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As the Pope comes under intensified attack for his handling of paedophilic Catholic priests, Vatican officials are queuing up with excuses. So far we’ve heard that it was the work of the Devil, and that homosexuality not celibacy was the source of the problem. All of which raises interesting philosophical questions about the nature of excuses.

Jean Paul Sartre claimed that excuses were always in “bad faith”: a denial of our fundamental freedom. The human condition, for Sartre, was that we are “alone without excuse”—we can’t blame God or the Devil because they don’t exist. We can’t blame our nature…

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