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Losing my religion

If the media is to carry such statements as the one by Mgr Grech, then there is an obligation to inform the public of the danger implicit in such statements.

Caroline Muscat
9 November 2010, 12:00am

It seems obvious that the last word the Church authorities should be using at this point in time is the word ‘abuse’, particularly in relation to ‘sex’.  Yet, Gozo Bishop Mario Grech (pictured) has not only chosen to use the two words in the same sentence, but he has gone as far as sayingthat teaching sex education in schools is “tantamount to abuse”.

The Times reported: “The education system may be abusing students if instead of helping them to control their sexual energy it teaches them about contraception,” Mgr Grech said when addressing a conference in Gozo on the theology of the body.

Mgr Grech may have thought it was fine to say what he said because “at the start of his brief address the bishop condemned sexual abuse of minors whether perpetrated by lay people, priests or members of religious orders”.

There is no argument that the sexual exploitation of children by priests is abusive behaviour, by Mgr Grech’s own admission. Yet, I have yet to see a plan of action the Church will take to ensure that this very real abuse never happens again.

The clerical abuse scandal has plunged the Catholic Church into a crisis unlike anything it has experienced since the Protestant Reformation half a millennium ago. Not in Malta, of course; least of all in Gozo.

Talk of justice for the victims of such crimes is not even possible. Consider that it took seven years for the local Church to establish that there was enough evidence to refer the case of five victims of sexual abuse by priests to the Vatican.

The victims have insisted for years that they were abused when they were resident at St Joseph Home for Boys in Santa Venera some 20 years ago. If it took seven years for justice to be delivered, it would already be a scandal. Yet, it took that long just to take their case to the Canonical Tribunal.

If the priests involved are found to have committed the crime, the worst punishment they would face is defrocking. Hardly justice delivered.

English-American author and journalist Christopher Hitchens, together with evolutionary biologist Prof. Richard Dawkins, feel the Pope ought to be tried for "crimes against humanity" because of the allegations of sex abuse by priests on children under their care emerging from different countries around the globe.

Geoffrey Robertson, a senior barrister specialising in human rights cases, writes about priestly paedophile perpetrators, the Vatican and the current Pope in his book ‘The Case of the Pope’. He attempts to address the circumstances which, in his view, have enabled the Pope to evade justice for his alleged role in covering up the abuse scandal.

He indicts Pope Benedict personally, both as Pope since 2005 and in his former role as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith from 1981, for failing to turn paedophile priests over to the civil authorities. Moreover, he argues that the Vatican's pretensions to sovereign statehood have granted the Pope immunity from standing trial for his part in the cover-ups.

This is what is being debated beyond Malta’s borders, where Mgr Grech’s words would have not seen the light of day. But, apart from the inappropriate choice of words in his speech, what Mgr Grech chose to preach is wrong in more ways than one.

I was the product of Catholic education… until I reached the age of reason as George Carlin once said. I know what results from a lack of sex education in schools.

I met some friends from school recently and we shared some of these stories. We didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. These are a few of them:

·      A school friend once tried to convince the rest of the class that she was conceived when her mother sat on the toilet seat after her father.

·      The question on whether it was true you could only get pregnant after an orgasm went around classrooms for months.

·      The assertion that you could not get pregnant if you had sex standing up was generally seen to be logical until someone brought a magazine to school.

·      Most believed that you could only get pregnant like cats and dogs, when you’re ‘on heat’ (during menstruation).

·      Then there was the story about the nun that slipped and fell onto a candlestick… you can imagine why that story was created.

When education does not answer the questions of curious children, then these misconceptions gain ground. These stories may be funny, but the end result was a number of unwanted pregnancies and the often disastrous marriages that followed. Advice on sexually transmitted diseases is also an important factor.

Doesn’t it make sense to teach the subject responsibly? Not according to representatives of the Church who think that because they chose life-long abstinence (with varying degrees of success) then the rest of us should hold back too.

Saying sex education is abuse is like saying condoms could not solve the problems of Aids and could even make things worse. The Pope actually said that last year before his first official visit to Africa.

What is being said here will not go down well with most Maltese who still define their life by the ‘teaching’ of the Catholic Church. They are prepared to defy logic and reason to defend what they know to be true. That is understandable, and I believe that every individual has a right to live by what s/he believes.

My problem is the lack of tolerance for people who think differently. Those who want to live by the ‘teachings’ of the Catholic Church are free to do so. Those who think differently should have the same rights.

That is the point of having the separation between Church and State. In a democratic society, it is the government’s role to ensure there is no discrimination against people who think differently.

In a democratic society, it is the media’s role to reproduce statements responsibly. If the media is to carry such statements as the one by Mgr Grech, then there is an obligation to inform the public of the danger implicit in such statements. Failure to do so implies either a bias towards popular belief or an unquestioning loyalty to one of the most powerful institutions in the country.

There’s a reason why it’s important to say these things. They matter.

If it is anti-Catholic to believe that child-rape is wrong, that stopping the spread of AIDs in Africa is more important than religious discomfort about condom use, and that sexual health trumps dogmatic adherence to outdated notions of purity and morality, then I for one am proud to have a mind of my own.

MORE: Caroline Muscat’s blog

alex aquilina
Ms. Muscat's article reminds me of sermons by a monk at school in the late sixties. He told a terrified gathering of students that the sin of "impurity" (masturbation) led to eternal damnation in the next world and, in this one, to diseases like madness, blindness, sterility and other things I will not mention. As to purity, this is a metaphysical notion which makes no sense: only matter can be pure or unpure such as metals or chemicals. Sex has nothing to do with purity or impurity except in the minds of ancient Church fathers like Augustine and Jerome whose influence on Chrisitian thought is still immense. The sooner they are consigned to the dustheap, the better. Only science and reason have a place in modern thought. The irrational terror weapon is still the most useful in the Catholic priests' arsenal. They have power because people still believe in hell, including some politicians who will aid and abet the priests to subjugate the faithful by threats of the eternal non-consuming conflagration. There is not one iota of evidence that any religion has any truth in it. The Bible was written by humans and the Church put into Jesus's mouth, in the canonical gospels, that which it needed to prove its point. No one knows what Jesus said and no one can prove he was anything but a human being. Malta will not be truly democratic until state and Church are really separate which is not the cae at present. Indeed, in the last few years we have regressed.
Andrew Mallia
To continue on the previous: notice how much time he spends on the island of Malta. Notice the strong presence he has among parishes in Malta, instead of keeping himself within his Diocese of Gozo. Notice also the frequent times his sermons find their way in the media, in contrast with the quiet and the silence of Mgr Cremona who is, in fact the Archbishop. Notice also the absolute absence of the Auxiliary Bishop / Vicar General of Malta, Mgr Annetto Depasquale. Notice also the quasi-absence of the Pro-Vicar General, Mgr Gouder.
Andrew Mallia
It is also a fact that the reason why Mgr Grech wants his words splashed over the media is that he is eyeing the Archiepiscopal See of Malta. It is known among Maltese priests that Mgr Cremona will not be Archbishop for very long and that Mgr Grech wants to become Archbishop of Malta. Hence all the importance that he is trying to put on himself in order to impress the Holy See to choose him to succeed Cremona.
joseph schembri
I think it's fairly obvious what's going on here. The Catholic Church is in decline and is desperately in need of new blood. Notice the high incidence of teen pregnancies in Republican states in the US since the start of Bush Jnr's term in office (when sex education must conform to the religious agenda). They just want a fresh batch of Christians. New bums on old pews.
The best theatre in the world goes on for daily public viewing inside the Vatican and outside at St. Peter’s Square. It should be called the “Theatre of the Absurd”, but instead a billion strong believe everything the Vatican says hook, line and sinker. And if the truth be known that the Vatican is built on a million lies, as Louis Armsrong would say, what a wonderful world it would be! One of the biggest theatrical sideshows the Vatican likes to put on is when it decides to canonize a saint. Nowhere does the Bible authorize making pagan gods or saints out of mere mortals. But, like Hollywood, anything is possible at the Vatican. And making a saint is as easy as waving a magic wand for the Holy See producers and directors, seeing they are well-versed in creating big shows like phony mother Mary apparitions and other staged miracles which makes Hollywood look like a two-bit Mid Western circus operation.
Manwel Debattista
Monsignor Grech is smarter than we think. He is merely deflecting criticism of the Church onto others. He is taking the offensive. That offensive includes setting up someone for sainthood. Saints are commodities. I am delighted to hear such rubbish from Grech as I am confident that most Maltese and Gozitans in their heart of hearts see his comments for what they are. You wonder where these clerics get their qualificataions from!
CAROLINE, it has been well noted, that the reason most elderly and especially the selected many of the high echelon of the catholic church are always reading or quoting the bible has a lot to do with preparing to pass that final and ultimate exam.
Top Ten Signs You're a Fundamentalist Christian 10 - You vigorously deny the existence of thousands of gods claimed by other religions, but feel outraged when someone denies the existence of yours. 9 - You feel insulted and "dehumanized" when scientists say that people evolved from other life forms, but you have no problem with the Biblical claim that we were created from dirt. 8 - You laugh at polytheists, but you have no problem believing in a Triune God. 7 - Your face turns purple when you hear of the "atrocities" attributed to Allah, but you don't even flinch when hearing about how God/Jehovah slaughtered all the babies of Egypt in "Exodus" and ordered the elimination of entire ethnic groups in "Joshua" including women, children, and trees! 6 - You laugh at Hindu beliefs that deify humans, and Greek claims about gods sleeping with women, but you have no problem believing that the Holy Spirit impregnated Mary, who then gave birth to a man-god who got killed, came back to life and then ascended into the sky. 5 - You are willing to spend your life looking for little loopholes in the scientifically established age of Earth (few billion years), but you find nothing wrong with believing dates recorded by Bronze Age tribesmen sitting in their tents and guessing that Earth is a few generations old. 4 - You believe that the entire population of this planet with the exception of those who share your beliefs -- though excluding those in all rival sects - will spend Eternity in an infinite Hell of Suffering. And yet consider your religion the most "tolerant" and "loving." 3 - While modern science, history, geology, biology, and physics have failed to convince you otherwise, some idiot rolling around on the floor speaking in "tongues" may be all the evidence you need to "prove" Christianity. 2 - You define 0.01% as a "high success rate" when it comes to answered prayers. You consider that to be evidence that prayer works. And you think that the remaining 99.99% FAILURE was simply the will of God. 1 - You actually know a lot less than many atheists and agnostics do about the Bible, Christianity, and church history - but still call yourself a Christian.
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