Some shortcomings of the Catholic Church in secular morality

The Church vigorously combats relativism, the thesis that all religions are equal. In order to do so, it should have been superior to other religions as an institution. Unfortunately, this was not the case. We will see that the Church has never respected human rights, neither in the past nor today.

It is said that history is written by victors. I would rather say that it is rewritten by each power for the people under its influence. The role of the Church has often been presented with partisan benevolence. Believers, generally not very curious, are so one-sided that they are ready to excuse all turpitudes. All religions are exposed to slip-ups because, rather than cultivating moderation, they incite people to do more and more, in an endless bidding war, and develop a propensity for hegemony. God himself cannot modify the past, but the believer, by his ability to revisit history to his own advantage, possesses a power that is infinitely superior to him!

The Church is not a credible moral point of reference

In order to reign over the conscience of individuals, religions have arrogated to themselves the monopoly of morality. On the contrary, let us demand that religions subordinate themselves to moral rules. It is therefore necessary to recall that morality demands the rejection of all religion

  • that in the past supported slavery,
  • that conducted offensive religious wars with moral justification;
  • that imposed the dogma by force, for instance,
    • the crusade against the Albigensians, who were pacifist and unarmed, which constitutes a characterized genocide;
    • the Inquisition; by decreeing that other beliefs are in error, would monotheisms by their very nature be exclusionary? The expression "Jewish deicide" has certainly made the bed of anti-Semitism;
    • the witch hunt burned between 50,000 and 100,000 victims between the 15th and the 17th century; all these pyres illuminate with intense fires the last sentence of the Lord's Prayer: "Deliver us from Evil";
    • clericalism, accompanied by its moral justification: until 1965, the Vatican did not recognise religious freedom; in the moral order supported by the Church until the 20th century, respect for other beliefs is worth less than the duty of mission, including through coercion; one cannot call "the accident of history" a trait of character that lasted 1,600 years! The power of the Church manifests itself through the exercise of social control and its defence takes precedence over the freedom of individuals; this is a Catholic value that we could do without;
  • that has engaged in the trade of indulgences; if the pope has the power to grant indulgences, why doesn't he strive, every day and free of charge, to save as many people as possible?
  • that, in order to develop its missions of evangelisation, encouraged colonialism;
  • that, until 1965, condemned human rights;
  • whose leadership is undemocratic and authoritarian,
  • that recognises the death penalty as acceptable;
  • that does not respect equality between men and women in its institutions 1,
  • which has shown a lack of respect for unmarried mothers and their "illegitimate" children 2 , from the 11th (Gregorian reform) to the 20th century;
  • that is opposed to individual freedoms in the areas of sexuality, marriage 34, homosexuality 5,
  • that puts the avoidance of scandal before the protection of children from sexual abuse. That there are paedophile priests is shocking, but no more so than paedophile teachers. The Church's error lies elsewhere: while teachers are immediately denounced to the courts and placed away from children, paedophile priests are protected by their hierarchy, simply displaced, and can continue their crimes elsewhere. The Vatican guidelines imposed silence under penalty of excommunication. In the moral order defended by Catholicism, the honour of the Church comes before the integrity of children. If the situation has changed recently, it is not as a result of ethical awareness, but because civil society has forced it to act better.

1  In the past, the myth of Eve's creation from Adam's rib [Genesis 2:21-22] served as a theological justification for gender inequality. Having partially revised its judgement, the Church today proclaims equality in the dignity of men and women while at the same time prohibiting women's access to the priesthood, with the argument: "It is not the fault of the Church if Jesus was a man". By a similar reasoning, one could refuse the priesthood to black people because Jesus was not black. Another defensive tactic consists in covering the woman with praise by reminding her that " Mary is the mother of God", but without granting her enough dignity to be able to assume the priesthood.

2  Ireland Nearly 800 baby skeletons discovered in a former convent [in French]. The interpretation that "ultra-Catholicism is bad but Catholicism is good" runs counter to logic: in fact, the situation improves when Catholicism diminishes in favour of human rights.

3  Remarriage is forbidden.

4  Requiring priests to be celibate means requiring them to renounce a spouse, children and family life in order to have the right to exercise a profession. It is an abuse of power contrary to human rights.

5  The closed attitude of the Church towards homosexuality certainly contributes to homophobia, which is a form of discrimination.

The behaviours listed above are not imputable to bad Christians, but to the Church itself which justifies them by the application of the following two moral rules:

a) In order to avoid a greater evil, one has the right to do harm;

b) Anything that harms the Church is an evil of enormous gravity.

While rule a) is universal, rule b) is partisan and divides humanity into two camps. The evil deeds of the Church are thus morally legitimised.

Catholicism distils a toxic mixture: good feelings for the faithful and the will to power for the Church. The power to set the rules is an enviable position: this way you can avoid being caught at fault. The monopoly of moral conscience protects against bad conscience.

The Catholic Church appears to be such a human institution that no credit can be given to its claim to be inspired and guided by the Holy Spirit. Anyone who believes in the divine origin of a moral code with such inadequacies bears witness to the indoctrination he has undergone.

Religions must submit to the secular ethics that derive from human rights.

When the Church preached persecution

The Church of the first centuries rejected all forms of violence and forbade the first Christians to bear arms. Under Emperor Constantine (270 - 337), when a Christian had killed an enemy in battle, he had to do penance to erase his sin.

But the Gospels are ambiguous and contradictory, so they are open to interpretation: in addition to the calls for forgiveness, there is this:

«But as for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slaughter them before me.» [Luke 19:27]

In 1095, Pope Urban II launched the first crusade against peoples who represented no threat, an offensive war, pure aggression. Failing to raise mountains, faith can recruit armies. Rest assured, the turnaround was justified and the action morally noble: a few centuries earlier, Saint Augustine (354 - 430), father of the Church, had sanctified the "just persecution" by adding a new directive to the doctrine: "The worshippers of false gods must be exterminated for love".

«So if we want to be right, let us say that the persecution of the ungodly against the Church of Christ is unjust, while there is justice in the persecution of the ungodly by the Church of Jesus Christ. (...) The Church persecutes in order to remove error, the ungodly in order to precipitate it. Finally, the Church persecutes her enemies and pursues them until she has reached and defeated them in their pride and vanity, in order to make them enjoy the benefit of the truth; the ungodly persecute by returning evil for good, and while we have only their eternal salvation in view, they seek to take away our portion of happiness on earth. They breathe so much murder that they take their own lives, when they cannot take the lives of others. The Church, in her charity, works to deliver them from perdition in order to preserve them from death; they, in their rage, seek every means to make us perish, and to satisfy their need for cruelty, they kill themselves, as if not to lose the right they believe they have to kill men.»

Will it be said that the Church evolved under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit?

The conversion of the people to Catholicism was only rarely voluntary, because the people would have to take the religion of the prince, and the prince obeyed the interests of his office. This is how Christianity became established in the West for a long time.

Religions have had a profound impact on history. Is it for the good of humanity? This remains to be proven. The desire to propagate absolute truth is a generator of oppression. Can it be established that the wars of religion 6 have claimed fewer victims than all the crimes of villainy?

6  In opposition to the religious attitude, Richard Dawkins said: "I cannot imagine that a war was fought in the name of atheism. (...) Who would want to go to war in the name of an absence of belief?

When the Church supported slavery

In the original Christian Church, according to the doctrine of St. Paul, slavery was accepted as a natural and legitimate practice, but a Christian was not to hold another Christian in slavery. Later, the Church condemned the slavery of the American Indians. But its attitude towards the slave trade, initially organised by the Portuguese from 1441 onwards, was less glorious: a series of papal bulls approved and encouraged it:

  • 1442 Illius qui (Eugene IV) ratifies the conquests of Prince Henry the navigator in Africa.
  • 1452 Dum diversas (Nicholas V) gave the King of Portugal full latitude to subject the Saracens, pagans and other non-believers, or even reduce them to perpetual slavery.
  • 1455 Romanus Pontifex (Nicholas V) encourages Henry the Navigator to impose Christianity, possibly by force, on the "Saracens and other infidels"; he counts on the progress of the conquests to obtain conversions, gives his approval to the commercial monopoly of the Portuguese in Africa, and hopes that the natural populations will soon be converted to Christianity.
  • 1456 Inter cætera (Calixtus III = Alfonso Borgia) states that the administration of the new Portuguese possessions and their interests must be entrusted to the order of Christ, the brotherhood of Henry the Navigator; it authorises the enslavement of the infidels, i.e. legitimises the slavery of the blacks.
  • 1481 Aeterni regis (Sixtus IV) grants the conquered lands in Africa to the King of Portugal.

A theological justification has been put forward, in which the children of Canaan 7 are assimilated to blacks:

[Genesis 9:25-27] He said, “Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers.” He also said, “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Shem 8! May Canaan be the slave of Shem. May God extend Japheth’s 9 territory; may Japheth live in the tents of Shem, and may Canaan be the slave of Japheth.”

The French theologian Bellon de Saint-Quentin, in his Dissertation on the slave trade and commerce of the Negroes of 1740, writes:

" It is lawful to have slaves and to use them; this possession and this service are neither contrary to natural law, nor to the divine written law, nor even to the law of the Gospel"

Dare we claim that the Church is carrying out a divine plan?

7  Canaan is the son of Ham, and Ham is the son of Noah.

8  Shem is the ancestor of the Hebrews.

9  Japheth is the ancestor of the Gentiles.

Serfdom is a different status, but treated in a similar way. In spite of the campaign led by Voltaire, the last serfs in France were those of the abbey of Saint-Claude (Jura) who remained in their condition until the French Revolution of 1789.

Neither the passage of time nor the whitewashing of consciences, the fruit of Church propaganda, can excuse the past.

Whoever has encouraged moral regression cannot hold the truth

[Matthew 12:33] «Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit.»

Insofar as it does not present a partisan vision of the facts, history turns a scathing denial to the Church's claim to be the depositary of immutable truth.

Religious indoctrination

One line of defence calls for a divine pedagogy that would be progressive to adapt the moral rules to the human possibilities of the time. On the one hand, this concession makes divine intervention unnecessary and makes it possible to understand the Church as a completely human institution. On the other hand, examples showing that the Church has officially preached moral regressions prove the vacuity of the argument.

A second line of defence uses the distinction between Christianity and the Church. However, since the highest authorities of the Church encouraged slavery in order to broaden Christianity, this argument cannot be invoked.

Conclusion: The Church cannot be trusted to regulate the ethics and moral conduct of society.

My aim is not to stigmatise the past, but to speak out against those who want to apply an archaic ideology today and perpetuate it.

According to Stanley Milgram, "A significant proportion of the population will do what they are told to do [...] as long as they feel that the order comes from a legitimate authority". Today, by ceasing en masse to obey Roman directives, Western Catholics are placing their religious authorities in a situation of illegitimacy.

Modernity appeared with the end of the trusteeship exercised by the religious authorities

In Thomism, ethics is based on natural law, and natural law is referred to the natural order of things: each individual, king and slave alike, has a defined place in society. Is it not in the natural order of things that the master orders and the slave obeys? Since in nature we find diverse and contradictory situations, nature is not allowed to show what is natural, but it is the doctrinal authority which decrees natural law.

In the Enlightenment, it was the philosophers who denounced the Inquisition and called for the abolition of slavery. Voltaire, Diderot and Condorcet condemned the idea that one man could belong to another, that slavery was a natural status and stressed that men were equal:

Mortals are equal, it is not birth
it is the only virtue that makes the difference.

The proclamation of human rights was made in opposition to the Church. Placing Christianity at the source of human rights is a dishonest recuperation.

The specificities of Western culture developed from the 18th century onwards with modernity, characterised by a certain rationalism, insubordination to religious authority and the opening up of a secular space. The ideal of a monolithic society having been abandoned, the shell is broken, and great horizons open up for exploration. The natural sciences have freed themselves from the tutelage of the Holy See and have been able to flourish. A new civilization is emerging with a radically new operating principle: whereas a monarchy of divine right postulates that all wills must bend to the king's will and that the primordial qualities of subjects are obedience and fidelity, democracy values independence of spirit, including in religious matters, and assumes that every citizen can express its own opinions.

The founding values are secular, such as human rights, the separation of church and state, and the pursuit of the common good as a secular political project that respects minorities. Its values are universal and its influence is global. Individuals can escape social constraints and become independent from the community from which they come, which could be called "spiritual democracy". Society has become tolerant of freedom of expression, which is evidence of a revolution in mentalities. It is to this articulation of history that I locate our most significant cultural roots, even if others, older ones, can be taken into consideration. 10.

All these developments were acquired against the will of the Church. In return, the Church has, to a certain extent, humanised itself through contact with reason. It had to condemn slavery and renounce the monarchy of divine right and the coronation of kings. It resisted until 1965 before accepting religious freedom 11 and Human Rights. But this recognition of principle is not actually realised. Even today, men and women do not have the same rights and are assigned different functions. Faced with their marital status, people are treated unequally depending on whether they are single, cohabiting, married, separated, divorced or remarried. Homosexuals are discriminated against. However, paedophilia, though verbally condemned, has so far been virtually tolerated provided it is discreet. In a pluralistic society, tradition is no longer sufficient to establish such moral conceptions. A church based on obedience to authority should remain confined to a bygone past. If the two cultural references, Judeo-Christian on the one hand and modern on the other, coexist in our society, they can only coexist in an individual at the cost of a certain dissociative identity disorder.

A radical change in the ethical order is underway. All discriminatory ethics must be placed in the archives of history. Freedom and equality are fundamental values that must have their place among the sources of ethics. Unfortunately, the civilising influence of secular values is difficult to recognise, as they may overshadow religious values. If we think that it is desirable for world peace and the good of the people that the Islamic world de-Islamise somewhat, we must consider that the secularisation and de-Christianisation of our Western society, far from being a tragedy, represents a definite progress.

10  It would be improper to describe as "Judeo-Christian" a civilisation whose most significant foundations have only been laid for about 200 years. Judeo-Christianity provided the space-time framework, but not the substance!

11  Denying religious freedom served to justify clericalism.

12  See the document Clericalism, never again! (testimony)

Education occupies a strategic position. Is its function to pass on religious propaganda and indoctrinate, or to develop intellectual autonomy and critical thinking? The Church has defended its influence. Thus, in Valais, through clericalism, in the form of the state religion, teaching remained under the control of the Catholic Church until 1973 ! 12

Against relativism

Even today, the facts still belie those who claim that religion develops attention to others. Let us quote Pius IX, Nostis et Nobiscum:

"Let Our poor recall the teaching of Christ Himself that they should not be sad at their condition, since their very poverty makes lighter their journey to salvation, provided that they bear their need with patience and are poor not alone in possessions, but in spirit too".

For the Church, the submission of believers to the established order is more important than their well-being.

The main effect of credulity that stimulates the fear of God's judgement is not to make one altruistic, but obedient. In the USA, it is the most religious parties that carry out the most unfavourable policies for the poor. In comparison with Sweden, which is known for its lack of faith, it can be said that social democracy does much better than practised Christianity. It is better to alleviate social injustice than to develop Christian charity.

Moreover, among Catholics, there is a moral bias that makes them pay more attention to sexuality than to social responsibility. While a Protestant shopkeeper wonders whether he has been honest with his customers and employees, the Catholic boss makes his self-examination of the impure thoughts he had when he met his secretary. This has not been without consequences for the business world: the Protestant regions have seen a much greater economic development.

To varying degrees, religions tend to discriminate against women. While some religious movements are open and tolerant, others have a disturbing attitude: some Muslim groups even call for the application of Sharia law. Religions have appropriated morality in order to strengthen their power. Each one develops it in its own way, sometimes smelly. The various religious morals are far from being equivalent. A reference ethics, universal, is necessary.

Universal morality is based on the secular ethic of human rights.

The secular morality of human rights has progressed in society and tends to supplant religious morality. Thus, since Vatican II, the Church has had to recognise religious freedom, partially renounce clericalism and, very recently, stop protecting paedophile priests.

Faith-inspired universalism, e.g. "Catholic" means "universal", is a conquering and imperialist vision of a faith. Moralizing intimidation must be resisted.

On the contrary, the universalism of human rights is a freely accepted consensus based on reason. Human rights are not natural rights in the sense of Aristotle, but the product of an enlightened decision: no one wants a world ruled by force and violence.

13  Elements of traditional morality that are not mentioned in Human Rights lose their obligatory character and come under individual freedom.

14  Transcendence consists in the emergence of a new phenomenon that exits to a higher level.

Since religious morality is only a particularism, only the secular ethics that derive from human rights can be the foundation of morality and become the measure of all religious morality. By this yardstick, taking gender equality or respect for homosexuals as an example, Catholicism ranks higher than Islam, but lower than European Protestantism. Since 1948, the values defined by the universal proclamation of human rights 13 transcend 14 the diversity of religions.

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