Anja Merret
Anja Merret

Catholic Church goes retrograde

Religion is not something I usually write about, mainly because I don’t want to offend anybody. It is after all everybody’s choice as to how they nurture their soul. But the Catholic Church’s latest political manoeuvres have gotten to me.

Religion is one of those things many people can’t decide, or at least I can’t, if it’s a private or public thing. I grew up in apartheid South Africa. The churches were condemned for not doing more to stop the crimes against humanity.

The ministers who had the courage and conviction to speak up were thrown out of church and the society they lived in. Beyers Naude springs to mind as a great example.

Desmond Tutu was awarded the Nobel Peace prize. Many people spoke against him and said the church should not interfere in politics.

Where should we draw the line? It’s complicated. After all religion can dictate how you live, look at Muslims and Jews for instance. Their religious beliefs determine many of their daily activities. How is it possible that their religion won’t encroach on their political life.

But it’s not the Muslims and Jews that have made me think about this topic again. It’s the latest little dramas playing out in the Vatican. I’m almost relieved that the Catholic Church has lost some of its power because what the Pope is doing could signal a move onto dangerous ground.

There have been some vague rumblings already since Pope Benedict took over that gave the indication he is fairly conservative in his interpretation of the Bible and the Catholic faith. There is a rumour that Latin could be re-introduced into the services again for instance.

But that is of course nothing to worry people about. In fact the Latin services could be quite beautiful. It’s the move last month to rehabilitate some bishops who had been banished previously that is causing widespread apprehension.

The four bishops have a reputation for being ultra conservative. For instance Bishop Richard Williamson is known to be a part Holocaust denier. Besides this he and the other three bishops were a breakaway group ordained without Vatican permission by the renegade French archbishop Marcel Lefebvre who rejected the reforms of the Second Vatican Council.

What is concerning Jews for instance is the holocaust opinions voiced by Williamson. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has taken this so seriously that she has voiced a strong concern today stating she sincerely hopes the Catholic Church will not decide to endorse this belief.

It’s when the leaders of a particular religion start to support beliefs outside politics and in this case humanitarian scope that one becomes massively concerned for the safety of the world.

It’s bad enough there are extremists from various religious persuasions who interpret their belief systems in such a way as to allow them to wage personal wars, sometimes violently against anybody opposing their beliefs.

The problem becomes huge when an entire religious institution supports some belief system that could lead to a situation where a crime against people could be denied, ignored or even condoned.

By virtue of this belief system it could open the doors to Christian extremists who now feel supported by the church to instigate all sorts of horrific deeds against mankind. Nothing like a touch of religious zeal to get the murdering juices flowing.

  • Lyndall Beddy

    Their opinions on the holocaust are nothing to their fallacies on birth control and the celibacy of priests.

    Believe me if Christ had thought priests/rabbis should be celibate, he would have said so.

  • Perry Curling-Hope

    The separation of Church and State is absolutely fundamental to the functioning of a modern Constitutional Democracy.

    This is because human migrations have resulted in no country on earth having a homogenous society with a uniform set of ‘moral values’ acceptable to all.

    For this reason, ‘moral values’ cannot form the basis of rule of law, and why the state must remain completely secular and non partisan if equality before the law is to be reasonably enjoyed by all.

    Murder is not illegal because it is ‘wrong’, it is illegal because it violates the victim’s right (to life) under the Constitution and as such is a right which the state is bound to uphold in terms of its constitutional mandate.
    It may be considered by many to be ‘wrong’ as well, but that is neither here nor there and is not why the law is in place.

    While few would have a problem with the above statement, some believe things get ‘more complicated’ when considering the death penalty, abortion, homosexual marriages and the like, because such issues are more likely to collide with individual belief systems, usually founded in ‘religious convictions’ which are not uniform and may indeed be extremely diverse within a given society.
    From a constitutional standpoint, it is not more complicated; the same principal applies and constitutional law cannot be objectively formulated to ‘reflect the moral or religious character’ of a nation state because there isn’t one.

    Attempts to establish such states, such as an ‘Islamic Republic’ or ‘Jewish State’ or any one in which lawmaking is subjected to dominant religious influences will always result in the marginalization of groups, the expulsion or persecution of minorities and intractable and tragic conflicts.

    So once religion spills over into the public domain, the situation becomes very “retrograde’ indeed

  • Themba Phakathi

    Your over-emphasis on the one Bishops’ views about the Holocaust obliterates that the banning and thus its recent upliftment are unrelated to the Bishops’ views on the Holocaust.

    However, the issue you are raising is addressed

    I hope you write another post to update your views on the Catholic Church and His Holiness Pope Benedict.

  • Peter van der Merwe

    His Holiness???? Well, excuse me. And here I thought he was just a normal guy who chose to be a priest, like other people become plumbers, accountants and politicians. And isn’t the Catholic Church the single institution that has caused more war, misery and strife than any other in history? Isn’t it a deeply chauvinistic body where men – who strictly speaking should never have sex themselves – get to decide whether women are allowed to use birth control? Isn’t it fantastically wealthy and deeply political? Whatever happened to a church being an organ that brings together people who choose to worship in the same way?

  • Chloe Hardy

    To me it seems that the Catholic Church has been a bit retrograde for some time – after all, this is the church that finally pardoned Galileo 400 years later! (And I speak as someone born and brought up Catholic.)

  • Roy Esterhuizen

    With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.
    – Steven Weinberg

  • Jean

    I’m always dumbfounded by Catholic Priests who preach that Homosexuality is ‘unnatural.’

    If anything is unnatural, surely its not having any sex at all?!

    Anyway, back to the topic. I’d like to take issue with the authors opening sentence: ‘Religion is not something I usually write about, mainly because I don’t want to offend anybody. It is after all everybody’s choice as to how they nurture their soul.’

    It may be how they nurtue the soul, but anybody who makes claims of any nature, religious or otherwise, can legitimately have those claims challenged.

    You should not fear writing about religion simply because religious people get offended.

    Hypersensitivity to challenging and questioning religious claims, values or practices should not prevent us from holding religious people and insitutions to the same standards of accountability which we expect from others.

    Bravo for writing this article.

    I can only hope that it emboldens others to write similar articles on religion which they may have hitherto been too afraid to write.

  • http://Webmail Phillipa Lipinsky

    Thanks a lot Anja. This is a truly interesting article.

  • Joel

    The current inhabitant of the Papacy cannot have been uninfluenced by his time in the Hitler Youth….

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  • Jeff

    To my mind the Catholic Church has always been a retrograde institution, not to mention fascist in its political leanings.
    I agree totally with Jean about the fact that people’s religious feelings deserve no respect just because they are “religious” feelings or opinions.
    It’s a cop-out that religious institutions and people use when they cannot justify their views and dogmas.

  • wild hair

    As folks leave the catholic church and the bishops see their power waning, they have overstepped into the political realm to satisfy their power urges.