Did you hear the one about the Pope?

It’s now been a couple of weeks since the Pope’s visit to the UK, so I feel safe to stick my head above the parapet now passions have cooled. Let’s start with a disclaimer, I am not religious. If asked I say I am agnostic. I can see the attraction of having faith and sometimes wish that I had – yet following what little I know of science and my rational train of thought always leads me to conclude there is probably no God. I never try and ram this personal view down people’s throats. I am confident I am right but I’m not arrogant enough to be certain. Hence ‘agnostic’ rather than ‘atheist’.

Anyway, I followed the Pope’s visit, particularly the firestorm of protest with interest. As the week passed I got more and more annoyed with people’s double standards. If you are under forty and IT literate enough to have found this blog then the chances are you will be on Facebook and possibly Twitter. If you have an average size circle of acquaintances from different areas of your life then no doubt they will have a wide range of political/religious views. I venture that those of a left of centre bent are less apologetic about sharing their views and more likely to use their ‘status updates’ to pontificate (whey-hey a pun) on issues of the day. If so, then like me you will probably have been struck by the absolute bile it seemed commonly acceptable to spout about the Pope and Catholicism via either medium from the start to end of the visit. It was open season. It went beyond the bounds of humour and satire. Anything went.

Now, one thing I don’t want to be accused of is being an apologist for the issues behind the bile. The Catholic Church’s response to widespread institutional child abuse has been a disgrace. It is also reasonable to suggest that their stance on contraception has compounded the misery caused by HIV/AIDS in the world. However, I couldn’t help but notice that the same people who were quite happy posting gratuitous, nasty stuff about the Pope seemed, in the main, to be exactly the same people who get in an a rabid froth and post their outrage every time a Richard Littlejohn or Melanie Philips type has one of their trademark rants at, for instance, Islam. If someone fills their backpack full of explosives and walks onto a train in the pretence that it is in the name of Islam then you can be sure Littlejohn will pull no punches. The same Pope-bashers will then share links to his articles with self-righteous put downs about his bigotry and racism. Whilst I am usually in full agreement with them on the Littlejohn abuse, am I really the only person who can see the double standard?

Perhaps I am an over-sensitive flower? Am I getting pompous in my old age? Possibly. Possibly not. I just feel that whilst there is a valid debate to be had about the impact of all sorts of religious baggage on our society – the terms in which we must have that debate need to be respectful and tolerant. That respect and courtesy needs to be equally applied to all religions. I’m not sure that it currently is. The Christians seem to be required to turn their cheeks rather more than anyone else. Religious freedom is one of the things that makes our country great. I love that I am allowed to be unashamed and unapologetic about being agnostic. People should be allowed to be unashamed and unapologetic that they have faith. The only thing that should not be tolerated is intolerance through zealotry. Sadly, it seems nowadays there is an increasing amount of zealotry out there amongst atheists.



Filed under Indulgent, UK

13 responses to “Did you hear the one about the Pope?

  1. David

    Just a couple of points.
    1)what makes the child abuse issue in the Catholic Church either ‘wide-spread’, or ‘institutional’? It is, actually, neither. I think that any child abuse is bad and needs to have consequences to the perpetrator, but the problem is less pervasive in Catholicism than it is in any other sector of society that caters to children. Baptist pastors anonymously admit, in survey, 10% of them have done the same thing. School teachers, about the same rate. In fact, Catholic priests have a lower incidence of molesting children. Also, it’s not institutional-you can’t say the Catholic Church molests children as an institution. Some Catholic priests, about 3-4%, have, and some hierarchy have tried to sweep it under the rug. It’s not institutional, though.
    2)Regarding use of condoms and Catholic beliefs, you should know that abstinance works to prevent AIDS 100% of the time, when it’s used. If two children do not have sex until they’re married, then have sex exclusively with each other, they do not contract AIDS/HIV. Catholic belief is that sex is something exclusive to the marital bond. We do not teach ‘don’t use condoms’. We teach ‘don’t have sex outside of marriage.’
    So it seems that, on the second point you would say ‘well, they’re just going to do it anyway, give them condoms. But yet, if they’re going to do it anyway, then it should be par for the course that adults want to have sex with children. Neither is correct. Humans are not animals, have free will to control themselves, and the Catholic Church says that we should all control ourselves. Priests and unmarried adults included.

    • David,

      Sorry if you have taken umbridge at what I have written. Ironically my piece was intended to be supportive to everyday Catholics. Nevertheless, I stand by my use of the words ‘widespread’ and ‘institutional’. Using even your own figures 3-4% of people in any profession being child molestors would be classed as ‘widespread’ by most reasonable people’s standards. Comparisons with other churches are red herrings as two wrongs never make a right.

      On the AIDS/HIV issue I have no issue whatever with people being taught abstinence or restraint – my issue is with people being denied access to the means to protect themselves if the choose not to exercise abstinence or restraint. Like you say – we have free will.

      Kind regards.

      • David

        I got the general tenor of your piece, and I thank you for that. I just wanted to point out something that’s seldom mentioned in secular media-the pervasiveness of the problem among non-priests. I never said it was right, in fact, it disgusts me, but it’s just easy to pick the biggest target, isn’t it? Also seldom mentioned is what the Catholic Church is and has been doing about the problem, even before it was publicly aired.

        Where has the Church had the power to deny people condoms? All the Church does is preach that they are not the best answer to the problem.

    • 1) Catholic authorities failed to notify legal authorities upon learning of allegations of child rape by priests in Canada, USA, Ireland, Germany, Belgium…. How many more countries do we add to the list before you will admit that this is indeed institutional?
      2) You’re right. Abstinence is pretty good at reducing the spread of HIV. Yet this is totally irrelevant because abstinence-only education has been proven to be completely ineffective. Education in the practice of safe sex is a far more effective means of reducing the spread of HIV. I don’t know about you, but I prefer acting on evidence of efficacy, not pipe dreams. The Vatican is far more interested in getting people to do as they say than in saving lives.

      • David

        That’s not true in many cases. In fact, in most cases here in the US, the authorities were told of the problem, and the authorities decided to let the Catholic Church take care of the problem. And for your information, the association between the Catholic Church in Canada, the US, Ireland, etc is very loose. Each is associated with Rome, but very little with each other. So there is no “there” there.

        Abstinence is not only pretty good at reducing the spread of all sexually transmitted diseases, it is perfect in every case where it’s tried. “Safe sex education” is about as effective as no education. And again, you’re incorrect. The Vatican is far more interested in people’s eternal life than they are about their life here on earth.

        One more thing…you’re again issuing the double standard. You’re saying that humans in general are only doing what instinct says, yet when it’s a priest doing it, you condemn, but when it’s a non-priest, you support. You can’t have it both ways. Sex outside of the marital bond is wrong, both for humanity in general, and for priests specifically. The spread of the sex culture has resulted in nothing more than an increase in the number of sexually transmitted disease, widespread children without a family, and more.

      • David, with the greatest respect, you seem to be making the case that there is moral equivalence between sexual molestation of children, and extra-marital sex between consenting adults. There is not.

        As the atheist chap says, you are absolutely right that abstinence is the very best way to protect oneself and I applaud programs that attempt to teach that. However, for those who make a choice that abstinence is not for them (or who chose not to be Catholic) I would suggest Condoms are the next best thing.

      • David

        The only moral equivalence is made by the statement “They’re just going to have sex, give them condoms to aleviate the problem.”

        My point is that humans are above animals. We don’t have to give way to instinctual urges to procreate at will, and we shouldn’t. That’s what the Church promotes. Self-discipline. This should also be the case with priests-it takes self-discipline to live up to your voluntarily attested vows-priests are to be celibate. They should not be having sex with anybody.
        What I’m saying is that the priests who did what they did are wrong, and by the same token, the idea that humans are merely animals seeking to procreate is a wrong idea as well.
        I also said that the Catholic Church is not forcing their idea on anyone. They are simply telling people what is really the best way. The Church is simply looking further down the road than secular society.

      • You’re saying that humans in general are only doing what instinct says, yet when it’s a priest doing it, you condemn, but when it’s a non-priest, you support. You can’t have it both ways.

        When these crimes are actively hidden by the church (the claim that law enforcement authorities were told and allowed the church to handle things is horse manure), church authorities are complicit and equally guilty of the crime. What happens when an allegation is made that a teacher in a public school has molested a child? First, the teacher is removed from any contact with students. Second, the police are immediately informed and investigate. That’s the norm. When it’s a priest, it is not. And that’s the crux of the problem. And neither you nor the pope gets it.

        And for your information, the association between the Catholic Church in Canada, the US, Ireland, etc is very loose. Each is associated with Rome, but very little with each other. So there is no “there” there.

        But edicts that were sent in order to deal with this latest of a number of crises involving the molestation of children (this is hardly the first one) come from a central source – the Vatican. Ever hear of Crimen solicitationis? It was often invoked to ensure victims’ silence.

        Abstinence is not only pretty good at reducing the spread of all sexually transmitted diseases, it is perfect in every case where it’s tried. “Safe sex education” is about as effective as no education.

        Now you’re just making shit up. Please cite the relevant studies which show this. There’s a reasion safe sex education is included in public health policy: it has been demonstrated over and over that it is effective in fighting STDs. It’s when information is withheld – as it is in abstinence-only education – that incidence of STD transmission, teen pregnancy, etc. drastically increase. I can provide citations on request for my position. Can you do the same?

        The Vatican is far more interested in people’s eternal life than they are about their life here on earth.

        There! Exactly! The Vatican couldn’t care less about suffering that we KNOW happens. Instead it cares about an eternal life which CAN NOT BE KNOWN EXISTS! This is why the Vatican draws my ire and contempt. It has no interest in doing anything real. But I go further- they don’t care about anyone whose welfare they purport to safeguard, as evidenced by their actions in the latest sex scandals. They care far more about how they appear than for those they were supposed to take care of. Condemnation is the only response the pope and his henchmen are deserving of.

      • PS, David….

        They should not be having sex with anybody.

        If there is one thing that religions are good at, it’s controlling people. What you think people should or should not do is not relevant. People will have sex outside marriage. You have a problem with that? Too bad. Deal. You don’t get to tell anyone else how to live their lives.

        But the stance of the Vatican on prohibiting the use of condoms (for which I can see no good theological reason to uphold, except to make more Catholics) is a crime against humanity since this is the only realistic way of stemming the tide of AIDS in Africa. Sorry, dude, but it did work here and it can work there. Saying “Don’t do that!” does nothing when something can be done.

    • I am sure that you would like to think that the Catholic Church is doing not harm but the fact is that the Catholic Church explicitly out right does teach “do not use condoms.” Priests are in South Africa right now preaching the evils of wearing condoms to people who are in a country that is in the midst of a Pandemic of AIDS and HIV risks. The Pope has said in his own native tongue that “condoms will only make the situation worse.” Seeing that he is an erudite scholar I see this as something that can be construed only as a bold faced, outright lie.
      I contribute money to a secular aid group who is in South Africa trying to help these people. Each day South Africans die of Aids – more die each day than the number who died on the day of the horrid attack on 911. The culture is promiscuous this is true, but one cannot see it as America. I have heard Catholics say on Facebook that South Africans are “suffering the consequences of their actions.” This is contemptible and to me is tantamount to saying that “They deserve it.”
      The culture is filled with men who are promiscuous and leave their wives with a family to support. These women have literally no means of doing so. Prostitution is their only means to support their children in almost any case. The priests are there – right now – teaching them to NOT use condoms. Abstinence is not an option and these people are not married and living monogamously. They are in a complicated culture and I think that there is a great sin on part of the Catholic Church.
      The Pope condones anti condom priests, who do in fact teach that condoms will not work – another outright lie. Everyone in this area is Catholic. These South Africans are Christians. My friend who is in the secular aid group says that he has to work with the Church. He is a Buddhist and is with his family living among these people in South Africa. He said that he has about “had it with the Church and its BS.”
      The Pope and your priests are in effect I contend – guilty of manslaughter and if you in the Church support of defend them I think you an accessory. Catholic South Africans are following the mandate of the Pope, the priests, and are dying at an increasing rate – and they are convinced to NOT use condoms.
      You see this as innocent with Hubris? You speak of Abstinence and no premarital sex in a Country which has a culture you know nothing of? You doubt this and I am sure you disagree vehemently to this. I know from a firsthand witness in South Africa, living among people dying 6000 a day of AIDS. I blame the Church the Pope the priest and you all for greatly impeding any help. To defend Catholics who are killing rather than helping? I don’t understand you at all.
      May your God damn you all to your fiery hell, no indulgences, no purgatory, just a one way express ticket to a place where you may learn what it is to suffer, my you have your eyes pulled out as your Catholic forefathers in the inquisition did to anyone who disagreed with them. I find you all morally beneath ordure.

      • David

        Explaining to the population the evil of using condoms is not the same thing as prohibiting their use. The Church may say “we will not promote their use”, and “you should not use condoms for this and that reason”. But how does that stop anyone from using condoms? Take Italy for example-you think many people actually listen to the Church’s teaching on contraceptive? No, they don’t. That’s why Italy’s native population is falling, that and abortion. People will do what they want, but the Church is tasked to show them what is right. The truth is that everywhere abstinence has been taught and tried, it has effectively reduced the number of AIDS/HIV cases in that place. Uganda is a prime example. What the Pope actually said about condom use is that, if you give people who have the disease the false idea that they can safely have sex, when they do, they spread the disease, and that is absolutely true. Condoms break, they are used incorrectly most of the time, and education does not help.
        Suffering the consequences does not equate to they deserve it. It just states a fact. If I have sex with people, I’m likely to enjoy each act, but I risk getting a disease, impregnating a woman, and death. If I do that, I am suffering the consequences. And for your information, the Church teaches that we are ALL suffering consequences of our sinfulness.
        Priests are not teaching prostitutes not to use condoms, they’re teaching them that they shouldn’t resort to prostitution-that any way is better than that way.
        The truth is that Catholicism is the religion Christ founded, and that if we who call ourselves Catholic were to actually be Catholic, and live the way Christ taught us, others would follow our way. One of the primary things Catholics are supposed to do is, when they commit a vow to marriage, they should live up to their vow, be married to their spouse for life, and at the very least, take care of their family. If Catholic South Africans would take the whole of Church teaching to heart, you wouldn’t have the magnitude of the problem. So men should cleave to their families, and women should only have sex with their husband. That really does solve everything, whether you spew hate-filled speech or not. But the Church is also practical-the Catholic Church commits money to help those who can’t help themselves.

  2. Praguetory

    Speaking as a Christian, I think we probably benefit from over-enthusiastic denunciation. Same goes for the sound and fury we can expect next week when the Conservative Party gathers in Birmingham.

  3. David

    Actually, atheist dude, you’re wrong. NYT documented. Just ignored. Nothing was actively hidden by “the Church”. Some individual bishops did, but not by Church directive. Crimen solicitationis is a document that ensures secrecy in the confessional. Doesn’t apply to sex abuse cases. Secrecy was, for the most part, to keep the victims anonymity. What you say of teachers is often not true. Usually, the school will investigate the issue before calling authorities. Otherwise, there’d be no teachers teaching because all a student would need to do is cry foul.

    Regarding safe sex education, does it ever fail? Of course it does! dams break, condoms break, pills fail. But abstinence never fails. Only the humans who give in to their desires fail.

    We do know that eternal life exists. He told us. You need to discover why there is suffering in the world to understand your place in the world. I hope you figure it out.

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