A Difficult-To-Phrase But Nonetheless Necessary, Justified And True Defence

I’d like to say now that I’m well aware that I’m probably going to end up generating a lengthy, flamey comment-thread for the following, and that I am probably not going to get involved in said discussion because, I hope, I’ll be able to say everything I’m trying to say here, and express it well enough that I don’t need to say any more, and anyway I am fed up of all these dogmatic, opinionated and slightly bullish arguments that end up happening once you get truly embroiled in the blogosphere, and I don’t want to get involved. I know that what I’m about to write may well seem contentious, and I’m sorry, but this is what I think.

Right. Deep breath.

Firstly, put yourself in the shoes of The Catholic Church, as it were. Imagine you’re an ordinary, good Catholic soul. You believe that no-one should have sex outside of marriage and that sex is for the begetting of children and therefore you do not understand, really, how anyone can end up ‘in trouble’ and therefore needing an abortion. You can’t see that motherhood is perhaps a huge sacrifice and very difficult for some people at certain stages in their lives, and you probably haven’t even seriously considered the possibility of rape (but then, let’s be honest, when justifying abortion as a woman’s legal right you’re mainly thinking of the but-if-we-have-an-accident luxury-of-choice angle, and not the rape/congenital or genetic deformity/risk to mother’s life angle, whatever you might say). You (Catholic you) can’t see how pro-life is possibly a dangerous and slightly tyrannical view to take because in your mind, abortion is murder. But then, from the other side of the fence, we liberal pro-choicers think that your opinions are dangerous and tyrannical, and we think we are absolutely and dogmatically right, and let’s be objective for a second and all just agree that these are opinions, each backed up by valid reasoning, whatever you might think about the reasoning in general.

So, let’s work on the assumption that Catholics by and large – both lay church members and the clergy – are intelligent, thinking people, at least to a similar degree that we would agree that non-Catholics are. This is an assumption I personally hold but some of you more ‘liberal’ types may not see it like that.

You as a good Catholic soul, therefore, are part of a church full of reasoned individuals, and there’s been a trend in the mainstream media over the last few years, which, really, is quite worrying. It started with a vague anti-Islamic sentiment, being liberal and modern and therefore deeply opposed to the veil as a symbol of male oppression of women, gradually giving the public the impression that actually, all Muslim women aren’t allowed to go to school or be interested in things or read or talk or, well, anything really. And then Atheism got cool, and suddenly everyone was at it (hello, Dawkins) and there was all that stuff about women priests, gay priests, women bishops, the lot, and of course, we, the sheep, by which I mean your average Joe, were told a version of the story which has most of the Church down as a bunch of misogynist rightwing nutters, and so it goes on, and before we know where we are actually the mainstream media is basically just opposed to organised religion in any form.

And the more there’s that kind of slew in the way things are understood and the opinions we are fed about them, the less objective the coverage of those things becomes.

So when a handful of priests, it turns out, are paedophiles, and as we all know paedophilia is a journalism honeypot, someone, somewhere, is swinging objectivity around by its ankles and flinging it out of a first floor window so hard that poor old objectivity is probably still in orbit, somewhere. I am not for a second saying that kiddy-fiddling is in anyway not a despicable and terrible thing, or that it’s not an utter tragedy and one of the absolute worst things that could happen to a child. I’m not for a second saying that anyone who has committed such crimes does not deserve severe and fitting punishment. What I’m saying is, when did mature, respectable people suddenly decide it was appropriate to come out with gems such as this utterly tasteless song (which features a lot of swearing from the very first split second, so be careful when/where you play it) (and from Tim Minchin, too, who can be so genuinely witty and brilliant)? Someone else I know (the friend of a friend) has this to say, which is pretty representative of things I have heard otherwise normal, rational people say recently: “if the Pope is god’s right hand man on earth and by extension infallible then therefore paedophilia should not only be excused but compulsory across the entire world”.

The Pope is not a paedophile. Can we just clarify that for a start? He is in fact the head of an absolutely huge organisation with millions of members globally. He is technically in charge of priests across the world, with a huge and complex heirarchy beneath him of cardinals, archbishops and bishops who are in control of more local areas. It’s organisationally highly complex. The Catholic Church is also under a lot of pressure, constantly criticised from right and left, by other churches, by itself, by other countries and faith systems (and yes, I do include atheism under that heading, atheism is as much a belief as theism) for views which are perhaps difficult to comprehend but nonetheless well-meant and concieved. It’s an ageing church, and a changing one, and its PR isn’t good.

And then, somewhere, hundreds of miles away from the Pope, a handful of priests are doing the most terrible and shocking things to children in their charge. Firstly, it takes a long while to reach the ears of the Pope. By the time the Pope has heard about such incidents, local bishops and archbishops have usually made their own decisions about what to do with the priest in question. The bureaucratic cogs from the Vatican have hardly had the chance to get into gear – and nor should they have to. Because in many cases, local justice systems have become involved, and priests charged and sentenced.

We should blame neither the Pope nor his Church for what has happened. This is an old man, and a figurehead, and it is the responsibility of the justice system, not the church, to deal with this sort of crime. Tarring the entire institution and most specifically the Pope with this brush is akin to blaming the entire state school system and the Minister for Education for the tiny percentage of teachers that fuck their pupils. It’s ludicrous.

It’s a terrible fact that, in any profession that involves a certain level of exposure to children, there will be a handful of people who abuse that position of power and trust to do the most terrible things. It is the responsibility of a good justice system to do its best to safeguard against such awful things happening and to make sure that if they do, those responsible are removed from their position and kept away from children and, to a point, punished.

Perhaps the Vatican has not handled their presentation of the situation particularly well – they’ve made themselves look a lot worse than they are when that was almost certainly their fear – that by publicising these things, the Church would look bad, at a time when looking bad is far too big a gamble, given the way the general public views the organisation as a whole.

What I’m saying is, I feel very sorry for the Pope, for the Vatican, and for the Church. I feel sorry for the victims of pederasty both within and outside the Church. And I am frankly ashamed of the rest of you, who somehow have begun to believe that all the Catholic clergy are paedophiles, that there is nothing about the Church that is not in some way objectionable, despicable or downright stupid.

So I just wanted to stick up for the Catholic Church. Someone needs to do it. Most paedophiles in the world are not Catholics. Most are relatives of the children in question, or teachers, or other carers. Even as percentages (percentage of priests who are paedophiles compared with percentage of, say, teachers who are paedophiles, and so on) the figures put Catholic priests as being less likely to commit those kinds of crimes. And this was a paper put together by an American Jewish academic. I’m sorry I can’t find it for you – I did try.

All I’m saying is – our society is great at being liberal and thoughtful and considerate when it comes to politics, social injustice, the Third World, the health service, and so many other things. Why is it that these days when it comes to religion all we can do is shriek and wail and see things only in black and white?

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32 Comments

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32 responses to “A Difficult-To-Phrase But Nonetheless Necessary, Justified And True Defence

  1. I’m not disagreeing with you. It’s stupid to tar every member of the catholic clergy with one brush because of the actions of a few.

    But I have heard the argument made that certain members of the church did, at first, attempt to frustrate certain initial enquiries by refusing to co-operate. This is at least part of where the silliness comes from – a refusal to let priests see justice which is almost as bad as the church being complicit in an organised way.

    I’d like to agree with your comments about atheism in general, however. I’d like to offer the explanation that atheists love to ‘beat’ religion by picking at it bit by bit. They enjoy the opportunity to question to sexual practices of the catholic church because it feels like another fanatical victory.

  2. Adam

    I agree that the Pope isn’t himself a paedophile as far as I’m aware… All i know for certain is he didn’t inappropriately touch me when I was young… I was older and it was entirely concentual…

    My problem with the Pope is as follows: he has the final say on the church’s stance on ALL ISSUES. The Vatican undoubtably has information on kiddy-fiddling priests – the thing is they are deliberately withholding information pertainant to crimes that have been committed. If I withhold any information I have about a crime – then I am responsible for that, and am as guilty as the person who committed said crime.

    It’s also the Hypocracy of it all – being gay is wrong, sex outside wedlock is wrong – but if you wear a dog collar, you can have gay sex outside wedlock with a child – and that’s cool with His Holyness…

    The large-scale-organised-paedophilia-cover-up aside, the worst of all the things the Pope decrees – is his entirely false view on condoms… Specifically in relation to AIDS and HIV. It’s not even just false, it’s just plain DANGEROUS. 2 million people a year die from AIDS – in South Africa alone, someone dies of AIDS/HIV EVERY TWO SECONDS

    From Bad Science: [The Pope] has proclaimed that “The most effective presence on the front in the battle against HIV/AIDS is in fact the Catholic Church and her institutions.” This is a ludicrous claim. They’re the only major influential international political organisation that actively tells people not to do something that works, on a huge scale. Their own figures show that their numbers are growing in Africa, even faster than the population does.

    I don’t mind what anyone believes, I’m happy for you to suggest abstention. But sabotaging an effective intervention which prevents a disease that kills 2 million people a year makes you a serious global public health problem.

  3. The Civilian

    Good for you for defending your church. And yes, you’re going to get a lot of angry people attacking you.

    The problem is twofold. First, you based your scenario in a perfect world. Second, you took a very absolute view, then criticized others for doing the same.

    The Catholic Church is a target because they have a very long history of actively oppressing knowledge and committing heinous acts in the name of God. It would be foolish of the world to forget that.

    And here we are again, with the Catholic Church actively covering up the acts of sick men. Priests who were accused of pedophilia weren’t reported to the local authorities. They were simply transferred to new areas(and I’m sure they went to confession and were forgiven by God) where they could terrorize a new group of young boys. They didn’t strip the priesthood away from them and try to throw them in jail. Then the people above them tried to cover it all up. That’s MY problem. They didn’t react with horror, they helped the pedophiles.

    I understand there’s a small subset of any given population that will do horrible things. It’s both predictable and unavoidable, so it’s hard to think that the church didn’t know that it was going to happen. And that they didn’t have a plan to deal with it. Was it part of the plan to cover it up? Then that leads to the question, what else have they covered up? What other horrible things are happening now that are being covered up as we speak?

    It’s good that you defend your church. Sometimes people need to be reminded that it does good as well, but we should never forget the bad.

    • Jenny

      Firstly, I’m actually a plain old middle-of-the-road Anglican, with Catholic relatives.

      Second, I used one absolute view to show up how the other view which I was criticising is equally absolute and therefore arguably flawed.

      Thirdly, I believe in the God of the Catholics, all other Christians, Jews, Muslims, and in fact this monotheism is shared by many other religious people from other belief systems and faiths. It’s not an uncommon view that we all believe in the same God.

      Fourthly, organised religion is no greater an evil than organised government, democracy, or military scientific research. Would you for a second argue seriously against any of these things?

      Finally, I can understand why a cover-up was attempted. However many priests involved have been jailed for their actions, and many more have been placed in monasteries out of harm’s way, which is by no means the same as this reposting elsewhere so they could commit the same crimes elsewhere which you allege is what happened. I entirely agree they should have been jailed.

      Furthermore the Pope may be a figurehead but it is his press office, widely agreed to be incompetent, which really weakens the image of the Pope; more importantly bishops cannot and do not report every single thing they do to their cardinals, let alone to the Inquisition, let alone to the Pope. At the time he did not know about most of these cases. I would refer you to a badly-written but well-researched article I was shown on the matter but it was a leaflet, not on the web. Those cases he did know of, he did actually handle very well indeed, back in the day.

      Bleh. I did say I wasn’t planning on commenting but you’re all being even less reasoned and more hysterical than I thought you’d be.

  4. Jenny

    ‘if you wear a dog collar, you can have gay sex outside wedlock with a child – and that’s cool with His Holiness’. Well, no, it’s not. The Pope has always said that this is not cool, not cool at all.

    He probably believes that priests who have committed crimes like these are going to hell no matter how many Hail Marys they say.

    And – large-scale-organised-paedophilia? What?

    Though I am entirely with you on the condoms thing. Of course the most effective way to not spread AIDS is to abstain from sex outside of wedlock, but expecting an entire nation of people to do that, especially in nations where polygamy is still The Thing, is unrealistic, sadly. And so yes, condoms. Clearly.

  5. Of course the Pope isn’t a paedophile. Saying that it’s common for atheists to say such things (at least seriously) is pretty much a straw-man argument.

    What people actually find objectionable is not what he’s done as Pope, but his actions when he was plain old Cardinal Ratzinger. He was the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which was once known as the Inquisition.

    In his role there, he was in charge of the removal of priests from the priesthood for disciplinary offences. In his role there, he was either incompetent or negligent in failing to act expediently to remove priests, and failing to inform the civil authorities.

    It’s not just that he is now the figurehead, he was actually the man in the Vatican who was responsible for this. He is personally culpable.

    As regards being in the shoes of a good Catholic and abortion, that’s exactly why secularism is essential; to teach people about the issues, and to allow them to make decisions based on all the facts without being constrained by arbitrary dogma. In the Republic of Ireland, for instance, abortion is still banned because of the prevailing Catholic faith there. It doesn’t matter if a woman is Catholic or not, she is prevented from getting an abortion in her own country because of theology.

    You’re right in saying that atheism is essentially also a belief, but it’s a far more reasonable belief than theism is. For one, it’s more compliant with Occam’s Razor. Also, most theistic beliefs require belief in an awful lot more than the existence of God or otherwise, they require that that God possess a particular set of properties, incarnations, attendant rituals. It requires that a lot of other people, with beliefs equally as strong as yours about God, are wrong.

    I get believing in a God is reasonable. I would contend that it gets less reasonable when you believe this God parts seas, sets bushes on fire, turns people into pillars of salt, turns water into wine, walks on water, etc. but yet never intervenes on anything like a similar scale today. Maybe he puts faces into fruit, but that’s about it.

    I have nothing against ordinary Catholics, or believers of any kind. By and large, they’re decent people. It’s the Church and its hierarchy I have a problem with.

    The trouble is organised religion, where power and religion start to meet. It’s not OK that leaders in the Catholic Church say that condoms don’t work to prevent the transmission of HIV. It’s not OK that Saudi Arabia uses Islam as an excuse to deny women the right to drive, or to leave their homes without a male relative. It’s not OK that they mislead the good Catholic soul about abortion. It is not OK that the Pope, living amidst the luxury and opulence of St Peter’s in the Vatican City tells people in the third world to live without contraception, and keep having kids they cannot afford.

    I do not see why the Catholic Church, and organisations like it, should be treated with deference and respect.

  6. On your third point, yes, obviously the God of Christians, Jews and Muslims is the same god, the god of Abraham. Although you’ll find much disagreement as to his nature (to be a Trinity or not to be a Trinity, that is the question).

    The point I was making was that many of the logical arguments for god are not specifically arguments for that familiar god, just for a god-like being in general. To believe in a god like Yahweh/Jehovah requires an awful lot extra baggage.

    Like I said, it’s not the faith I object to, or the faithful. Jesus himself (shorn of the miraculous stuff, c.f. the Jefferson Bible) was a really great example to people. Much good is done by people who believe in the various Christian (or otherwise) faiths.

    But, I cannot see what good the organisation of the Church itself does. I object to the way the power of that organisation is used.

    Jesus himself was not a fan of wealth and ostentation, if I recall correctly. Easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, and there is certainly a great deal of wealth on display in St. Peter’s.

    To specifically address your fourth point, I personally dislike military scientific research and won’t have anything to do with it. And you can’t lump together every form of organisation, as democracy and rigid hierarchies have clearly different structures. The Pope, for instance, is not democratically elected, but in an oligarchic manner. It’s not a comparison of like with like.

    To put it another way, if a multinational business was telling Africans to eschew condoms, would you have kind words for their leader?

    How am I being unreasoned or hysterical?

  7. Also, from the horse’s mouth:

    http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_19861001_homosexual-persons_en.html

    “Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder.” – Joseph Ratzinger, Rome October 1986

    Gay people have an intrinsic tendency to moral evil. Cool? Hey, maybe he’s changed his mind by now, who knows? Like I said, not even as bothered by him-as-figurehead, as by him-as-himself.

  8. Do you really expect the pope to not be homophobic? He’s Catholic and he’s ancient. It just seems like a silly thing to bother with. “Look, I found proof that the pope hates gays…”

  9. Yeah, I don’t have much else to say that hasn’t been said. Will say though that I don’t think anyone’s been unreasoned or hysterical; they’ve just disagreed with you, Jenny…

    With reference to this, though:

    “Fourthly, organised religion is no greater an evil than organised government, democracy, or military scientific research. Would you for a second argue seriously against any of these things?”

    Well, various people have differing opinions as to whether those things are useful. And yes, there are sizeable numbers of people who think that each of those things is a bad thing… Personally, I don’t think that you can compare religion to any of the other things you named; I reckon that the other three are (to varying extents) valuable. On the other hand, I think that religion is damaging, so I dislike organised religion (which of course doesn’t mean that I’d like to stop people being involved with organised religion if they want – because what other people do is none of my business as long as it doesn’t interfere with me).

    Point is, to say that “x is no greater an evil than y and you wouldn’t get rid of y” is entirely your opinion. That others may have differing ideas as to the desirability of x or y, nullifies it as an argument.

  10. Clare

    D’you know, the Inquisition wasn’t as bad as everyone thinks. A lot of it was 16th Century English Protestant Propaganda, and even they sort of agreed with the expulsion of the Jews and the Moors.

    And that is all I have to say.

    Well, it’s not, but I need to wake up and get up…

    Cxxx

  11. Clare

    “It’s not OK that Saudi Arabia uses Islam as an excuse to deny women the right to drive, or to leave their homes without a male relative.”

    Will briefly argue with this, to the best of my ability.
    This oppression of women under the name of Islam is, from what I have read, a far more recent development than propagandists would have us believe. Yes, you may say “well go back a few centuries and women were still very much oppressed” but the same is true all over the world so it’s not just an Islamic thing. Actually a lot of the stuff about veiling and being denied education etc, actually stems from rather ill-informed Western criticisms of Islamic practises which they did not fully understand, and – crucially – did not know, or did not appreciate, that they were not a widespread practise. I don’t know the details for Saudi Arabia, but I do know that in the 30s, the Shah of Iran made a law declaring it illegal for women to wear the full veil. More recently, ‘Westerners’ have attacked what they see as oppressive practises without fully understanding them, causing in fact a resurgence of those practises as a defence of and a statement of Islamic faith.

    Saudi Arabia is, I think, among the worst culprits for the oppression of women, something I fundamentally disagree with, but we have to remember that there, as everywhere, the situation cannot just be simplified away into a simplistic statement of so-called fact. Cultural judgements are difficult to do accurately.

  12. Jenny

    No, you’re missing hte point of the argument, which is not that ‘if you wouldn’t get rid of x then you shouldn’t want to get rid of y’ at all. Andy explicitly states that organised religion is a bad thing: ‘The trouble is organised religion, where power and religion start to meet. … I do not see why the Catholic Church, and organisations like it, should be treated with deference and respect’. He goes on to list some terrible things the Church does without seeing that there are also a lot of good things about the Church. While I wholly disagree with the Catholic stance on condoms or abortion, it’s primarily Christian aid agencies (Oxfam, Cafod, Christian Aid, to name but a few) that have brought an awful lot of good things into poor countries – literacy, clean water, women’s work co-operatives and education programs to try and help women specifically get out of the poverty trap that local misogyny puts them in.

    The point I was trying to make is that you cannot sweepingly say that organised religion is wholly bad in the same way that you cannot sweepingly say that democracy is bad, or military research is bad (as I recall, it got us things like the Internet, the first law of thermodynamics, the telegraph, radar, and countless advances in computing – this article should tell you a bit more – so yes, whilst I wholly disagree with some of the things military research has produced, and I wholly disagree with the attempt to build things that can kill more and more people from further and further away, without a lot of originally military projects the world as we know it would be a wholly different place).

    There are gay catholics who are happily practicing gay people and also Catholic. The Pope obviously isn’t one of them, but he’s an old man, and religious. Plenty of old people are homophobic but not Catholic.

    ‘if a multinational business was telling Africans to eschew condoms, would you have kind words for their leader?’ – I disagree with the Pope’s disagreement with the use of condoms. This does not mean I disagree with the institution. If said multinational business was also opening schools and providing clean water and in that way saving hte lives of countless children, then yes, I’d be against their policy on condoms, but I would not be anti the organisation itself.

    I still want to know what this reference to ‘large-scale organised paedophilia’ is about – are you saying, Adam, that there is some kind of massive kiddy porn ring within the auspices of the Catholic Church? Really?

    And I have never agreed with this figurehead-as-personally-culpable argument that seems so rife these days. It’s like saying that Gordon Brown was responsible for the expenses scandal, it’s ridiculous. The people who are culpable are the people who had any power to change what was happening. And the Pope has apoligised for what has happened.

    As for ‘unreasoned and hysterical’, you can disagree with me all you like, I can understand why you would, but it’s the inability to concede that organised religion and specifically the Catholic Church has ever done anything right that I really take issue with. Honestly, I’m not standing up for the Catholic church. I’m not saying that they handled hte situation well, and I’m not saying that what happened wasn’t terrible. I’m asking you to try and see some good in hte organisation. Understand that mistakes were made, and that the cover-up was born out of good intentions, not an alternative to proper justice.

  13. Clare

    Or, to take another example, it’s like someone wanting to arrest the Queen and hold her responsible for the atrocities committed by the British Empire. Yeah, she’s the figurehead, but is she really responsible?

    [I never thought I’d see myself defending the Queen… Who’d’a thought…]

    Cxxx

  14. Clare

    “If I withhold any information I have about a crime – then I am responsible for that, and am as guilty as the person who committed said crime.”

    … how about no? Maybe I don’t understand the law, but I’m fairly sure you’re not. After all, you haven’t committed the crime. You’re guilty of concealing it certainly, which perhaps comes under aiding and abbetting, or perverting the course of justice, but you’re not guilty of that crime.

    Meanwhile, I think that it WAS wrong of the Catholic church to try and cover up the scandal. I can see why they would want to considering the hostile climate that is mounting against the Catholic Church, but of course that was an inept and foolish decision and has only caused more damage and made it worse. Reasons why you need a good PR Office, No. 1.

    In addition, I think the priests should be tried by the rules of the countries in which they were practising. I think it’s that simple. I think that the law of the land should come higher in people’s priorities than their religious laws, but of course you can see why for some extremely devout people that would be a difficult thing to balance.

    I disagree with the Catholic Church’s stance on abortion. I disagree with their ‘judgement’ of homosexuality.

    BUT that does NOT make the institution itself evil. For example, I don’t like the way that the British Empire treated its colonies; I don’t like the way that the British government treated women – until recently; I don’t like the monarchy, I don’t like the various wars we’ve been in. I’m not going to say that the Queen is either responsible for all those or evil. I’m not going to say that the British Government as an historical institution is evil. As far as I can see it’s a similar case.

    After all, do we blame the Queen for all the paedophiles in her country?

    I feel that people should think more rationally about the Catholic Church, (and stop privileging atheism above all other sorts of belief; that’s just as irrational as many atheists take theism to be. I’m an atheist, for the record) and instead of blindly and generally attacking it, think about it in a more nuanced manner. And allow the people within the organisation to use the brains that they do have to continue to try and bring about change.

    With an organisation as ancient and conservative as that, it is going to take a while.

    I shall celebrate (even from beyond the grave, as will probably be necessary) as soon as the first lesbian pope is elected.

  15. Laura

    Ok, firstly, as I’ve said elsewhere, I love Catholicism. Mainly for silly reasons, but I also see that it does a lot of good. Of course it does, it has the basic principles of Christianity. Love thy neighbour, treat others as you’d like to be treated. I don’t even have much beef with the Catholic Church, in principal, as an organisation.

    What I do object to is that a body as drippingly wealthy as the Catholic Church, when a large proportion of its followers are impoverished or in developing countries. Mexico, the Philippines, many countries in Africa, most of the South American countries and, though it has become a wealthy European nation, Ireland in the past. Ok, we have the Frances and Spains and Italys, which are Western European Catholic nations, but a lot of the Church’s followers are not well off. And yet the Church still insists on its anti-contraception line. Yes, children are a blessing and I wholly believe that, but when it comes to people not being able to control their own bodies and families, I have to take issue.

    I understand this is not the Pope’s stance alone. It is the stance of the whole Church. I’m not *blaming* the figurehead, but I am saying he takes a degree of responsibility in terms of dealing with issues that arise within the Church. You point out that Gordon Brown is not responsible for the expenses scandal. No, he wasn’t. However, he is responsible for dealing with it as efficiently as possible. Say I was the head of a business who makes clothing. I’m a good boss and I care about the people who work for me. Then I discover that the clothes I sell are being made in horrible conditions. It’s not my *fault* as such, as my work is far away from the grass roots level of the business. But, as the head of the company, it’s my choice as to whether to turn a blind eye, or step in and do something. This is a poorly thought out example, but you get my point.

    I’m reluctant to mention the child abuse scandal, as it’s not in fact the major issue I have with the Church (which is their stance on contraception and the vast difference in wealth between the organisation and its followers), but I guess it’s going to come up. I appreciate that it is a TINY percentage of priests who have abused their power. But that’s still a whole lot of people who are suffering and feel their suffering has not been properly recognised or addressed by the very Church they were told to put their faith in. I understand where the Pope and others in the Church were coming from in their reasoning to “cover it up”. However, this is a matter of doing the right thing for people who suffered horrendously as children. I don’t think the Church is an organised kiddy-fiddling ring. I DO think it has a duty to respect and do right by those who suffered under those they were taught to put ultimate trust in.

    I’d still love to have seen the Pope. I’d shake his hand and congratulate him on the good the Church does – of which I know there is a lot. I’d be overjoyed to have been at the Mass back in the UK a couple of days ago (or was it yesterday? Canada confuses my days). But I’d still have my criticisms, because, despite the good, the bad is just too powerful to ignore. And I don’t think that’s unreasoned or hysterical.

  16. Jenny

    Thank you, Laura and Clare. I don’t think you’re unreasoned or hysterical, either :). Thank you. xx

  17. “The point I was trying to make is that you cannot sweepingly say that organised religion is wholly bad in the same way that you cannot sweepingly say that democracy is bad, or military research is bad”

    Nonsense. Whether or not you agree, it’s not unreasonable to say those things. Andy may not think that organised religion is a good thing, and he’s perfectly entitled to that opinion, just as you are entitled to the opposite opinion. Personally, I think it’s a judgement call. Sure, good things are done in the name of organised religion, but there are plenty of negative effects associated with organised religion too. Whether you think the positive outcomes outweigh the negative ones is, arguably, a judgement call, and I don’t think it’s too surprising if an atheist’s judgement differs to that of a theist!

    This is a matter of opinion, as are the other things you mentioned. I don’t think it is inherently unreasonable to be anti-democracy or anti-military research or anti-religion, or whatever, as long as you can back up that opinion with a reasonable argument. At the same time, I don’t think you are being unreasonable in supporting organised religion and for sticking up for the Catholic Church in this blog post (even though I’m no fan of either). They’re just different opinions, and I think it’s pretty unproductive to proclaim that one is less valid than the other.

  18. Jenny

    No, but you say ‘I think this’ rather than ‘this is the case’. It’s the difference between being dogmatic and merely holding an opinion, and while the former is inflammatory the latter is fine by me. I am not claiming that anyone’s opinion is less or more valid than my own by any means.

  19. I don’t really understand what you mean. Looking at everyone’s comments, it seems fairly clear they’ve just given their own opinion – rather than explicitly saying “this is the way it is and you’re wrong to disagree”. For their efforts, you’ve said that they were “less reasoned and more hysterical than I thought you’d be”, and that it’s wrong to be anti-organised religion…

  20. Jenny

    I’ve said that being anti-organised religion seems like a sweeping generalisation to me and as for being less reasoned and hysterical, some comments here have explicitly suggested that there is nothing good to be said about hte Catholic Church, which I don’t think is right; and meanwhile it’s never good practice to state opinion as fact, it’s pusilanimous for a start, and verging on the rude. As my grandmother said whenever I or my sister complained about something we were eating, ‘it’s not disgusting, dear, you just don’t happen to like it’.

  21. I fear that we’re straying from the point I originally wanted to make. Which was that you say:

    “you cannot sweepingly say that organised religion is wholly bad in the same way that you cannot sweepingly say that democracy is bad”

    and I say that you can, and people do – for religion as for all the other things you listed in your example. There are good reasons why they hold those views, so I objected to you saying that people “cannot” hold those opinions.

    I fail to see how anyone has been hysterical or unreasoned, and I also don’t think anyone has suggested that there’s “nothing good” to be said about the Catholic Church; they’ve just mostly said that there’s lots of bad to be said about it, but that’s a very different thing to what you’re suggesting 😛

    • Jenny

      I never said people cannot hold those views, I said that those are not facts, whoch as you’ll agree is a totally different thing. I cannot now see anything I’m typing because wordpress for iPhone is having a moment, so here ends my comment. Bleh.

  22. Im not sure anyone readily claimed their opinion to be fact… And you were seemingly implying that it’s an unreasonable opinion to hold. Certainly that’s how I read this:

    “organised religion is no greater an evil than organised government, democracy, or military scientific research. Would you for a second argue seriously against any of these things?”

    I merely wanted to point out that people can and do seriously argue against all those things, and that it’s not unreasonable to do so. And that it’s not – in my opinion – an obviously “hysterical” thing to be against organised religion.

    • Jenny

      I’m sorry that that is how it came across, Dickie.

      As for you, Civilian, I still feel the Church’s intentions were well-intentioned. I don’t think anyone denies for a second that children’s lives were ruined or that these were horrific things. The real problem, I gather, was bishops and archbishops lower down who tried to remove the priests in question whilst hiding the facts of the case. I don’t think that this is a large-scale, organised cover-up but rather a number of smaller, more disorganised cover-ups, sadly for all concerned.

  23. The Civilian

    Ms. Jenny,

    From reading this it seems that there are a couple of things that you misunderstood. Well, mostly one thing that hasn’t been covered already. Adam said “The large-scale-organised-paedophilia-cover-up” and not “large-scale-organised-paedophilia”

    It’s an interesting debate that will never really end and some good (non-hysterical) points were brought up. The only point that I violently disagree with is that the cover-ups were done with good intentions. These men abused, raped, and destroyed the lives of young boys. How is hiding them away somewhere good? Good would have been to publicly defrock them and turn them over to civil authorities. Good would have been to keep the names of the abused from the public as much as possible and offer the victims any medical treatment and counseling they needed on the churches dime. The church, at whatever level, chose not to do that. Instead they ignored the pleas and accusations of the accused, and protected the perpetrators. What about that is good?

  24. Clare

    @The Civilian – someone did mention it somewhere – I remember reading a comment implying that… but it’s vanished.

    Laura, I agree that the Pope-as-Figurehead should be held accountable, but a lot of people’s arguments (not necessarily here) seem to insinuate that he himself is guilty of those crimes, and is also, y’know, akin to the Antichrist and the root of ALL EVIL in the world, complete with hysterical caps-lock and italics and fury.

    Which is where I get my ‘beef’ (I feel so uncomfortable using that word you have no idea. I have no idea why I used it. Possibly because I’m hungry. Never mind…) I agree with a lot of the arguments against the wrongs the Church has done. Like you, I’m deeply fond of it for family reasons. I think it’s mad, but I love it. Not a fan of the wrongs it’s done, but I’m aware of and applauding of (there’s a word for that, somewhere…) the good it does do. I just – hypocritically, since I know I have a tendency to do this myself vis-a-vis feminism, but I’m trying not to as of now – don’t like arguments that over-simplify, make sweeping generalisations and ignore the nuances of a given situation. It’s lazy thinking, unreasoned and tends towards the tabloid end of hysterical.

    Also, the person up there somewhere – Andy, I think it was – who doesn’t like and doesn’t use military scientific research. So you don’t like the internet, and you never use it?

    I don’t like things developed to destroy/vapourise large numbers of people indiscriminately. On the other hand, I do appreciate the great number of good things that military scientific research has brought into the world. In that regard, I think military scientific research is similar to the Catholic Church (masses of people’s lives destroyed vs. great good brought to the world = moral dichotomy).

    I’m now gibbering and repeating things that everyone else has said.

    …one more thing. Back to ‘The Civilian’. The so-called good intentions, as I understand it, were to do with preserving the sanctity and respect for the Catholic Church – the importance of which, I suppose, was seen to take precedence. It was a misguided attempt to avoid a huge scandal and cause minimal pain to all involved. Obviously, it didn’t work. The better thing, under a more conventional code of morality would have been to hand them all over, make compensation, etc, etc, etc. Obviously they didn’t do that. In the same way that we can’t continue screeching at them about the Crusades, it isn’t constructive to continue to tell them off now about what they didn’t do as regards bringing men to justice, make sure those who are still within reach of the law ARE brought to justice, and show the Church that they are still respected and revered and will continue to be, IF they make the necessary policy changes to ensure that this sort of thing doesn’t happen again.

    And all that is a fairly obvious thing to say I suppose.

    Breakfast time…

  25. Adam

    “are you saying, Adam, that there is some kind of massive kiddy porn ring within the auspices of the Catholic Church?”

    Not as far as I’m aware – however I said there was a large-scale cover-up… As has already been mentioned about his role in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

    “Meanwhile, I think that it WAS wrong of the Catholic church to try and cover up the scandal. I can see why they would want to…”

    Yes, If my mates were touching kids I imagine I’d want to keep it quiet too…

    “do we blame the Queen for all the paedophiles in her country?”

    No, and it’s a fairly arbritary comparison to make… The Queen is a figurehead, just like the Pope – the difference is that she has never been anything other than that. The Pope was, and still is in the position to deal with these problems – but chose not to.

    Lastly, now’s probably a good time to remember and reflect on the £20m that it cost to bring him here… Last time a Pope visited the UK, the Vatican picked up the bill – not the Taxpayer… The 2001 Census puts the number of Roman Catholics in England and Wales at roughly 4 million people; just over 8% of the population… Apple have sold about 3 million iPhones in the UK – does that mean we should pay for Steve Jobs’ UK visits??

  26. £20 million, for the benefit of roughly 4 million people? They should’ve just got all the Catholics to pay a fiver each…

    This is the one thing that really annoys me about the Pope’s visit; I think it’s magnificently stupid that it was a state visit.

  27. Heather

    I’m fairly surprised at myself that I’m actually writing a comment on this – being one of those wishy-washy people who is often accused (in fairness usually by an opinionated older brother) of failing to hold a proper concrete opinion I tend to avoid situations where I’m likely to get shouted down by people who are more forthright than me. My problem is that I tend to get very overwhelmed by the complexities of issues such as this one, and therefore find it difficult to come to a definitive conclusion about what opinion I should hold. However, here are a few of my thoughts on this particular discussion for anyone who is interested (otherwise you can choose not to read them!)

    Firstly, I don’t think anyone is being particularly unreasoned or hysterical. I would say that virtually every person who has posted above me (if not every person – there are so many comments I’ve lost track, but nothing stood out to me as ridiculous certainly) has had something valid to say. What has happened, inevitably, is that people have emphasised different things to back up their opinions, and therefore implicitly or explicitly classified various other things as less important. This is hardly surprising – it’s how arguments work.

    I do, however, agree with Jenny that those who have stated that nothing good comes out of the Catholic Church (or organised religion in general) are incorrect. If nothing else, the Catholic Church brings hope and a sense of some sort of a greater good (whether this is misguided or not) to millions of people across the world, and I think that some people really do take comfort in the belief that they are part of a world-wide organisation of like-minded people. The Pope is the leading figure of this organisation and therefore represents to many the entire meaning of the Catholic Church, so once again (I assume) brings his followers some kind of hope and a sense of purpose. I would call myself an agnostic rather than an atheist (I can’t bring myself to believe in God at least at the moment, but this is not the same as believing that God definitely does not exist), so I’m not speaking from some personal experience of this sense of faith and belonging. However, I figure it must be a pretty good thing for those who do, however misguided you may or may not think it is. Then there is the fact that organised religions including the Catholic Church inspire people to do good – Jenny’s reference to the numerous activities of Christian charities in both the developed and developing world is as good an example as any.

    However, I don’t think that anyone who has commented here has made the assertion that no good comes out of the Catholic Church; the strongest statement in that direction was that the positives brought to the world by that institution are outweighed by the negatives, of which there are indeed a large number. I’m afraid I can’t say whether I agree with this assertion or not (wishy-washy lack of conviction, remember?). I fundamentally disagree with a number of the policies and attitudes of the Pope and the Catholic Church – particularly those on contraception, abortion, homosexuality, and the role of women in themost of which have already been mentioned and analysed in a fair amount of detail.
    The anti-contraception stance seems pretty ridiculous in this day and age (although it’s hardly surprising that the aged leader of a very conservative institution preaches against the use of contraception). It’s also very irresponsible given the issue of the spread of HIV/AIDs and the problem of people having large families they cannot support – although I wouldn’t say that the Pope is actively promoting the former (as has been implied elsewhere), since if people followed the Pope to the letter then sex would only occur within monogamous marriage. However, this is obviously unrealistic, so I will reassert that the Pope’s policy on contraception is irresponsible and indeed probably is encouraging rather than discouraging the spread of HIV/AIDs.

  28. Heather

    Sorry, that went wrong – my computer entered the comment before I’d actually finished it! Or edited it for that matter – a lot of it isn’t phrased exactly how I’d like it to be and obviously with an issue like this one I don’t want to give the wrong impression. In the second from last paragraph the last sentence should be “I fundamentally disagree with a number of the policies and attitudes of the Pope and the Catholic Church – particularly those on contraception, abortion, homosexuality, and the role of women in the church, all of which have already been mentioned and analysed in a fair amount of detail.”

    I suppose what I had better do now is continue where I left off. What I was planning to do was to delete the paragraph about contraception (since most of it has already been said – sorry to bore you), and give a couple of brief opinions about the aforementioned policies/attitudes. Fail.

    Anyway, I don’t think that’s even necessary because my opinions have been covered in other people’s comments. Likewise with the obviously huge issue of the child sex abuses within the Catholic Church. Basically I think what has happened is terrible and absolutely appalling and it was completely the wrong thing for the hierarchy of the Catholic Church to cover it up. It’s hardly surprising therefore that many people’s faith in and respect for the Catholic Church has plummeted. I’m afraid I don’t think there’s really any defence for the cover up, and although it’s possible to understand the reasoning behind the actions of the Papal hierarchy, I don’t think this makes them any less wrong or any more justified. Saying that I wouldn’t go as far as stating that the papal hierarchy can be equated with those committing the crimes themselves and I think the Tim Minchin song is completely abhorrent (although of course it was designed to shock).

    This comment has gone horribly askew and I’ve ended up doing what I hoped not to by repeating a lot of what has already been said. So I apologise for that completely. I think part of my point was that this is a really difficult and complex issue, and one for which I certainly find it impossible to take a side. One of the problems is that the bad things that people talk about to do with the Catholic Church are in many ways more quantifiable than the good. You can cite a specific policy and say why it has had or is having a negative impact on people’s lives, but you can’t really say for example that being a part of the Catholic Church makes its members x per cent more satisfied with their lives, or that y number of people are religiously motivated to do good. Badly set out, but I hope you get what I mean. I think it’s therefore quite easy to slam the Catholic Church without considering the good it may or may not be doing elsewhere. Not that it doesn’t deserve to be criticised for the things it’s doing wrong – I reckon it certainly needs to change as an institution, and hopefully it will over time (if very slowly).

  29. Jenny

    Hello Heather. Real reply to follow when I’m not late for babysitting and have time to actually read what you’ve written…

    xxx

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