Ireland in the 20th Century: for countless small children, orphans alone in the world and children confined in special prisons for some petty crime against property or for bunking off school, life in institutions and schools run by Catholic priests and nuns was a childhood-long nightmare of violence at the hands of nuns, priests and Christian Brothers (a male, monklike, celibate, teaching order).
There was no escape other than by way of the slow process of growing up in a priest and nun-made Hell, and then being released, often psychically maimed, into the adult world.
In the nature of things, some of the victims would in turn prey on children as they themselves had been preyed upon.
A religious person, therefore, might see the hand of a just and vindictive God in the protracted nightmare in which the Catholic Church itself has now been caught up for more than a decade. Waves after seemingly endless waves of revelations about the abuse of children all across the world have battered the Church.
The latest allegations concern Pope Benedict the 16th, who is accused of personal involvement when he was a bishop in covering up for paedophile priests — one of whom is alleged to have sexually assaulted 200 deaf children — and allowing them to continue working with children in the dioceses to which they had been moved.
In this chapter of clerical horrors, it was common practice, a clerical ritual you might say, to move paedophile priests, whose character had become too well-known where they were, into new areas where they were not known. In practice, that was to give them a new supply of children to molest.
In the Bible, Jesus Christ is made to say: “Suffer the little children to come unto me.” In this church, a vast number of paedophiles were moved about as if with the intention to reverse the meaning usually attributed to Christ’s words: they inflicted unspeakable suffering on hordes of innocent children.
The mixture of cynicism, moral imbecility and long-sustained arrogance is breathtaking. The story is so bizarre that we might be watching a very crude anti-clerical film made in 1930s Mexico or by Spanish anarchists in the same period.
It beggars the imagination to understand what the administrators of the church thought they were doing. And how they reconciled what they did with any code of right and wrong, clerical or secular.
Religion is “the opium of the people”? This religion became a licence for priests to prey on the young and vulnerable.
Of course it was not only in Catholic institutions that children were, and are, thus abused. It is now clear that orphanages and children’s prisons were — and many still surely are — everywhere an archipelago of physical and sexual abuse of the children “cared for” by adults, many of whom had been drawn to such professions for no other reason than the opportunities they offered for such abuse. Yet there is a peculiar horror in such behaviour by priests — priests who collectively lay down the moral law, especially the sexual moral law, and police it.
This Pope, this Church so many of whose priestly elite were the worst sort of sexual criminals, lays it down that it is a mortal sin, even in AIDS-ravaged Africa, to use a penile sheath to prevent the spread of disease (or for that matter a sheath or an IUD, or chemicals, to control conception)! In his capacity of spiritual absolute monarch of one and a quarter billion Catholics, he tells his “flock” that they will burn for all time in the never-ending fires of Hell for such sexual offences against “God’s law”!
In Ireland, from the second half of the nineteenth century until very recently, the bishops and their legions of priests imposed a particularly severe and savagely enforced sexual puritanism that maimed many generations of those who accepted its norms of sexual right and wrong, sin and spiritual cleanliness. The revelations that many of those who enforced such rules were sexual predators against children, and that priests and bishops who were not themselves predators protected and covered up for those who were, has had a shattering effect on the standing and moral credibility of the Catholic Church.
For many people the scandal is playing the role of spiritual and intellectual liberator — a liberation that comes at a very high price to the victims of the clergy. For them it may also be a lesson in the absurdity of basing morality on “traditional values” and on sacred texts interpreted by priests — on anything other than reason.
The crying need for reason, human reason, for a rational, humanist outlook on life and on morality, could not be more strongly made than it is in this sorry tale.
Marxists are not simplistic secularists and rationalists. Religion is rooted in the human condition, the social as well existential. The fundamental fight against religion is the fight to change the human social conditions that need and therefore creates and recreate the hunger for religious consolation.
“Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.” Karl Marx: (Contribution to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right).
Even so, this affair, as well as the present world-role of political Islam, dramatises the need to fight here and now for humanism and against God-ism — for human reason against irrational faith and organised religion.