Spare me the Catholic bashing – Tanya Gold’s column about the pope in G2 earlier this week was hateful and wrong
Melanie McDonagh – Friday October 2 2009 – The Guardian
Unlike, say, David Cameron and Gordon Brown, I felt dread at the news that the pope was to visit Britain. Nice to have the chance to see him, obviously, me being a Catholic and him the successor of Peter. But you had to ask, was it worth it for the opportunity it would give the people who just can’t stick Catholicism to get the boot in? The old gibe, that anti-Catholicism is the antisemitism of the left, looked like being given a new lease of life.
I didn’t have to wait long. Tanya Gold, in Tuesday’s G2, pretty well summed up every prejudice going, other than the one about him being a Nazi. She summarised the charges thus: “Joseph Ratzinger has colluded in the protection of paedophiles and the deaths of millions of Africans.” Mmm. She says he said that bishops shouldn’t notify the police about allegations of child abuse under pain of excommunication. And that he gave an easy ride to Marcial Maciel Degollado, founder of a religious order, a sex abuser. And, most seriously, the Pope caused countless Aids deaths in Africa by upholding the church’s prohibition on condoms, even saying that they may aggravate the problem. She concludes: “Don’t tread on the corpses.”
It made me a bit sick, reading all this. Partly because it was hateful; chiefly because it was false.
Let’s start with the allegation about child abuse, much of which was rehearsed in an Observer article in 2005. The stuff about excommunication supposedly for anyone welshing on a paedophile was aired in a 2006 BBC Panorama programme, quoting a 1967 document called Crimen Sollicitationis, which was actually about abuse of the confessional, not about paedophilia.
You can say a lot about Pope Benedict, but he wasn’t soft on child abuse. Quite the reverse. As head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he took charge of US cases of child abuse; it made his hair stand on end. In one address, he talked about it as “filth”. Under his aegis, the church in individual countries has implemented policies on child protection which are based precisely on the need to alert the police where there are allegations of abuse (in Britain the guidelines were based on a report by Lord Nolan, independently of the church).
Marcial Maciel, the head of the Legionaries of Christ, was a bastard who abused young women and men, some as young as 12. I hope he’s burning in hell. But the fact is, as soon as Ratzinger, later Benedict, had a chance to act against him, in 1994, he did. He had to wait until he had the authority, when his predecessor was dying, but he sent the man into exile.
The only reason he wasn’t subjected to a full-on canonical trial was because of his age and poor health ? he was in his 80s. And it is clear that the pope will pursue this, even if it means dismantling an entire order.
What’s to say about Africa and Aids? Except that if the pope were as omnipotent as people make out, he’d be able to make individuals subscribe to the whole package of Catholic teaching on sexuality, on fidelity within marriage and chastity, not just condoms. I’ve never quite been able to believe in Catholics ? Africans or otherwise ? who are so scrupulous that they couldn’t possibly use condoms, but will resort to prostitutes.
There are cardinals ? including Cormac Murphy-O’Connor ? who feel that women who use condoms to protect themselves against infection by husbands with HIV are simply exercising their legitimate right to self-defence. But any case against the church ought also to acknowledge that it is the single biggest provider of HIV-Aids care in Africa. It is also, incidentally, one of the biggest providers of girls’ education in Africa, the most effective empowerment of all.
The pope talks about a lot of things, chiefly about love of neighbour and the poor (he was passionately against the war in Iraq), and about the sins of capitalism. He doesn’t deserve to be turned into a bloody Guy Fawkes effigy.