Ratzinger waves his wand at Australia

Like Steve Jobs announcing a shiny thing to keep the fanboys drooling, Ratzinger has announced that nun Mary MacKillop will be canonised as Australia’s first saint.
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Nothing like a new hero to keep our minds off what the Vatican should be doing: attempting to atone and make amends for the endless revelations of decades of abuse, collusion and coverup at the highest levels of the organisation. But that’s another story.

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Quick bio: after being born in Fitzroy, Victoria in 1842 Mary moved to South Australia, where in 1866 she opened a school in an old stable in Penola then founded the Sisters of St Joseph. She set about founding over one hundred schools, orphanages and refuges for the needy and at the end of her days in 1909 she led over seven hundred sisters. Mary was actually excommunicated in 1871 for insubordination (excommunication: another telling piece of evidence that the Vatican’s priority isn’t living the words of a certain Palestinian chippie, rather the strict obedience of its employees). It didn’t last long though: a regional manager (bishop) spoke up for Mary and she was back in action in a few months (though her exoneration took a few years). Apparently she had a great effect on people: the campaigning for her sainthood began in 1926 and hasn’t let up. Unfortunately I can’t help but wonder whether any of the schools, orphanages or refuges she founded were tainted by the rape, torture and abuse that’s become synonymous with Catholic institutions of days gone by. I realise this behaviour didn’t occur everywhere there were priests or nuns, but such things have been revealed as very, very widespread indeed. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if it happened in an isolated country town like 19th century Penola.

Now,  I have to wonder about sainthood – we could probably all rattle off several saints’ names without thinking about it; we could also name what they’re the patron of. But what is it you have to actually do to be canonised, what does being sainted mean for the dead person and why is it important enough to the living to run a century-long campaign? Interestingly, The Times reveals that Ratzinger actually tightened up the sainthood rules last year (nice how absolute spiritual matters can rest on the opinion of whoever’s in charge). According to some critics that old rabble-rouser John Paul Jones II had been running some kind of “saint factory” and rushing about canonising people after only one miracle! How very, very dare you! OK, back on topic. Criteria for sainthood:

Beatification, which confers the title Blessed, requires proof of one miracle attributed to the posthumous intercession of the candidate, usually a medically inexplicable cure. Sainthood requires two such miracles.

Okay then! Further research tells me that Mary, after her death, indeed interceded and cured a woman of leukaemia. For this, she was beatified by the Polish Pope in 1995 – the initial application for beatification was made in 1961, however, showing just how glacial the pace is in that big museum in Rome. 500 years to apologise to Galileo; 34 to verify an alleged miracle. They’re either very slow or very thorough. It seems Mary’s second miracle was verified recently by Ratzinger himself – a woman with inoperable cancer prayed and carried around a piece of Mary’s clothing and was cured. I believe a life of “heroic virtue” can also tip the scales in your favour. In fact, there’s a lengthy & very involved investigation by church authorities to determine a person’s holiness and the miraculous nature (or not) of their post-mortem antics. Interesting how in some areas the Vatican is happy to expend its resources performing detailed investigations of the actions of its employee.

So, bang, two miracles, heroic virtue, Mary’s a saint. Leaving aside my predictable skepticism about miracles in general, the process of actually verifying that one happened in the first place and the process of verifying it was performed by a particular dead person and not just God, another dead Catholic or Vishnu, what does that actually mean? Is there something better than Heaven open to her now? Does she get to do “God” stuff? Watch Jesus’ kittens when he’s off appearing in tree trunks and dog’s arses? Appear in her own inanimate objects? Side question: is any of this sainthood criteria/investigation business even in the Bible? It’s been a while since I read it, but I don’t remember all this Orwellian bureaucracy.

What is a saint and what do they do? What are they for? About.com provides the following revelations:

The word “saint” literally means “holy,” and, in the New Testament, “saint” referred to all who believed in Jesus Christ and followed his teachings. St. Paul often addressed his epistles to “the saints” of a particular city (see, for instance, Ephesians 1:1 and 2 Corinthians 1:1), and the Acts of the Apostles talks about St. Peter going to visit the saints in Lydda (Acts 9:2). The assumption was that those who followed Christ had been so transformed that they were now different from other men and women and, thus, should be considered holy.

Okay. Holy people. Christians in general. Got it. But what about the dead ones as we know them today?

Canonized saints can be venerated anywhere and prayed to publicly, and their lives are held up to Christians still struggling here on earth as examples to be imitated.

Right! They’re dead people you can pray to. So you don’t just pray to God or his son Jesus or his weird half-brother the Holy Ghost or his mother Mary; you can pray to dead person who’s been canonised. Considering Ratzi canonised over 500 people himself last year and we’ve seen dozens, even hundreds of popes over the last 1500 years, there must be countless thousands of saints people can pray to for assistance and guidance and protection and a better sandwich. Tell me again how this Catholicism thing isn’t polytheism?

Well, About saw me coming:

The Difference Between Prayer and Worship

Many non-Catholic Christians believe that it is wrong to pray to the saints, claiming that our prayers should be directed to God alone. Some Catholics, responding to this criticism, have argued that we do not pray to the saints but with them.

Both groups, however, are confusing prayer with worship. True worship (as opposed to veneration or honor) does indeed belong to God alone, and we should never worship man or any other creature as we worship God. But while worship may take the form of prayer, as in the Mass and other liturgies of the Church, not all prayer is worship. When we pray to the saints, we’re simply asking them to help us, by praying to God on our behalf, or thanking them for having already done so.

 So it’s just a case of hair-splitting, really. It’s not polytheism because you don’t worship a saint, you just pray at them. And wear bits of their clothes. And have statues and icons and graven images of them hanging around your houses and churches. Some churches even hold boxes of their bones or other preserved body parts (being Catholics, I’m going to assume that for a nominal fee you can even touch them). A saint seems to be a middle-man or a demi-god. A patron saint has a special area of expertise (I wonder if God just allocates the patronage as soon as the Pope canonises them or they have to do some classes first?). Going on holiday? Ask St Christopher to delay your pilot’s heart attack. Irish? Ask St Guinness to bless you with an iron constitution. Australian? Ask St Kilda why he hasn’t let the footy team named after him win a bloody flag for the last billion years. With all the thousands of saint available, all you need do is pick your problem and google your saint. Lost your keys? There’s a saint for that.

So, you can pray to God, Jesus, Ghosty, Mary or any one of an endless range of saints but it’s not polytheism. It’s just that God has three family members and thousands upon thousands of holy immortal beings petitioning him on behalf of humanity. It’s the pantheon you have when you’re not having a pantheon. And once again, the Catholic church drops a layer of bureaucracy between you, the believer and God, the, um, god. Not content with throwing living priests and nuns and fathers and brothers and cardinals and Popes and all manner of capos & middle management & bouncers between man & God, there’s this whole other layer of fricking dead people to appeal to in case you think God can’t hear you.

Wait … what? You think God can’t hear you? You think God needs you to speak to him through all these countless zillions of people, living and dead? You think your almighty Creator of Everything needs someone in a special robe and special building saying special things in order to know what you need? What kind of second rate god is this guy anyway? It all sounds a bit suss … if I didn’t know better I’d say Catholicism is a millennium and a half-old bureaucratic superscam designed to frighten the lot of you into promising it your soul while you give it your money. And I’m not sure I do know better.
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It just never seems to end

You’ve heard the story before: a Catholic priest molests, abuses or rapes children. The Vatican “investigates” the matter itself and, instead of censuring or dismissing the culprit or involving the authorities, quietly shuffles the priest to another area. The abuse occurs again. The procedure happens again. The cycle continues. Years or decades later, documents are unearthed, records are unsealed, whistles are blown, victims come forward and a scandal ensues. Empty babbling from the Vatican is heard about investigations and about how seriously they are taking everything. The story fades from the press. Until it happens again, somewhere else. Chances are you know someone who’s been affected by one of these stories, perhaps directly. Chances are you don’t know it.

It is, unfortunately, a story common to most, if not all, nations that have been blessed by the presence of this morally bankrupt church. Countless children in Latin America, Australia, the UK, the USA, Ireland and now, it is revealed, Germany, have suffered sexual violence, humiliation, shame, fear and rank injustice at the hands of those who claim moral authority not just over their Catholic subjects but the entirety of human existence. This story of rape, coverup and denial is depressingly familiar, as is the feeling of complete powerlessness much of the world feels when hearing the latest instalment of Vatican-sanctioned depravity.
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I really don’t know what to say about this anymore.

The Vatican has had in place, since 1962, an internal policy requiring everyone from cardinals down to remain silent about any and every claim and report and instance of child rape in the name of the trinity, on pain of excommunication and, presumably, attendant denial of eternal salvation. This “omerta” policy betrays not only the trust of every child ever placed in Catholic “care”, but the very words of the Jewish carpenter which are the cornerstone of its teachings. Will this policy be reviewed? Repealed? Will a new policy exhorting priests at every level of the Papist heirarchy to report any and every allegation of abuse to the relevant police forces? Mandatory reporting policies are in place in every childcare centre, school and hospital in the modern world. Why not a church which, given its claim to moral superiority in every aspect, should find such mandatory reporting second nature? Why should the Vatican get a free pass to ignore what every other institution concerned with child education and welfare takes for granted and sees as a part of everyday operation? You can bet that if a school, hospital or other large organisation had such a sinister record regarding child welfare that its relevant authorities would be all over it like a rash, closing offices down, subpoenaing documents, arresting people & auditing its books. I really don’t know what it would take, in the light of this continuing circumvention of the law and shameful hypocrisy, for someone, anyone (Carabinieri? Interpol?) to investigate the Vatican at every level of its operation from the ground up. I don’t know what it would take for the UN to suspend the pretend statehood of the Vatican until its every grotty little nook is dusted and exposed to the light; every record unsealed; every allegation investigated, aired and pursued to its conclusion. What good is a body like the UN if a particular state is not beholden to the same rules and standards as every other member?

How could the self-described keepers of The Word of God not be able to see how keeping these allegations a secret is as good as being accessory to them? If you wish, view that question as semi-rhetorical, for it more or less answers itself with a little thought: because the Vatican’s rules and policies self-evidently exist to serve not God, not Jesus, not the blessed Virgin or its other many deities, definitely not to serve the one billion or so adherents; they exist, first and foremost, to protect the Vatican and its willing servants.

The fact that the word “Catholic” has become synonymous with rape, abuse, scandal & coverup should make everyone who calls themselves Catholic apopleptic with rage. Catholics: your name has been dragged through the shit, not by “strident, militant” atheists, not by rival denominations, not even by other religions, but by the very organisation you have willed your eternal soul to. What will it take for you, good Catholics of the world, to let these “fathers” of yours know that this is not how you treat children? That this is not how you even treat adults? When will you understand how corrupt and self-serving this church of yours is? A Christian’s allegiance, one would think, should be to Jesus and his message, not to a human political construction that exists to further itself ahead of the salvation of millions. If no other wrongs had ever been done by the Vatican in the entirety of human history this continuing, global scandal of child rape and enforced silence should have you leaving your pews in disgust and spitting on the golden finery of your alleged betters. European history is replete with examples of dissatisfied subjects rising from their fields and factories to overthrow and destroy the privileged, perfumed, primped princes that ruled, robbed and demeaned them – would that a similar thing would happen to the world’s last corrupt empire.

Catholicism is empty – not as practised by the everyday Catholic, but how it is practised by those who claim to hold its keys; it is a greedy, shameful blot on humanity’s past and present. I hope that someday Catholics will realise they don’t need the church to be Christians. I hope they desert this rotting empire in droves. I hope the Vatican will one day need to hold a bake sale to raise money for a new Pope-mobile, which in a best-case scenario will be something like a 1997 Toyota Corolla. Decent car, no doubt, but a far cry from a million-dollar bulletproof Mercedes.

This isn’t an atheist issue. It’s not even a religious issue. This is a human issue. This is not about pointing the finger at Christianity and claiming that it is invalidated because of the actions of a small number of its adherents. This is about the specific claims to moral superiority that the Vatican has been making since it declared itself emperor of Christendom centuries ago, and how since then those claims have consistently (almost constantly) been shown to be as vacuous and hollow as a bishop’s mitre.

Seriously, Ratzinger, suck my arse

“Pope condemns ‘pagan’ love of money, power” [MSN]

Paraphrasing from the New Testament, Benedict decried “insatiable greed” and said “the love of money is the root of all evil.”

“Have not money, the thirst for possessions, for power and even knowledge, diverted man from his true destiny?” the pope asked. Benedict blasted modern society’s thirst for these new “pagan” idols as a “scandal, a real plague.” The pope urged the faithful
to “shun the worship of idols. Do not tire of doing good!”’

Do I really need to pick this apart and spell out exactly what’s wrong with this picture? A spiritual monarch, appointed by a 1500 year-old entrenched, insular oligarchy, wearing Prada & silk & gold robes, paying no tax, living in a fucking palace the size of a city (with his own private army), who is treated with more deference and reverence and suckingthefuckup than any living king, queen, prime minister, president or rock star, “blasting” the world for daring to pursue material gain?

And all this before he flies to Lourdes, a place where the Virgin Mary allegedly appeared to a peasant girl a century (or something) ago, and which (like practically all other similar places) is now a massive cash cow for any opportunistic seller of glow-in-the-dark Mary statues to set up a stall and rake in francs from the gullible hordes. “Shun the worship of idols”, he says…Lourdes, a place where Mary, mother of Jesus, is idolised & worshipped & prayed to by Catholics as much as her famous son, or his infamous father (this in a supposedly monotheistic religion); a place where this Mary-worship is cashed in on, on a daily fucking basis by shrewd vendors of religious garbage. Though the hordes of Lourdes may not be Ratzinger’s fault, his physical presence there legitimises and condones the very behaviour he’s apparently railing against. Lourdes is the very embodiment – and perfect combination – of idolatry & the love of money. It is the one place you’d expect Ratzi to single out for special excoriation. You’d think if the gottfuehrer was really out to emulate the J-man and kick the money-lenders out of the temple, he’d go up and down the route to Lourdes getting medieval on the stall-holders with their cheap trinkets and cynical cashing in on vulnerable, gullible peoples’ willingness to be deceived and fleeced – or even single them out for a special Papal “blast”. But I won’t hold my breath. After all, the very thing that’s made the Catholic church one of the most wealthy (but also most secretive) non-corporate, non-governmental organisations in the world has been its long history of deceiving people out of their wealth through appeals to peoples’ fear of hell, or simply taking what they want at the point of a sword or a set of thumbscrews. Why the hell should anyone expect a career hypocrite (the latest in a long line of such hypocrites, born from an environment of the purest hypocrisy) to suddenly change his spots? Why should we expect any action on this facet of Papist hypocrisy when we can’t even expect them to effectively apologise for and pursue the perpetrators of decades of child-rape?

So, no, kids, he’s not serious. This is an empty, populist platitude, like so much of what we in the real world hear from this man and many of his silk-robed generals & lieutenants & associate wizards on a regular basis. A king – an emperor, no less – chiding us for wanting the good things this life has to offer. After all, that’s what most of us want. Not the best, not the top-tier version of everything. Just good things. Hell, most of us just want things that work. A car that starts, a washing machine that washes, doors that lock, a dog that barks, a computer & connection that are fast enough to just load webpages without too much staring at that little bastard hourglass. And if we can afford stuff that might make our lives a little easier or a bit more enjoyable, leave us to enjoy it. Ratzi’s “avoid the love of money” platitude is just a standard call & response to make middle-class Catholics feel good about themselves and assuage any guilt they may have at their own material success, all the while knowing the majority of their Catholic brethren just struggle to eat enough in a day, let alone have the luxury to dream about Aston Martins or houses at the beach (how many residences does Ratzi have again? At least as many as the old Czar of Russia, I’ll go out on a limb and assume). While Ratzi continues the Vatican’s reprehensible “only have sex for kids, condoms don’t work and might even kill you faster” routine, millions of Catholic third-world citizens, already in severe straits, are condemned to even more poverty & hardship through having children they can’t afford to feed. Ratzi then congratulates them on their Christ-like poverty from his gold throne, or from the platform of his gleaming, bullet-proof Mercedes.

I’m not a religious man (just thought I’d spell that out), but it’s at times like this I have lots of admiration for people such St Francis of Assisi. I may not have agreed with Frank on how best to spend one’s life, but the fact that he actually practiced what the bible apparently preaches about avoiding materialism, instead of just preaching it to others as he grew wealthy and fat off their toil, demands my respect. Until his death, St Francis railed against the pursuit of wealth and fame and was enraged by the cult of personality that had grown around him in his later years. If Ratzi had half that guy’s balls I’d – well, shit, I’d be really, really, really surprised. A Catholic demigod, not being a fucking hypocrite? I’d be sticking a thermometer in the ground to see if hell was freezing over.

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Open letter to Ratzinger: lift birth control ban

The coolest thing about this open letter to Pope Ratzinger (I refuse to call him Benedict) is that it’s written by a coalition of Catholic groups! From the HuffPo story:

The initiative was spearheaded by Catholics for Choice, a Washington based pro-choice advocacy group, but the letter was signed by organizations from countries across the Americas and Europe.

Taking a half-page ad in the Italian daily Corriere della Sera, the groups said Friday that the Church’s ban on artificial birth control has had “catastrophic effects,” particularly in the fight against AIDS.

The ban on contraception “has had catastrophic effects on the poor and weak of the whole world, putting in danger the lives of women and exposing millions of people to the risk of contracting HIV,” the letter published in Corriere said.

The Vatican’s response: predictably, mind-numbingly arse-backwards.

[Vatican capo Reverend Federico] Lombardi denounced the ad “as paid propaganda for the use of contraceptives.” “Policies against AIDS based mainly on the distribution of condoms have largely failed,” Lombardi said in a statement. “The answer to AIDS requires deeper and more complex interventions, in which the Church is active on many fronts.”

“Paid propaganda for the use of contraceptives” eh padre? Well, I guess noone would know propaganda when they saw it better than a Vatican PR operative. I’ll tell you what the answer to AIDS requires, you pompous fucker: an effective preventive measure other than abstinence – the very kind of measure you and your hoods have actively been opposing since the respective inventions of the condom, The Pill and every other method out there that doesn’t involve a vow of celibacy (which, by the way, you guys suck at). I’ll tell you why policies against AIDS based on condom use have largely failed too: it’s because black-robed morons like yourself in those areas have been actively spreading bald-faced, anti-science & fucking lethal lies for years, such as the one about condoms having tiny holes, through which the HIV virus can pass through, which still makes my jaw drop to read.

Well, chalk up another retarded remark to the stormtroopers of Herr Ratzinger! It blows my mind that this organisation can continue to get away with this shit. Imagine if the Health Minister or Surgeon General of any civilised country said something like “chemotherapy doesn’t affect cancer, it just makes it stronger!” – that’s the order of magnitude of Pure Wrong we’re talking about here. Imagine the head of pretty much any organisation other than the Roman Christian Empire saying something that retarded! Not just retarded, but potentially fatal to any follower who believes it. This continuing and baffling desecration of human free will is as precise & glaring an illustration of the danger of organised religion that you could ever see – not the danger of a particular belief itself, as many people believe in Jesus’ divinity and don’t listen to Vatican idiocy – but of the effect blind faith & blind trust can have on a person, his family, town or whole country or continent, when that faith & trust is abused by people who should damn well know better.

So what’s behind this Vatican wrongheaded stubbornness anyway? Does it really say in the Bible “thou shalt not spill thy seed” or “thou shalt always conceive with thy booty calls”? If it does – unambiguously, that is, with no wiggle room for interpretation – then why are Papists the only ones who insist on enforcing it in such a lethal manner? So they can ensure a constant flow of believers to continue to fill their pews & coffers? The arch-cynic in me says a big, fat “yes”. The less cynical part of me is still in the dark about it. Is it scriptural? Then why are Catholics allowed to work on Sunday, eat meat on whatever day they want, skip Lent, have graven images in their temples (what’s a Catholic church without a bunch of statues of Jesus, Mary and selected saints standing around looking down on you), wear high heels or whatever else they’re allowed to do now that they couldn’t not so long ago?

The answer often comes back to control. The Vatican has let a lot of things slide over the centuries (noone’s getting burned for heresy or buying Indulgences anymore, for example), but they’ve always held onto two things tighter than Tarzan: the bans on divorce and on contraception. Two of the most private things concerning any human on the planet. So many other Vatican edicts and restrictions have been dropped like hot rocks, yet they continue to refuse to allow their followers to run their own sexual & family lives. Stinks like a control thing to me. It’s a classic control ploy actually: bear a child into a Catholic family, marinate that child in shame-inducing, fear-mongering dogma until its identity becomes inextricably wrapped in its religion, then impose upon it restrictions that could mean excommunication should the eventual adult wish to use its own judgement in deciding on two of the most important decisions in its life: whether to have children of its own or end a marriage that’s beyond saving, or perhaps was a mistake in the first place (we’ve all heard of young Catholic girls forced into marriage to avoid the shame of a bastard child).

What the Papacy says & does about contraception is thought control of the worst possible kind and I’m glad it’s a group of concerned Catholics that have raised this issue. Non-Catholic Christians, non-religionists and anyone concerned with human rights in general have been raising this issue contantly for years, but we now know it’s far from reasonable to expect anything but the usual, half-witted bullshit from the Vatican (and from many Catholics). Hopefully, the fact that quite a few Catholics themselves are having serious problems with the Vatican’s counter-intelligent stance on contraception and are speaking out about it will get some discourse going between other Catholics. Dissent in the ranks is likely to be the only thing to change the Vatican’s tiny mind on any issue – God knows appeals to reason, science and basic human freedoms do jack shit.

I’m still staggered that this debate continues to go on in the 21st freakin century, the third millenium of the Christian Era. We’ve landed men on the Moon (last century!), sequenced the human genome, looked backward in time 13 billion years to the birth of our universe and still we’re having a debate over whether condoms work. But hey, this argument’s with the Vatican: these people believe wafers turn into Jesus (mmm, a savioury treat!) – but only if a magic spell special prayer is said over them first. They still practise exorcisms for Chrissakes! And we’re having serious conversations with them! Would you have a serious chat with the psycho homeless guy on the corner screaming at the demons in his pocket? No! But hey, the poor homeless guy hasn’t been around for 1500 years and he doesn’t have a billion followers. That doesn’t mean the Papists are right, but it does mean they have a strong game it’ll take a lot for them to see sense. Shit, these people took 500 years to pardon Galileo.

World Youth Day epilgoue

Linkage.

Before you go and read the whole piece in The Age, know that Catherine Deveny had me at the first paragraph:

WASN’T it hilarious how World Youth Day was an attempt to make Catholicism appear all modern and trendy, but what it achieved was to highlight how deluded and anachronistic the religion is?

And this:

It’s been a revelation to me a year since my “epiphany”. I feel as if I’m walking through life with the blinkers off. Suddenly all the religious mumbo-jumbo jumps out as so bonkers. Wearing certain things, eating certain things, mumbling certain things at certain times so some imaginary friend will let you into a club in the sky when you die. I want to do my living now, thanks. I’m not afraid of dying. I’m afraid of never having lived.

Amen, sister.

Papal profits down thanks to weak greenback

That’s a shame.

From the BBC story (via RD.net):

The Vatican made a loss last year as the weaker dollar reduced the value of donations from the faithful in the United States.

Almost a quarter of the $79.8m (£40.4m) worth of offerings it received came from collections made in US churches.

But as the dollar lost 15% of its value against the euro, the Catholic Church’s governing body made a loss of 9.1m euros (£7.3m: $14.3m) in 2007.

My heart bleeds for you Herr Ratzinger, it really does.

But do buck up, old fruit. My country is playing host to World Ratzinger Youth Day (at virtually no cost to you and your company, I might add). Plenty of open hearts to fill and open wallets to empty.