Some years back when Kevin Keegan was captain of England and when English football supporters confidently believed that they were on the cusp of repeating the 1966 World Cup victory, Keegan was one of the most famous people in Great Britain. His face was on all the papers, almost everyday, and every word he uttered was analysed as if it were holy writ. Everything about him was news.
At the time, a judge presiding over a London court interrupted a witness, who mentioned Kevin Keegan in passing, to ask the now legendary question: ‘Who is Kevin Keegan?’
It indicated, once again, the disconnect there can be between people in positions of responsibility and authority and the everyday realities of ‘ordinary’ life.
While few people would have expected the judge in question to be a reader of The Sun newspaper, the expectation would be that he might read some newspaper or even occasionally watch the news on television. His question, the equivalent of which in Mayo at the moment might be, ‘Who is Aidan O’Shea?’, brought the accusation of being ‘out of touch’ to a new level.
While a knowledge of the world of multi-millionaire footballers isn’t a requirement for good decision-making on the bench, being in touch with the world they live in would seem a basic necessity for judges handing down astute decisions from on high.
It’s not a new criticism of those who spend their time telling people what to do. How often the long-suffering people in the pews have raised eyebrows at comments popes, bishops and priests make about, say family life or, more frequently, sexuality.
While most people in important positions would tend not to advertise their disconnect with the world they live in, some almost glory in not knowing what the great unwashed are up to, while others bereft of a sense of irony have no idea how out of touch they are. Part of the problem is with a sense of entitlement, what applies to others doesn’t apply to me – because of the position I enjoy everything I say makes sense.
A stunning example of this was the recent experience of Cardinal Gerhard Muller, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) in Rome. By common consent Muller, appointed by Pope Benedict, is regarded in Rome as part of the emerging opposition to the reforms of Pope Francis.
A few months ago, when Muller’s (first) term of office was coming to a close, Francis called him in, told him he was not renewing his contract and offered him a different position. Though many were waiting for a long time for Francis to move Muller sideways (as he was so obviously at odds with much of what Francis was trying to do) Muller himself clearly imagined that he was indispensable and was taken by surprise by being sacked.
A few days later, Muller let it be known that he thought Francis had treated him badly: ‘As a bishop you cannot treat people in this way’. It was, Muller said, ‘unacceptable’, a failure in ‘due process’ and added the incredible comment that the Church’s social teaching should be applied to dealing with people in the Church!’
Incredible because Muller has himself presided over the CDF, which ritually and unblushingly commits to a high degree all the sins he accuses Francis of committing. If you were looking for an institution that walks all over the rights of people, the CDF would come top of the pile. Ask Fr. Tony Flannery, who has written a book about it.
While there is a delicious irony in such a stunning disconnect on Muller’s part, the more difficult truth is that it’s part of human nature to apply standards to others which we imagine don’t apply to ourselves, especially if we’re in positions of authority.
A sense of entitlement can pervade our mentality to such a degree that often we ourselves don’t even recognise it, as we are easily convinced that a little authority in one area gives us a sense that we’re experts in everything.
(Yes, I know that’s a bit rich from a newspaper columnist who’s expected to comment on everything from Brexit to whatever you’re having yourself, but you take my point.)
Another example is the way we define loyalty (and obedience) to suit our own purposes. When Pope John XXIII advocated freedom of conscience in his great encyclical Pacem in Terris, many very traditional Catholics were appalled, as they were at some of the strange notions emanating from the Second Vatican Council. Their worry even extended to withdrawing their support from ‘new’ reaching, now regarded as commonplace, like salvation being found outside the Catholic Church.
Then along came the severe reigns of John Paul II and Benedict XVI and all was well again. Now Francis is opening the Church to a more merciful and forgiving approach based on the person of Jesus and the hackles are raised again. It seems that if a pope says or does something we agree with it’s beyond criticism, while one with whom we disagree is always wrong.
This is what Francis has been railing against – bishops acting as princes, Vatican civil servants acting as if they own the Church as well as the virus of ambition that fuels the notion that a clerical caste knows better what’s good for the Church than God’s people.
A sense of entitlement is a virus that needs to be controlled, even in columnists.