Saturday, March 21, 2009

Pope Benedict and the twlight of the Catholic Church

Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.

Let's just come right out and say it. No beating around the bush. No politically correct hand wringing to protect the delicate sensibilities of those with porcelain constitutions. Let us not fret about the tin plated outrage of those who believe that the word "faith" is a cosmic get out of jail free card that lets them say or do anything.

Pope Benedict, head of the Roman Catholic Church, believed by his followers to be the vicar of Christ who speaks with ultimate authority on all things, is wrong. In fact, "wrong" is not strong enough a term. The man is wicked, deluded and completely out of touch with reality. He apparently has no concept of human suffering and no true desire to put the enormous wealth of his church, which he oversees from his palace in Rome, to work to truly help those in need.

Pope Benedict has nothing relevant to say in the 21st century. Nothing profound. Nothing meaningful or useful. He has shown the that last remnant of the Roman Empire has long since lost whatever vigor it might have had. He guides his lumbering church into a long twilight he refuses to recognize. Where a world with increasingly complex problems needs leadership, Benedict continues to try and fight the Reformation. He is a walking, talking anachronism that appears to have been dropped in the 21st century from the dark ages.

I cannot, nay, I will not be kind about this. There are parts of the world where his word is still the law, where concepts of democracy, freedom and liberty do not yet hold the position they do in the west. Places like Africa. And there the pope has condemned people to a horrible death.

If this all sounds a tad melodramatic, well, consider the facts. In Africa some 22 million people are infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. More than 25 million have already died because of the virus. Countless others suffer from the ravaging effects of the virus on their bodies. Poverty and education levels are poor and petty tyrants lord over much of the continent and would rather use what resources they have fighting each other or their own people than invest in proper public health education.

Into this humanitarian disaster comes the pope to pronounce that condoms not only will not help stem the rates of HIV infection, but in fact will exacerbate the problem. Only an uneducated fool, a villain, or an insane person could utter such a thing. Medical science has proven beyond any doubt that condoms play a major role in preventing HIV infections.

One cannot underestimate the impact this will have in a part of the world where the pope's orders are taken very seriously. In fact, the impact of religious meddling into things they know nothing about has already been felt in Africa. In Uganda, home to some of the highest HIV infection rates in the world, once was getting a grip on the problem. It adopted what is called the ABC approach to public sexual health - abstinence, monogamy and condom use. The results were impressive having a massive impact on HIV infections rates. Then Uganda's first lady become a born-again Christian and using the agenda of American evangelicals, brought about the end of the ABC approach in favor the theological driven naivete of "abstinence only". Studies in the United States, a country with greater wealth and much higher education levels, have show abstinence only programs will, at best, delay sexual activity for about a year. Children "educated" in those program are also more likely to engage in unprotected anal sex, not practice safe sex when they to have it and as a result are more likely to have an unwanted pregnancy or STD.

So predictably, when Uganda fell under the sway of evangelical "sex-ed" the results were tragic. HIV infection rates doubled in the first two years of the abinstance only approach, which also actively discourages the use of condoms.

Real people suffer. Real people die. Real people are left trying to pick up the pieces. Not that this appears to really worry the Catholic church, which in recent years has turned its attention to the pressing issues of whether or not limbo actually exists, resurrecting the medieval con-job known as indulgences, and ensuring that everyone knows the only real Christian church happens to be the one Herr Ratzinger presently presently presides over. News to those non-Catholic churches I'm sure.

Meanwhile, despite all the talk about social justice, the church continues to display the kind of behavior that makes one wonder if they grasp meaning the term. Consider the case recently in Brazil where a nine year old was raped by her step father and made pregnant - with TWINS. In Brazil, abortion is illegal without a court order, which is normally issued only if the pregnancy is a threat to the mother's life. In this case it was a no brainer. The child was nine. The doctors determined the pregancy had a pretty good chance of killing her and the court order was issued.

Now the church stamped its feet, apparently unconcerned with the suffering of a pre-teen rape victim, and insisted the child carry the twins to term and deliver by cesarean section. That carrying the babies and birth could kill the child was no never mind to the church who, when their protests failed, excommunicated the girl's mother and her doctors after threatening to move to have them both charged with murder.

Who did the church not excommunicate or otherwise threaten? The rapist stepfather. Why? Because apparently the abortion that saved the girl's life was a more serious crime than raping her in the first place.

Consider that carefully. The victim of a rape, her mother and her doctors all threatened by the church. For the atheist, excommunication is meaningless. For a believer, it is serious business. But, the church has nothing to say or do about the rapist who had been attack that girl since she was six.

This is justice?

The church is simply blind to suffering. This is because, in part, of the Vatican's muddled view of suffering and evil. Like Mother Teresa, who held that suffering was good and the poor, the sick and the dying should just accept their woeful lot in life. Her reputation of her as a friend of the poor is a myth. She was a friend of poverty whose cult of suffering kept people sick and poor rather than help improve the lives of those who needed help. It is only through a complete disregard for what people suffer can someone say, as Mother Teresa did: "
I think it is very beautiful for the poor to accept their lot, to share it with the passion of Christ. I think the world is being much helped by the suffering of the poor people."

So the Pope, who lives in the lap of luxury, can travel to Africa and pronouce that condom use makes the spread of AIDS worse only because his view of the world is hopeless bent, twisted by a theology that had no regard for plight of the poor and suffering and sick. And given the problems of the world today and the need to marshal people to cope with them, the church has become little more than a road block and an enemy of those who suffer the most.