Saturday, May 9, 2009

On the catholic church

This is an open response to a family friend of mine, who posted this comment on my Facebook page:

I just had a heated conversation with my husband about how warped the catholic church is. He maintains that if the church has said sorry it's question is when will the church mean it?

Comments on my response are welcomed by anyone.


I was raised as a Catholic, but was lucky enough to attend a very progressive Church. Also, as you know, my parents are very open-minded people. I enjoyed being part of my Church growing up, and I believe that my experiences there helped me learn how to be a better person. Even since I stopped believing in god, I still have a very strong emotional attachment to the Church in which I was raised. That attachment, however, no longer extends to the Catholic church as an institution, for reasons I will now elaborate on.

The lessons that I learned in Church while growing up included going out of your way to help others, spending more time with your family, the vacuity of being judgmental, and the power of forgiveness. Humility, love, compassion.

While these ideals might be the stated aims of the Catholic Church, they are certainly not values that I see displayed regularly.

Instead, I hear about institutionalised cover-ups to protect child-assaulting priests from being prosecuted. I hear about the Vatican protesting against a UN resolution to denounce violence against homosexuals. I hear their continued misogynist refusal to allow women to hold positions of authority.

It has become clear to me that the Catholic Church, as an institution, is more concerned with promoting adherence to it's own dogma than it is with the relief of human suffering. It is more concerned with maintaining power than with maintaining integrity. It has consistently failed to uphold the dignity of human existence, and for that I can no longer associate myself with it.

Take for example, the recent case of a 9-year-old Brazilian girl who became pregnant with twins after being repeatedly sexually assaulted by her step-father. After determining that, due to her young age and low weight, the girl's life would be put in danger if the girl took the pregnancy to term, two doctors medically ended her pregnancy. Despite the medical necessity of the abortion, the Brazilian Chruch excommunicated the two doctors and the girl's mother--but not the step-father, who is also accused of sexually abusing the girl's 14-year-old handicapped sister.

Another brazen example of the Church's indifference to the human condition lies with it's stubborn refusal to condone the distribution of condoms in Africa to stem the spread of AIDS, the world's leading cause of death by infectious disease. This is despite the fact that condom use has been shown to decrease the transmission of HIV, and that abstinence-only programs have been shown to be ineffective.*

And then, of course, there's the Church's outdated, dehumanizing view on gay relationships. It never ceases to amaze me how they can take a few (highly interpretable) passages from the Bible and use them to denigrate healthy, loving relationships. One would think that with all the claims they make about promoting love and companionship, they wouldn't make such a fuss about two men's relationship being recognized by the government.

Nonetheless, the Chuch's massive resistance to gay marriage is second-only in fervor to its opposition to abortion. However, it is not alone in its denial of gay people's humanity. Pat Robertson recently said that legalizing gay marriage will result in the legalization of pedophilia and bestiality (one wonders how children or animals, who can't give legal consent, would sign a marriage contract). James Dobson, of Focus on the Family fame, recently said that a bill in the US House that would basically make gay-bashing a hate crime would also give protections to pedophiles and necrophiliacs (because the bill does not explicitly define "sexual orientation"). This is a lie, and Dobson knows it becuase he's a psychologist. "Sexual orientation" includes heterosexuality, homosexuality, and bisexuality; pedophilia and necrophilia are defined as "paraphilias."

Rick Warren, one of the most popular evangelical leaders in the US and head of an enourmous mega-church, also equated gay relationships to pedophilia and incest (though apparently he later apologised). He then went on to lie about his support for Proposition 8 (which took gay marriage away from Californians) on national TV, despite video proof of the contrary.

It seems like the people who say the worst things about gay people are actually the religious devout. Religious instituions are the major impediment to respect for gay people. Historically, they have also been the source of major resistance to almost every progressive social advancement in the past few centuries (women's rights, abolition of slavery, interracial marriage, etc.).

Lest my message be misconstrued at this point, let me say that I don't think all religious people are homophobes. Nor are all Catholics cold-hearted. What I'm trying to prove with the above anecdotes are the following:

1. While claiming to be on higher moral ground than the rest of us, religious people and their leaders often take positions that are completely inhumane and often detrimental to their fellow man. This includes countless recent examples of outright lies being spread to keep gay people from gaining equal protection and rights under the law.

2. While I have no problem with people choosing to live by whatever personal beliefs they choose, I do not believe that they have a right to force their religious beliefs on others. By denying gay people the right to marry or to be protected from discrimination without any secular reasoning, that's exactly what they are doing.

3. Perhaps my biggest disappointment is with "moderate" religious people, who claim that the outspoken homophobes "don't speak for them." News flash: the homophobes are speaking loud enough for everyone, but the voice of opposition from moderates is not being heard. It sounds an awful lot more like silent consent.

I haven't heard of any recent apology from the Catholic Church, but even if I did, it would take a lot more than that to make up for the hurt they've caused gay people everywhere (not to mention other minorities and women). I'll start listening to them again once they show that they're more concerned with helping their fellow man than getting their own way.

*Clarification: the best type of education is one that includes information on both abstinence and safer-sex practices, not necessarily just one or the other.

Update (11/05/09): The Catholic Bishop of Maine has just issued a statement in response to the Maine legislature's legalization of gay marriage. The good Bishop claims that gay marriage is "dangerous." However, I'm starting to think that maybe the Catholic Church is dangerous:
[In Maine] 63 priests and other diocese employees had been accused of sexual abuse over the previous 75 years

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