Catholic Church has a culture of survival, not compassion

The campaign of Diarmuid Martin, the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, to be rid of turbulent bishops who, he believes, shared corporate responsibility in the diocese for the concealment of clerical child abuse seems unfair and quixotic.

Unfair and quixotic, because it is not these bishops who are primarily to blame for the concealment of this abuse. It is the culture, the ethos, indeed the very being of the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. Diarmuid Martin has not acknowledged this, maybe because he can’t, for it would defy his own identity as a major functionary of that Church.

(Picture: Diarmuid Martin with a copy of the Dublin diocesan report on clerical abuse)

And before I proceed, an acknowledgement.

I appreciate the Catholic Church is precious to many Irish people, including many readers of this newspaper, and that a challenge to the culture, ethos and being of that Church may seem tantamount to a challenge to them as worthy people, so entwined is identity often with religious affiliation.

And a related acknowledgement: there are many fine people in the Catholic Church, including Diarmuid Martin and many other clerics and ‘‘faithful’’. Nothing I write here (or otherwise) is intended to impugn their integrity or their worth as persons.

Back to my point.

If someone believes in the following:

  • that there is an all-powerful deity, who has created the world, who intervenes directly in our lives and with whom we have or can have a personal relationship;
  • that there is an afterlife, encapsulated at least in part by consignment to either heaven or hell for eternity and that the deity will determine to which we will be assigned, on the basis of adherence to his/her laws and requirements;
  • that, so distressed was this deity by the sinfulness of humankind that he consigned his son to earth to save humanity for its own evil and therefore from hell; and
  • that this son, Jesus, who is also the deity, established a ‘‘one true church’’, which is the Roman Catholic Church, for the purpose of enabling the salvation of human kind (ie the avoidance of hell in the afterlife); if one believes in all this, then, unavoidably, one believes that the protection of the Church takes precedence over every other consideration and value, including the sexual abuse of children.

If, therefore, the exposure of the scandal of the abuse of children by functionaries of that Church which Jesus founded would damage the status and reputation of that Church, thereby weakening its capacity to enable the salvation of humankind, then that is the price which has got to be paid.

Those bishops who concealed the crime of clerical child sexual abuse may have done so for what they regarded as the best of reasons: the protection of the vehicle created by Jesus to ensure the everlasting happiness of humankind.

What weight has even the sexual abuse of children by priests of the Church by comparison with the everlasting happiness of humankind?

And there is another way the Catholic Church has created or at least contributed to the ethos that has promoted deeply dysfunctional and dangerous ideas on sexuality, thereby contributing to the milieu in which clerical child sexual abuse has occurred. St Augustine, one of the ‘‘Fathers’’ of the Church, taught that intercourse during pregnancy was gravely sinful, a greater sin than adultery and even incest, where adultery and incest were done with the intention of conceiving.

The loss of a woman’s virginity was regarded as corruption, and childbirth even more so. Hence ‘‘churching’’, to cleanse the woman of the impurity of giving birth.

St Thomas Aquinas believed that the female was a defective species. He maintained that even before original sin, women by nature would have been governed by men for their own good, because the power of rational discernment was stronger in men. St Jerome held that virginity was the norm in paradise, that marriage came about as a result of sin. From the sixth to the 16th centuries, nuns and lay women were forbidden to enter a church or take communion during their periods.

It is not long ago that ‘‘company keeping’’, prior to marriage, was regarded by the Church as ‘‘an occasion of sin’’. (I have relied here on an article by Sean Fagan, a Marist priest and a theologian, in the controversial book Responding to the Ryan Report.)

The usual rejoinder to this critique of the Catholic Church is to claim that this was a perversion of the teaching of Jesus.

But is it? Take the much quoted chapter 5 of the Gospel of Matthew, where the beatitudes and the bit about turning the other cheek are quoted.

Starting with verse 17, Jesus is quoted as saying: ‘‘Do not think I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfil.

It tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter will pass from the law until all is accomplished’’.

This is clearly an affirmation of the laws of the Old Testament, which most of us find abominable in the depiction of women as a degraded and corrupted species, the exhortations to genocide, the acceptance of slavery.

And a little further on in that chapter Jesus is quoted as making the absurd claim: ‘‘Everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart’’ (isn’t morality about causing harm to others?).This, followed by the scary bits about ‘‘if your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away’’ etc.

Getting rid of a few bishops will not deal with the ethos problem.

Have a happy 2010.