Sunday, 28 March 2010

In secular Europe Catholic bashing is fair game

The last few weeks haven’t been a good time for Catholics. Almost on a daily basis, the media has been full of reports about child abusing priests, and allegations that the current pope, Benedict XVI, failed to act against known child abusers when he was Cardinal Ratzinger. Despite penning an unprecedented letter to Irish Catholics, in which the Pope acknowledged the wrongs done by wayward priests, the scandal continues unabated. As victims of child abuse at the hands of Catholic clergy have emerged in a number of countries including Ireland, America, Germany, Switzerland and Netherlands, the scandal does appear to be a global one rather than one confined to a particular country.

Some of the stories that have emerged are truly tragic and disgraceful, and my heart goes out to the victims. I can understand their anger. It is a kind of rage that probably will last for the whole of their lives however many apologies they receive. That the cases of child abuse reported happened a long time ago, during the 1960s and 1970s, when Benedict XVI wasn’t even pope is inconsequential to them. They want revenge and their target is the pope. However, as Cristina Odone, writes: “This Pope has done more than any other churchman to address the issue of priestly child abuse. He has stopped the practice of turning over priests accused of abuse to therapists, as we now know that therapy seldom helps a paedophile. He has fast-tracked the defrocking of priests found guilty of abuse. He has promoted co-operation, at a diocesan level, between church authorities responsible for canon law and police.”

Apart from a few Catholic columnists like Christina Odone and Damian Thompson, who have defended the pope, the tide is very much in the other direction. Too many journalists seem content joining the dots and accusing the pope of being complicit in the cover-up of child abuse. The impression one gets from the media is that most of the Catholic clergy are child abusers. This is simply not the case. Research in Ireland (SAVI Report, 2002) indicates that 3.2% of sexual abuse victims in Ireland were abused by clergy or religious orders. On the other hand, 80% of perpetrators were known by the victim, who included family members (cousins, uncles, brothers, fathers, stepfathers, etc), neighbours, teachers, babysitters, childcare workers, sports coaches, and youth leaders. 25% of child sexual abusers were children themselves. One has to remember that child abuse has occurred in many secular institutions too.

To be frank, the media never really warmed to Benedict XVI right from the start of his papacy. As a conservative, as a staunch defender of the Catholic faith, as a critic of homosexuality and moral relativism, as a German who was conscripted in the Hitler Youth, and lacking the unique charisma of his predecessor John Paul II this was, I suppose, inevitable. However, Pope Benedict XVI is not a bad man. He is far better many previous popes who were morally and intellectually lacking in comparison. We are simply living in a different age when the authority of the pope in its traditional heartland, Western Europe, continues to decline – a decline that has been underway since the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century.

In contemporary secular Europe, the role of the church is diminishing fast. Today only a small fraction of the population goes to church on a regular basis. Congregations are falling so much that the survival and maintenance of many churches are under threat. Christians are increasingly seen as misfits in society who are sexist, homophobic, anti-Semitic, sexually repressed, and generally out of touch. They believe in authority and an invisible God. To the modern liberal secularist, who prides in unfettered individualism above all things, Christianity is an anachronism. Yet the products of unfettered individual freedom are all too evident to see: the collapse of the institution of marriage such that nearly a quarter of all children now live in a single-parent family; around 200,000 abortions in UK alone every year; an increasingly unequal society in which class determines one’s chances in life; and rising levels of teenage alcoholism and drug abuse. Christianity is being hounded out of the public space like never before. Unfortunately Christians themselves are complicit in this surrender. As Dinesh D’Souza says in his book “What’s so great about Christianity”: “Instead of engaging this secular world, most Christians have taken the easy way out. They have retreated into a Christian subculture where they engage Christian concerns. Then they step back into secular society, where their Christianity is kept out of sight until the next church service. Without realizing it Christians have become postmodernists of a sort: they live by the gospel of the two truths. There is religious truth, reserved for Sundays and days of worship, and there is secular truth, which applies the rest of the time.”

Modern Europe more or less mirrors the largely decadent Greco-Roman world in which Christianity was born. Modern day European secularists look at other parts of the world and remark with horror about the growth of religious “fundamentalism”. Of course, the religious militants of this world are a grave menace, but what they fail to distinguish is the growth of traditional religion; and Christianity is doing better than other religions even in the most hostile countries. In 1900, there were about 10 million Christians in Africa, representing about 10% of the population. Today there are 360 million, nearly 50% the population. It is estimated that in China there are between 80 million to 100 million members of underground Christian churches, unapproved by the state. To these people Christianity means something; it’s a form of social liberation and emancipation just as it was in the Mediterranean world nearly two thousand years ago.

Some people have said that the latest crisis affecting the Catholic Church is the greatest challenge since the Protestant Reformation. I don’t see it that way. The Reformation was a reaction to the widespread simony and corruption within the medieval Catholic Church. It was an internal conflict among Christians themselves. This crisis is entirely different. Most of the people attacking the Catholic Church are from outside the church, with no genuine interest in it's welfare, so there is unlikely to be a split within the church. What is more likely to happen is that the trend in secularisation will simply continue with renewed vigour. The Catholic Church has to be seen as the institution it is, made up of fallible human beings, but trying to preserve the catholic or universal doctrine based on the witness of all the apostles. Benedict XVI can take credit that today in England and Wales child protection officers monitor every encounter between children and clergy - a fact the British media conveniently ignores. As Bishop of Rome he is successor to Simon Peter, the apostle Jesus entrusted to be the “rock” upon which he would build his church, which according to his words, “all the powers of hell shall not prevail against it.” In the meantime, Catholic bashing is fair game.


Mel Avila Alarilla said...

Obviuosly, you are a Catholic my friend. The crux of the problem lies in the doctrine of priestly celibacy by Catholic priests as practiced by other religions too. There is no Biblical prohibition for priest to marry and have a family of their own. As Paul said, there are those born for celibacy like eunuchs and there are those who cannot be celibates. The first Christian leaders of the early Christian church have wives and families of their own. There are many other Catholic practices that are extra Biblical. Thanks for the post. God bless you always.

JI said...

Hi Mel,

Thank you for informative comment. I agree that the celibate life not for all people. It is true that the early church leaders were married and had families. However, as the church grew and corruption set in one of the main concerns was that those who held office in the church would seek to pass it on to their children. Therefore, one of the reforms undertook was clerical celibacy. Another reason for celibacy seems to have been the worry about heresies creeping in.

I cannot see the present pope, Benedict XVI, allowing his clergy to get married. Perhaps the Vatican should think about making marriage an option. I think that may help to deter men, with a sexual predisposition for young children, joining the priesthood in the first place.

Joseph Pulikotil said...

Hi JL:)

Greetings and good wishes:)

Although I have seen the newspapers reporting on an elaborate basis I have not paid much attention to all the details that were published. I just read the headlines.

The fact is news papers make their money out of sensationalism and they will try to make a mountain out of a mole hill. They will blow up small, irrelevant information out of proportion to increase their readership.

I agree there have been cases of child molestation. So what? This will happen when all the priests are required to be celibate. But the vast majority are not child molestors. The few who perpetrated the crime will do it even if they are married. Marriage is not an insurance against child molestation. They was a news about a married man having forcible sex with his own daughter and having several children.

Being celibate or not is not the question. There are perverts in society and unfortunately some of them have become priests. It has now become a heavy responsibility to screen carefully all the people who would like to become priests. Probably some new methods of screening should be found and people lacking in the required qulities should be ruthlessly eliminated.

Similarly priests who are caught doing such horrible things should be stripped of their priest hood as quickly as possible. The process of ascertaining the details might take some time and therefore such priests should be quarantined.

I firmly believe that priests should be celibate for the simple reason Jesus was celibate and his disciples were celebate. The kind of discipline that is prevalent in the Catholic church is unmatched even in the army. Have you thought about it?

Millions and millions of children are being taken care of by the priests and nuns and just because a negligible monority of these children are getting bad treatment doesn't mean all the Catholic clergy in bad. This is a wrong assumption and very illogical.

Just because London has a few pickpockets, it doesn't mean all Londoners are pickpockets. So also just because few of the clergy has misbehaved it doen't mean all the clergy is bad.Celibacy is essential to carry out the tough job of priesthood. A family man will have so many distractions and he will not be able to do a priest's job efficiently.

There was a huge write up in India about the protestant pastors living a high life in the name of Christ-having palatial bungalows, luxury cars,going in special jet flights and living in the most expensive hotels and so on. The papers were reporting that they have made Christianity into an easy money spinning machine for themselves and their families.

Pope Benedict will weather this crisis. He is an intellectual and a wise man. May God give him all the strength and courage to fulfill his mission as a Pope.

I enjoyed reading your well reserched post.

Have a nice day:)

JI said...

Hi Joseph,

Thank you for your comment. I agree with everything you say. I much prefer priests to stay celibate than get married. When you're married, family always comes first no matter what your job. I have come across some married Protestant priests who are just like lay men - they were not very inspiring. Priests have to be committed wholeheartedly to following Christ, otherwise they cannot do their job properly. Only those who truly feel called to the priesthood should join the priesthood. It's as simple as that. It is not easy job and it requires real faith.

I agree with you that the media has sensationalised this story. A lot of journalists writing these stories don't have a clue about the Catholic Church. They are deliberately twisting the facts to make it sound worse than it is. That's what they do because they are businesses after all. With newspapers losing money because of the internet many of them are struggling to survive. So any sensational story is a chance to make money! Just a few days ago one national newspaper - Independent - was sold for just £1.

Pope Benedict will survive. He's essentially a good man. Let’s hope the church does learn its lessons. Errant priests should be shown the door as quickly as possible.

It's too late for me to join the priesthood. I'm married and have a family. My aunty is a Carmelite nun. She was principal of Providence College in Calicut.

Best wishes,


Raghav said...

I agree with Joseph.
Just because a few of the priests indulge in such activities, the name of all the priests in the world is stained.

JI said...

Hi Raghav,

Just like there are good and bad people everywhere, there are good and bad priests. One has to see things in perspective. The actions of some bad priests doesn't mean all of them are bad.

Thank you for your visit.

Joseph Pulikotil said...

Hi Jl:)

Greetings and good wishes:)

Something has gone wrong with my blog LIFE IN MOTION. Although others can open it and post comments, I cannot open it and I get the information blocked by the administrator.

Hence, I have started a new blog in the name A MAN ON THE MOVE with the

Best wishes:)

Anonymous said...

Hi JJ,

I am from India. I do agree that just as there are good and bad people everywhere, there are good and bad priests too. But one thing, I 'd like to add is that, the church gets smacked in todays world because it tries to interfere too much in people's life. No one interfers how the church conducts itself, so the church should also be more tolerant. An example from India, when the Delhi HC decriminalized homosexuality, the Catholic Church was totally up in arms(along with religious bigots of other faiths as well). This act of church was shameful as this decision was so important for the lives of millions of LGBT indians. Thats why the church gets smacked...

JI said...

"No one interfers how the church conducts itself, so the church should also be more tolerant."


I believe the Church has a right to stand up for its beliefs whether people agree with them or not. It cannot please everyone. Neither can the Church force anyone to do anything.

I hope we do not come to a stage where the secular world starts trying to impose what the Church should teach. That would be interference in the Church's affairs and limit freedom of religion.

Best wishes,