8 April 2012
 
In an interesting coincidence this Easter is the 125th anniversary of Lord Acton’s famous letter to the Bishop of London, Mandell Creighton (5 April 1887) which included the observation that “…power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely…”
 
Lord Acton was a Roman Catholic who was not reluctant to question church teachings. He did not accept the notion of papal infallibility “…I cannot accept …that we are to judge Pope and King unlike other men, with a favourable presumption that they did no wrong…”.
 
The chrismal address at St Peter’s on Maunday Thursday by Pope Benedict XVI had an interesting perspective that may have got Lord Acton saying “I told you so”. The address was about a movement for change in church policy regarding celibate priests, ordination of woman and recognition of divorce ( none of which reflect unequivocal biblical statements ).  The pope, unmoved by representations from Austrian clergy, echoed his predecessor… “the church had received no authorisation from the Lord on this matter…”
 
In rejecting arguments for change, the pope reiterated the importance of teachings of old. “Is disobedience a way of renewing the Church” he asked rhetorically.
 
There has been no media reporting of the pope asking questions about the corrupt practices in the Vatican, disclosed earlier this year.  Biblical statements about corruption seem to be unequivocal.  
 
And intriguingly, Bishop Creightons’s wife was the suffrage activist Louisa Creighton, who in today’s circumstances, would no doubt champion the ordination of women.
 
“I cannot accept your canon that we are to judge Pope and King unlike other men, with a favourable presumption that they did no wrong. If there is any presumption it is the other way, against the holders of power, increasing as the power increases. Historic responsibility has to make up for the want of legal responsibility. Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority, still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority. There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it.”  (Lord Acton)
 
 
 
 
 
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