair in the form of hot cross buns?

    Light sabers instead of tapers at liturgical functions?

    Hymns: “I will lift you up on Millenium Falcon wings”

    “A Mighty Death Star” (Is Our God)

    “Canticle of the Twin Tatooine Suns”

    “Come, O Force of God”

    “O, Who Can Know the Midichloreans of God?”



    Ironically, the very priest on which Chesterton based his Father Brown, Father O’Connor, turns out to be a kind of archtype of the creepy pedophile cleric – at least if the reports concerning Eric Gill are true.

    By the way: I read Pearce’s “Literary Converts” in which Gill plays a prominent part: why no mention of the Gill ick factor in that book?

    Not exactly a minor detail…

    Off topic,



  3. Matthew Lickona says

    Are you suggesting that because Pearce makes no mention of it, it might not be true? The essays I linked to seem to indicate that he wrote about his behavior in his journals:

    “One thing that puzzled me about Gill was his personal rôle in posthumously exposing his depravities. He was a man with a certain talent for getting away with it; throughout his entire life, he was able to silence his victims, and maintain his reputation as a devout Catholic. Had he not chronicled in detail his sexual predation, and seen to the preservation of his private writings, he would have duped the world until kingdom come.

    Why did he write it down? Why did he not destroy the diaries, but rather entrust them to his wife, to donate to an academic library? Gill was a depraved man, but he was not irrational; indeed, the extent of his corruption and deception suggests a calculating and brilliant mind. If he did not, ultimately, get away with it, it must have been because he did not want to get away with it.

    And here I see his final, cruelest prank; his final destructive act. In arranging for his posthumous disgrace, he made all the people who trusted and believed him to look like fools. He duped them long enough that name could not be excised from their biographies or from their approving writings. And in so doing, he cast his shadow on genuine and holy people. Johnston and Morrision, McNabb and Pepler, Chesterton and Belloc, Maurin and Day are all victims of his final attack on truth, beauty and goodness. Sixty-seven years after his death, Eric Gill is still smashing icons.”

  4. Matthew,

    No, no! You dress me in borrowed robes, sirrah!

    I only ask – perhaps rhetorically – because it seems a major point to simply ignore. I don’t question the veracity of the essays that first brought Gill’s ills to my attention; rather, I think, considering his usual perspicacity, it casts a shadow on Pearce’s scholarship, not to mention his intellectual honesty, yes?

  5. Matthew Lickona says

    It does seem to cast a shadow. Odd, that. As it is, I think of Gill nearly every time I look at the cover art for Today’s Missal…

  6. Matthew,

    Maybe he already has, but I wonder why E. Michael Jones hasn’t done anything to skewer him good.


  7. One of the beautiful memories from vacation 2 summers ago was during a group hike. My then 4 year old daughter reached out to hold the hand of a priest we were with as we walked up the hill.

  8. It is both sad and wonderful. My youngest daughter adores a colleague of mine who is a priest. She hops right up in his lap and chatters at him, tapping his chest and holding on to him. You can tell that it makes him a bit uncomfortable — in this day and age, is it really okay for a priest to let a child sit on his lap? The scandals reach so far.

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