Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Catholic Scandals

People from Germany reading this blog (if there are any, except for my father…) might already have wondered why I didn’t write anything about the current scandal the Roman Catholic church is suffering in Germany. Namely: child abuse over decades in various Catholic schools.

I have not been writing about it before, because I was waiting for the high point of the scandal, the moment when it starts to ebb down. I’m not really sure if we’ve reached this point already, but considering the huge number of cases already in the news, I decided to write something about it.

I am Roman Catholic, but not really a very religious person. I’m more sort of an atheist who has forgotten to leave church. But, as a girl, I wasn’t really in any danger, considering the stories that have leaked out to the press. The abuses concerned boys in almost all cases.

I will not retell all the tales here, there’s more than enough material online anyway. I will, instead, tell you why I was not surprised.

I grew up in a somewhat divided household. My father is Lutheran and my mother Roman Catholic (thus I am Roman Catholic, too). None of my parents is very religious, but my mother is in the habit of praying before going to bed (no fixed prayer, rather a little chat with God) and my father has studied the bible himself (both testaments). My father is very interested in philosophy and has discussed his ideas with me since my later teens (when I was around 15). I was not an easy student for every teacher in this topic, either. I had – and still have – my own views of religion and how it should and shouldn’t intervene with peoples’ lives.

When I learned in school about the fact that Roman Catholic priests have to always been forced into celibacy, I was surprised at first. The argument that was presented to us in school always was “That way they only work for God and the parish”. Why had this changed during the medieval age? Had priests been better at multitasking before this time? And did Lutheran priests (not forced to live in celibacy) care less for God and the parish? Then I learned the real reason for celibacy: money.

Before the middle ages, Roman Catholic priests were allowed to marry and have children (in the Orthodox church, only a married priest is a priest…). But that presented a certain problem, namely inheritances. A priest lives on church grounds, is paid by the church and thus has nothing to give to his children. Today, that would not present all that much of a problem, because most people earn money in jobs and live in apartments. But in the middle ages, people handed everything down to their children. The sons (sometimes also the daughters) inherited the possibility to earn a living from their parents. When a man died, his wife and children usually split the grounds and everything else he left between them. But priests lived on church ground – they didn’t leave behind anything their children could live off. So the church had to step in and give money to those children (and care for the widow). To avoid this, the Roman Catholic church came up with the great idea of celibacy, officially telling people ‘it’s for the best of the parish’. No more children to take care of (and no more priest’s widows, either).

And that from a religion that demands from every believer to produce as many children as possible…

Young men start training early to become a priest, right after school or after university. And not all of them are saints. And a young man who is no saint will sooner or later long for company, that of a woman if he’s heterosexual, that of a man if he’s homosexual. Nothing really wrong with that, as long as it’s consent contact. In fact, the church silently pays for up to four illegitimate children. The logical course would be to drop the celibacy and allow the priests to choose whether or not they will marry. The logical course … but we’re talking about religion here, so there is no logical course.

A job in which you’re not allowed to marry and your boss (and I don’t mean God himself here) has the right to kick you out if you’re interested in your own gender? In every other job in Germany, the boss would be in big trouble. The Roman Catholic church isn’t. And is it so unlikely that a group that damns every kind of sex as a sin will attract people whose sexual interest is really sinful (because they like to have sex with children, for instance)?

I’m definitely not saying every Catholic priest is a child molester. There are men who freely decide to live in celibacy and serve only God and the parish. There are men and women who will even go further and join a religious order and only serve God for the rest of their lives. All of them deserve our respect. (And they definitely get mine.)

But if the church is so strict with marriage and still condemns homosexuality as a sin, it should also damn everyone who touches children in a sexual way – and deliver them to the worldly authorities. God may punish them later on whichever way he sees fit. They should only be punished by human law beforehand.

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