World Youth Day time for Catholics to seek the truth

By David Swanton

Published in Canberra Times 17 July 2008


Controversy surrounding the visit of Pope Benedict XVI for the Roman Catholic Church promotional event that is World Youth Day, and Cardinal George Pell's unsatisfactory response to yet another sexual abuse victim, has again focussed attention on the Church's problems. These are not the direct fault of the ordinary members of the Church. Responsibility must be directed firmly at the Pope and other Catholic leaders. Lay Catholics, however, might be able to help.

The Catholic Church, while professing good intentions, has a less-than-exemplary history; being responsible for arguably more deaths than any other organisation. Millions have died and suffered in the name of the Church in crusades, witch hunts, the Inquisition, and numerous religious wars.

Jews, women, homosexuals, heretics, scientists, and whoever might have had a view contrary to that of the Bible or the Church were persecuted or subjected to Catholic fury. Not quite consistent with ''thou shalt not kill'' and ''turn the other cheek'. It would be reasonable to think that Pope Benedict XVI might have learnt lessons from this history and that he should not be a party to the suppression of free speech, but he hasn't.

The Inquisition was established to suppress opposition to the Pope, yet now, the Pope is protected, by virtue of draconian NSW regulations, from people who might express a view that could annoy pilgrims or him at World Youth Day. Why should pilgrims be shielded from hearing alternative views and forming their own judgements?

The Pope heads a Church based on biblical teachings of a God. This allegedly benevolent God is jealous, murderous (not many were left after Noah's flood, and he certainly had a dislike for the first borns in Egypt; yes, the biblical God is a child killer), sexist (the strongly misogynist theme in the Bible and Church is hard to ignore), racist (there is but a slight bias for the Israelites over the Egyptians), pro-slavery, and homophobic. The Pope would fail to win a job in the public service as an advocate of such vehemently discriminatory views.

Let's face it, the biblical God is probably a manifestation of the superstitious views of the uneducated masses two millennia ago, and the Church's attitudes to social issues have hardly changed since then.

Despite public and lay support for sex before marriage, abortion, the contraceptive pill, voluntary euthanasia and embryonic stem cell research, the Pope continues to oppose them. Disturbingly, the Pope and Church leaders seem to thrive on arrogantly imposing their divisive religious views on others. This is borne out in their strong opposition to the use of condoms where, particularly in Third World countries where Aids is rampant, this stance has been tantamount to a death sentence for many.

The Pope and Church leaders propagate, in Richard Dawkins's words, the God delusion. There is no credible evidence, scientific or otherwise, for God, heaven, hell, prayers being answered, or miracles occurring.

Prayer, or alleged miracles, cannot violate the laws of physics. No matter how the Pope and Church leaders pray for limbs to regrow on amputees, it just will not happen. The Pope and the Church have been able to get away with spreading such nonsense mainly through childhood indoctrination.

World Youth Day is no doubt intended to keep the myths alive.

The Pope presides over a Church suffocating in hypocrisy. Although the Bible proposes that you 'sell that thou hast, and give to the poor', the Pope and the Church are blessed with riches. Australian Catholics give money to the Church, but does anyone know where it all goes? A great deal of money will support World Youth Day, where the Pope will try to charm Catholic youth. No matter how charming he may be, he will be unable to erase the horror of the predatory sexual attacks on children by some Church leaders. One must wonder what sort of organisation the Pope is running.

Although the Church's substantial problems start at the top, the solution might be found at the bottom. It is incumbent on members of the Church to seek the truth, assess their own beliefs, challenge the Pope and Church leaders about the Bible, about Catholic social policy, and critically consider their Church leaders' responses. They will hear well rehearsed answers; after all the Church has had thousands of years of practice in indoctrinating the masses, and suppressing non-Catholic views. World Youth Day is an ideal occasion to start this dialogue. May reason win out.


David Swanton is an ethicist, PhD scientist and director of Ethical Rights. He is also ACT Chapter Coordinator for Exit International.