The essay following the line below is one that I was asked to write for the Canadian Athiest. I want first to thank Veronica Abbas who asked me to write it, and also for Veronica’s careful editing which made it a much better paper than it otherwise would have been.
Since I begin with a rather hyperbolic remark about Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’, remarking that it isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on (or, I might have added, the monitor real estate that it occupies), I want to begin with a quotation from Geoffrey Robertson’s The Case of the Pope, words which I hope will explain (if not excuse) the hyperbole. We sometimes forget that churches are accumulations of power, which is obvious in the case of the Vatican, of course, but we do not often reflect on ways in which this power is used, often to the harm of those who are affected. This blog, for instance, began as an angry response to the Anglican Church, and its stand on assisted dying, a stand which has a greater effect than it ought to have, given the traditional respect that is often paid to churches, and their leaders. Mind you, I would rather have Christianity exercise its influence over those who govern in the West, rather than Islam, which is, despite the oft repeated lie that Islam is a religion of peace, a threat to our freedoms and way of life, no matter how distant that threat may appear to many. Nevertheless, enough of that. Here are the words from Robertson’s The Case of the Pope that I would like you to bear in mind as you read the essay that follows.
The Holy See’s ‘permanent observer statehood’ had first been exploited to wreck an important UN conference on populations and development in Cairo in 1995. Even before the preparatory conference to settle the agenda, the Vatican began a propaganda campaigh over family planning and contraception proposals, alleging that ‘reproductive health’ meant abortion (a ‘heinous evil’) and tolerance of homosexuality (another ‘heinous evil). It forged and unholy alliance with states like Libya and Iran to oppose the projected ‘right to sexual health’. At the all-important ‘prepcons’ (the preparatory conferences which settle the final agenda) the Holy See used its ‘state’ rights to the hilt. Accorded full membership, it objected to over 100 paragraphs of the initial draft which referred to any for of planned parenthood, then it called for special debates on these issues at the conference, to which it dispatched one of the largest delegations (seventeen diplomats) who blocked consensus and enlisted allies from the Catholic countries of Latin America and Africa to water down the languge and avoid any possibility of recogniing that abortion or contraception might in any circumstances [my emphasis] be tolerated or that anything might be done to hlp the victims of botched or backyard abortions. As a result, a conference that should have discussed population policy and international aid was hikjacked by a church masquerading as a state, preventing consensus being reached on any proposal that might possibly challenge the proposition that the only acceptable human genital contact was that between husband and wife for the purpose of procreation. [par 147]
This takes on special poignancy and relevance in connnexion with the headline in the current issue of The Nation:
Recalling that the US is an obstacle to much needed abortion care for women and girls caught up in wars raging in Africa and the Middle East mainly because of Christian opposition to abortion (which they equate with murder, although in English Common Law neither abortion, nor the killing of infants due to post-partum depression or other causes, have ever been punished as severely as murder) is particularly telling. For this opposition is not lacking in Papa Francisco’s latest encyclical, which, along with a couple other hobby horses that the pope feels he must ride, makes of this encyclical a blatant act of injustice sneaked into print under cover of concern for the environment (which is, or should be, a concern of us all), which makes it that much more insidious and unwelcome. With that introduction, you can turn now to the essay that has been printed in the Canadian Atheist. I have called it “a short critique”, though it rings in at around 2000 words, which is short for me!