This fixation on matters ‘spiritual’

Paula Kirby says she was, at first, impressed by the pope’s letter to the Irish about the child-rape problem.

How many politicians or corporations have been able to bring themselves to say, ‘You have suffered grievously and I am truly sorry’? I was impressed. (On reflection, perhaps more impressed than I should have been, given that statements of contrition trip lightly off the tongues of those who repeat them daily in Mass or in the Confessional, and are told that repentance is all that is required to release them from guilt.)

Exact, as they say in Sweden. The contrition sounded entirely empty and in fact insulting, to me, for that very reason, but then I’ve been soaked in the malfeasance of the Irish Catholic church for a few years now. Anyway Paula got over it as soon as she read further.

Yet this was offset by what followed, a bewildering ramble blaming the problem on the growing secularisation of Irish society and the resulting failure of Catholics to observe practices such as frequent confession, daily prayer and annual retreats. It tried to suggest that the sense of betrayal should be directed towards the church authorities in Ireland – creating the entirely misleading impression that those authorities had somehow acted off their own bat and had not simply been following instructions from the Vatican itself.

Didn’t it though. In sort it did what it always does; it failed to admit that the church itself as an institution had behaved criminally and sadistically, full stop. Reading Geoffrey Robertson QC’s The Case of the Pope: Vatican Accountability for Human Rights Abuse made sense of all that for Paula:

The answer, it turns out, is simple. The Vatican is not interested in crime. The Vatican is only interested in sin.

Sin is an offence against God: the victims are God, the church, and the soul of the sinner.

Just so, and this is why Karen Armstrong’s claim that compassion is at the heart of every great religion is such nonsense. No it isn’t. God is at the heart of every “great” religion (making Hinduism and Buddhism something other than “great,” which in this case is probably a compliment). God is at the heart, not compassion, and that means that what humans are supposed to be is above all obedient, not compassionate. It’s not an accident that “islam” means submission; it’s just surprising that it took so long.

This fixation on matters ‘spiritual’, this obsession with religious dogma and ‘sin’ rather than suffering and crime, and with ‘penance’ and ‘redemption’ rather than justice and concern for the victims, is deeply, inherently immoral. For how can there be morality without empathy? How can there be justice without redress for the victim? Under canon law, the law of the Vatican, which the Pope still insists is the only law that may be applied to his child-rapists, the perceived abuse of a wafer counts for more than the actual abuse of real, human, flesh and blood.

And they mean it. This isn’t some aberration, some temporary bit of reaction; this is what the Catholic church is.

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