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Newsline 6 December 2013

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Catholic sex abuse scandal: how will Pope Francis make the Church accountable?

Catholic sex abuse scandal: how will Pope Francis make the Church accountable?

Opinion | Wed, 04 Dec 2013

The Vatican's refusal to provide information requested by the United Nations on the alleged sexual abuse of children could mean Pope Francis's honeymoon period ends in ignominy, just like his predecessor, argues Terry Sanderson.

Did you know that the Pope "sneaks out" of the Vatican at night dressed as an ordinary priest so that he can minister to the homeless and destitute on the streets of Rome?

Isn't it marvellous?

Did you know that Pope Francis once worked as a bouncer at a nightclub?

How wonderful – he's just like one of us – a working man.

As the propaganda piles up, Pope Francis basks in the adulation of the uncritical masses.

But wait. What's this? The sex abuse scandal that so tormented his predecessor seems to be emerging again after being swept under the rug during Francis's honeymoon period.

The Holy See (the political wing of the Vatican) has at last responded to questions put to it by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child about the global issue of child rape by priests.

Or, more accurately, it has not responded. It says that it has nothing to do with what goes on in the dioceses and parishes of its churches. Therefore it cannot be held responsible in any way for the unspeakable things that some of its priests do to defenceless children.

And just when the Vatican thought it had distracted us from the horrors that thousands of its priests have perpetrated, it all starts slithering back again.

The Los Angeles Times has carried out an investigation into Cardinal Roger Mahoney and his decades-long cover-up of child rape by priests. The exposé is based on "nearly 23,000 pages of internal documents from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and various religious orders that were made public this year in compliance with court orders". And even then, only in the face of bitter opposition from the Church.

The paper revealed in an editorial that, following the investigation, it had received an unprecedented number of letters from readers condemning the Church.

Meanwhile, more cases emerge all round the world. So many in fact, that news of them hardly gets any further than local newspapers any more.

And sometimes the sheer spitefulness and cynicism employed to evade paying compensation to victims is breath-taking, especially from an institution that purports to dictate morality to the rest of us. In Australia a man who is terminally ill and who was sodomised repeatedly by a number of priests has won compensation, but a year later he has not seen a penny of it. Why is the church delaying?

In Minnesota, a court has ordered a diocese to hand over the names of 33 priests who are suspected of abusing and raping children. It has only taken 30 years to get to this stage – and the names haven't been handed over yet.

It's not that the Vatican is unaware of the problem – as its chief prosecutor of paedophile priests has made clear. Father Robert Oliver says, "Rome is 'well aware' of how frustrated many people are with perceived confusion about how to hold bishops accountable when they're accused of failing to make a 'zero tolerance' policy stick and hopes a solution will emerge from debates over curial reform under Pope Francis".

Haven't we been here before? Didn't Benedict promise that reform would come if we were patient? Well, we were patient (in some cases, 30 years patient) and nothing much happened. Ineffective "zero tolerance" policies were supposedly introduced, but still the cover-ups continue.

Is Francis going to be any different? Last week he had an opportunity to at least apologise for the disgusting record of his Church. At a meeting with Dutch bishops he was supposed to say (according to notes handed out before the meeting) "I wish to express my compassion and to ensure my closeness in prayer to every victim of sexual abuse, and to their families; I ask you to continue to support them along the painful path of healing, that they have undertaken with courage".

In the event, he didn't say it and preferred instead to just talk generally with the bishops who represent a country with its own major abuse scandal. A public inquiry recently showed that tens of thousands of children had been raped by Dutch priests, and now the church is paying out millions in compensation.

In return, the bishops told the Pope that the Catholic Church is dying on its feet in the Netherlands. Hundreds of churches have closed and more than 23,000 Catholics quit the Dutch Church in 2010, the peak of an exodus in which an average 18,000 have left each year since 2006. (This year, however, only about 7,500 had left by October.)

And so, as we are regaled with tales of Francis's marvellous humanity, his love of the poor and suffering, the tens of thousands – maybe even millions - of victims around the globe wait and hope that something will change. Francis seems too busy being adored at present to be bothered with them.

When one bishop asked a victim who had taken him to court "What can I do to make it better?" The victim replied: "Give me back my childhood".

That is the scale of Francis's problem and if he isn't careful, his glorious honeymoon is going to end in ignominy, just like his predecessor.

The God Question – a Trojan horse for Intelligent Design

The God Question – a Trojan horse for Intelligent Design

Opinion | Fri, 29 Nov 2013

Intelligent Design is back in shiny new packaging, labelled as 'evidence based and balanced' and getting into the science classrooms in Scotland, argues Alistair McBay.

"To be sure, Darwin's theory of evolution is imperfect. However, the fact that a scientific theory cannot yet render an explanation on every point should not be used as a pretext to thrust an untestable alternative hypothesis grounded in religion into the science classroom or to misrepresent well-established scientific propositions."
Judge John Jones, Pennsylvania 2008, Kitzmiller et al v Dover Area School District.

Earlier this week I went to the launch of the God Question in the memorial chapel at Glasgow University, a subject about which I wrote in an earlier blog. This is a series of slick and expensively produced DVDs and workbooks that pitch science against God, claiming to review the evidence for and against the existence of God and to leave viewers to draw their own conclusions.

I was advised by the producer that, to the extent that there were any references in it to young earth creationism (YEC), it was only to make a point of ensuring its inclusion as one line of argument. He added that he felt the YECs, with whom he held no truck, had muddied the waters and got in the way of a valid and necessary debate that this new resource was positioned to present – namely to what extent, if any, science had destroyed belief in God, or whether science left room for God, and perhaps even revealed the hand of God at work. When I asked him to tell me who the sponsors of the programme were, he declined to answer, while assuring me I should read nothing Machiavellian into their desire to remain anonymous.

Professor Richard Dawkins is named at the outset of the presentation as the villain of the piece, with his book "The God Delusion" and Channel 4 series "The Root of All Evil?" cast as the motivating factors behind the production of the God Question. Professor Dawkins is listed as a contributor to the God Question, although the clips of him used in the presentation appeared to be culled from YouTube. No doubt Professor Dawkins will be reviewing this resource himself. As I sat through the presentation, it proved to be everything I had initially suspected it to be, namely a paean to Intelligent Design (ID) and whether the evidence — scientific evidence — pointed to the universe being a series of chance happenings or the result of the intervention of a creative mind behind the processes at work.

Having followed the ID debate closely, the presentation was all too familiar, with the room for God presented as a valid alternative view, or perhaps even conclusion, to pure scientific arguments. This was on the basis that many eminent scientists are also religious believers, and so this justifies room for debate around the need for a creator or creative mind at work behind the universe. In the Cosmos section, we were asked to marvel at how swiftly the universe became ordered after Big Bang, with established laws of physics set down such that had the quantities of the basic elements in the universe been even minutely different to what they are, there would be nothing. And how could something as awe-inspiring and mysterious as the universe and the human brain spring from nothing? As I listened I wished that the producers had asked Lawrence Krauss to contribute to their programme on the basis of his seminal work "A Universe from Nothing" which addresses that issue for once and for all, not least in reviewing what is meant by 'nothing'. It seems a huge mistake on their part not to include Professor Krauss's work.

In the evolution section, we were told that God versus Darwin was a false choice, and the reality was much more complicated than that. We were encouraged at various points to consider whether everything we knew about the universe, or evolution, or the human brain and consciousness, was the subject of chance and random occurrences, or evidence of intention and purposeful design. We were told that the evidence must be allowed to speak for itself, which does rather depend on what and whose evidence is presented, how it is presented, and by whom.

We were also informed that the 'God' in question was not the 'magician in the sky', and certainly not the God of the YECs, but while being told what this God wasn't, we were never told what this God actually was! There was no definition of what or who was the 'God' in the title, leaving the audience with the inference that 'God' was the convenient name for the mind at work, the creative input that manifested itself in the specific design that lay behind the universe, rather than the universe being the outcome of a series of chance happenings with no purpose.

We were told that the programmes presented the evidence from both sides of the debate. The first problem is that this presupposes there is a valid debate to be had in the first place which I would argue there is not. The second problem is that the two sides of the debate are not equally presented. Science is put on the spot, with which I have no problem. However, the issue of the 'designer' is not subjected to the same intensive forensic process, leaving the viewer with nothing more than the notion of an unseen guiding hand, occasionally in a 'God of the Gaps' scenario. The scientific evidence provided by science is analysed to justify what is presented as two equally valid alternatives, one of which is in fact anti-science!

The closing address to the audience was given by Mike McGrath, the head of the Scottish Catholic Education Service who stated that the God Question had 'huge potential' and that as well as the subject matter being raised in RME (Religious and Moral Education) classes it was also valid to discuss the issues raised in science classes. This is further confirmed by an advertisement for a national conference today in Scotland organised by SCES for Catholic schools to review the product, which states:

The conference is aimed at teachers of Religious Education and teachers of Science in Catholic schools. In both curricular areas teachers are expected to engage senior phase students in exploring the links between Science and Religion and in addressing significant moral and ethical issues in today's world. The conference will illustrate how useful this resource can be in supporting this area of learning and it will address ways in which Catholic schools might extend teachers' understanding of Church teaching on some challenging issues."

And so back to the quote at the beginning of this blog from Judge John Jones in Pennsylvania in December 2008. Intelligent Design may not have wormed its way into the science classrooms in Dover County, Pennsylvania, but five years on it is now back in shiny new packaging, labelled as 'evidence based and balanced' and getting into the science classrooms in Scotland. And with the enthusiastic support of the Church of Scotland and the Scottish Catholic Church, we also now know that turkeys definitely do not vote for Christmas.

Alistair McBay is the NSS spokesperson in Scotland. The views expressed in our blogs are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the NSS.

Netherlands scraps blasphemy law – but seeks a way to replace it

Netherlands scraps blasphemy law – but seeks a way to replace it

News | Thu, 05 Dec 2013

The upper House of the Dutch parliament has voted to abolish the country's blasphemy law which has been on the statute books since 1932.

NSS Speaks Out

The BBC picked up our story about the Vatican refusing to co-operate with the UN on its inquiry into sex abuse by priests. It was carried on several news bulletins as well as on the website. It was also carried in The Guardian, Raw Story, and Malta Today.

The NSS was widely quoted on the case of Celestina Mba, the Christian woman who lost her appeal against her employer who had refused permission for her to take every Sunday off work. We were quoted in The Guardianand Terry Sanderson was interviewed on BBC Radio WM.

NSS Scottish spokesperson, Alistair McBay, had a letter published in the Hebrides News.

The NSS was quoted in an article in The Voice about whether Christians are "under attack" and NSS executive director, Keith Porteous Wood, was quoted in a Times report about gender segregation on university campuses (subscription).

NSS AGM next Saturday!

The Annual General Meeting of the National Secular Society will take place on Saturday 14 December 2013 at Conway Hall, London. The meeting start at 1.30pm (registration opens at 1pm).

There will also be a memorial meeting for Bill McIlroy who died this year and who contributed so much to the NSS. This will begin at 11.30am, just before the AGM, all welcome.

Full information here.

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