Sonnet on the priest abuse scandal

My fiancée was raised Catholic, and the ongoing scandal about child abuse in the Church has really gotten her down, as I’m sure it has many Catholics.  I’ve gotten used to hearing her exclaim, as she surfs the New York Times, “It’s absolutely disgusting”: I know what she is referencing and, since virtually every day brings to light a new coverup of abuse, I hear the expression a lot.  For me as a non-Catholic it’s less personal, less of a blow at one’s own biography, though of course I have great respect for the Catholic Church’s historical and theological role.

So: the other day we realised that I hadn’t written a poem for her in some months, what with all the job-seeking and apt-selling and house-hunting and what have you, so it was agreed that I should write her a sonnet.  But it helps to have a theme, and she suggested, upon my requesting one, that the sonnet discuss the priest abuse scandal(s).  Great, thinks I, a romantic poem about clerical criminals; but actually I rather like the result.  Comments and criticism welcome, of course!  The references are to Matthew 7.24-27 (“. . .like a wise man who built his house on the rock” etc.), Matthew 16.18 (“you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church”), and the Sistine Chapel with its Creation panels and Sibyls.

Oh, woe to him who built a house on rock!
Alike the amphitheatres and the churches
Topple when Heaven chooses to defrock
The City of mere Man: the ceiling lurches,
Crackling, shaking, jerking to and fro,
Crushing the shepherd who betrayed the sheep
Beneath its chunks of Michelangelo:
Creation crumbles and the Sibyls weep.
But dry your tears: let rock entomb the dead,
Let God annihilate whom God has damned;
I seek the sea, to build my house instead
Upon the free, blue shore, upon the sand.
And there, my darling, safe from old men’s lies,
We’ll look for love, and struggle to be wise.



  1. I wouldn’t have thought it possible, but this is indeed a love poem to someone whose faith in the Church has been shaken by these scandals. Excellent.

  2. Well sure, if there isn’t a catholic church anymore, I’m sure there won’t be any sort of failings from catholic clergy, just as I’m sure there won’t be any problems of coverups and abuses if we didn’t have a public education system and teacher’s unions.

    Kind of undercuts your claims that you respect the Church’s historical and theological role though, given that your poem expresses a strong desire to see it utterly destroyed because it is a nest of lying old men.

    • I have no desire to see the Catholic Church destroyed, quite the contrary: I find it very sad to see the church self-destructing.

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