DARK HISTORY OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH
NOT SO SAINTLY
Any institution that presumes to judge how people live is liable to be judged
itself - and attract harsh criticism if seen to be falling short. The trust the
Church has been accorded, its wealth and worldly power, have brought
immense temptations - which haven't always been resisted.
'You appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypoerisy ...'
For any Christian, the spectre of the scriptural Pharisee must loom large as a warning of how the appearance of goodness can militate against the reality. The holy hypocrite, following the letter of the law; judging petty transgressions; overvaluing respectability, but lacking the love and commitment that Christ demands ... Jesus' complaint against the teachers who came to try and catch him out in Matthew 15:8 (see also Mark 7:6) echoes the complaint of Isaiah 29:13: 'These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.' Christ was to be echoed in his turn in the words of Pope Francis in a sermon delivered at the Basilica of
Pope Francis began his reign in March 2013 with a ready acknowledgement that he and his fellow-clergy had fallen badly short of the standards expected of them by their congregations - and by Christ. The Church's reputation had suffered badly in recent times.
WEEELLL……IF THAT WAS FALLING SHORT [AND IT WAS INDEED - THE SEXUAL SCANDALS], THEN FALLING SHORT DOWN THROUGH THE CENTURIES WAS OFF THE CHART IN FALLING SHORT - Keith Hunt
St Paul's Outside the Walls, in Rome, just a few weeks after his election in 2013:
'Inconsistency on the part of pastors and the faithful between what they say and what they do, between word and manner of life, is undermining the Church's credibility. Those who listen to us and observe us must be able to see in our actions what they hear from our lips, and so give glory to God!'
How are even the humblest Catholics to encourage others to do right without - at least implicitly - suggesting that they know better and live better than they do themselves? And how are even good Catholics to maintain their Church's dignity when - as, inevitably must happen, human as they are - they fall short of the values they supposedly uphold? And if the best Catholics are prone to fail, what of those who may have more cynically and systematically exploited the power and trust their status in the Church has brought them to advance their careers and further their own selfish designs? Some critics would like us to see hypocrisy as being an essential component of Catholicism - it has certainly sometimes been a 'besetting sin'.
It is an unfortunate stain on the reputation of an institution that has done (and continues to do) an enormous amount of good: the Catholic Church is the largest non-governmental provider of education and healthcare in the world. Heroic efforts, which have largely gone unsung. At times, though - and there have been far too many of these times - positions of power and authority have been abused. The trust earned by so many dedicated men and women has been exploited for vicious ends.
Yet even this sort of' 'few bad apples' description doesn't cover the kind of harm that's done when an entire policy is built on unsound social and ethical foundations. Times change, of course, and attitudes with them, but it's hard to claim with any real conviction that, for example, the way the Magdalene Laundries were run was ever justified. These convent homes for 'fallen women' flourished in Ireland (and
Survivors of the Magdalene Laundries demonstrate outside Ireland's parliament in Dublin, demanding compensation for the thousands who slaved and suffered in what they believe was a lucrative operation.
elsewhere) from the early nineteenth century, and were not finally closed until late in the twentieth. Prisonlike in their organization and punitive in their ethos, they subjected women to close confinement and a gruelling round of heavy, physical work. Over time, not just prostitutes but abused children and unmarried mothers - sent here by embarrassed families - were incarcerated. Former inmates testified to the sexual, physical and psychological abuse they had sustained in the homes.
Singer Sinead O'Connor recalled that her own treatment had not been directly abusive (she had been given to the care of the nuns by an anxious father, concerned at 'problem' behaviour such as disobedience and petty theft). But she had been horrified to witness a friend's baby being torn from her arms, never to be seen again. And their confinement was cruel in itself. 'We were girls in there, not women, just children really,' she told the Irish Sun:
'And the girls in there cried every day. It was a prison. We didn't see our families, we were locked in, cut off from life, deprived of a normal childhood. We were told we were there because we were bad people. Some of the girls had been raped at home and not believed.'
She got a thick string and she tied
it round my neck for three days
and three nights and I had to eat
off the floor every morning.
Survivors described a regime in which they were stripped of their identity and forced into a self-effacing muteness: "I walked up the steps that day', recalled Marina Gambold, in an interview with the BBC decades later, 'and the nun came out and said your name is changed, you are Fidelma, I went in and I was told I had to keep my silence ... I was working in the laundry from eight in the morning until about six in the evening. I was starving with the hunger, I was given bread and dripping for my breakfast every morning ... We had to scrub corridors, I used to cry with sore knees, housemaids' knees, I used to work all day in the laundry, doing the white coats and the pleating …" Punishments could be positively sadistic. "One day I broke a cup," Marina Gambold recalled, and the nun said, "I will teach you to be careful". She got a thick string and she tied it round my neck for three days and three nights and I had to eat off the floor every morning. Then I had to get down on my knees and I had to say, "I beg almighty God's pardon, Our Lady's pardon, my companions' pardon for the bad example I have shown.'"
From 1922, at least, the Laundries
A world away from the cruel drudgery of the Magdalene Laundry
to which she was sent as a teenager, Sinead O'Connor sings
in Los Angeles, 2012. With her international profile, O'Connor
has proven a powerful voice for a community of survivors
whose complaints were silenced for so long.
A ledger from the Magdalene Laundry at Hyde Park, Dublin, gives a suggestion of the operation's scale. When the scandal broke, it became apparent that the Irish state had been an important client of a business protestors believe to have been a major moneymaker for the Church.
had operated under the auspices of an independent Ireland, many of their referrals - and their business contracts - being with the state. An official report compiled by former-senator Martin McAleese agreed that the institutions had been inhumane in their very ethos, but found no evidence to support survivors' claims of abuse. Or that, as many had been suggesting, the Church had made vast profits - however, McAleese concluded that the institutions had barely broken even. Critics have questioned his findings, however, pointing to the cursoriness of his enquiries into the Laundries' accounts and his officials' failure to discuss their treatment with survivors.
Hence the suspicions that the report was, if not actually a whitewash, at best a most half-hearted investigation; hence too the scepticism about Taoiseach Enda Kenny's formal apology to survivors. While lamenting that the Laundries had been a 'national shame', he did so on the basis of a very limited acknowledgement of the scope of a scandal that remains controversial to this very day.
Today we wouldn't even recognize the concept of the 'fallen woman'; 'slut-shaming' is frowned-upon - however widespread it may be. And we'd recoil at the idea that a victim of child sex-abuse should suffer for another's sins. For some, such shifts in Zeitgeist can be seen as accounting altogether for these crimes - if that's what they are: the nuns concerned (the Sisters of Mercy; the Good Shepherd Sisters; the Sisters of Charity and the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity) were guilty of nothing more than articulating the prejudices of their time. And up to a point, indeed, that's true: the state support the Magdalene Laundries were afforded would tend to bear this out. As does the existence of a comparable Protestant institution, the Bethany Home in Dublin, about which similar accusations have since
IN THNE BOX
There can be big money in poverty - especially where, as in the comparatively compassionate societies of the welfare age, charities can look to governments for financial backing. State funding appears to have been at issue when, in Canada's Quebec province in the 1940s, thousands of orphans in Church-run homes found themselves abruptly reclassified as mental patients. The reason for their recategorization appears to have been a change in the law determining that the care of orphans would thenceforth only receive provincial funding, while healthcare facilities would get funding from the Canadian government.
The 'Duplessis Orphans' - as they have been called, after the provincial premier of the time, Maurice Duplessis - arguably weren't even orphans (as the word is generally understood) to begin with. Most were the children of unmarried mothers, taken into the charge of the authorities. Suddenly, at the stroke of a pen, they were rebranded as mental patients. In addition to intrusive and sometimes painful 'psychiatric' treatments (which included everything from electroconvulsive therapy to lobotomy), many patients were later to complain of having been used as guinea pigs in medical experiments. Some experienced years of hardship, close confinement and physical and sexual abuse. Priests, nuns, psychiatrists and other staff all seem to have been implicated in mistreatment - as, indirectly, has the government of Quebec. In the face of a long and vociferous campaign, it has refused to hold an official inquiry and survivors have dismissed its offers of compensation as derisory.
Sheet or shroud? This statue stands at the site of the old Sisters' of Mercy laundry in Galway City. Attempts have been made to have it moved somewhere less obtrusive: even now, this subject is a sore point for some in Ireland.
IN THE BOX
LOVE THY NEIGHBOUR?
Outside the entrance on the Via Carducci, a set of male genitalia in exquisite topiary poked irreverent fun at the proprieties - and more-than-hinted at the delights to be found within.
For the Europa Multiclub in central Rome was the biggest gay bathhouse on the Continent - 'La Sauna Gay n°1' its publicity proclaimed. Punters could come to parties here to 'unleash' or simply relax in its Turkish bath and whirlpools; enjoy a massage; watch porn in company; hang out in a lounge or retire to a private room. Meanwhile, on the floor above, one of the Church's severest critics of homosexuality (or 'unnatural tendencies'), Cardinal Ivan Dias, had his 12-bedroom apartment. The Church in fact owned several properties in the same block, with a total value of £21 million.
The revelation embarrassed the Holy See just when the world's cardinals were gathering for the election that would bring about the elevation of Pope Francis in March 2013.
been made. This does, however, seem shaky ground on which to base the defence of a Church that has been so free with its exhortations to individual men and women to take moral responsibility for their actions.
Ever since the British journalist Malcolm Muggeridge brought her to the world's attention with his documentary film Something Beautiful for God in 1969, Mother Teresa of Calcutta has been an icon. She died in 1997 and since 2003 has in the eyes of the Church been beatified as the 'Blessed Teresa' - she is halfway to sainthood, in other words. The founder, in 1950, of the Missionaries of Charity, her work in the city now known as Kolkata was deemed so inspiring that she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979.
Emblematic of Catholicism's charitable mission in the modern world, she has at the same time inevitably been the test case by which the Church's claims to be a force for good have been assessed. And a great many of her critics have found her wanting. For all her ostentatious humility, this woman dedicated to the service of the 'poorest of the poor' seemed thoroughly at home among the rich and powerful, it was pointed out. And not just the powerful but the poisonous -
Mother Teresa meets Pope John Paul II at the Vatican, 1997. The Albanian-born nun was a religious icon in her own lifetime. Like the Church she represented, though, she was dogged by controversy: her mission's methods were questionable; its finances obscure; many of her public pronouncements troubling.
I saw children with their mouths
gagged open to be given medicine
their hands flaying in distress
visible testimony to the pain
they were in.
men like American Savings & Loan fraudster Charles Keating, whose donations she gratefully received (and refused to return for the benefit of his victims after his conviction), the corrupt British publisher Robert Maxwell and Haiti's cruel and kleptomaniac Duvaliers.
Meanwhile, it was hard for sceptics to see what the supposed beneficiaries of her saintly mission were actually gaining. Describing what he'd witnessed as an undercover observer making a documentary film in Mother Teresa's Calcutta mission, journalist and filmmaker Donal Maclntyre wrote in the New Statesman of disabled children being tied up to stop them straying. Conditions were generally Dickensian:
'I saw children with their mouths gagged open to be given medicine, their hands flaying in distress, visible testimony to the pain they were in. Tiny babies were bound with cloth at feeding time. Rough hands wrenched heads into position for feeding. Some of the children retched and coughed as rushed staff crammed food into their mouths. Boys and girls were abandoned on open toilets for up to 20 minutes at a time ...'
Volunteers, he said, did their best to clean those who'd soiled themselves:
'But there were no nappies, and only cold water. Soap and disinfectant were in short supply. Workers washed down beds with dirty water and dirty cloths. Food was prepared on the floor in the corridor. A senior member of staff mixed medicine with her hands.'
Heroic labours by selfless staff in impossible circumstances? Certainly, but why?, wondered Maclntyre. Thanks to extensive and uncritical coverage in the world media, contributions were flooding in to Mother Teresa's organization week by week, disillusioned former staff reported. The money went straight into international bank accounts.
This seems to have been at least in part a quasi-spiritual decision: God would provide for her patients, Mother Teresa reasoned; he would decide if someone lived or died. She doesn't seem to have believed in investment in modern healthcare technology - at least not for her charitable patients. (She herself had the best the world's prestigious hospitals could provide.) There was, she seems genuinely to have felt, something spiritually purifying in other people's suffering. She didn't even believe in administering painkillers: 'It is the most beautiful gift for a person,' she said, 'that he can participate in the sufferings of Christ.'
Of course, a fiercely spiritual Catholic and a secular liberal do come at questions of life and suffering from very different standpoints. Neither Mother Teresa nor her staff made any secret of their attitudes or showed the slightest shame at their 'exposure'. Which would seem to suggest a clear - if perhaps sadly misguided - conscience. It's difficult to avoid a certain sense of cognitive dissonance here when one finds that the Missionaries of Charity themselves actually welcomed what Maclntyre had intended as a damning documentary - apparently not even registering the critical message of the film. The late Christopher Hitchens, another critic, seems to have been as shocked as he was affronted when Mother Teresa's reaction to his polemical attack on her was insouciantly to 'forgive' him - regardless of whether or not he wanted that.
SO THE REST OF THE STORY ON "MOTHER TERESA" SHOWS A MUCH DIFFERENT LIGHT; SHE HAD STRANGE IDEAS AND A SOMEWHAT TWISTED MIND-SET…… NOT THE RIGHTEOUS DO-GOODER IN ALL AREAS OF HER LIFE - Keith Hunt
Something of the same mutual miscomprehension may be seen in secular society's disagreements with the Catholic Church over abortion: is the foetus a 'human life' or merely a cluster of cells? Those who hold the former position will naturally see abortion-
Sisters of the Congregation Missionaries of Charity (Mother Teresa's order) process past a bank in Lucknow. An ironic image, given questions over the poor conditions of their patients, despite the donations to one of the most celebrated institutions in the world.
on-demand as a murderous 'holocaust' to be stopped at just about whatever cost - a wildly disproportionate reaction for those taking the latter view. The Church's prohibition on artificial forms of birth control is even more incomprehensible to outsiders (and to a great many Catholics in the developed world, where it's much ignored). Committed Catholics angrily reject the suggestion that they are in any sense 'anti-sex', although it's true that the rights and (mostly) wrongs of sex loom large in ethical debates within the Church. For many, the Church's arguments against contraception belong in the same philosophical realm as the late Pope John Paul IPs claim that a man could commit adultery with his wife: ingenious; perhaps even justified - yet fundamentally unconvincing.
If the Church's teaching on birth control is amusing to secular society in the West and exasperating to many Catholics, more serious objections are raised to anti-contraception campaigns in Africa. If we're going to talk about 'holocausts', what of the Church's attempts seemingly to sabotage the fight against AIDS in Africa, where more than a million adults and children die from the syndrome every year?
Catholic campaigns against the use of condoms have cost hundreds of thousands of lives (and counting) in Africa, it's been alleged. The Catholic counterargument - that marital fidelity is best (and that condoms cost lives by encouraging risky behaviour) - is an argument that does not convince many secular commentators.
OF COURSE SECULAR SOCIETY [MUCH OF IT] CANNOT SEE ABORTION ON DEMAND IS A SIN; THEY CANNOT SEE LIFE BEGINS AT CONCEPTION WHEN A SEED MEETS AND ENTERS AN EGG. THE OFFICIAL CATHOLIC STAND ON BIRTH CONTROL IS WRONG. PART OF THEIR REASONING AGAINST BIRTH CONTROL IS THAT MORE CHILDREN MEANS MORE MEMBERS FOR THE CATHOLIC CHURCH. THE OFTEN QUOTED "ONON" WITHDRAWING AND THEN EXECUTION BY GOD, HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH BIRTH CONTROL - Keith Hunt
The Church's pious obduracy - if that's what it is - over all things sexual has been thrown into ironic relief by the growing number of priests apparently struggling with their vows of chastity. Or, at least, with the difficulty of keeping their misdemeanors covered up: do we really have a more wayward clergy, or just a less compliant press? Sex scandals are nothing new, of course, but the 'permissive society' of the last few decades has arguably brought greater temptations for nuns and priests.
And, paradoxically, a greater readiness to judge on the part of a public which requires some convincing that clerical celibacy is either genuinely possible or desirable. We may have become slower to shock but we've been quicker to jeer - and arguably less tolerant than we were before. In an age when some degree of sexual repression was widespread, it may have been less difficult to imagine a refusal of sexual activity which didn't itself smack of sexual perversion. Today the choice immediately awakens a suspicion of hypocrisy, perhaps.
It is a suspicion that has been borne out by a succession of stories. Galway's Bishop Casey was found to have been carrying on with American divorcee Annie Murphy in 1992. They'd had a son together, the suddenly loquacious Murphy now revealed - the bishop had tried to get her to put him up for adoption, but she'd refused. Just four years later, Bishop Roderick Wright of Argyll and the Isles in Scotland ran off with Kathleen MacPhee in a humiliating flight from a delighted press, who subsequently learned that 'Roddy' had a 15-year-old son from an earlier romance as well. In 2012, the Bishop of Merlo Moreno, in Argentina,
Is the Catholic Church doing the devil's work in southern Africa? Whilst its members battle valiantly against the ravages of AIDS, the hierarchy has been unbending on birth control. Campaigners question how HIV-infection can realistically be contained without the widescale use of barrier contraceptives.
American divorcee Annie Murphy poses with Peter, the son she had in 1974 to Eamonn Casey - by the time the story broke the Bishop of Galway. His disgrace was an early humiliation for an Irish Church which was to see a lot more scandal in the years that followed.
was caught in compromising photos with a woman he tried to claim was a 'childhood friend'.
By this time, though, such comparatively conventional transgressions had come to seem a lot less compelling to the watching media. In 2005, another Argentinian bishop, Juan Carlos Maccarone, had been precipitated into early retirement by the surfacing of a film that showed him engaging in sexual acts with a 23-year-old man. Four years later, across the River Plate in Uruguay, Bishop Francisco Domingo Barbosa Da Silveira resigned after it was alleged he'd broken his vow of celibacy. Edinburgh's
Cheerful, brisk and businesslike, Cardinal Keith Patrick O'Brien cuts an impressive figure as he strides across St Peter's Square in 2005. Less than a decade later he was in disgrace, his well-publicized attacks on gay marriage undermined by his admission of having 'fallen short' in his own behaviour.
As a cardinal, Joseph Ratzinger had been described, half-fearfully, half-admiringly as 'God's Rottweiler', but he proved much meeker as Pope Benedict XVI. His early abdication is still a mystery: Benedict's health had not been great, but some hinted darkly at political intriguing behind the scenes.
Cardinal Keith Patrick O'Brien, who in November 2012 had been awarded the title 'Bigot of the Year' by gay rights charity Stonewall for his condemnation of civil partnerships, gay marriage and - ultimately - anything that might 'facilitate or promote' same-sex relationships, was forced to step down a few months later over allegations of inappropriate approaches to younger priests. He subsequently admitted that there had been 'times' when his sexual conduct had 'fallen short of the standards expected' of him - and not just in his younger days as a priest but in more recent years 'as ... archbishop and cardinal'.
IN THE BOX
PERSONA NUN GRATA
Sister Simone Campbell wowed the Democratic National Convention in 2012 with an impassioned plea for progress on ObamaCare (the Affordable Care Act). But the social justice campaigner, who had cut her teeth as a community lawyer, hadn't been such a hit with the hierarchy back in Rome. Sister Simone was regarded as ringleader of a group of American nuns who'd embarrassed both rightwing Republicans and the Church with their outspoken comments on social questions - and their alleged failure to condemn contraception, abortion and same-sex marriage with sufficient force.
TO BE CONTINUED
ABORTION ON DEMAND IS WRONG; IT IS SIN! BIRTH CONTROL IS NOT SIN!
THE BIBLE MAKES IT VERY CLEAR, FORNICATION [SEX BEFORE MARRIAGE] IS SIN; ADULTERY [SEX WITHIN MARRIAGE TO SOMEONE OTHER THAN YOUR MATE] IS SIN; PRACTICING HOMOSEXUALITY AND LESBIANISM IS SIN. SAME SEX MARRIAGE IS THEREFOR SIN.
THE BIBLE IS VERY CLEAR ON THE ABOVE; VERY CLEAR!
THE PREVIOUS POPE [TO THE FRANCIS] SAID THAT THE BIBLE, NEW TESTAMENT, IS NOT AGAINST MARRIAGE FOR PRIESTS, BUT HE STILL THOUGHT IT THE BEST FOR THEM NOT TO MARRY, SO THEY COULD DEVOTE THEMSELVES TO SERVING THE PEOPLE OF THE CHURCH, WITH FULL CONCENTRATION, AND NOT HAVE TO CARE ABOUT A WIFE AND CHILDREN, THE TIME IT WOULD TAKE TO LOOK AFTER THINGS WITHIN A FAMILY LIFE.
WITH SUCH LATTER THEOLOGY, WE SEE WHY THERE HAS BEEN SUCH COVER-UPS [AND UN-COVERED-UPS] CONCERNING SEXUAL LAXETY IN THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH.