A noble lie: child trafficking and the Catholic church

October 19, 2011

I was as appalled as anyone when I read about the documentary that just came out regarding Spain’s stolen children. Over a span of fifty years some three hundred thousand children were taken from their birth mothers and sold to couples who could afford the adoptions.

The children were trafficked by a secret network of doctors, nurses, priests and nuns in a widespread practice that began during General Franco’s dictatorship and continued until the early Nineties.

Hundreds of families who had babies taken from Spanish hospitals are now battling for an official government investigation into the scandal.

Several mothers say they were told their first-born children had died during or soon after they gave birth.

But the women, often young and unmarried, were told they could not see the body of the infant or attend their burial.

In reality, the babies were sold to childless couples whose devout beliefs and financial security meant that they were seen as more appropriate parents.

Documentation was then forged to make it look like adoption never took place, that the children had been born into those families, but it’s suggested that many of those couples had no idea they were buying a stolen child.

At the moment, that’s neither here nor there. I want to take a different angle on this. I was thinking about it instead of sleeping in this morning and wondering what kind of positive impact this may have had on Spain’s future.

What got me thinking about this was a chapter out of Freakonomics, by Steven Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. U.S. crime rates were falling sharply in the early ’90s and theories abounded over the reasons why. Levitt and John Donohue, a law professor out of Stanford, came up with an ingenious one: the legalization of abortion after Roe v. Wade. Children who would have been born into single parent/low income families in bad neighbourhoods were not born, thus eliminating the potential for them to become criminals as teens and adults. Was that the destiny of every fetus aborted? Of course not, but it’s obvious a percentage of them would have resorted to a life of crime. After all, there was still crime in the ’90s so it makes sense that a percentage of kids born the ’70s found nothing productive to do with their lives except steal and kill people.

So, getting back to Spain. Am I condoning what they did? Fuck, no. Priests and nuns have a lot of power over Catholics and the assumed direct line to God creates a sense in believers those holy folk know what’s best and can be trusted not to lie through their teeth. I pity everyone who was tricked and deceived by the people involved in this long-running scam.

That said, I think it could be argued they unwittingly did Spain a tremendous favour by moving babies out of “bad” situations and into “good” ones. Never mind the assumption that these young mothers were sinners in the eyes of God because they had sex out of wedlock; if they were unwed, it was going to be difficult to hold down a job and raise a kid alone. They probably never got far through school, either. And, if they were actually married but dirt poor, that’s hardly the best environment for child-rearing, at least in terms of making sure a kid gets decent food and housing. We know this. We’ve seen enough evidence that this is the case. Transferring the babies to families that could afford to raise them well was a sensible decision. Horribly played out, but sensible.

I know nothing about Spain’s history or Franco’s regime so I have to nick some from Wikipedia:

Francoism professed a devotion to the traditional role of women in society, that is: loving child to her parents and brothers, faithful to her husband, residing with her family. Official propaganda confined her role to family care and motherhood. Immediately after the war, most progressive laws passed by the Republic aimed at equality between the sexes were made void. Women could not become judges, or testify in trial. They could not become university professors. Their affairs and economy had to be managed by their father or by their husbands. Even in the 1970s a woman fleeing from an abusive husband could be arrested and imprisoned for “abandoning the home” (abandono del hogar). Until the 1970s a woman could not have a bank account without a co-sign by her father or husband.

And due to the sheer number of human rights violations in other ways,

in 2007, the Spanish government banned all public references to the Franco regime and removed any statues, street names, memorials and symbols associated with the regime. Churches which retain plaques commemorating Franco and the victims of his Republican opponents may lose state aid.

I hope I get a chance at some point to see this documentary. I wonder how many of these people will be able to reunite with their birth families. Franco had “encouraged” a lot of people to emigrate instead of sit jobless in Spain and if the Church had nothing in the way of compunction when it came to tweaking church records, good luck getting to the truth of origins. That’s one hell of a mess for all involved.


Sandra Beardsall, feminism and the church: Freethinker meeting part 3

June 20, 2011

I’m in the middle of a “long-winded” rundown of the Saskatoon Freethinker meetup I attended on Sunday morning. We’d invited Pastor Sandra Beardsall to talk to us about her experience in the United Church and the history of feminism from the church perspective. It was a great talk and incredibly interesting. I learned a lot and am now sharing it all with you lucky readers. If any readers were at the meeting and want to add comments (in case I screw something up or missed something important) please do so. This is part three. (Read one and two if you want before continuing).

Sandra is a professor of Church History and Ecumenics at St. Andrew’s College at the U of Saskatchewan and participates in research related to Christian history and the development of interfaith/interchurch dialogue. The first part of her talk focused on the beginning of Enlightenment. The second part focused on church reaction to that, and what sort of schisms and additional belief groups developed in opposition of it. Some like Christian liberalists found room for some of the tenets that gave Enlightenment its strength but others, like the Fundamentalists and Orthodox groups, took the growth of that human-centered ideology as a threat in many ways, and bolstered their own traditional beliefs and the necessity to hang onto them at all costs.

Something that played into all this was the changing role of women in the world, but more specifically in church settings. Sandra explained how Evangelical Revivalists welcomed women as active speakers on the road and they did well, converting audiences all over Canada and the U.S. Fundamentalists, on the other hand, held the word of God over the heads of women, restricting their role to only what men thought God himself mandated for them, which made teaching anything church-related a complete and utter no-no.

The Roman Catholics weren’t much better. Sure, they had nuns who’d do their bit of running around and charity work but it was declared early that women could never be ordained because it might impede attempts to create ecumenical relations with other Christian (etc) faiths. Was it because they assumed others wouldn’t like to see powerful women so they refused to let women have power? Maybe. Odd when you think of how much they’ll revere Mary, though. Still, some sects still hold tight to the belief that to ordain a woman by a bishop, especially through apostolic succession, would be a grave sin and churches that do so must be shunned, essentially.

For liberal protestant groups (in which Sandra’s United Church falls), the lack of bishop-based organization has allowed the groups and individuals a bit more latitude in terms of whether or not they feel women should be ordained and paid for their work. This arrangement gives women a bigger voice. Congregations can make more of their own decisions, which makes room for more feminist perspectives and more inclusion for women on account of it.

She said something then about the huge impact Puritanism has had on the way societies organize themselves, whether we’re talking through a church or secular living. The whole determinism, Calvinism, free will thing made just as big an impact as Descartes’ work did in his day. She also said that protestants had started to ordain women as early as the ’30s but there was a setup that made sure that if they married, they’d have to step down and be wives instead. “Because men needed them,” she said. We all laughed. Men could still minister and be husbands, though. This weird inequality hung on until 1962, if I read my writing correctly.

Sandra also mentioned that while she was doing her theology course work, she was instructed to relate to issues using inclusive language, not automatically genderize things to a masculine form all the time. This is when she got into why she can be a feminist and still remain with her church. That’ll be part 4 and the last.


“I love cannibals!” I mean, Catholics…

April 29, 2011

Eat of my body, drink of my blood… The whole mass tradition winds up sounding kind of creepy. Cannibalism has an interesting history though and remains a fascinating intellectual exercise. For some other time, though.

When Catholics aren’t symbolically eating Jesus, they’re revering pope blood. John Paul II is on the fast track to beatification and part of getting him there has justified hanging onto his blood “donations.” They will be used as part of the ceremony and then kept among the collections of holy relics the Church already covets around the world.

The Vatican made the announcement Tuesday, putting to rest questions about what relic would be presented during Sunday’s beatification.

In a statement, the Vatican said four small vials of blood had been taken from John Paul during his final days for a possible transfusion, but were never used. Two of the vials were given to John Paul’s private secretary, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, and another two remained at the Vatican’s Bambin Gesu hospital in the care of nuns.

One of the hospital vials will be placed in a reliquary and presented Sunday; the other will remain with the nuns.

I wondered if there were other blood relics anywhere and found one at the basilica Saint-Basilius, AKA The Holy Blood of Bruges (in Bruges, naturally) where the faithful can gaze upon and venerate the relic every Friday.

According to the old tradition, Derrick of Alsace, Count of Flanders, brought the relic of the Holy Blood with him after the second crusade, having received it in the Holy Land (1150).

Because of his exceptional heroism during this crusade, Derrick received this relic, with the approval of the patriarch of Jerusalem, from the hands of his brother-in-law, Baldwin III of Anjou, King of Jerusalem.

Arriving in Bruges on april 7th 1150, Count Derrick, accompanied by his wife Sybilla of Anjou and Leonius, abbot of Saint Bertin’s abbey of Saint Omar, brought the relic to the Basilius chapel on the Burg, a chapel which he himself had built.

According to legend, some Templars had found a stone jar in the “Holy Grave” in Jerusalem on Christmas day and became convinced it held Christ’s blood. It held a liquid of some kind, for certain, which they poured into an octagonal bottle they had on hand and sealed the liquid inside it.

Sybilla of Anjou was a leper who suffered from terrible attacks of fever. After the sealing of the bottle, she held the precious Relic in her hands for just a moment, triggering in her a vision of “a New Jerusalem of the West”: the city of Bruges. In the same moment Sybilla and all lepers surrounding here had been miraculously cured.

If you can’t get to Bruges, there’s always the option to buy something that supposedly touched the blood itself, a bargain at ten dollars.

We will send you this very special package. Inside you will find a very special piece of material that has been touched to this rare Holy Blood relic that was preserved by Joseph of Arimathea.

Your package will come with a piece of material in a package that was touched to an authentic piece of Joseph of Arimathea’s cloth, certificate of authenticity, a history sheet, and a Holy Relic card.

And if this doesn’t interest you, they also sell tea.


Local prisoners get day release to see Jesus

April 6, 2011

Isn’t that an awesome headline? And it’s totally true. Well, almost. Yesterday local prisoners got a day release in the Polish town, Swiebodzin, to see what the Catholic Church hopes is the world’s largest statue of Jesus, finally complete.

Father Sylwester Zawadzki had driven on site in his Mercedes, rosary beads hanging from the rear view mirror, but he didn’t want to talk about his heavenly monolith. “I’ve had enough of talking,” he said. Previously when asked why he decided to erect the gargantuan saviour, he said, “It was Jesus’s idea: I was just the builder.”

Quietly, though, and rarely on the record, many locals find the statue an embarrassment. They see the odd gaggle of tourists pull up in their cars, jump out and have their photos taken, giggling as they mimic the Lord’s outstretched arms, before driving off again, never even venturing into town to spend some money.

“I read in the press that He cost six million zloty (£1.5m) and I think we could spend that money far better. We need schools, we need hospitals, we need better roads,” said one young woman in Swiebodzin, who refused to give her name for fear of incurring the wrath of the church.

Isn’t it sad to know the locals are petrified of getting caught criticizing their church leaders about this colossal waste of money? Gazeta Swiebodzinska’s Editor in Chief, Waldemar Roszczuk, has never held back his thoughts on the project.

When he publicly questioned the value of the statue last year, he received silent phone calls. “We are still a very Catholic town in a very Catholic country and the church wields a lot of power. But talk to young people and you will see that many do not want to go to church any more. They are of a more rational mindset and question everything the church tells them,” he said.

Good for them. Hurrahs all around. Unfortunately, their rationalism does nothing to fix the fact that millions were wasted by their elders on what tourists ultimately think is a laughing stock fit only for the classic “Snap and Split.”

Poland is slow to get secular, by the look of the rest of the article. Good news on the atheist front, though: they have a Young Freethinkers Association whose members are keen to promote the notion of being good without god and arranged a “Coming Out” march in Krakow last year. Poland also has a national radio station and newspaper run by priests who aren’t taking that Out stance very well at all.

In a café in Krakow last week, the group explained the trouble they caused when they idly discussed with a journalist the possibility of copying the UK atheist bus campaign which advertised on London buses with the slogan: “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”

“I just said it was a nice idea, but that got twisted and all of a sudden Nasz Dziennik, the newspaper run by Radio Maryja, was urging readers to write to the Krakow tram operating company to insist they did not take an advert from us. We never even got as far as booking an advert, but 200 people wrote in,” said Ewelina Podsiad, one of the group.

They’ve got a long road ahead of them but I’m glad to see they’re trying.


The One Minion Search Party vol. 40

October 6, 2010

This week’s query:

was there ever a pope that was married?

It turns out 39 popes of the past had tied the knot, but all of those marriages happened before they became popes and the last one was Felix V, elected in 1439.

He’s considered an antipope now and has been for a while (probably since 1440 when he found himself excommunicated and usurped). It seems there was a bit of a schism.

Why priests can’t marry and still remain priests is more interesting to ponder. Married ex-priest John Shuster explains why. It has to do with the Roman habit of abstaining from sex prior to major events (battles or sports) and the assumption that priests ought to avoid their wives before Mass, too.

The resultant message was that sexuality and marriage were no longer holy.

Celibacy became yet another political opportunity in the hands of ambitious priests and bishops. They used the celibate lifestyle as a political tool to lessen the influence of the married priests. A negative attitude towards women and sexuality began to emerge from the hierarchy that stood in stark contrast to the healthy family perspective that was central to the early Church.12 This established celibacy as the highest state of holiness and the eventual suppression of the married priesthood.

In 366, Pope Damasus told all his priests that they could marry but they still couldn’t have any sex. That idea was completely rejected. In 385, Siricius went one step further by abandoning his entire family before taking on the Pope role and then decreed that priests couldn’t be married at all. That edict was equally unpopular and ignored.

Over the next 1,000 years, an unnatural sexual ethic emerged in the Church’s developing theology. This new legalistic preoccupation with sexuality was antagonistic to normal human relationships and out of step with the natural order of life as established by God. It continued to be very derogatory towards women.

In 401, St. Augustine wrote that “Nothing is so powerful in drawing the spirit of a man downwards as the caresses of a woman.”15 The evolving attitude against sexuality and women was designed to control the intimate aspects of people’s lives, and this dynamic continues to the present day. Because they were family men, married priests could see the political agenda behind the hierarchy’s obsession with sexuality. Married priests stood in solidarity with the people and did their best to stave off the Roman hierarchy’s continued efforts to gain power and control over them and their families.

So what happened? Power struggles and abuse of authority.

In the year 1075, Pope Gregory VII declared that nobody could judge a pope except God. Introducing the concept of infallibility, he was the first pope to decree that Rome can never be in error. He had statues made in his likeness and placed them in churches throughout Europe. He insisted that everyone must obey the pope, and that all popes are saints by virtue of their association with St. Peter

Greg demanded finally that anyone who wanted to be a priest had to be single. And now that he could claim he was infallible, he couldn’t possibly be wrong about how evil women were. And Urban, who came after, took things even further by selling priests’ wives and children into slavery and putting the money made on that venture into church coffers.

Shuster claims that as many as one out of every three Catholic priests in the States is married. Not practicing in churches anymore, maybe, but married. And he writes that polls suggest 70% of Catholic parishioners would like to see these guys be allowed to do their jobs regardless of that.

Mandatory celibacy is truly a man-made rule, a discipline, just like the old rule forbidding altar girls. These disciplinary practices are not necessary to our faith as Roman Catholics. Such rules can and have been changed. Today we are faced with parish closures because of the celibacy rule. With the stroke of a pen, the Vatican could lift the mandatory celibacy discipline for all of the priests. In doing so, they could mobilize over 110,000 married Catholic priest couples worldwide and re-open every parish they have been forced to close.

And maybe some of these married boys could take over in parishes where sick child molesters have been hanging out and letting it all hang out…


“It’s a miracle, I dare you to say it’s not…”

December 15, 2009

It’s not. (edit 5:06 pm Wednesday — fixed the link to the site in question. People need to tell me when links are bad. Surely there’s some button people can click that will send a comment my way…)

So, I popped a couple comments into a post called Attention Atheists about the so-called miraculous painting of Our Lady of Guadalupe which I didn’t know existed. I’m not into art, me.

Lewiscrusade was hoping the inability of scientists to explain the “miracles” of this particular fabric art would be enough to turn an atheist’s heart. Well, better luck with the next one, Lewis. Later on in my post I reveal the research proving just how flawed that “miracle” concept really is.

Here are my comments (prior to researching this myself):

As I am not one who’d know anything about fabric, let alone historical fabric making in Mexico circa 1500s, I can’t explain why it’s endured as well as it has. I don’t know anything about the history of paint mixing either for why it hasn’t faded.

Doesn’t automatically mean I’d conclude a miracle happened (or more than one). It just means I don’t know.

This atheist says it’s not proof enough.

Researchers have claimed it’s not painted because no brush strokes are noticeable and the pigment doesn’t seem to be animal, plant or mineral based. Should we surprised to discover they’re laughably wrong? Better researchers got better results which will be revealed below.

Sorry, just thought of something else – A better miracle would be if it miraculously turned up painted in a style not reminiscent of anything being done at the time – like a Picasso style or Dali.

I mean really. It has all the same imagery as other art had at the time, which helps everyone who knows art from that time period understand the meaning of it and infer whatever they want out of it.

He (or she) also provides a link to Science Sees what Mary Saw which is about getting digital imagery of the tilma to study it in detail, but goes under the silly assumption that the picture really was magicked onto the cloth by the holy virgin Mary herself, apparently. Read the rest of this entry »


Madonna is “a stain on humanity and offensive to God”

December 11, 2008

But please, Cardinal. Tell us what you really think.

Madonna performed in Santiago on the Latin American leg of her Sticky and Sweet Tour to promote her album “Hard Candy.”

“The atmosphere in our city is pretty agitated because this woman is visiting and with incredibly shameful behavior provokes a wild and lustful enthusiasm,” Cardinal Jorge Medina told the congregation.

“Thoughts of lust, impure thoughts, impure acts, are an offense to God and a dirty stain on our heart,”

Those poor Catholics. I’m sure Madonna puts on a very entertaining show for everyone else who won’t have to confess sins of the mind and penis later.

I don’t care for her overly hyper-sexed displays, myself. I think they’re tacky. Same goes for the Pussycat Dolls. When women have real talent, they shouldn’t be thinking they have to slut themselves on stage to get noticed and appreciated. Don’t assume I mean the Pussycat Dolls have talent. All they’ve got are tits, asses, and moronic lyrics nobody actually pays attention to because they’re just there to watch the girls gyrate and shake their shit. I wish women didn’t believe that was the only way to advertise themselves, that’s all.

At least Madonna puts semi-naked men to work on stage sometimes. Equal rights for sexism and all that. Way to go, girlfriend.

I get amused by rumours of how prudish she is with regards to her daughter, Lourdes. She banned her from dating, apparently, and doesn’t want her acting either.

I think I can actually commend her for that. I don’t think kids have to start dating when they’re fourteen either and if Madonna doesn’t want to see her child ruined by the stress of Hollywood fame, I don’t blame her. Lourdes has enough trouble dealing with the fallout from her mother’s life. She’s also embarrassed by mom’s sweatshirt collection, funnily enough, but as one commenter remarks,

Lourdes should be glad that she wasn’t her 11 or 12 yr old daughter back in the early 1990s, when Madonna would parade around at parties, awards shows, and performances in that John Galliano cone-shaped bra she made so famous…among her other leather creations from that era. (Now THAT is embarassing, imho, more so than designer yoga pants & tees.)

Maybe Madonna would like to see her daughter do something else with her life rather than spend it in front of an audience. It’s nice to see a parent put her foot down for a change, frankly. Look how damaged Lindsay Lohan wound up because Dina probably wanted the fame and flashing lights more than Lindsay did and now she’s riding the wave of her other daughter’s budding film career.

Anyway, back to Cardinal Stickypants and religious righteousness. I think overtly sexualized performances don’t add anything useful to advertising or entertainment but by no means am I going to applaud the Cardinal’s carnal sin angle. There’s nothing wrong with sex and sexuality. It’s all natural — except those people who want sex with children and horses. What the fuck is up with that?

It’s too bad the Church is so insistent on being pure of body and soul. Maybe if they let their priests get married and let them fuck like bunnies, there wouldn’t be so many secrets for church leaders to conceal. Or, do more screening for sexual predators before giving them cassocks loose enough to hide inappropriate erections. The Pope claims to be ashamed of what goes on, but who knows what he’d been doing before he got elected and how many priests he helped move to avoid scandals.

I think a lot of mental anguish comes out of misguided beliefs about what sex and sexuality are. Having people you respect telling you it’s sinful to even think about it, let alone do it? They encourage and support lies about masterbation and original sin and other fuckwittery about natural human urges to eat and hoard and brag. Why do they do that? So they can have more reasons to punish ordinary human beings for doing what ordinary human beings will naturally want to do? The standards of holy perfection are beyond humanity’s grasp and they know that. It’s set that high for a reason – because it can never be achieved. And the more people try and fail, the more they can blame themselves for inadequacy and sinful behaviours and beg for forgiveness. Let them hope for it but never allow them achieve it.

And people wonder why church attendance is down.


Pope reinstates greed as deadly sin

September 13, 2008

The article’s headline: World bows to false idols of power, money: pope

The Pope is in Paris, and is concerned about how people turn to material things rather than God. Worshiping the money, the gold and silver tokens of iconography, like the gold and silver statues pagans apparently prayed over, according to the article, and:

“Has it not imitated, perhaps inadvertently, the pagans of antiquity, by diverting man from his true end, from the joy of living eternally with God,” he said, wearing gold, white and red vestments and speaking fluent French.

He quoted the writings of St Paul saying “money is the root of all evil” and added in his own words: “Have not money, the thirst for possessions, for power and even for knowledge, diverted man from his true destiny?”

And the Pope never dreamed of becoming that powerful? And people can be possessions, too, Big Guy, and just how many churches do you have under your control? How much money and gold and silver statues does the Vatican store? How many thousands of Euros worth of donations did you get this trip?

The thirst for knowledge is also a dangerous diversion, according to him. I know a lot of scientific discovery came from within the Church, but that’s where the money was, that’s where the opportunity to discover was. Now that people and companies aren’t dependent on church-approved patronage for their funding of new science and progress in general, we’re all on a path to hell?

“In his speech to the pope on Friday Sarkozy said it would be ‘folly’ for France to ignore its long history of Christian thought.”

I think it would be folly to agree with the Pope, here. I don’t think the world needs another Bonfire of the Vanities and that’s where this kind of thinking can lead. Savonarola thought he was doing the right things for God, too.


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