It seems obvious that the last word the Church authorities should be using at this point in time is the word ‘abuse’, particularly in relation to ‘sex’. Yet, Gozo Bishop Mario Grech (pictured) has not only chosen to use the two words in the same sentence, but he has gone as far as sayingthat teaching sex education in schools is “tantamount to abuse”.
The Times reported: “The education system may be abusing students if instead of helping them to control their sexual energy it teaches them about contraception,” Mgr Grech said when addressing a conference in Gozo on the theology of the body.
Mgr Grech may have thought it was fine to say what he said because “at the start of his brief address the bishop condemned sexual abuse of minors whether perpetrated by lay people, priests or members of religious orders”.
There is no argument that the sexual exploitation of children by priests is abusive behaviour, by Mgr Grech’s own admission. Yet, I have yet to see a plan of action the Church will take to ensure that this very real abuse never happens again.
The clerical abuse scandal has plunged the Catholic Church into a crisis unlike anything it has experienced since the Protestant Reformation half a millennium ago. Not in Malta, of course; least of all in Gozo.
Talk of justice for the victims of such crimes is not even possible. Consider that it took seven years for the local Church to establish that there was enough evidence to refer the case of five victims of sexual abuse by priests to the Vatican.
The victims have insisted for years that they were abused when they were resident at St Joseph Home for Boys in Santa Venera some 20 years ago. If it took seven years for justice to be delivered, it would already be a scandal. Yet, it took that long just to take their case to the Canonical Tribunal.
If the priests involved are found to have committed the crime, the worst punishment they would face is defrocking. Hardly justice delivered.
English-American author and journalist Christopher Hitchens, together with evolutionary biologist Prof. Richard Dawkins, feel the Pope ought to be tried for "crimes against humanity" because of the allegations of sex abuse by priests on children under their care emerging from different countries around the globe.
Geoffrey Robertson, a senior barrister specialising in human rights cases, writes about priestly paedophile perpetrators, the Vatican and the current Pope in his book ‘The Case of the Pope’. He attempts to address the circumstances which, in his view, have enabled the Pope to evade justice for his alleged role in covering up the abuse scandal.
He indicts Pope Benedict personally, both as Pope since 2005 and in his former role as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith from 1981, for failing to turn paedophile priests over to the civil authorities. Moreover, he argues that the Vatican's pretensions to sovereign statehood have granted the Pope immunity from standing trial for his part in the cover-ups.
This is what is being debated beyond Malta’s borders, where Mgr Grech’s words would have not seen the light of day. But, apart from the inappropriate choice of words in his speech, what Mgr Grech chose to preach is wrong in more ways than one.
I was the product of Catholic education… until I reached the age of reason as George Carlin once said. I know what results from a lack of sex education in schools.
I met some friends from school recently and we shared some of these stories. We didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. These are a few of them:
· A school friend once tried to convince the rest of the class that she was conceived when her mother sat on the toilet seat after her father.
· The question on whether it was true you could only get pregnant after an orgasm went around classrooms for months.
· The assertion that you could not get pregnant if you had sex standing up was generally seen to be logical until someone brought a magazine to school.
· Most believed that you could only get pregnant like cats and dogs, when you’re ‘on heat’ (during menstruation).
· Then there was the story about the nun that slipped and fell onto a candlestick… you can imagine why that story was created.
When education does not answer the questions of curious children, then these misconceptions gain ground. These stories may be funny, but the end result was a number of unwanted pregnancies and the often disastrous marriages that followed. Advice on sexually transmitted diseases is also an important factor.
Doesn’t it make sense to teach the subject responsibly? Not according to representatives of the Church who think that because they chose life-long abstinence (with varying degrees of success) then the rest of us should hold back too.
Saying sex education is abuse is like saying condoms could not solve the problems of Aids and could even make things worse. The Pope actually said that last year before his first official visit to Africa.
What is being said here will not go down well with most Maltese who still define their life by the ‘teaching’ of the Catholic Church. They are prepared to defy logic and reason to defend what they know to be true. That is understandable, and I believe that every individual has a right to live by what s/he believes.
My problem is the lack of tolerance for people who think differently. Those who want to live by the ‘teachings’ of the Catholic Church are free to do so. Those who think differently should have the same rights.
That is the point of having the separation between Church and State. In a democratic society, it is the government’s role to ensure there is no discrimination against people who think differently.
In a democratic society, it is the media’s role to reproduce statements responsibly. If the media is to carry such statements as the one by Mgr Grech, then there is an obligation to inform the public of the danger implicit in such statements. Failure to do so implies either a bias towards popular belief or an unquestioning loyalty to one of the most powerful institutions in the country.
There’s a reason why it’s important to say these things. They matter.
If it is anti-Catholic to believe that child-rape is wrong, that stopping the spread of AIDs in Africa is more important than religious discomfort about condom use, and that sexual health trumps dogmatic adherence to outdated notions of purity and morality, then I for one am proud to have a mind of my own.
MORE: Caroline Muscat’s blog