Jesurgislac’s Journal

September 16, 2010

Peter Tatchell: Not the Pope

Over at Mercatornet, Michael Cook, the editor, is having Conniptions about a documentary on Pope Benedict, released by Channel 4 the Monday before the Pope’s arrival in the UK on a state-funded visit.

Cook dismisses Peter Tatchell as “a vigorous campaigner for lowering the age of consent to 14” and summarises a documentary that touches on such things as the bans on contraception inspired by Catholic doctrine which cause such suffering in developing countries, to the ban on stem cell research, to the re-admission of a Holocaust denier to the fold, as “about the Pope and the sex abuse scandal”.

Peter Tatchell began his life’s work as a campaigner for human rights as a teenager in Australia, where he campaigned against the death penalty and for aborigine kids to have scholarships to attend his school.

This is Tatchell on the Channel 4 documentary he presented this Monday:

Rather than interview atheists like Richard Dawkins, which would have played to expectations, I chose to interview mostly Catholics, both allies and critics of the pope. To some extent, the film reflects a debate within Catholicism, between the liberal and fundamentalist wings of the church.

I wanted to give Catholic leaders an opportunity to put their side of the story. When we went to Rome, the production company, Juniper TV, requested an interview with Pope Benedict or a senior cardinal. The Vatican turned us down. Our approach to interview Archbishop Vincent Nichols in London was also knocked back, with the rebuke: “We do not wish to co-operate with a programme presented by Peter Tatchell.”

Although the church did put up a spokesperson at the last minute – Fiona O’Reilly from the pressure group Catholic Voices – it strikes me as a sign of weakness that no Catholic leader from the Vatican or Britain was willing to be interviewed in defence of the pope.

In the forty years since Tatchell began his life’s work for human rights, he has campaigned for democracy, civil liberties and rights, and human rights almost literally without stopping. He campaigns for clean water, for the right of Muslims to live without harassment, for the rights of women and LGBT people under Shari’a law, for the right of free assembly, for the right to vote. He was beaten twice by Mugabe’s bodyguards when he attempted to put the dictator under citizen’s arrest for torture.

Does he feel resentful towards his attackers? “No. There’s an element of regret in that I wish these injuries hadn’t happened.” Mugabe’s henchmen attacked him three times in Brussels – once in the lobby of the Hilton hotel where the Zimbabwean president was staying, and twice on the street outside, leaving Tatchell paralysed down his left side for several days. On television news footage of the beating, you can hear a crack as the bodyguards make contact with Tatchell’s skull. In Moscow he vividly remembers the thugs kicking him to the ground with “heavy, black boots”. Afterwards the Russian police arrested Tatchell and let his attackers go free. How can he not feel resentful? “What’s the point? Bitterness is a very destructive emotion.” He breaks off. “Obviously, I think they’re bastards,” he says with a grin, “but I don’t hold some grudge… The best reward for me would be to change them.”‘ link

“Age of Consent” is top of the alphabetically-ordered list of things he campaigns for on his website – http://www.petertatchell.net/ – and you may or may not disagree with his belief that a 14-year-old has the right not to be prosecuted or persecuted for having consensual sex.

Ratzinger may outlive Tatchell. Ratzinger has led a far more sheltered, protected life. At the age of 16, Ratzinger joined Hitler Youth, because his family didn’t see any alternative but to go along with the social norms. No one can blame a teenage boy for doing what’s easy, not what’s right, especially when doing what’s right would have got him and his family into such serious trouble.

But knowing what we do about Peter Tatchell, in the same situation, he would have died rather join Hitler Youth. Tatchell has the moral stature that Ratzinger lacks: the willingness to stand up for and suffer for what he believes, that Ratzinger has never demonstrated.

His doctor has told him he should take a complete break of at least six months, but Tatchell, who works 14 hours a day, seven days a week, and ekes out a living of £8,000 a year, largely from donations, is politely ignoring them. He spends his time orchestrating campaigns and answering a constant stream of emails and phone calls. He is extremely thin, subsisting on a diet of raw vegetables and cups of tea. On a comparatively uneventful day, he goes to bed at 3am and wakes up at 9am. Doesn’t he ever pine for a quiet life? “I can understand why people want a quiet, relaxed, material life, but on another level I can’t understand why people just accept things the way they are. One billion people woke up this morning without clean drinking water. That is outrageous. We live in a world of such plenty that it’s unconscionable that so many people don’t have the basics… That is just morally unacceptable.” link

The notion that Pope Benedict, who instigated the worldwide concealment of child abuse by the Church and supported the systematic transfer of paedophile priests from parish to parish, is somehow morally superior to Peter Tatchell?

Some people think Ratzinger’s critics are holding him responsible for acts that were carried out before he became Pope, simply because he is head of the institution involved. This is an error. For over 25 years, Ratzinger was personally in charge of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the part of the Vatican responsible for enforcing Catholic canonical law across the world, including on sexual abuse. He is a notorious micromanager who, it is said, insisted every salient document cross his desk. Hans Kung, a former friend of Ratzinger’s, says: “No-one in the whole of the Catholic Church knew as much about abuse cases as this Pope.” Johann Hari

Benedict lives in a city state where he is supreme ruler: Tatchell lives in a small flat in London. Tatchell has fought for his beliefs all his life: Ratzinger has always taken the easy path. That’s the difference between them.

May 26, 2010

Pro-life is what they call themselves…?

In parts 4/4.5 of this occasional series, I discussed the case at an American hospital, St Josephs in Arizona – a case which we know must have been repeated out of sight of the world media over and over again, with more tragic conclusions: of a woman who arrived at the emergency department of a Catholic hospital deathly ill from her pregnancy. (Pulmonary hypertension, in this specific instance, but there are many things that can kill a woman when her pregnancy goes wrong.)

There was a simple, obvious, and awful way to save the woman’s life: perform an abortion on a wanted pregnancy. (She was 11 weeks pregnant and there is a health center that provides abortions in Phoenix Arizona: it seems reasonable to conclude that she wanted the baby, who would have been her fifth.) The woman was told that to save her life the pregnancy would need to be terminated. She agreed to the operation. (In the first trimester, aspiration is the normal method – it’s non-surgical, can be performed with only a local anaesthetic, and would have put minimal stress on her over-taxed heart.) The operation was performed: she lived. Had the doctors refrained from performing the abortion – or had they even moved her to an operating theater – she would have died. Of course, when she died, the fetus would have died too.

My guess is that people who’ve read me on Why pro-choice is the ony moral option are surprised that I say it was an awful way to save the woman’s life. But it was: losing a wanted baby is a tragedy. To have to decide to terminate a wanted pregnancy in order to live is a very dreadful choice to have to make, and a pregnant woman has the right to choose not to have an abortion, even though the doctors tell her she would die otherwise. It’s everyone’s right to decide to die rather than receive treatment that goes against their conscience. But no one has a right to make that decision for other people. And a doctor’s overriding ethical obligation, unless they know their patient has other wishes, is to preserve good health and life.
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May 23, 2010

Pro-life is what they call themselves, part 4.5

In response to a comment on Feministe, which asserted: I don’t think any of the Catholics in question really, truly believe that if a pregnant woman’s life is in danger because of her pregnancy, she then deserves to die. That’s really kind of a ridiculous thing to say.

Well, yes, it is kind of a ridiculous thing to say – it’s both absurd and evil.

But it’s true – and not just of Catholics. There is a strand of thinking, and many of them have been arguing publicly over the last couple of days about this, that if a woman is going to die if she doesn’t have an abortion, she should die. They really, truly believe that a pregnant woman with the choice of abortion or death deserves death.

The discussion here on What’s wrong with the world illustrates this, with both Catholics and Protestants defending as a general good that idea that death is better for a pregnant woman.

But I think the reason they argue this way, positively in favor of death for the women and against life-saving abortions, is because for them death isn’t quite real – or the women who are dying.

Sister McBride probably believes quite strongly that abortion is wrong. Were we to discuss this issue in any normal circumstance, we’d probably have a massive argument. But she works in a hospital: she belongs to an order who care for the sick. For her, the decision to provide an abortion wasn’t, as it is to these religious people arguing that she should have let the woman die, a matter of airy theoretical bloodless law, but a real woman who was really dying. And faced with that reality, Sister McBride chose life.

I am absolutely certain that neither Gerard Nadal nor Bishop Olmsted has ever in his life been faced with a decision of such moral magnitude. For him, the death of a woman in pregnancy is something unreal and distant, a halo and an odor of sanctity.

“Must then a Christ die in every generation to save those that have no imagination?” Shaw asked, and the answer always seems to be, horribly, yes. But worse than that: for Nadal and his ilk, Christ must die in childbirth in front of them, before they can see they’re hammering in the nails.
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May 21, 2010

Pro-life is what they call themselves, part 4

This is why pro-lifers shouldn’t be allowed near hospital administration:

Last November, a 27-year-old woman was admitted to St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix. She was 11 weeks pregnant with her fifth child, and she was gravely ill. According to a hospital document, she had “right heart failure,” and her doctors told her that if she continued with the pregnancy, her risk of mortality was “close to 100 percent.”

The patient, who was too ill to be moved to the operating room much less another hospital, agreed to an abortion. NPR

This isn’t an “ethical dilemma” even on the level of my last Pro-life is what they call themselves post: this wasn’t a situation where the pregnant woman might have been kept alive for long enough as a hosting mechanism so that the fetus could survive.

According to a professor of theology at Boston College the official church position mandates that the pregnant woman is allowed to die with her fetus, because “the Catholic perspective” is that performing an abortion is evil, and “you can’t do evil to bring about good. The end does not justify the means”.

John Ehrich, who is the medical ethics director for the Diocese of Phoenix (he now has a front-page letter on his St Thomas the Apostle parish website, from which I’m quoting), says “It is not better for a woman to have to live the rest of her existence knowing that she had her child killed because her pregnancy was high risk. When we try to control every possible situation in life, we end up playing the role of God. As people of faith we know that our lives are always in God’s hands. In these situations the reality of our dependence upon Him becomes ever more clear and pronounced.”

In short: a woman who is dying, who will live if she has an abortion, should be let die. Along with the fetus she is carrying, of course – no 11-week fetus will survive if the pregnant woman dies.

That’s pro-life theology: two deaths are better than one. That’s why no hospital should ever permit medical decisions to be made by people who will put their religious beliefs ahead of the patient.

Sister Margaret McBride is a nun of the Sisters of Mercy, founded in Ireland, “vowed to serve people who suffer from poverty, sickness and lack of education with a special concern for women and children”. Canon law mandated automatic excommunication: whether an excommunicated nun is then expelled from her Order is up to the leadership of the Order.

Sister McBride acted in the spirit of her Order’s mission:

Mercy saves lives, lifting people everywhere out of desperation and sorrow, out of hunger, impoverishment and illness.

Mercy enriches souls, bringing spirit, laughter and hope to those who thought they were lost.

Can you imagine how the family and friends of that woman whose life was saved would have felt – a friend, a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister, taken to hospital gravely ill – and then the hospital simply puts her to bed and lets her die, even though they could have saved her?

As a matter of contrast, though acting to save a woman’s life by performing an abortion got “automatic excommunication”, ordained priests in Arizona who are known to have sexually abused children were never excommunicated.

For Michael Teta and Robert C. Trupia: the Vatican took years to examine their cases and finally have them laicized: but a 2004 report names 44 priests who served in Arizona who are credibly accused of molesting children. (YumaSun) Some may have been laicized. None were excommunicated.

Pope Benedict XVI said “Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. There may be legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.”

So there may be “legitimate diversity of opinion” about whether or not it’s okay to rape a child. But saving a woman’s life when her pregnancy is killing her? That’s always wrong.

The Pope says so. Bishop Olmsted of Phoenix says so. The “medical ethics” priest of Phoenix says so. Raping a child.. legitimate diversity! Performing an abortion so that one life is lost instead of two:

If a Catholic formally cooperates in the procurement of an abortion, they are automatically excommunicated by that action. The Catholic Church will continue to defend life and proclaim the evil of abortion without compromise, and must act to correct even her own members if they fail in this duty.

“Defending life”, of course, in the strange Catholic sense meaning “Let the pregnant woman die”.

I have no problem with the Pope and the bishops and the priests of the Catholic Church arguing as a theological principle that it’s wrong to perform abortions. I do have a problem when their religious beliefs are allowed to make pro-life decisions in hospitals where pro-life reasoning has no place: pro-lifers may feel that two deaths are better than one, but no doctor or nurse or any other health professional ought to let that theological reasoning override their professional standards of care for their patient.


Update: Just in case anyone was in doubt about the correct Catholic position on saving a woman’s life, there’s a post by Elizabeth Scalia, who also blogs as The Anchoress, all about how when a woman is dying and an abortion will save her life, the Catholic thing for her doctors to do is let her die – after all, if God wants her to live, God will save her. (In this kind of thinking, Catholics really don’t need to run hospitals, because if someone’s broken their leg or their appendix has burst, well, if they’re meant to live, God will save them: if they die because the leg wasn’t set or because the appendix wasn’t removed, well, God obviously wanted them dead.)

Michael Liccone’s post on the same site is almost a sideline (since the main issue for most people is the publicity about the substandard care that a Catholic hospital is required to provide by the Church’s ethical code): he points out that Bishop Olmsted sidestepped a pastoral disagreement by declaring that Sister McBride had excommnicated herself – which meant the bishop did not have to engage with the nun or pay attention to any medical evidence which would have justified the abortion according to a Catholic directive that was thought to imply that it was OK to perform an abortion if it was to save the woman’s life. (This is substandard, because it may well mean the woman will be literally at the point of death before the hospital can elect to save her: a Catholic hospital is required to be indifferent to a pregnant woman’s health and wellbeing, regardless of what long-term damage may be caused, which a secular hospital is not.)

The comments thread to the post (and to the echoed post) however makes clear that to many ardent Catholics, Bishop Olmsted’s position is the moral high ground: Catholics stand for letting pregnant woman die rather than performing an abortion. I’d say that was disturbing, but it’s also not uncommon: it’s just pro-life to let women die.

Plus this frankly amusing post by a Catholic who appears to feel that the real problem isn’t that the woman’s life was saved, but that the woman’s life was saved by a Catholic hospital – if she’d known she might die, she should obviously have gone to some other hospital where they have no moral objection to saving pregnant woman’s lives. (I agree with that, but this guy’s post is just so NIMBYish about it: why must these pesky pregnant women behave as if they thought the hospital should just act to save their lives?) (I felt slightly sorry for mocking because Nadal was very polite when I joined a discussion here, but he did acknowledge in the course of the discussion that there was a NIMBYish element to his opposition: and he presents here in detailed response to a doctor’s comments, his own settled belief that the Catholic Church’s position is that the pregnant woman should have been left to die: it was morally wrong to save her life.)

January 25, 2009

Ex-Nazi ex-excommunicates Holocaust denier

Jesus Christ, you really couldn’t make it up, could you? Pope Benedict, who was a member of Hitler Youth during the last years of the Third Reich, has yesterday reversed the excommunication of Bishop Richard Williamson, who believes that it is impossible that the Nazis could have killed six million Jews in gas chambers and cremated them.

Williamson, now once more accepted as a Roman Catholic, said in a TV interview last November that he feels there has been a “huge exploitation” of the claim that six million Jews were gassed – which, he is at pains to tell the interviewer, he is certain is not true. He’s “not interested” in being called an anti-Semite, either. It’s not a matter of emotion, he says. (view the video here) He has a pleasant, polite, very English voice. And Pope Benedict, God’s rottweiler, wants him back.) For the record, Williamson believes it may be true that “several thousand” Jews were killed by the Nazis. But not six million. And there were no gas chambers. No crematoria. He’s sure of that.

Ruth Gledhill at the Times:

Bishop Richard Williamson is a hardline ultra-conservative bishop of the Society of St Pius X. He is excommunicated from the RC church, along with his three brother SSPX bishops but as we report, and also according to reports coming out of Rome, the excommunications could be lifted soon by the Pope. It could even be lifted by Sunday, according to the usually reliable Rorate Caeli. And that while he faces possible prosecution for Holocaust denial in Germany after an interview with a reporter from Swedish TV in which he claimed that six million Jews did not die in the Holocaust, merely a few thousand, and that the gas chambers did not exist. CathCon has the translation of the Der Spiegel report and more on the likely lifting of those excommunications. Could the clock really be turned back this far on Nostra Aetate and the teachings of Vatican II?

The response of the Lefebvrist Society of St Pius X was telling:

Although it had been understood that the interview would deal with religious issues only, the reporter asked the bishop’s opinion concerning historical matters. It is obvious that a bishop can only speak about questions of faith and morals with any ecclesiastical authority. If he deals with secular issues, he is personally responsible for his own private opinions. The Society I am governing has no authority to address such issues, nor will it ever claim such authority. –Bishop Bernard Fellay, 21st January 2009, via

From the Independent, October 1999, back when Pope John Paul II was trying to have the first Nazi Pope sainted, on Pius XII (who canonized Pope Pius X):

a single-minded Vatican lawyer and diplomat who, from the earliest part of his career, set out to establish the absolute authority of Rome over Europe’s Catholic populations in a series of accommodations with autocratic regimes. Having served as papal nuncio in Germany throughout the 1920s before becoming the Vatican’s chief diplomat, Eugenio Pacelli was in a unique position to negotiate with the Nazis over the church’s status. The deal that was cut guaranteed Catholic influence over education and spiritual life in Germany, but at a terrible price: the Catholic Centre Party was forced into dissolution, removing the last obstacle to Hitler’s goal of absolute power, and all attempts at resistance by Germany’s Catholic bishops were cut off at the knees.

The so-called Reichskonkordat, between the Vatican and Germany, handed the Nazis their first much-needed piece of international recognition and, according to Hitler’s crowing at a subsequent cabinet meeting, opened the way to undertake “the urgent struggle against international Jewry”. The concordat was celebrated in St Hedwig’s cathedral in Berlin with swastikas flying alongside the Catholic banners and the “Horst Wessel” song, the Nazis’ unofficial anthem, blaring out from loudspeakers to the thousands that had assembled outside.Cornwell shows that Pius XII’s attitude to Jews was ambivalent at best, unearthing letters from his early career in Germany in which he refuses favours to the Jewish community on the most pusillanimous of grounds and describes the Munich chapter of the German Communist Party as being chaotic, filthy and full of Jews. He refers dismissively to “a group of young women, of dubious appearance, Jews like all the rest of them” and describes the Communist leader Max Levien as a Jew, “pale, dirty, with drugged eyes, hoarse voice, vulgar, repulsive…”

When, during the war, he came to learn of the extermination of millions of Jews, he made only the vaguest of references to the slaughter in a 1942 Christmas message – making no mention of either anti-Semitism or the Jews – and concentrated instead on developing his inner spirituality, commissioning a film called Pastor Angelicus to show off his reflective, fiercely ascetic nature.”It is very sad,” the then British ambassador to the Holy See, Francis D’Arcy Osborne, wrote in a letter unearthed by Cornwell. “The fact is that the moral authority of the Holy See, which Pius XI and his predecessors had built up into a world power, is now sadly reduced.” link (more here)

In September 2008, Pope Benedict spoke at a symposium in honour of Pope Pius XII on the 50th anniversary of his death, praising his predecessor.

Ruth Gledhill asks if this means the Catholic Church is reversing the Vatican II reforms. Yes: both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict have made clear over the decades, Benedict both as head of the Papal Inquisition as well as Pope, they don’t like the Vatican II concept of the Catholic Church: they like Pius XII’s concept of the Church as a fascist authority, working in concert with other fascist authorities, to rule over the people. Bishop Williamson belongs in Pope Benedict’s church.

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