The author, and Booker prize winner, Hilary Mantel, has given an interview to the Daily Telegraph in which she tells us that the Catholic Church is not a fit place for ‘respectable people’. I am not a Catholic, so when I say I have some sympathy with that view, I ought to explain straight off that that does not mean I endorse what I see as prejudice. Christ did not associate with the ‘respectable’ people of His day; indeed the Pharisees told him off for associating with the dregs of society. He responded by warning his disciples not to be like those who stood in the Temple and thanked God they were not like the sinners over there. Ms. Mantel clearly sees herself there; if she were better acquainted with the Scriptures, she might not be quite so smug.

Christ came to save sinners – which is the lot of us. We all tend to condemn the sins to which we are not prone and excuse the ones to which we are: I am quite hard on adultery, but surely it can’t be that bad to wish my husband earned what his brother earns? Well, sadly for me, it is. I don’t see any need to go into the sort of detail the Catholic Church goes into, but can see the use of distinguishing between venial (small) and mortal (big) sins: Christians can be prone to over scrupulosity.

My own parents greatly valued respectability. My father was as working class as they come, my mum lower middle class, and they both epitomised the distinction social historians have drawn between the respectable and disreputable poor. But there is a price to be paid for that in terms of looking down on others. Christians cannot do this – or at least they ought not to. Christ commanded us to love one another, not to sneer at each other or indulge in feelings of superiority. Ms. Mantel has, perhaps unwittingly, done us all a favour. Her smugness challenges us to look at our own and to see how far from the Christian ideal we are.

Of course, if one substituted the word ‘Muslim’ for the word ‘Catholic’ in the Mantel interview, one wonders whether the piece would even have been published? Child abuse is evil and criminal, and whether it is a priest, a teacher, a father, and uncle or whoever, it should be rooted out and dealt with. But for Ms. Mantel to say what she says suggests she might want to confront her own prejudices and examine them; but then that’s a good exercise for us all.