The flock is not the flocker

Humanitie is out again, so here’s my latest column.  Here is the Not-Quite-So-Friendly Humanist’s take on the issue we decided to tackle this time around.  We decided to blog on the Pope’s visit to the UK.

The pope will be is visiting as a head of state and as a moral authority.  Both of these roles are highly dubious in our modern democratic context.  Ignoring a mountain of other things, the fact alone that this man seems to have been involved in an institutional cover-up for dozens of child rapists should prevent any decent head of state from inviting him to visit.

It’s important to remember, however, that the Catholic Church is composed not only of pedophile priests and those who cover up for them, but also of non-pedophile priests and non-corrupt administrators.  Even more, it is composed of hundreds of millions of people trying to live as well as they can in a confusing world.

And before anyone retorts that passive acceptance of repressive and harmful dogmas is hardly respectable, let me introduce a couple of Catholic organisations that specifically combat the church’s problems – both doctrinal and institutional:  “Catholics for Choice” and “Catholics for a Changing Church“.

Here is what Catholics for Choice say about themselves:  “We are part of the great majority who believes that Catholic teachings on conscience mean that every individual must follow his or her own conscience – and respect others’ right to do the same.”  That sounds a lot like the humanist principle of free-thinking.  The group “helps people and organizations confidently challenge the power of the Catholic hierarchy which uses every means at its disposal to punish and publicly shame Catholics who don’t unquestioningly follow its edicts. The hierarchy also seeks to impose its narrow view of morality – and dangerous positions on public health issues – on Catholics and non-Catholics around the world.”  This is a firm condemnation of the same institutional abuse of power that humanists find so repugnant in the Catholic hierarchy.

In a similar vein, Catholics for a Changing Church declare that “Justice in the Church should be manifest and subject to public scrutiny and aim at least to equal the spirit of justice in the civil community. It should be based on the love, understanding and trust that ought to exist between Christians. Canon Law should be radically reformed in accord with these principles.”  Humanists may disagree about the beliefs that undergird these values, but we cannot disagree with the values themselves:  public accountability of those in power, and being motivated by love and understanding.  Note that they are holding up the “civil community” – what many religionists (for example, this guy!) decry as the secularised public arena – as a standard for the church to live *up* to.

We could ask why these obviously open-minded and ethical people don’t just leave the church.  Isn’t that a much easier way to win free of its oppressive dogmas and policies?  But when a community is being oppressed, it can be better to remain and work to improve it than to simply leave.  Remember that these people have family in the church, personal history, and of course, retain many of the beliefs of Catholicism.  Is it really rational to expect them to leave?  And is it really a bad thing to know that there is a movement within the church campaigning for change?

So where does that leave us as humanists?  I’m not about to suggest we shut up and hope that the church reforms from within.  But, when we point out the evils of the dogmas and the hierarchy, I think it is worth sparing a word or two of encouragement and praise for those brave Catholics who remain in the church and challenge its outdated and harmful aspects, just as we praise the thinkers of the Enlightenment who forged modern humanist principles amid a sea of fearful dogma.

Here are some other thoughts on the pope and his visit:


3 Responses to “The flock is not the flocker”

  1. Whatever could the Catholic Church be doing wrong? « The Not-Quite-So-Friendly Humanist Says:

    [...] such it was written some time ago, when the protest was still just a glint in Facebook’s eye. Tim at the Friendly Humanist and I tackle the Pope’s visit in this one, be sure to read his contribution [...]

  2. berenike Says:

    Can you explain in what way the Pope has been involved in an institutional cover-up of child abuse? That is, in what reprehensible way.

  3. Timothy Mills Says:

    Berenike, thankyou for your question.

    It seems that, in a previous role in the Vatican, Ratzinger encouraged a policy of secrecy – dealing with these allegations within the Church rather than alerting police when it was known that priests had molested children. I confess that I wrote this article without thoroughly researching these allegations. However, based on a quick search, I would say that these two news items (1, 2) support my claim. That is a quick search – there are certainly more. Although I know it is not infallible (what source is?), I would also point out this Wikipedia article on the Catholic sex-abuse issue.

    I should also note, for anyone who wishes to over-estimate the extent to which I am indulging in anti-Catholic sentiment, that I find these two items (1, 2) persuasive in suggesting that, for some cases, the accusations against Ratzinger and the Church are overblown. I am happy to see, here, that “The Essential Norms also require the bishop to follow all civil reporting laws when the allegation concerns the sexual abuse of minors.” So, at least in the USA, there seems to be no current policy to evade the law of the land.

    However, to the extent that Ratzinger, and the institution which he now heads, were involved in any coverup of child abuse, they forfeit their claim to moral authority. Even if they did attempt to punish the abusers internally to the church, this amounts to saying that different laws applied to them because of their religion, or their position of authority. And that is reprehensible.

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