Tag Archives: St. Thomas Becket

The mixed heritage of St. Thomas à Becket

Saint Thomas Becket is one of my favorite saints. The play by Jean Anouilh, Becket, later adapted into a movie, as well as T. S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral, are classics for me. I saw both plays and the movie and even acted in the play in high school.

What I find most remarkable about Saint Thomas Becket is that he was able to move from a position of privilege, as chancellor of the kingdom, to being a pastor of souls, praying and fasting, and looking out for the poor.

He refused to hold on to the power he had had as chancellor and didn’t seek to use his privileges, as well as his friendship with the king, as means to advance himself.

He was treading in the tricky swampland of the relations of the church and the state.

He was not willing to subjugate the church to the state, but insisted on the rights of the church and, doing so, he undercut the absolutism of the English monarchy. For that I am grateful.

But he insisted that clerics be tried by church courts and not by the courts of the realm.

I am not sure exactly why he did this – perhaps to avoid control by the state. But, from the perspective of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, I have a problem.

How often, in the face of clergy abuse of children and those in situations of vulnerability, have church leaders tried to hide the perpetrators from the news and from the courts? This has happened in the US and in other countries across the globe. I believe, it still continues, as the church doesn’t face the sexual, spiritual, and psychological abuse that church leaders have done not just to children and adolescents, but also to persons in situations of vulnerability, including women religious and seminarians. All too often this has been done to “protect the church,” but all it does is to hide the festering wounds of abuse.

I wonder that St. Thomas Becket would think of this. I have no idea, but today I pray that he may intercede for the church. May the church abandon all quests for power and prestige. May the church put itself at the service of the abused, the marginalized, the impoverished. May the church be a church that admits its faults.

This morning I came across this quote from St. Thomas Becket on a Facebook friend’s page. He is supposed to have said this to a friend on his way to being ordained archbishop of Canterbury.

Hereafter, I want you to tell me, candidly and in secret, what people are saying about me. And if you see anything in me that you regard as a fault, feel free to tell me in private. For from now on, people will talk about me, but not to me. It is dangerous for men in power if no one dares to tell them when they go wrong.

The last line is wise advice to the church, even today:

It is dangerous for men in power if no one dares to tell them when they go wrong.