Following the announcement today that Joseph Ratzinger will resign from the position as Spiritual leader for the world’s one billion catholics, Pressenza republishes this article questioning the authority of the Catholic Church to give out lessons in morality.

Tony Robinson writes in a personal capacity about proposals in the UK to legalise same sex marriages.

Debate has been raging for months now about the bringing into law of proposals to allow same sex marriages to take place in the UK.  Political leaders across the spectrum of parties are in favour of removing this discrimination, a position which has been most surprising in the Conservative Party leader, and current Prime Minister, who said in his party conference speech in 2011, “I don’t support gay marriage despite being a Conservative. I support gay marriage because I’m a Conservative.”

Conservatives historically have been among the most vocal opponents of human rights for gays and lesbians with Margaret Thatcher introducing nasty legislation for local government through an amendment that stated that a local authority “shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality” or “promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”.  This legislation stayed on the statute books until 2003.

Since then the Conservative leadership position has changed 180 degrees and with the Liberal Democrats, who have always been among the most progressive politicians in these matters, together in their coalition government they have introduced a consultation of the population with the aim of introducing legislation in their five year term of office.

The Conservative leadership, however, does not always represent the views of all the MPs and so it is in this case with many high profile Conservatives denouncing the moves to change the legal definition of marriage.

However, it is the voice of religious leaders that have been the most vociferous in their position against equal rights and it is here that this article wishes to focus because it is time that someone said it.  The Catholic Church has no right to intervene in questions of morality or what is right and wrong or the lifestyles that people should adopt.

Let us not forget that this institution is the one that introduced the Inquisition in which thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people were murdered for “heresy”, for not accepting the official interpretations of the Church.  The fact that any church preaching a doctrine that calls itself Christian can feel itself morally within its right to take the life of another human being should be enough information to call for the institution to be closed down for good.

Let’s add to this the modern day teachings of the Catholic Church where condoms are denounced and sex is denied to its priests.

The lack of teaching on the use of condoms has contributed to the deaths of millions of sub-Saharan Africans through HIV/AIDS.  Whereas the lack of sex allowed to priests has created monsters of all kinds who have sexually abused countless children around the world, and then the church has tried to cover it up.  In the latest development, the Catholic Church in Germany has called off a study into sexual abuse citing a “breakdown of trust”.  In retaliation, Christian Pfeiffer, the head of the KFN institute undertaking the investigation accused Church officials of hampering his team’s research efforts by continually attempting to intervene in and control the investigation.

The sad thing is that there are thousands of young men around the world who grow up feeling that there is something not quite right about them because they are sexually attracted to other men and cannot relate to the sexual desires for women expressed by their friends.  In small conservative communities and big conservative countries, these young men frequently find their way into the seminaries of the Catholic Church because not marrying and having sex with women is part of the job description.

I lived in Poland for 3 years and heard several stories of my gay friends dating guys from the local seminary.  Nothing scientific here of course, but anecdotal evidence that the next generation of abusers are already being trained to supress their urges which will, sometimes, later explode in the most horrifying way.  If young men are joining an organisation to try to supress their most inner desires and fears, and not joining because they truly have a spiritual calling to devote themselves to their god’s work, then the resulting child abuse is not surprising.

Let’s take the Church’s position regarding women.

Women who make up around 50% of the world’s population are denied equality in the Church.  Again we can ask, where exactly does the right to give out moral advice come from?  How can an organisation so deeply discriminatory in its roots be allowed to speak on matters of morality and discrimination?  It is not just the Catholic Church in this case who trample all over human rights, the Anglican Church has also been unable to move with the times through their denial of the highest positions to women, although in this case at least the straight vicars are not expected to supress their sexuality, even if the gay ones are.

What most offends me about this whole debate though is the importance that it is given, not only within those church institutions themselves, but by the media as a whole.

On Christmas Eve, the Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols used his most important speech of the year to denounce plans for gay marriage.  This made the headlines of all the major news portals in the UK.  Let’s put this into context: Europe is probably suffering its biggest economic crisis since the end of the Second World War, wars are raging in the Middle East and other regions, poverty is still endemic in Africa and India, young people are killing each other with guns and knives and the problem that vexes this man the most is the issue of same sex marriage.  It is an absolute disgrace and should be condemned.

It continues though, because in today’s London Telegraph newspaper 1000 Catholic priests have signed a letter claiming that the introduction of same sex marriage will lead to persecution of Catholics unseen since the days of Henry VIII, another moment in history when the Catholic Church’s views on marriage were objected to.

The letter says, “It is meaningless to argue that Catholics and others may still teach their beliefs about marriage in schools and other arenas if they are also expected to uphold the opposite view at the same time.”

Despite the fact that the Catholic Church seems to manage to coexist with gay marriage in Spain, Holland, Portugal, Argentina and other countries, somehow the Church in the UK is trying to make out that their bigotry on this matter is somehow acceptable because it is a religious position and therefore exempt from modern standards of human rights, not to mention human dignity.

It is better that religions don’t teach in schools if this is the kind of message they wish to instil in our children.

It is noticeable though that these conservative positions seem to be falling on deaf ears.  According to a recent opinion poll by ICM, three in five people now support gay marriage in the UK, with 77% in favour in the 18-24 age range.

Finally, I want to point out the immorality of the Church’s wealth and their teaching on social change.  According to Christian teachings, Jesus stood up to the money changers and lived a life of humble austerity.  Yet today the Church is swimming in the wealth taken from their followers.

All over Africa the poorest people in the world are giving money to the Church (not just the Catholic Church it must be said) and these Priests are generally the best fed and most healthy people in the community with the best residences.  A visit to any cathedral shows you the enormous wealth of the institution.  How can they not use their enormous wealth to eradicate poverty as their Jesus seemingly would have done?

At the same time the Church has the power to change the world (again, not just the Catholic Church).  With their millions of uneducated followers who come to their regular meetings, Priests could educate the people so that they organise themselves and transform the situation of poverty in which the people find themselves living.  Instead the Church teaches that suffering is good and paradise will be found after death…  What an outrageous lie fed to the people to keep them in their suffering and unwilling to rise up in revolution; a revolution that Priests could direct in a nonviolent direction.

Of course there have been attempts by Catholic Priests in the past to give a different interpretation such as those involved with the Liberation Theology movement of Latin America in the 50s and 60s.  However such teachings were denounced by the Vatican from its office known as, “The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith” in 1984 and 1986.  It’s interesting to note that this office used to have a different name: “The Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition” and is of course the same Inquisition that ordered the murders mentioned before.  One other interesting fact is that the head of this office in the 80s and until 2005 was none other than Joseph Ratzinger, current Pope Benedict XVI.

To conclude, I want to point out that I have Catholic friends, and I have no issue with their spiritual beliefs.  Also, there must be thousands of good people in this organisation who are inspired by a spirituality and truly want to change the world and help people overcome their suffering, however those in charge of the Church must be denounced as hypocrites.

This organisation has no right to give out moral guidance to the people of the world.  First it must purge itself of its paedophile problem by understanding the problem in its ultimate root: you can’t supress sexual desire whether gay or straight and making young gay men believe that they can leads to child abuse.  Secondly it must give equality to women and open up all positions in the church to them.  Thirdly, it must give up its huge wealth.  It has no right to it.  It comes from the people for the maintenance of the priests, not for the upper echelons of the Church hierarchy to be draped in gold.

When these three items are addressed, let’s talk again about what moral advice they want to give out.  Until then, they really should go away and meditate.