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Home > People

Papal Bullshit 2: Will the real Karol Wojtyla please stand up?

10 April 2005

Where to begin with a critique of the Roman Catholic church? Possibly by reading Hans Kung, claimed by some to be the world's leading Catholic theologian and a critic of many aspects of his own faith. The elderly rogue priest lives in Germany, and has had numerous run-ins with the Vatican. And it's easy to see why.

‘Outwardly, John Paul II supports human rights, while inwardly withholding them from bishops, theologians and especially women,' Kung has written. He is particularly appalled by the contradictory nature of Virgin Mary worship while forbidding women from practising birth control and barring them from

Kung sees Jean Paul II as a conservative pope who reversed the liberalising trends in the Roman Catholic church in the 1960s, citing examples such as the Pope ordering German bishops in 1999 to close counselling centres that issued certificates to women that could later be used to get an abortion.

Kung accuses his own church of hypocrisy on the issue of contraception: ‘This teaching [against contraception] has laid a heavy burden on the conscience of innumerable people, even in industrially developed countries with declining birth rates. But for the people in many under-developed countries, especially in Latin America, it constitutes a source of incalculable harm, a crime in which the Church has implicated itself.'

Pretty damning, but it gets worse: ‘During his many trips and in a speech to the 1994 United Nations Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, John Paul II declared his opposition to the pill and condoms. As a result, the pope, more than any other statesman, can be held partly responsible for uncontrolled population growth in some countries and the spread of AIDS in Africa.'

Kung isn't too happy about celibacy, either, saying the Pope's conservative stance has made it hard to recruit priests (we can see how that might happen) and that it is generally unhealthy. ‘If someone, by virtue of his office, is forced to spend his life without a wife and children, there is a great risk that healthy integration of sexuality will fail,' he writes. And fail it did, with the Vatican desperately trying to cover up a massive paedophile sex scandal recently.

Perhaps Kung is overstating the case that celibacy is connected to paedophilia, but the requirement of celibacy certainly suggests the church is disbarring normal people while providing a rather unhealthy enclave for people with confused sexuality and problems in relating to the real world.

It's not just Kung who thinks the Roman Catholic Church has taken the wrong road. Other critics dislike the Vatican's centralising tendency, and some Catholic thinkers are increasingly unhappy with the concept of papal infallibility.

A measure of how nonsensical papal infallibility is can be seen by casting your mind back to the heady year of 1615, when the Pope (a different one) presided at the trial of Galileo. The result was that Galileo swore not to teach that the earth is not the centre of the universe.

But who knows what will happen under the new pope? With the death of Jean Paul II, maybe the Vatican will start modernising. In a few hundred years' time, the Roman Catholic church might even be dragged, kicking and screaming, into the 20th century.

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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