A few days ago I took Pope Ratzinger to task for some things he said in his address to the cardinals and the curia, seated in an over-decorated hall somewhere in the depths of the church headquarters these aged virgins consider to be a state. However, there were two speeches, and I originally mistook one for the other in my earlier post entitled “If it is so important to live according to one’s nature: Castrate the lot of them, I say!” His Christmas message to the Roman Curia is not the same as his message on New Year’s Day — “for the celebration of the World Day of Peace”. Together, the two speeches raise some serious questions that deserve closer reading, for they are, jointly, a clear indication that the Roman Catholic Church intends to interfere in the internal affairs of nations by prescribing moral legislation pertaining to matters now in dispute: specifically, matters concerning the marriage of homosexuals, abortion and assisted dying. Given the Vatican’s apparent status as a state, although, as Geoffrey Robertson points out, “[n]either the Vatican nor the Holy See, or [sic] both together, satisfy the legal definition of statehood” (The Case of the Pope, 65), these claims are intrusive and dangerous. That the leader of a religion, occupying a few acres of Italian soil, should have diplomatic representatives around the world would be laughable if it weren’t actually happening. States should recognise that for a nation to have diplomatic relationships with a church to which some of its citizens belong is already to have blurred the edges of the separation of church and state, and, as I shall mention later, the pope’s Christmas message makes it clear how dangerous an obfuscation this is. While I am no organiser of protests, this is something that should be protested and defeated.
Here are the reasons, clearly set forth by Geoffrey Robertson. The Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (1961) provides that:
(1) Without prejudice to their privileges and immunities, it is the duty of all persons enjoying such privileges and immunities to respect the laws and regulations of the receiving state. They also have a duty not to interfere in the internal affairs of that state. [my italics; quoted in The Case of the Pope, 86]
Robertson points out that for many years the Vatican has done precisely that. It has reserved for itself and its own law, cases concerning clergy sexual abuse of children, and has refused, and often required silence on the part of the offended person or persons, until statutory limitations had expired, on pain of excommunication, to inform the appropriate civil authorities of the felonious actions of its employees. Besides this, the church has interfered in the internal affairs of countries to which it sends papal representatives, by the ‘spiritual blackmail’ of Catholic politicians, threatening excommunication if they do not, in relationship to legislation such as that concerning abortion and homosexual marriage, vote in accordance with orthodox Catholic moral principles. Robertson’s conclusion is clear:
The reality is that the Holy See has, by exerting its Canon Law jurisdiction over crime, and by making spiritual threats to democratically elected politicians, fundamentally ignored the Convention obligations of a state under Article 41 of the Vienna Convention, and should no longer be treated as if it is one. [86-87]
This is important, in view of what the pope, in his address to the Curia, has to say. It is my view also that we should cease to pay attention to the elaborate fiction of the papacy, by using the titles and names associated with the office claimed by the pope. The man’s a man for a’ that. He was given names by his mother and father, and used those names for most of his life. Now that he is the octogenarian totalitarian ruler of an effete collection of old cronies pretending to be a state, the name that he has so narcissistically chosen for himself, and which is imagined by some of the faithful to raise him above the common lot of humankind, should be reserved for intra-church occasions — they may, of course, call each other whatever they like — but we who dissent from the pretence of holiness and spiritual jurisdiction should not accord him the respect attaching to the customs of these few acres of Italy, whose presumed ”statehood” depends upon that scoundrel Mussolini, which was simply a fascistic con, just like all the rest of that man’s pretended power and glory.
These considerations are important in view of what the pope goes on to say in his Christmas address. For instance, he states clearly that
[f]or the Church in our day I see three principal areas of dialogue, in which she must be present in the struggle for man and his humanity: dialogue with states, dialogues with society — which includes dialogue with cultures and with science — and finally dialogue with religions. [my italics]
He follows this up almost immediately with this outrageous claim:
Human culture, of which she [the church] is the guarantee, has developed from the encounter between divine revelation and human existence. The Church represents the memory of what it means to be human in the face of a civilization of forgetfulness, which knows only itself and its own criteria.
Here he starts to dig a hole, and in a moment he buries himself in it by making claims for which there is not a shred of evidence. He pretends that the church, although it goes beyond reason, still has much of substance to say, even to nonbelievers. Here he is busy burying himself in the manure pile:
What the Church has learned from the encounter between revelation and human experience does indeed extend beyond the realm of pure reason, but it is not a separate world that has nothing to say to unbelievers. By entering into the thinking and understanding of mankind, this knowledge broadens the horizon of reason and thus it speaks also to those who are unable to share the faith of the Church.
This is simply pure nonsense. It does not even measure up to Sophisticated Theology™. Indeed, it is the claim to revelation that takes him beyond reason, for there is simply nothing upon which to base a claim to be able to know anything by means of a supposed revelation. This being the case, it cannot speak to those who cannot share the faith of the church, for it is simply empty verbiage if it is not grounded in something that can be justified by reason or evidence.
The next step is the one that takes the pope out of the realm of prescribed diplomatic limits:
The values that [the church] recognizes as fundamental and non-negotiable for the human condition she must propose with all clarity. She must do all she can to convince, and this can then stimulate political action.
Note carefully the words ‘political action,’ for this is something which the church, as a claimant to statehood, may not appropriately do in relation to its diplomatic representation in different countries. This is also why the Roman Catholic Church stands in an anomalous relationship with the state, wherever Roman Catholic believers are to be found who are represented, at a diplomatic level, by a papal nuncio. Holding things to be “non-negotiable for the human condition,” doing all that can be done to convince, and stimulating political action, work at cross purposes with the restrictions on interference in internal matters as defined by the Vienna Convention (1961). Roman Catholic officials are either citizens of the state in which they function, or they are representatives of a foreign power. Wherever there is a papal nuncio, it must be taken for granted that Roman Catholic officials, and especially conferences of Catholic bishops, are representatives of a foreign power, and not, therefore, entitled to interfere in matters of internal political concern.
Now we need to back up, and take a look at some of the non-negotiable values, fundamental for the human condition, that the pope considers. I have already dealt briefly with these, but it is important to keep these things in the forefront when we are considering what this interfering body of ancient “virgins” wants to keep simmering on the political agenda. Again we start at the end — which is a valuable place to start, because in the theological double-speak that is at issue here, the conclusions tend to show us the assumptions that run through the “argument” from the beginning. Here is that conclusion:
The defence of the family is about man himself. And it becomes clear that when God is denied, human dignity also disappears. Whoever defends God is defending man.
Notice, no justification is provided for this declaration, aside from the pretended relevance of the biblical text. Notice, also, that it is simply a dismissal of those who deny the existence of a god. Those who deny God, deny “man.” It is unsurprising that, in the male assembly to which the address was being made, the pope should rely on a sexist metonymy. What the pope is really talking about here is homosexuality and the family. Defending the family is defending “man”; denying God is denying “man”; and at the same time human dignity disappears. This parade of pretended reason is based on the biblical story of creation, in which we are told that “male and female he created them” (Gen 1.27). Our dignity apparently derives from accepting these roles, assigned to us in creation, and is denied when, in our hubristic individualism, we choose for ourselves what roles we will play:
Man and woman [declares the pope fatuously] as created realities, as the nature of the human being, no longer exist. Man calls his nature into question. From now on he is merely spirit and will. The manipulation of nature, which we deplore today [he continues, irrelevantly and mistakenly] where our environment is concerned, now becomes man’s fundamental choice where he himself is concerned.
It is, however, the destructive exploitation of nature that we deplore, not its manipulation, which human beings have been doing since the species which developed into Homo sapiens began making tools.
This claim, however, puts Hume’s point about suicide into particularly strong relief. In his “Essay on Suicide” Hume said:
A hair, a fly, an insect, is able to destroy this mighty being whose life is of such importance. Is it an absurdity to suppose that human prudence may lawfully dispose of what depends on such insignificant causes?
It would be no crime in me to diver the Nile or Danube fr4om its course, were I able to effect such purposes. Where then is the crime of turning a few ounces of blood from their natural channels.
This is, of course, an aside from my present purposes, but it makes very clear the fact that no one has ever deplored, as such, the manipulation of nature, which is simply one of the most notable aspects of being human. Instead of asking whether it is an absurdity to suppose that prudence may lawfully dispose of life, Hume might also have asked whether it is an absurdity to suppose that prudence may lawfully manipulate nature in order to dispose of a disease bearing organism that endangers life.
The aside has a purpose, however. For the pope is trying to say that we cannot reasonably make choices about our lives which, in terms of Roman Catholic understandings of what it means to be human, amount to a denial of our humanity. He has in mind, especially, the matter of homosexual relationship, and — horror of horrors! — the marriage of gay and lesbian persons. It is therefore important to recognise that we are all the time making ourselves by our own personal decisions. The papal pose, for instance, is an example of a man making himself, presenting himself in a totally different guise from what he had been but a few moments before his election was assured, and he had to produce a persona to go with his elevation to the exalted position which, in tradition and imagination, is accorded by the entirely humanly manipulated pretence of succeeding to a supposed Petrine office as Bishop of Rome, something for which there is not a shred of historical evidence. The whole elaborate charade of titles and deference is the product of human manipulation. What isn’t a product of human manipulation is the spectrum of human sexual response. The suggestion that it is is simply false, and the pope is thus caught out in a mendacious ruse, passing himself off as a product of nature and not of human creation, whilst denying the very nature of the sexuality of those who are, by nature, attracted to those of their own sex. By affirming an ancient superstition about the nature of humanity as created by God, he has in fact denied the human, and with it the dignity that is rightly associated with a human life lived with choice and deliberation.
The next step, however, as I have said before, is the really dangerous one. For the pope takes this religiously myopic view of human nature and pretends that it is of the essence of a moral law which is, as he says in his message for New Year’s Day this year (2013) “inscribed by God upon the conscience of every man and woman.” Here is the full quote:
The precondition for peace is the dismantling of the dictatorship of relativism and of the supposition of a completely autonomous morality which precludes acknowledgment of the ineluctable natural moral law inscribed by God upon the conscience of every man and woman.
Notice, again, the mendacity of this man, who, in defence of a theological absolutism speaks of a “dictatorship of relativism.” But he goes even further than this, for he tells us in uncompromising terms that Roman Catholic Morality is, in itself, alone grounded in reason, and that
[t]hese principles are not truths of faith, nor are they simply a corollary of the right to religious freedom. They are inscribed in human nature itself, accessible to reason and thus common to all humanity. The Church’s efforts to promote them are not therefore confessional in character, but addressed to all people, whatever their religious affiliation.
Quite aside from the fact that he may address what he likes to all people, it does not follow that these beliefs have the standing which he so arrogantly and with such bravado claims for them. In other words, the pope is positioning himself and his church in a very different way to the way in which, for example, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops attempted to do in response to “Obamacare” and its requirements. The pope is essentially claiming a kind of universal moral jurisdiction. The promulgation of the view that his moral conclusions and his moral conclusions alone are “inscribed in human nature itself, accessible to reason and thus common to all humanity,” and that implementation of these conclusions by law is not a corollary of religious freedom, but required, by moral prescription, of every state, is a claim the arrogance of which is so presumptuous as to make of him an enemy of democracy, of human freedom, and of the basic right of human beings to shape their lives according to their lights. This claim should be seen as an attempted coup against basic human freedoms, as well as against principles of democratic governance, and we should be on the lookout for improper intrusions by the Vatican and its representatives in the internal affairs of the nations. This man pretends to rights and powers far above his station.