Reform of the Catholic Church?

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Once more the Catholic Church is in the news. On this occasion the issue concerns the exploitation and degradation of vulnerable girls and young women in the Magdalene laundries, a euphemism for Labour Camps.

Over the past twenty-five years we’ve had a steady stream of revelations of physical and sexual abuse of the most vulnerable in society, carried out by clergy and religious orders and hidden by the hierarchy.

No doubt these latest revelations will heighten calls for more reforms and democracy within the church. However, this movement for reforms, led by a group of priests, is misconceived and bound to fail because it does not address the central and fundamental reasons for the scandals.

Reformers argue that historically the church is a broad-based institution allowing for a wide range of views on matters of social and moral conscience, a church with a ‘spirit of openness’. Today’s church, they contend, is more dictatorial and does not permit freedom of expression. The conclusion they draw is that the problems of the church are a matter of governance, therefore, the need for reform.

This may sound quite logical but it is simply not true. Anyone with the slightest knowledge of the social history of Ireland will know how church doctrine and dogma has consistently opposed all movements for progressive social change within this country and indeed internationally, throughout the twentieth century. Opposition to divorce, contraception, abortion, mixed-religion-marriage, gay rights, integrated education, women’s rights and equalities, freedom of thought and expression, trade union struggles, the anti-imperialist movement and the anti-capitalist movement, all point to an extremely conservative, backward looking church, which is distrustful of human progress and contemptuous of human nature, a factor which is central to any understanding of why the church finds itself in its present difficulties.

The question is asked as to why there is such emphasis on sexual abuse matters since, it is argued, there is so much more to this ‘broad church’ than these scandals. The answer is painfully obvious and is directly linked to the church’s own doctrines and strictures on humanity and on human sexuality.

The three major world religions, Christianity, Judaism and Islam have all adopted a negative and jaundiced attitude towards human nature and human sexuality. All that is human and mortal is potentially wicked or evil, whilst all that is spiritual or immortal is righteous and good. This morbid philosophy of life is a distorted reflection of our eternal struggle with mortality and from a deep human desire for life after death. Catholic doctrine has consistently disparaged human sexuality as sinful and shameful and this same dogma has, beginning with Eve, equated women with sexual desire, temptation and sin. This obsession with, and contempt for human sexuality is the driving force for a culture of sexual repression that has dominated Irish society for generations. When sexual repression becomes a dominant theme in society, sexual dysfunction on a societal scale is the result. It is this which explains why many of these clerics and religious, educated within a sexually stunted all-male environment and deprived of normal adolescent development, have acted out their emotional immaturities and sexual inadequacies in the sexual abuse of children. It is clerical emotional immaturity and sexual dysfunction, combined with the power and social status afforded them, which accounts for much of this dreadful history of emotional, physical and sexual abuse of children and vulnerable adults within society and within so many of these religious institutions. Unless and until these fundamental questions are addressed there cannot be understanding or resolution to these grave issues.


William White,