I'm more or less aware of the meanings of the word delinquent. However, I can't decide what it exaclty means in the following quote which is from god is not Great by Christopher Hitchens and where he discusses the child abuse among clergymen:

Sometimes the resulting frustration expressed itself in horrible excesses of corporal punishment, which is bad enough in itself. But when the artificial inhibitions really collapse, as we have seen them do, they result in behavior which no average masturbating, fornicating sinner could even begin to contemplate without horror. This is not the result of a few delinquents among the shepherds, but an outcome of an ideology which sought to establish clerical control by means of control of the sexual instinct and even of the sexual organs.

I know "delinquent" doesn't have hundreds of meanings but I know it is used for "an (especially young/teenager) offender of a minor crime" and "failure to perform one's duty". Since I think there are no teenage clergymen to guard the children, I am confused about what the word "deliquent" really means here. Maybe it means "negligence"?

Thank you.

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    I suggest you become more aware of the meaning of delinquent as a noun. – Robusto Jun 29 '15 at 13:15

It sounds like the author is indeed using delinquent to mean an offender of a minor crime. While it is typically used in reference to teenagers, it isn't limited to that age group.

The text here is using shepherd to refer to the priests, who are supposed to be shepherds of the flock. The priests are committing an offense and the author is placing part of the blame on the theology of the Roman Catholic Church.

  • With the sexual type of crime implied here, metaphorically calling the priests shepherds of course also raises the (probably intentional) by-interpretation of sheep-shagger. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jun 29 '15 at 13:40
  • You need to get your mind out of the sheepcote, Janus :) Isn't this the commonplace pastoral metaphor? congregation-as-flock, pastor as shepherd? You may find this of interest. upperclassmonroe.blogs.wm.edu/2014/08/25/… – TRomano Jun 29 '15 at 13:48

In the most general case, delinquent is used to mean 'one who breaks rules or laws.' Basically, a troublemaker. That fits with the tone here, I think.


The word delinquent has connotations of criminal negligence, from the latin "away leave". When applied to a teenager it typically means one who commits petty crimes out of boredom.

A delinquent shepherd would be one who was negligent in his responsibilities to his flock, who indulges in immoral behaviour which leads the flock astray, and who fails to teach correct doctrine.

  • The ideology itself is being blamed. – TRomano Jun 29 '15 at 13:45
  • Correct, but in the first part of the proposition "This is not the result of a few delinquents among the shepherds", we see the word used to refer to a minority. The negation doesn't change the meaning of the word in the microcontext. I take your point though, I will clarify. – superluminary Jun 29 '15 at 13:48

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