14 September 2010

Musings of a Catholic blogger: Why Peter Tatchell's C4 documentary 'The trouble with the Pope' lost my respect.

Originally a facebook note I wrote on Tuesday, 14 September 2010 at 23:53

How best do I start this note?

Well... Just a couple of hours ago, I watched Peter Tatchell's documentary on Channel 4, and have since been lightly bantering on twitter with a very decent sounding person who disagrees with everything the Pope says, about said documentary.

Can I just start off with saying, that for the past five years, I have been an avidly practicing Catholic. Surprised? No? Well... then what I'm about to say IS going to surprise you. Six months ago, I would have empathised with some of what Tatchell was saying in his documentary. Six months ago, I would have been battling with myself trying to understand why most of my other Catholic friends see contraception as a sin, and just why the Catholic Church is so against it - just as Tatchell battles with it now. Somehow, somewhere in the back of my heart and mind, I felt that contraception is wrong - but I couldn't tell you with such full conviction WHY I felt that way. I just didn't know.
I would have empathised with Tatchell on seeing those pictures of impoverished Filipino families (and I am half Filipina myself), then saying to myself, I don't understand how the Church can see this state of living and continue to disregard artificial contraception. I would have seen their destitution as 'misfortunate' as Tatchell himself puts it.
I would have empathised with Tatchell on seeing a disabled person dying, and seeing some level of hope for their children in stem-cell embryonic research, even though I knew deep down that there was some profound reason why the Church is against it, but didn't understand what it is.
However, I couldn't say I empathise with Tatchell on the Richard Williamson case, as I'm not sure as to what the truth is on that. I don't know the history of this case, and so I can't really comment.

There are a couple of things that I did agree with Tatchell on. I, like Tatchell, and many other Catholic believers think that the Church should have done, and can do more to reconcile with victims of abuse. Now - I am not privy to any abuse victim's opinions, or sharing of their stories, so all I've got to go on is what Sue Cox and other abuse victims that have gone public about their awfully traumatic experiences at the hands of sinners have said. But I feel it's safe to say, since the 70's not much HAS been done for the Church to reconcile with each of those hurt souls. I personally do not believe that just a letter is a big enough sign of compassion and love that the Church is so entirely capable of. I think when Tatchell said  the Church is 'ignoring the real pain Catholics feel about abuse', I agree in one way that he is right about the fact that more could have been done, but the other side of this coin is to say that the Church doesn't care - and I don't think this is the case neither. The Church does care - that's what the Church is all about. I feel that they just didn't really know how to handle it all, and then young priests come into the picture, with the abusers leaving the picture, and somehow the Church let the next generation in without proper preparation of handling the situation, and providing that care the victims so badly needed.

Having said that, since the 70's, there have been humoungous steps made by the Church to protect children from abuse.  My friend wrote a note clarifying that the peak of abuse in the Church was in the 1970s and has declined ever since, whilst sexual abuse from the rest of society has risen exponentially. Surely this means that the Church has been working hard to protect children ever since - not because it 'might get caught out by the media' but because in our faith, every child is a child of God - whether or not they wish to accept it themselves - and we must do everything in our power to protect every life. Not only is it required in Canon law to report all cases of sexual abuse to the top of the Church, but also to to the authorities as is fit in the country which the sinful and criminal act has taken place.

Going back to this Filipino family as mentioned before, Tatchell interviewed a slightly radical Filipino priest demanding a Vatican III council, and although I don't quite agree with everything he says, I do agree with the idea that the priest is called to serve, not to be served. He mentioned that Bishops should go out to the slums and serve. And in a way, this painted a really beautiful picture in my mind. [Post-publishing edit] I agree with my friend that "Our clergy give up their lives for the Church forgoing so many things that people take for granted in order to bring us the Gospel. I can only imagine the depth of inner strength required to fulfil such an obligation but so many do with humility, courage , dignity and very little thanks". Yet I cannot help but feel that it would still be nice to see our Bishops more often, gracing us with their services once in a while, despite knowing deep down that they have been called to this quiet and private apostolate by God [end edit]. The scenes in Philippines highlight the plight of an impoverished family with 8 children. The mother doesn't use contraception because her priest tells her it's a sin.

I'm not sure where Tatchell got his '1-5% of all priests are abusers' from, and during which period this study was conducted, but I don't believe for one second that is the case this present day. Tatchell's misconceptions of letters and doctrine was quite a shocker to me. I picked up on 3 things he says or does:
1) He refers to 1968 Humanae Vitae encyclical ruling out methods of birth control as dishonest teaching.
2) Homosexuality is 'a tendency toward intrinsic moral evil'.
3) He sexualises Newman's love for Ambrose.

This brings me to my quintessential point. Tatchell all throughout the programme criticises Pope Benedict XVI's defence of the Church teachings on all the above things.  But not once, did I ever see Tatchell ATTEMPT to understand or even contemplate the Church's teachings. He interviews Fiona O'Reilly of Catholic Voices, but not once did he really question 'Why does the Church say this or that?'. And this is what really bugs me about the whole documentary. I would have found it a more respectable documentary if Tatchell even bothered to give both sides of the argument, but I gauged that his interview with Fiona was a deaf one and his interest in reasonings were non-existent, that his interview was an unbelievably futile attempt to attack the truth with a closed, fixed opinion. If Tatchell had said... 'Ok... now I understand Pope Benedict's / Catholic point of view. I understand that to you, every life is precious, and that includes why you consider embryonic research as life-killing. I understand that you are against gay sex and marriage because to you, it goes against what you believe is God's will of people on earth to procreate - and by nature, same-sex couples are not able to conceive. But I do not agree with that and I still believe that what I feel is right', then that's fair enough. But he doesn't. He attacks, and he attacks, and he attacks some more, but doesn't try to understand the roots behind what we believe, and why the Church teachings have not changed. He admits during the documentary himself... that he just doesn't understand.  And that's why I consider his documentary to be, hmmm... how should I put it? A one sided coin, perhaps? I would have said a bit of a joke, but none of the issues covered in the documentary are joking matters.

As a result, this documentary has become a tool to unjustifiably attack the Church teachings, without even understanding the teachings himself. I do not call this wise. I'm not wise myself, and I'm a crud writer (as you can see), but Tatchell is just not wise, and this kind of blemishes the reputation of anything he says at the moment, in my opinion. Of course Tatchell is not a man of God - if he was, he wouldn't sexualise Newman's love for Ambrose! That was just disgusting. Referring to my 3rd point above, I was physically disgusted when I heard Tatchell hint at this possibility. There are many different types of love, Tatchell. One of them is the all-consuming divine love of God. Don't try to confuse that with the earthly sexual pleasures, as many secularists are most concerned with these days. I have been touched by this same love Newman felt for his fellow brother in Christ... His love, the love of God, and His truth. I now know in my heart what is good, and what is right, whereas I didn't six months ago, and this is why I cannot agree with Tatchell on nearly anything he says in his documentary.

Let me then address, for the benefit of organising my thoughts better on computer screen, on at least one of the other 2 points I made above:1) The 1968 Humanae Vitae encyclical banning out methods of birth control as dishonest teaching. How is it dishonest teaching? The Catholic belief around the value of every human life is entirely complex, but perhaps I can clarify my own thoughts in this manner by trying to simplify things. Every human life is precious to a Catholic. I believe God forms each human being in the womb, and this formation begins when an egg has been fertilised by a sperm - which we all know to become an embryo. The embryo is a living organism, and because it is destined to shapen into the human form, I believe it already has a soul, and is therefore a life with potential (not just a potential for life). This discovery is one way science has truly helped the Church. So... if I consider this embryo as a life already, wouldn't that make embryonic stem cell research look to me as though they're piercing and prodding and potentially killing a child that is... say... already born?Let me then look at artificial contraception. I think it's clearly understood why Catholics see abortion as life-taking. So I won't tackle that here. But I will say a little something about contraception in the context of the 1968 Humanae Vitae (http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/paul_vi/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-vi_enc_25071968_humanae-vitae_en.html). Please don't quote me - I'm no theologian, or educated religious. But I know that I believe in this document for just reasons. We have been put here on this earth by God's will. Catholics believe our bodies and our souls do not just belong to ourselves, they belong to God. It has been more and more accepted in society that the act of love means a 'fantastic f*ck'. Do excuse my crudeness, but I am reflecting what I read in the media and overhear on the bus day-in, day-out... probably just as many of my Catholic friends do. That is genuinely what people see sex as today. It's a physical pleasure that can bring you 'all sorts of happiness'. I personally see this attitude as very self-gratifying and also offensive to God; but I don't expect people who share my views to understand that, and I hope they respect that these are my views, and that I haven't said this to harm anyone. Other than the fact that artificial contraception stops life forming which (in Leviticus, I think) is classed as an offense to God, it is also the easy way out of putting yourself in irresponsible situations (in the case of pregnancy) and seeking earthly pleasure above that given from God. Providing condoms to an irresponsible teenager is not the way to solve their problem of irresponsible behaviour now, is it? These problems need to be tackled at the root, not at the surface. I once asked a work friend what their opinion was of the Swiss couple that rejected the homosexual couple from lodging in their B&B home. And her reply to me was that 'It is pure discrimination. if you're going to behave in that way, don't run a B&B. Don't put yourself in that position in the first place.' A few weeks later, we were talking about contraception, and she'd mentioned something about condoms being so important to preventing pregnancy. And my only reply to her was... 'well... if you want to prevent pregnancy, then don't put yourself in that position in the first place.' That's the funny thing about Pope Benedict's visit: He is telling people just what they can't stand to hear. People can't stand the idea that they can't have sex just to prevent pregnancy. Because people are selfish, and do not understand the true value of life.

2) For all of my gay friends, I never wish to hurt or offend you in any way. If you are interested in what I have to say though, you might want to read the document Tatchell refers to in full (http://www.ewtn.com/library/curia/cdfhomop.htm). The sentence which Tatchell picked up on is 'Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and this the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder.'... right? That is what Tatchell quotes, right? I think that may very well be wrong! Tatchell misinterprets the doctrine to say that homosexuality is an intrinsic moral evil - and so he aggressively asks Fiona O'Reilly if she thinks he is an intrinsic moral evil to her face. Well, considering what Tatchell believes, I think it's fair enough to applaud that he can ask a Catholic representative that question to their face. But as you can see above, Tatchell clearly doesn't pick up on the fact that doctrine says 'the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin'. If the person is not a sin, it is therefore not evil. 'It is a strong tendency toward intrinsic moral evil'. Break that down and you get ' the homosexual inclination' i.e. the resulting activity of that inclination is evil. I do understand why Pope Benedict stands by the 1968 Humanae Vitae, even if I wouldn't have used those words. But yep, you're right, God loves every single soul, no matter whether you are gay or not. And just for the record, I do not agree with what the Swiss couple did at their B&B.

Wow... Ok my musings have reached an immense word count. I think that's enough of my rantings for now. But just to basically summarise, that had Peter Tatchell really tried to understand any of the reasons why Pope Benedict defends Church teachings, and why he isn't a bad man, then I'd have respected his documentary a lot more than I do.


J.Ashenden said...

Amazingly good and rational arguments here. I enjoyed reading it and marvelled at the trouble you went to and the detailed knowledge you included.
I think you should get a wider audience...maybe try sending it to a Catholic paper: Herald or Tablet

Mark said...

This is a long post, so I won't reply to everything, but will pick out a few points.

Richard Williamson is a sexist holocaust denier. It's easy to find evidence - he believes women shouldn't wear trousers or attend university: http://web.archive.org/web/20071102091508/www.sspx.ca/Documents/Bishop-Williamson/September1-2001.htm
Here's clear anti-semitism: http://archive.catholicherald.co.uk/articles/a0000226.shtml
And he is a convicted criminal holocaust denier: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/36595788

None of this was secret information, the Vatican were surely aware of his long held views, and would have been keeping an eye on the SSPX for years.

You said that:"The embryo is a living organism, and because it is destined to shapen into the human form, I believe it already has a soul, and is therefore a life with potential (not just a potential for life). This discovery is one way science has truly helped the Church. So... if I consider this embryo as a life already, wouldn't that make embryonic stem cell research look to me as though they're piercing and prodding and potentially killing a child that is... say... already born?"

The problem with this argument is that you state that you believe an embryo has a soul. You are entitled to your belief, but a problem arises when you use this as a basis to affect public policy, as it's a claim you cannot back up. It doesn't even have a strong internal logic - if this is the case why do 25% of pregancies result in a miscarriage (the majority in the very early days of embryo formation) - why would god create a soul that dies after a few days without any experience of human life?

I can't quite make sense of your argument about contraception. I assume you're not relying on Leviticus, as then you'd have to accept all the other restrictions the chapter sets out. Do you accept that people have sex outside marriage, whether you like it or not? That most people do not believe this to be immoral? If this is the case then surely it is only responsible to promote safer sex, to prevent the spread of disease? To expect the entire continent of Africa to abstain is not a realistic answer to the spread of AIDs. To call people selfish simply because they do not share your views on abstinance is somewhat judgemental isn't it?

Lastly, I think I abhor the 'hate the sin and not the sinner' approach of the church to homosexuality more than I do upfront homophobia. You are denying people their true nature, in quite a nasty way. By saying it's ok to be gay without living a gay life (ie avoiding 'the homosexual inclination' you are clearly saying that being gay is wrong, but using weasel words to avoid directly saying the person is evil. Would it be ok to say to a black person - I'm not racist, but I'd prefer it if you pretended to be white? Why would god create gay animals if this behaviour was wrong?

Pilgrim.Claz said...

Hi Mark,

Thanks for your comment.

I attempted to post my reply this morning, but the comment box didn't allow my reply over the 4096 character allowance. Instead, I've put up my response as my latest blogpost: http://bit.ly/auBU9u