Pope Benedict XVI toured the UK from 16th-19th September 2010. Catholic Mass and anti-Pope protests were held in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Birmingham and London. On Saturday 18th September at 10:00, Mass took place inside a cathedral. There were so many people in attendance that the crowds spilled out onto the street.
Waiting patiently for the Pope to appear outside Westminster Cathedral in London after Mass, the crowd slowly pulsated forwards towards the cathedral doors. The people packed into the tiny street outside the cathedral were mainly the Catholic faithful. The Police worked like clockwork through the thick, sticky crowd, constantly pulling people out of the crowd if they looked the slightest bit unusual. After waiting for hours the Pope finally emerged, blessed the specially chosen children awaiting him and disappeared back inside.
Later that day at 13:00, a Protest-the-Pope march took place.
A calm atmosphere prevailed at the Protest-the-Pope march. People gathered at Hyde Park corner and walked round to Downing Street. A number of fake Popes were encountered on the route – standing on balconies wearing table cloths and a Chef’s hat in place of the episcopal mitre or dangling themselves (along with sets of attractive ladies) from convertible cars. All versions were greeted with cheering and clapping from the protestors. The pedestrians and bystanders along the route wore a mixed expression of confusion and indifference.
At 18:00 the Pope took a ride in his PopeMobile up the Mall to Hyde Park where he was due to host Mass.
The people with places on the barriers had been there for 2 hours. A hushed silence passed over the crowd (who seemed to consist of a lot of Catholic people) as the motorcycle outriders sped along the road. A mobile phone began to ring. The owner of the phone quickly told the caller ‘Not Now!’ Then suddenly a Pope was paraded inside a clear bowl on the back of a milk float. It is quite a surreal experience to watch.
Why would 20,000 people decide to Protest the Pope? Suggestions have been made that the Pope opposes universal equality and human rights. Listed below are brief examinations of the Catholic Church’s stance on contraception, homosexuality, sex abuse and sexism.
The Catholic Church (CC) does not promote the use of condoms, suggesting that it is immoral and against God’s will to deny life – but what about protection against sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)?
Is abstinence before and monogamy after marriage the only way to protect against STDs? Probably – if faithful married people were the only ones having sex, an activity which could be considered to be as innate and instinctive as breathing or moving from the path of a speeding car. The CC considers sex outside marriage to be a promiscuous activity and therefore sinful behaviour – but isn’t the recommended abstinence and monogamy sinful too because this prevents the creation of life?
To make abstinence and monogamy appear more attractive, the Vatican’s Council for the Family promote the message that condoms do not protect against STDs. Bishops and Cardinals state that they don’t immunise against infection and indeed contraception is not designed to protect against HIV as it is smaller than sperm, and can easily pass through pores in condoms. This is despite extensive reviews from healthcare professionals showing that rates of HIV infections were 80% lower in partners of HIV infected people who reported always using a condom.
The CC is very influential in Africa, where around 17% of the population is Catholic and 20% of the world’s priests are employed as missionaries. The church’s population has grown faster in Africa than anywhere else in the world, where the number of Catholics increased 3.1% in 2005 – faster than the overall population growth rate on the continent.
CAFOD (the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development) works to transform the world – particularly in Africa, to reflect the Kingdom of God. Through missionaries, a five point strategy is employed which includes i) providing access to basic needs ii) respecting the rights and dignity of all individuals, iii) promoting equality between men and women, iv) ensuring the gifts of creation are nurtured and shared by all for the common good and v) making sure that the structures that shape people’s lives are just and enable peace. As a result, the missionary work that is conducted in Africa is invaluable and primarily involved in education and health, with the RCC claiming to be the only organisation that functions well, enabling people to continue to live and hope in a better future. Furthermore the CC claims to provide necessary assistance, acting as a guarantor of living in harmony and contributing to finding ways and means to rebuild the State.
Unfortunately, HIV is also very influential in Africa. 1 in 40 people in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) are infected with HIV – while the rate is 1 in 550 people across the rest of the world. The levels of infection for people in SSA may also be an underestimate as infrastructure and poverty mean that there are lower levels of access to testing and treatment for the disease. The life expectancy of the population is decreasing, reducing a lifetime by 25% when it is already much lower than the rest of the world.
Effects of this disease include not being able to work, having to care for others that are ill and losing the main wage earners in families through death, with the creation of millions of orphans. HIV therefore has a significant effect on local economies with SSA residents surviving on only 4% of the wealth that individuals in Europe enjoy.
Two thirds of new HIV infections occur through unprotected sex between men & women. The CC is ideally placed through their missionary work and high conversion levels to educate individuals about the benefits of condoms, reduce the infection rate and ultimately increase life expectancy – but the majority of members choose to continually promote abstinence, monogamy and misinformation.
The misinformation given out by the Catholic Church spreads like wildfire throughout communities regardless of religious orientation. With an adult illiteracy rate of 62%, the population has no option but to trust what missionaries are saying about condoms and HIV. Rather than preventing infections, the CC instead cares for those that become ill and die as a result of acquiring HIV – and indeed the CC cares for 25% of HIV victims worldwide . Is it more profitable / cheaper to convert the masses, increase infection rates and provide palliative care rather that anti-viral therapy? The CCs anti-condom policy is deadly – is this policy really respecting the rights and dignity of an individual?
Catholic scripture suggests that it is not always an individual’s fault if they experience homosexual desires, going on to suggest that men and women with homosexual tendencies “must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. In an attempt to attract homosexual people into the church, the CC suggests that homosexuals are called, like other devout Christians such as Priests, to live the virtue of chastity and celibacy. So homosexual desires are acceptable – even honoured – but homosexual actions are sinful?
Homosexual marriage is of particular concern to the CC who hold marriage in very high esteem as they believe that marriage should be an illustration of the relationship between God and Israel or between Christ and his Church. The CC thinks that people who are in a heterosexual marriage are mutually perfect, in order to cooperate with God in the procreation & upbringing of new human lives. The CC views homosexual acts as a troubling moral and social phenomenon, suggesting that since the practise of same sex relationships does not permit the holy gift of procreation (much like contraception), it is sinful.
As the CC teaches that contraception is not needed because sexual practises should only occur between previously abstaining and then monogamous men and women brought together through the union of marriage, the church also believes that marriage between a man and woman is the only situation that provides a stable and safe environment in which to nurture the resulting children.
The church in no way believes that homosexual couples should be given the right to care for children as they were not responsible for creating them, furthermore suggesting that such unions are not able to contribute in a proper way to the procreation and survival of the human race. Both heterosexual and homosexual couples sometimes have the desire to create a family, but the desire of homosexual couples to create a family reduces the myth and intrigue about the creation of life. Essentially, the CC is absolutely terrified that homosexual people will use methods of artificial reproduction to have children – bypassing the idea that procreation is a gift of God.
Just as the use of contraception for heterosexual couples gives control over the creation of life, so does homosexuality. The CC could acknowledge and adapt with scientific advances, as a result maintaining – maybe even expanding the numbers of members in the church. Instead, misinformation is used again – promoting homosexuality as sinful, evil and unnatural.
This results in discrimination in many areas of life. For example some view homosexuality as a treatable mental disorder and instant dismissal is earned in the US military if one confesses to being homosexual – resulting in a ‘Don’t ask – don’t tell’ attitude. This sexual orientation has nothing to do with the ability to serve – homosexual people are allowed to serve in both British and other European forces and in the Israeli military. Rather than an instant dismissal of the policy, there is only currently a review in the USA – reinforcing its original aims of discrimination.
As homosexual actions are promoted by authoritative institutions such as the Church and military as being sinful, evil and unnatural – the route of ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ is easier than facing public discrimination. This produces a great amount of pressure and even induces shame on homosexual individuals who don’t necessarily live in a supportive community. The Catholic Church therefore has a moral duty to do more than just ‘accept homosexual desires,’ they have a duty to ensure the structures that shape people’s lives are just and enable peace.
The Catholic Church must come to terms with the popularity of other, more scientific methods of creating life. Wouldn’t it be extremely biased of the CC to guide and give ethical approval to specific areas of scientific research? After all, evidence suggests that Catholicism is concerned with the promotion of a mystical figure known as God – whose instructions and suggestions must not be questioned, whereas Science is concerned with getting to know God thoroughly – not disproving ‘his’ existence.
Recently the media have adopted and highly publicised sexual abuse within the CC. Based on these reports, one might expect every member of the CC to be abusing children or adolescents in their care, although some journalists who were citing research conducted by the American Catholic Church, have suggested that levels of abuse may be no higher within the CC than in the world at large.
In the general population it has been estimated that 10% of men and 20% of women have been abused as children, with female abuse making up the majority (66%) of cases. The levels of abuse may be the same within the Catholic Church, but it has been suggested that the male abuse may actually make up the majority (80%) of cases. So why do Priests abuse – Priests who are meant to give moral guidance and be role models? Why are the victims of abuse predominantly male?
Priests are expected to be celibate (voluntarily abstaining from all sexual activities, remaining without any sexual or romantic partner, and unmarried, all of their life), as this is thought to demonstrate their commitment towards the service of God and the human race. Celibacy must be a very difficult behaviour pattern to achieve, especially when repeatedly observing rites of passage in a congregation such as marriage and building a family. Could this contribute towards the rates of abuse?
The CCs attitude towards homosexuality may also play an important role in the pattern of abuse. As previously mentioned, the Church instructs people with homosexual desires to be chaste – what better way would there be to give this impression to the community at large and in denial to one’s self than to become a Priest? From the time a man enters the seminary and throughout his priesthood, special friendships with women are discouraged and often perceived as scandalous, while associations with males are, of course, acceptable. Should any homosexual activity occur, then absolution for ones sins could be obtained without a second thought? Could this contribute towards the predominately male patterns of abuse? The CC has even suggested that 80 – 90% of staff responsible for the abuse cases are homosexual men engaging in relationships with adolescent males. This has been viewed by some as an attempt by the CC to redefine this issue as consensual homosexuality rather than abuse.
The way in which the CC has dealt with these cases has been of a major concern to many observers. Allegations are always investigated internally (presenting a conflict of interest), by staff who haven’t received any special training on such issues. Solutions used by the CC since 1962 for those with substantiated cases either included therapy, restricting a Priest’s duties, moving a Priest to another area (sometimes a different job including a promotion), or suspension or ejection of the Priest from the Priesthood. Priests who want to laicize (to leave the Priesthood and become a lay person) must have first sought special dispensation from senior figures within the church. It is not made easy if one wishes to do this before they are 40, and as a result it is thought that abusers were kept working in the church for many years.
The sex abuse issue has been directly linked with the current Pope (Benedict XVI), as he has managed the response of the CC to such allegations since 1983. There have been suggestions that Pope Benedict has attempted to suppress the magnitude of the problem by keeping investigations within the CC, and only lightly reprimanding those found guilty of such crimes.
At least in the USA, the CC concluded that only 7% of allegations of abuse were not credible. Of the substantiated cases, there were just over 1800 Priests abusing an average of 4 individuals (the majority over the previous decade as it is difficult to substantiate cases older than this). The substantiated cases were passed onto the Police who brought criminal charges against 21% in this group.
Billions of pounds have been paid out in compensation to victims, either as settlements (with promises not to sue) or as a result of suing the CC. Large sums have been paid out in America and Ireland where property owned by the CC has been transferred to state control in order to pay their debts.
In Belgium, a catechism textbook entitled Roeach 3 has been circulation and in use in Catholic schools for many years. This purportedly promotes paedophilia as acceptable within the Church, containing drawings of naked infant girls with captions such as ‘I like to take my underwear off with friends.’ Perhaps supported by this suggestion of abuse within the CC, the authorities in Belgium have been unique in their response by directly seizing evidence from the Church rather than waiting for evidence to be handed over.
It would be refreshing to see this direct approach adopted across the world, since when is any person or organisation above the law?
There is a wonderful document on theVatican website detailing the CCs views on women.
The introductory paragraphs starts positively – ‘Thank you to mothers, wives, daughters and sisters! Thank you to women who work!’ – Although it is suggested that a society built by women would be one of love rather than efficiency and productivity. The author then appears to get confused – ‘Thanks to the Lord for his mysterious plan regarding the vocation and mission of women. Thank you, every woman, for the simple fact of being a woman!’
There’s a part about abortion – ‘What great appreciation must be shown to those women who, with a heroic love for the child they have conceived, proceed with a pregnancy resulting from the injustice of rape.’ With the CC defining rape as ‘hedonistic permissiveness,’ the author states that ‘in cases of rape, the choice to have an abortion always remains a grave sin.’
The author then even quotes scripture (Gen 2:18) when stating that women are to serve (‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make a helper fit for him.’). Conversely, the author even admits in the same document the CCs role in discrimination against women – ‘Women’s dignity has often been unacknowledged and their prerogatives misrepresented; they have often been relegated to the margins of society and reduced to servitude…… blame, especially in particular historical settings, has belonged to not just a few members of the Church, for this, the Church is truly sorry.’
In relation to the ordination of women as Bishops, this document on the Vatican website explains everything.
The simple reason the women cannot be ordained is that ‘The Lord Jesus chose men to form the college of the twelve apostles, and the apostles did the same when they chose collaborators to succeed them in their ministry. The college of Bishops, with whom the priests are united in the priesthood, makes the college of the twelve an ever-present and ever-active reality until Christ’s return.’ So on the same logic; shouldn’t Bishops also be middle-eastern fishermen, tax-collectors or tent makers?
Until the reformation in the 16th century, the Church of England (CofE) acknowledged the authority of the Pope. It was only when the Pope refused to annul the marriage Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon did the church break with Rome. Elizabeth I arranged a compromise between the two groups and a Catholic tradition in the CofE has been strengthened further by the work of the Oxford movement in the 1830s. The CofE could be viewed as a rebellious child, it does not necessarily agree with the views of its parent.
The CofE started the female ordination ball rolling in 1975, with the first female Deacons ordained in 1987 and the first female Priests ordained in 1994. Scripture is quoted as reason that equality is compelling and there should be no discrimination – Galatians 3:28.
Some members of the CofE are so disgusted at plans to ordain female Bishops that the CC Pope has offered personal ordinariates to any CofE priest would like to become Catholic. The CC has made it clear that the ordination of Women – even to a Priest – is a grave crime (equal to that of paedophilia) to be punished by banishment from the CC.
Back on the Vatican’s views on women document, the author clearly states a desire for an urgent need to ‘achieve equality in every area.’ – every area but ordination? It appears that the CC are preaching contradictory values again. Just exactly what is a good Catholic meant to be doing?
If the Catholic Church ordained women – would that mean the respect of women? If women were respected – would that mean allowing Priests to marry? If Priests were allowed to marry, would that mean that an accumulated lifetime wealth would flow to the Priests children’s pockets rather than back into the Church? Probably… So maybe the Church could allow contraception? There could be sterile female Priests and Bishops. Maybe even one day there could be a sterile female Pope who could have IVF one day? Oh – but if there were sterile ordinated females, then there could also be sterile ordinated homosexuals? Where will it all end?!
But in all seriousness one must be careful of what is said on this matter – which has the potential to develop into something far, far worse. On one occasion on the Protest-the-Pope march, a group of protestors and some Catholic school children spotted each other on opposite sides of the road. The protestors started shouting and cat-calling at the single catholic girl who stood defiantly waving Papal visit memorabilia. There is every danger that each group could be conditioned into simply hating each other.
It is important to be informed about the issues that are being debated. The topics may make for uncomfortable discussion, but it is important that all are brave enough to talk. To each other.