Sunday, April 25, 2010

Does anyone take anything Peter Stanford writes seriously?

Writing about the Vatican's exorcist, Peter Stanford nearly wets himself in breathless excitement:

Talk of the Devil came cheap in medieval Christianity. No mystery play was complete without an appearance by God's great adversary, all horns, cloven hoof and sulphur breath, while every church would boast a depiction of the 'Harrowing of Hell', a graphic warning to worshippers of the everlasting torment in the bowels of the earth that awaited unrepentant sinners.

Except it isn't. The 'Harrowing of Hell' from the Catholic Encyclopaedia:

This is the Old English and Middle English term for the triumphant descent of Christ into hell (or Hades) between the time of His Crucifixion and His Resurrection, when, according to Christian belief, He brought salvation to the souls held captive there since the beginning of the world.

So a retrospective act of salvation, a freeing of the souls of the just rather than a reminder of everlasting torments. This is O-level RE surely? Yet this buffoon is wheeled out as some sort of authority on matters Catholic.

Good grief.


Blogger Gregory the Eremite said...

As ever, we wouldn't want the facts to get in the way of a nice little story would we? Inquisition anybody?

7:13 AM  
Blogger madame evangelista said...

I don't know who Peter Stanford is, or what he's said about the vatican or exorcists, but to be fair: in the quote you've just mentioned, he doesn't appear to be talking about the actual doctrine of the 'harrowing of hell' but about grotesque art, medieval depictions of hell where devils are allowed to commit unspeakable acts of torture for eternity. If some of those images were put in a film, they'd make Asian Extreme Horror look tame. I believe in hell, but I don't believe in those images.

8:34 AM  
Blogger Gregory the Eremite said...

Madame Evangelista:

The point surely is this: in the very first paragraph the author makes such a basic mistake about his subject matter that it should raise our suspicions as to the reliability of the rest of the material.

One might also point to the melodramatic presentation, appealing to what everybody "knows" about medieval accounts of hell. (If you think the medievals were bad, go take a look at what the early Christians thought!)

These suspicions of unreliability are confirmed when the author gets to the punchline of his piece: that the Church's belief in the existence of the devil is a convenient mechanism for her to externalize evil.

Again, anyone who knew the first thing about Catholic teaching on anthropology and moral theology will recognize that as the travesty that it is.

10:32 AM  
Blogger madame evangelista said...

Gregory, you're right, I completely missed the point.

Further to missing the point (sorry Paulinus for going OT) can I ask a personal question about what you believe hell to be? I believe in hell but it's a vague unformed belief that doesn't include sulphur, and I'm very curious about individual catholic beliefs, which I've noticed tend to vary!

11:11 AM  
Blogger Paulinus said...




The point I'm making is not that such images may be counterproductive or aesthetically unpleasant (though Our Lord used some pretty graphic language about Hell) more that Peter Stanford is regularly used by the press in general and the BBC in particular as an 'expert' on Catholicism. His errors and misemphases are so gross as to be an embarrassment.

11:13 AM  
Blogger The Cellarer said...

For more Stanford rubbish see

Link in there to the actual programme. The Orthodox priest is aghast at his 'views'.

I think the BBC deliberatly use him to misrepresent us.

1:25 PM  
Blogger Gregory the Eremite said...

Madame Evangelista:

I've taken the liberty of answering your question over at my blog, as it is perhaps a diversion from what our host was blogging about! You can find my answer at:

2:17 PM  
Anonymous The Exorcist said...

I remember listening to the radio a few years ago on some Catholic topic and Stanford was introduced as the Catholic 'expert' who had been editor of the Catholic Herald. During the interview he said that one of the first things that Cardinal Ratzinger did on taking over at the Cong. for the Doctrine of the Faith was to revoke the licence of his old friend Hans Kung to teach theology. I would imagine that 99.99% of the listeners would not have known that Kung's licence had been removed in 1979 when Cardinal Seper was Prefect, and Cardinal Ratzinger did not take over at the Congregation until some two years later in 1981. A serious (deliberate?) 'error' from someone being wheeled out as an expert.

In an article for The Observer, Sunday 16 April 2006, he said: "Sitting in a BBC studio on 19 April last year as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger emerged all in white on to the papal balcony, high above St Peter's Square, to be proclaimed as Pope Benedict XVI, I confess I groaned audibly."

This is an indication of his mind-set towards Pope Benedict XVI and sufficient to bar him from any role as a 'Catholic' interviewee on any subject concerning the Church at the moment. It is probably because his antipathy towards the current Holy Father is well known that he is always asked for his opinion. Why should the BBC and other media outlets abuse the Holy Father when there are such 'Catholic' commentators available to do their work for them.

To use Stanford's own words, I always 'groan audibly' when he is introduced as the former editor of the Catholic Herald.

5:39 PM  
Blogger Ttony said...

"Peter Stanford is a former editor of the Catholic Herald" - from the time when the Herald was like the Tablet. Read more about him here and wonder why it has taken until now for Jack Valero to organise and train some Catholic talking heads to represent what we think - unless it's because the Bishops' Conferences of England and Wales, and of Scotland, have been content, either because they agree with him, or because they believe Catholics to be too stupid to understand what's being said about them.

5:43 PM  
Blogger Simon Platt said...

When Stanford was editor of the CH, my friends and I called it the "Catholic Heretic". I thought at the time that that sentiment was more or less universal. I now suppose that it probably wasn't.

I offer that nugget as possibly having some value in providing context to Younger Catholics.

9:47 PM  

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