Why do Archbishops Nichols & Longley talk about accepting failure and imperfection?

In recent months both Archbishop Nichols and Archbishop Longley have talked about accepting failure and imperfection. Why is this?

Archbishop Nichols said the following in a recent interview with the BBC:

‘So how do we best accompany people, and indeed ourselves, on this difficult journey trying to live up to the vision of humanity Christ gives us in the difficult, ambiguous, messy circumstances of everyday life. I was brought up to always understand that the Church is a church of sinners, its a church of people who fail, and a people who know they fail, and aren’t ashamed to say they fail.’

Archbishop Longley said the following in his homily for the feast of the Holy Family:

‘The family of the parish must always offer a place of welcome for those who no longer find themselves in stable or conventional family situations.  As a New Year beckons we should be slow to judge and quick to embrace those who are afraid to cross the threshold of the Church because they fear they are not perfect.  It was surely his own experience of family life that enabled our Lord to see that it is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. (Luke 5:31). The Holy Family embraces us, with all our imperfections, so that we may long for and find healing and perfection in Christ. ‘

In the Catechism of the Catholic Church there are 53 references to ‘perfection’.  The following are a selection of paragraphs on Christian perfection:

2028 “All Christians . . . are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of charity” (LG 40 § 2). “Christian perfection has but one limit, that of having none” (St. Gregory of Nyssa, De vita Mos.: PG 44, 300D).’

2013 “All Christians in any state or walk of life are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of charity.” All are called to holiness: “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” In order to reach this perfection the faithful should use the strength dealt out to them by Christ’s gift, so that . . . doing the will of the Father in everything, they may wholeheartedly devote themselves to the glory of God and to the service of their neighbor. Thus the holiness of the People of God will grow in fruitful abundance, as is clearly shown in the history of the Church through the lives of so many saints.’

829 “But while in the most Blessed Virgin the Church has already reached that perfection whereby she exists without spot or wrinkle, the faithful still strive to conquer sin and increase in holiness. And so they turn their eyes to Mary”: in her, the Church is already the “all-holy.”

Protect the Pope comment: In a culture that justifies sin, sometimes even grave sin, by the casual excuse, ‘It’s only human’ how prudent or wise is it to talk in such accepting, undemanding terms about failure and imperfection?



42 comments to Why do Archbishops Nichols & Longley talk about accepting failure and imperfection?

  • sean

    Archbishop Nichols, I am hardly surprised.

  • Rifleman819

    Deacon Nick ,

    Because they have the leadership, credibility and moral force of a stick of celery that’s been in the fridge too long.

  • Joseph Matthew

    On Radio 4, Archbishop Nichols spoke about the difficulties encountered in the last eight years. One wonders if he was referring to Pope Benedict?

  • Chrysostom

    The archbishops’ sympathy goes all in one direction. Do they accept the “failings” of a priest who says the Tridentine Mass without their “Permission”? Do they excuse a Catholic who makes a “racist” remark? No, but in sexual matters all can be excused.

    It is this easy acceptance of sexual sins that has led to the child-sex-abuse scandals in England, which the bishops have tried to hide and about which they still maintain secrecy by refusing to publish detailed statistics of the sex (sorry “gender”) of the victims and the sex of the perpetrators.

  • BJC

    It’s not prudent at all and they never talk about sin, it’s always the anodyne “healing”. You get the distinct impression many of our Bishops and priests don’t actually believe the sacraments can change us. We are a church of sinners who Christ is trying to transform into saints through participation in the sacraments, when was the last time you heard a Bishop say this. I can’t remember it.

    • katherine

      Dear BJC – you obviously dont keep tabs on Bishop Davies. In my humble opinion hes one of the best kept secrets of the Catholic Church in England. Shshshsh……..

      We have many “best kept secrets” in the Catholic Church here. Her teaching I suppose must be the first. God forbid that the faithful should get it first hand – you know – from the CCC or from people who actually love the Church. We might end up with a nation of catholics, who actually know their faith. What a disaster that would be….Archbishop Nichols and Archbishop Longley would then find they were preaching to individuals who actually knew Church teaching. Nop….we simply cannot go down that route. Best keep things as they are with mediocre Archbishops desperately trying to stay in control. WE DO NOT WANT AN EDUCATED LAITY. What was Cardinal Newman thinking?

      • BJC


        There are honourable exceptions of course and you are quite right to point it out. Bishop Mark Davies is one, Bishop Phillip Egan is another, amongst the priests we’ve got Fr. Tim Finnegan, Fr Ray Blake and Fr. Michael Clifton and I’m sure there’s a significant minority of others who slave away at the coal face, their work hidden, unsung heroes.

        I’m pretty sure God is moving us toward a “virtual Bishop” model of the Church because the only clergy we seem to be able to get any sense out of these days have got a blog. They are there only the ones we can rely on to get the correct teaching. Our best priests seem to be in non-descript parishes in the middle of nowhere, left to rot by weak Bishops with an aversion to orthodoxy.

  • Pat

    To be fair, both of the quotes above from Abps Nichols and Longley didn’t actually use the word ‘acceptance’.
    We all fail and we’re all imperfect. I don’t have a problem with acknowledging this fact, but I would be concerned about anyone using the word ‘acceptance’. It implies that we just wallow in our own sins, and never expect others to come away from their sins. That is contrary to the Gospels. Our Lord certainly mixed with sinners, but never encouraged them to remain in sin – quite the opposite. So while we should reach out to all sorts of people in all sorts of situations, we should always tell them the truth, pray, and let grace do the rest. The problem comes when clergy and laity fail to tell people in irregular situations the truth, which happens so often these days. But before we can help others, we first have to start with ourselves.
    One of the best ways to start on the road to perfection is living out St Louis de Montfort’s Total Consecration to Our Lady. This begins with a 33 day period of preparation, including:- a 12-day preparation period that consists of emptying oneself of the spirit of the world in penance and mortification, a week of meditations concentrating on self knowledge and awareness of our sins, a week of meditations concentrating on Our Blessed Lady, a week of meditations concentrating on Our Blessed Lord, before making an Act of Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary. For many, this devotion has been a life changing event. Full details and readings can be found here:- http://www.fisheaters.com/totalconsecrationmontfort.html

    • Mark Thorne

      Dear Pat,

      Those were very measured words. Thank you for the notification about St Louis de Montfort’s Total Consecration to Our Lady; I had not heard about this devotion before. God Bless, Mark

  • Our Bishops lack credibility with some of the flock and do not hold their full confidence. Often this is because of weeknesses in episcopal leadership. The flock have a responsibility to challenge equivocation and weak leadership when it exists. This does not mean it is ok for us to interpret everything they say and twist it to make them seem wrong. That is what this post does.

    Neither of the archbishops talks about accepting sin; indded Archbishop Longley talks about finding perfection in Christ. What they do talk about is accepting people. They have said nothing wrong (although ++Longley could have phrased his homily better) and this post is wrong to imply that they have, a greater error if it creates in any readers the impression that they are excluded from the Church until they are perfect.

    Pat above talks a great deal of sense but he (or she?) needs to remember (as I am sure he/she does)that the sinners icludes “us” as well as “them”.

  • buckle

    I guess they want to give communion divorced Ed Stourton – bless.

    This Argentinian Pope, like his predecessors, does not understand the Anglo-Saxon World. The Catholic Church here does not buy into the Pope’s commitment to the poor. Outreach, English style, is about “posh Ed” receiving the sacraments. Anyone who objects to this agenda is judgemental.

  • Michael Petek

    Let us go back to first principles. The quintessence of worship in spirit and truth means that, by the full power of the Holy Spirit (because it cannot be done otherwise) we are to present God the Son to God the Father. It includes all other things reasonably done in support of the said presentation (korban).

    When Jesus said ‘Do this in memory of me’ He commanded us to remember what only Our Lady knew when she presented Jesus in the Temple when He was forty days old. Namely, that the Messiah, the son of the living God (an earthly figure) is one and the same Person as the heavenly Son of Man who comes on the clouds of heaven to be presented to the Ancient of Days. (Daniel 7:13).

  • Lynda

    They should read Supertradmum’s “Perfection” series.

  • I think that both statements can be understood in a perfectly Catholic sense. For just as “Christ died for us while we were yet sinners”, so the Church must reach out to people in whatever condition of life or state of grace (or lack of it) that they are in. It is then the task of the Church to lead all of us sinners towards that perfection which Christ demands of us – however many times we might fall along the way.

    What the Church can never do, however, is to see a person mired in a sinful state and simply accept that condition, leave them in it, approve of it and rebrand it as “unconventional”. She must always proclaim the necessity of repentance and conversion of one’s whole life to Christ. To do otherwise would be akin to the Good Samaritan seeing the injured man lying in the road, saying to him “I share your pain.”, and then passing by and leaving him in the dirt. However, neither of the Archbishops suggest such an approach in those above statements. (I admit that they both have previous form, however, in their support of the abomination of “gay Masses” etc.)

  • jacobi

    Yes, the Church exists for sinners, for whom the Son of God died on the Cross.

    Sinners must be welcomed into the Church, and to Mass. All of them. The lustful, the over-indulgers, the greedy, the wrathful, the envious, the proud, the slothful, and those seeking the acclamation of their fellows. They will, if reformed and of good intent, gain Grace by assisting at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

    However, being in an objective state of Mortal Sin, they cannot receive Holy Communion, on pain of further Mortal Sin and possibly Sacrilege if they knowingly persist, until they have received the Sacrament of Confession, confessed all their Mortal Sins, made a firm purpose of amendment never to commit those sins again, and completed their penance.

    Let’s face it, this public soul-searching by the bishops and others is double talk, principally, although not entirely, aimed at admitting the divorced and remarried, active homosexuals, co-habitors or even those who occasionally get their leg across and mean to go to Confession sometime, to receive Holy Communion along with the others, so that they don’t “stand out” at Mass. That might cause them to feel a bit embarrassed after all!

    But there is another element too, the intention on the part of neo-Modernists, all four categories identified as still active in the Church, to Relativise sin out of existence. They are making quite a come-back at present.

  • Michael Jarmulowicz

    Pope Francis’ interpretation of the Road to Emmaus account points out that a moral interpretation of walking away from Jerusalem is turning away from God, but then he points out that Jesus is walking with them – walking AWAY. Obviously there is a conversion and return.
    Surely that is what both Archbishop’s Nichols and Longley are saying. They are not saying leave them in their sin, but as Pope Francis in his recent exhortation states, we can only bring Jesus’ love to people by first being in dialogue with them, and looking for the opportunity ‘in a way which the Holy Spirit may suggest’ (EG 127 & 128)
    Anyone involved with RCIA will soon discover the difficult situations that people are in, but by not turning them away because they are in irregular situations which initially appear insurmountable, the power of God’s grace can work conversion and the various issues can then be addressed and worked through in full adherence to the Church’s teaching. Sometimes that road can be lengthy and difficult; we cannot be condemnatory but stay with them and encourage them as they work through the issues.

    • Deacon Nick Donnelly

      Who said anything about being condemnatory? Aspiring to Christian perfection isn’t condemnatory, it is liberating. Deacon Nick

      • Michael Jarmulowicz

        True, the word condemnatory has not been used, but I mentioned it as sometimes being strident with the truth can be interpreted as condemnatory by those on the receiving end. As St Peter says ‘do it with gentleness and reverence’ (1 Pet 3:15)

  • James Scott

    Pope Francis at Mass today got to the point. Regarding St Peter Favre, the Pope said he “had the true and deep desire to open up in God: he was completely centred in God, and for this reason he was able to go everywhere in Europe, in a spirit of obedience and often on foot, to enter into dialogue with everyone, with gentleness, and to proclaim the Gospel. I think of the temptation that perhaps we experience, to which many people succumb, to link the proclamation of the Gospel with inquisitionary bludgeoning and condemnation. No, the Gospel must be proclaimed with gentleness, in a fraternal spirit, with love.”

    • Deacon Nick Donnelly

      As Pope Francis makes clear, the truth must be proclaimed. The problem is that out of a fear of causing offence more often than not only gentleness, fraternal spirit and love are proclaimed.Deacon Nick

    • I agree with what the Pope says totally, but I would question where he thinks the proclamation of the Gospel actually is linked with “inquisitionary bludgeoning and condemnation” these days? In 26 years as a Catholic I have heard the Gospel proclaimed by deacons, priests, bishops, Cardinals and Popes on 4 different continents, and I have never once heard it proclaimed in any sense that could be considered “inquisitionary bludgeoning and condemnation”. For the most part it has been underwhelmingly insipid. I think this is another of his straw men that he loves to set up and knock down. The only inquisitionary bludgeoning and condemnation which is evident today is in his own Commisar’s treatment of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate. Perhaps he should look to the beam in the eye of his own back yard before he attends to the mote in others.

      • jacobi

        I agree

        In decades of listening to sermons, “inquisitionary bludgeoning and condemnation” has been conspicuous only by its total absence. At best one hears an indifferent repeat of the Gospel reading.

        The Holy Father is right in saying we must take the Gospel with love and enthusiasm to the “peripheries”, but these can be very close, sitting directly in front of the priest during the sermon at Mass

        What we need now is the preaching of the Gospels, (with a bit of Apologetics from time to time) with love and sincerity – and in all its fullness – including, for example, “if you love me, keep my Commandments” Also, a mention of the Four Last Things wouldn’t go amiss

        I’ve just been reading another book given by one of my grandchildren. Heavens knows how they get these ideas about my reading tastes? Now St Peter Favre was undoubtedly a holy man who wandered though much of (Catholic?) Europe. But, he was fortunate not to end up dealing with Elizabeth’s director of torture, Topcliffe, as so many of his fellow Jesuits did, nor for that matter the, if anything, worse professionals of James VI’s Scotland, as that great priest, St John Ogilvie did!

      • (X)MCCLXIII

        I agree, too. Straw men and motes, etc.

  • James Scott

    Is that the only problem? What about the tendency ‘to link proclamation of the Gospel with iinquisitionary bludgeoning and condemnation’. Pope Francis clearly finds that a problem.

  • James Scott

    Deacon Augustine can’t have been reading many of the blogs!

  • William

    “Archbishop Nichols and Archbishop Longley have talked about accepting failure and imperfection. Why is this?” The answer is because they are the norm for bishops for the last 50 years. The majority of bishops are like them and besides Nichols wants the red hat and if he ever showed that he does indeed have a spine and is willing to teach the Catholic Faith in totality, he knows he’ll never get it. But if he panders to modernists he knows his star will rise like the sun in the East. Guaranteed he will be made cardinal in the next consistory along with Piero Marini.

    • James Scott

      This comment by William is a perfect example of the kind of ‘inquisitionary bludgeoning and condemnation’ that Pope Francis was commenting on. Deacon Augustine and Deacon Nick seem quite blind to it, not able to recognise what Francis was talkimg about. You need to get out a bit more, guys! It’s what goes on in this blog!!!! ‘O wad some Power the giftie gie us, to see oursels as ithers see us!” (Rabbie Burns)

      • Lynda

        The comments by the layman (presumably), William, above, could not, on any reasonable interpretation of those words, constitute an example of that to which they refer. Unless they’re some gnostic code for something entirely other than the meaning the words ordinarily represent. Perhaps, someone can decipher the code?

      • William

        Speaking the truth isn’t bludgeoning or condemning anyone. My comments are blunt and to the point because today everyone is always offended by everything so why bother. Making people comfortable in their sin and ignorance isn’t noble, charitable or Christian. This idea that we have to keep telling grown up people “I love you, you are a good person, I respect you, you have worth etc.” is ridiculous. Grow up, do what is right, live a good Catholic life, which means being a charitable, strong person, but for god sake get a back bone and realize that life isn’t a Doris Day movie where nobody gets offended. Sin is evil, and people who sin are wrong. We are all sinners but we shouldn’t rationalize it. It I commit sin, I go to confession, admit I was wrong, say I’m sorry, make a penance, forget about it and go on with life. Take some personal responsibility, stopped being offended. And get over yourself with regards to the mentality “how dare anyone judge me”. The majority of bishops are not men of prayer and that is why they have no backbone in the face of evil.

      • William was not “preaching the Gospel”, he was simply expressing his opinion on the quality of bishops we have had. As it is every Catholic’s canonical right to be taught the fullness of the faith by their prelates, it is not unreasonable to demand it in stronger terms when they are never listened to. Clergy are not people hearing the Gospel for the first time who need to be treated with kid gloves – they are people who should know better.

  • Stephen

    Yes we all sin, yes we are all sinners. However our bishops seem to always look into the gutter and never to the stars. What we should aim for is perfection even though we fail. The bishops seem to want to aim for failure – they will be sure to get there.

  • Rifleman819

    James Scott,
    You obviously have lived in a different post-Vat 2 age.Political correctness and the fear of offending in a culture of overweening rights has very much blunted honest and truthful correction.
    What do you do then? -be loyal to the Gospels…or compromise to the spirit of this (mediocre) age?
    I give you two bishops -one German, another English -who had absolutely no fear of sticking it to anyone who compromised Gospel truth.
    One was Clemens Graf Von Galen, bishop of Munster-who stood up fearlessly to Hitler and also to the British Occupation Forces postwar-he was very consistent and the other is Peter Amigo, onetime AB Southwark.
    These men were giants-Nichols and Longley by comparison are dwarves.

    • James Scott

      And there’s another great bishop we could look to – one who has lived through the post-Vatican II age, knows all about its challenges and was himself deeply affected by it – Jorge Mario Bergoglio. But the lessons he takes from that experience and proposes to us as Pope Francis are rather different from what you read on this blog which ‘protects’ him(?)

      • Rifleman819

        I am sorry………most sheep in the flock obey the shepherd….the more stupid ones need from time to time a good yank on his crook to bring them back into line.
        This applies to sheep and to the souls of men.
        We seem to have a set of bishops in England and Wales who are ashamed of being Catholic and scared of their own shadow.

        By being Vicars of Bray……they dishonour our 40 Martyrs.

  • Rifleman819

    For All ,

    A classic bit of blunt speaking where blunt speaking is needed comes from the theological tarantella dancing games between Anglicans and the Orthodox-where Metropolitan Hilarion has told Anglican episcopal visitors that if the COE ordains women bishops…..”even the theoretical possibility of recognising Anglican orders” is a casa finita.

    Yet our Catholic bishops still flog the dead carthorse of ARCIC-Why?

  • My old PP and family friend, the late Cardinal Winning, always insisted: “Hate the sin, love the sinner.” And always in those precise words. (See: St. Augustine of Hippo, Letter 211, c424: “Cum dilectione hominum et odio vitiorum.” [With love for mankind and hatred of sins.]) This is vastly different from the attitude which under Papa Ratzinger denied Archbishop Nichols a Red Hat: “Tolerate, and by tolerating encourage, the sin, and exult the sinner.”

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