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Dublin: 10 °C Thursday 26 May, 2016

The Catholic Church does not promote an egalitarian ethic – it never has

The Catholic Church has a record of abuse, twisted morality and regressive politics, writes Julien Mercille.

Julien Mercille

DID YOU KNOW that the Catholic Church “promotes an egalitarian ethic that is highly commendable”? Me neither.

But the Irish Times’ Joe Humphreys penned an article last week trying to convince us that it does. He wants atheists and believers to embrace the Church because it provides the “basic unit of community” in Ireland.

This claim is easy to refute. By the same logic, we should have embraced slavery because at one point it constituted the “basic unit of community” in many places.

People living in North Korea should also embrace dictatorship because that’s what the system is over there.

My point is that the existence of a social system does not justify it. By that logic, we’d still be stuck in the stone age. The second claim—that the Church is egalitarian—is also easily discarded.

The Catholic Church is not egalitarian

Have you ever noticed that there’s never been a woman pope? Or a black pope? Or a gay pope? Or anything other than a conservative white man pope? Have you also noticed that it’s only white men who get up the ladder in the Catholic hierarchy?

This means the Catholic Church is not egalitarian. On the contrary, it’s hierarchical and discriminatory.

The Pope is called “His Holiness” or the “Supreme Pontiff”. Our own Archbishop Eamon Martin is called “The Primate of All Ireland” and “The Most Reverend”.

And all of us followers are just called by our names. It would be hard to find a more hierarchical system than the Church, apart perhaps from the military.

In terms of actions, the Church’s record is atrocious, especially in Ireland.

The Vatican attacked the legalisation of gay marriage by referendum last year, calling it a “defeat for humanity”. Our Archbishop said the Church felt a sense of “bereavement” and congratulated everybody who opposed same-sex marriage, saying: “I’m very grateful for them following the advice of their priests and their bishops and the church in voting No”.

This is indeed what the Church has always wanted: that we follow the clergy’s orders.

On abortion, the Church is opposed again, treating women as beings who don’t deserve the right to choose for themselves.

Religion in schools 

On education, more than 90% of state schools are still owned and run by the Catholic Church. Schools set their admission criteria so Catholic kids have priority while unbaptised children are discriminated against. All schools are required to provide 30 minutes a day of religious education. And then we wonder why we’re not better at engineering, languages or economics!

And the Church abused children physically and sexually—at least 30,000 of them between 1936 and 1999, according to the Ryan Report. Amnesty International has referred to this as “the gravest and most systemic human rights violations in the history of this State”… they are “mass violations of international human rights law”.

“Mass abuse” is not a vague expression. It refers to real acts by the clergy against children detailed in the reports, including:

Beaten while hanging from hooks on the wall, burning, flogging, hosed down with cold water before being beaten, severe beatings, and being set upon by dogs.

The consequences? Break to ribs, arms and legs, injuries to genitalia, eye, jaw, kidney, along with dog bites, lacerations, broken teeth and dislocated shoulders.

Sexual abuse 

Sexual abuse included the following:

Penetration by objects, vaginal, oral and anal rape and attempted rape, by individuals and groups; inspection of genitalia, kissing, fondling, forced masturbation of, and by, an abuser.

The religious orders did not try to prevent that from happening. On the contrary, the clergy “went to extreme lengths to protect its priests and its reputation at the expense of children”.

Crucially, the vast majority of abused children were of working class origins, another proof that the Church is not egalitarian. Middle class and upper class children were better taken care of.

The Church has tried for too long to define “decency” and “morality” in twisted ways. It is a regressive force in society. However, let’s be clear about two things.

First, the above does not attack faith, belief in God, or spiritual aspects of life. The problem does not lie there. The problem is about the Church as an institution of social control.

Second, of course there are members of the clergy that are decent and progressive and doing lots of good things in their community and beyond.

But the problem, again, is with the Church as an institution.

Julien Mercille is a lecturer at University College Dublin. Twitter: @JulienMercille

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