Monday, March 22, 2010

As Well As Being Offensive, Pope's Letter to Irish Catholics is Emotional Blackmail

I am extremely annoyed by this. No, I'm pissed. Very much so. Not only does the Pope not admit any Vatican responsibility, impose any real punishment or propose any kind of assistance to the victims and their families aside from prayer (?!), but in a few lines he manages to push all the right buttons in the Irish psyche for a spiritual call to arms for those who might, even after all of this, have any lingering respect for the church.

Let me explain. Irish people are sensitive to criticism of catholicism for historical reasons - being a catholic in Ireland before Catholic Emancipation around 1829 was in effect being a slave. Look up the Penal Laws if you're interested, it's not pretty reading. In Northern Ireland, until relatively recently, if you were a catholic you had a hard time getting a decent job or good housing: your address gave you away and you were quietly filtered you out. This wasn't official British Government policy, but that's the way it happened on the ground in a protestant dominated society, and appears to have been tolerated by the establishment. Most people with whom I grew up aren't religious, but non-catholics criticising catholicism raises hackles. Even for myself, a recovering catholic and atheist, there's still a small voice in the back of my head (I ignore it, of course) that raises its hand timidly when the church is criticised. I hope to shut it up one day. I believe this comes from my childhood, when the only criticism of catholicism we knew of came from Northern Ireland, where certain extremists wanted the pope hung, and catholics kicked out. Of course, given that most of my generation have grandparents that were involved in the war of independence in the early twentieth century, the linking of catholicism to being Irish was inevitable. A good Irish person went to mass every Sunday and knew about Irish independence. Even today, baptism, first communion, and confirmation are practiced by people who wouldn't go near a Church otherwise. Why? It's part of the culture. Even for many of those who aren't true believers, the church is so deeply intertwined with daily life that many people accept these practices on autopilot, even if they haven't been to a mass in decades. What it essentially boils down to is this: Attacking catholicism was, and maybe still is for some, akin to attacking Ireland and Irishness.

That's what the Pope is trying to exploit

He speaks of Irish Catholics as having been persecuted in the past, and rising up after emancipation to spread the faith worldwide. These are historical facts, but bringing up these emotional subjects is for some Irish people like having your patriotism questioned. If you're not a good catholic, then you're not a good Irish citizen. It's not explicit, and in fact most people would probably deny it outright, but it's there, in the murky depths of our collective cultural subconciousness. In effect, the Pope is reminding us of how the church was there for Ireland during the bad times, now it's our turn to stand by the church in its time of need. To me, this smacks of emotional blackmail, trying to call out anyone who has a hint of respect for catholicism to come back to the church. The Irish are catholics, so if you're Irish, well.....follow the logic. Basically this letter says two things:

1) Yes, we fucked up, but if you pray lots more it'll be alright;

2) Remember your heritage: If you're REALLY Irish, you'll come back to the church.

Hardcore catholics will forgive anything and are probably hopeless cases, but my hope is that the majority of Irish people will see this for what it is: a cynical attempt to browbeat people back to the church using a call to patriotism.

And is the Pope really asking all catholics in Ireland to pray for the church? That's his fix? Do penance for the sins of a few wayward priests (no penance for the priests, mind you, just the congregation) and all will be well? This is the twenty first century, isn't it?

This medieval nonsense MUST stop.

Instead, how about this for starters, Mr. Pope:

* Sell off a few buildings and set up worldwide secular psychological counselling services for the victims of this horrific, systematic violence perpetrated against the most vulnerable in society.
* Appoint an independent, secular commitee to investigate the role of the church in covering for pedophile priests. And then let the law of the land judge those found responsible.

That would be a start. Words are easy: it's actions that count.

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