Before I continue, let it be clear: I am a firmly lapsed Catholic. One of the things that Catholics do to you is make it impossible to unCatholic yourself. There is always this feeling that one day you will return to the fold. And even those of us who slide away from its ways may believe, as Chris points out, that this isn’t entirely a bad thing to be entangled by:
[…] Why are religious people often happier than others? A big reason is that religion is a form of insurance, an asset that pays off well in bad states of the world, such as bereavement or unemployment, thus preventing big falls inwell-being. Those who reply that religious belief is irrational are like those who claim that a financial asset is over-priced; the statement is only relevant if holders of the asset come to believe it.
Anyhow. With all the above caveats about as upfront as is possible, I am minded to dance around yet another curious tale today. The BBC reports it thus:
Sandwich shop chain Pret A Manger has withdrawn a new “Virgin Mary” brand of crisps following religious complaints.
The firm, with about 350 shops in the UK, launched the spicy tomato crisps – based on the non-alcoholic version of a Bloody Mary cocktail – last week.
This prompted complaints, including from Catholic groups, that it was an offensive reference to Jesus’s mother.
The article in question takes us to a website called Protect the Pope, where its tagline leads us to believe that that it aims to “Protect the Catholic Church through Prayer, Truth and the Law”. The following comment is then posted by the person who apparently runs the site (the bold is mine):
Protect the Pope comment: Clive Schlee and Pret A Manger deserve our unreserved thanks for listening to our concerns as Catholics and for acting so quickly to remove the brand of crisps. It seems fitting that Pret A Manger are planning to give any unsold crisps to the homeless. Thanks also to the readers of Protect the Pope for contacting Pret A Manger to express their concerns. God bless you all for your passion and desire to stand up for our Catholic faith. I’d like to express my special thanks to the reader of Protect the Pope who first brought this news to our attention, but wants to remain anonymous. One of the things we need to go away and think about is what this incident tells us about how we defend our faith in the future. We’ve been passive for too long in the face of mockery of our faith and discrimination against us as Catholics. We can change things!
As one of the comments to this post points out, the first thought that might come to the mind of (at least) a lapsed Catholic like myself is:
Congratulations on the crisp victory. Now see if you can do something useful such as tackle AIDS in Africa or solve the problem of child mortality or maybe something a bit simpler, maybe see if you can bring child rapists in your organisation to justice. No? Stick to worrying about crisps then as its about your level of usefulness.
Now I repost these comments gingerly, not least because members of my family are devout Catholics. By nature, I would not share the tone of the last comment and yet am conscious where such unhappiness comes from. The Daily Record summarised, a while ago, the Church’s inability to deal with paedophilia within its ranks here. Meanwhile, Wikipedia has the following to say on the matter:
In the United States the 2004 John Jay Report commissioned and funded by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) was based on volunteer surveys completed by the Roman Catholic dioceses in the United States. The 2004 John Jay Report was based on a study of 10,667 allegations against 4,392 priests accused of engaging in sexual abuse of a minor between 1950 and 2002.
The surveys filtered provided information from diocesan files on each priest accused of sexual abuse and on each of the priest’s victims to the research team, in a format which did not disclose the names of the accused priests or the dioceses where they worked. The dioceses were encouraged to issue reports of their own based on the surveys that they had completed.
The report stated there were approximately 10,667 reported victims (younger than 18 years) of clergy sexual abuse between 1950 and 2002:
- Around 81% of these victims were male.
- Female victims of sexual abuse by Catholic priests tended to be younger than the males. Data analyzed by John Jay researchers, shows that the number and proportion of sexual misconduct directed at girls under 8 years old was higher than that experienced by boys the same age.
- 22.6% were age 10 or younger, 51% were between the ages of 11 and 14, and 27% were between the ages to 15 to 17 years.
- A substantial number (almost 2000) of very young children were victimized by priests during this time period.
- 9,281 victim surveys had information about an investigation. In 6,696 (72%) cases, an investigation of the allegation was carried out. Of these, 4,570 (80%) were substantiated; 1,028 (18%) were unsubstantiated; 83 (1.5%) were found to be false. In 56 cases, priests were reported to deny the allegations.
- More than 10 percent of these allegations were characterized as not substantiated because diocese or order could not determine whether the alleged abuse actually took place.
- For approximately 20 percent of the allegations, the priest was deceased or inactive at the time of the receipt of the allegation and typically no investigation was conducted in these circumstances.
- In 38.4% of allegations, the abuse is alleged to have occurred within a single year, in 21.8% the alleged abuse lasted more than a year but less than 2 years, in 28% between 2 and 4 years, in 10.2% between 5 and 9 years and, in under 1%, 10 or more years.
The 4,392 priests who were accused amount to approximately 4% of the 109,694 priests in active ministry during that time. Of these 4,392, approximately:
- 56 percent had one reported allegation against them; 27 percent had two or three allegations against them; nearly 14 percent had four to nine allegations against them; 3 percent (149 priests) had 10 or more allegations against them. These 149 priests were responsible for almost 3,000 victims, or 27 percent of the allegations.
- The allegations were substantiated for 1,872 priests and unsubstantiated for 824 priests. They were thought to be credible for 1,671 priests and not credible for 345 priests. 298 priests and deacons who had been completely exonerated are not included in the study.
- 50 percent were 35 years of age or younger at the time of the first instance of alleged abuse.
- Almost 70 percent were ordained before 1970.
- Fewer than 7 percent were reported to have themselves been victims of physical, sexual or emotional abuse as children. Although 19 percent had alcohol or substance abuse problems, 9 percent were reported to have been using drugs or alcohol during the instances of abuse.
So perhaps the bitter accusations we often hear about “child rapists” at the heart of the Church – and which presumably upset the Catholics who complain of mockery and oppression down through the ages – are a mite more understandable in the light of such apparent abuses of trust. Especially when Wikipedia also reminds us:
In the 1950s, Gerald Fitzgerald, the founder of a religious order that treats Roman Catholic priests who molest children, concluded “(such) offenders were unlikely to change and should not be returned to ministry,” and this was discussed with Pope Paul VI (1897 – 1978) and “in correspondence with several bishops.” In 2001, sex abuse cases were first required to be reported to Rome.The Dallas Morning News did a year-long investigation, after the 2002 revelation that cases of abuse were widespread in the Church. The results made public in 2004 showed that even after the public outcry, priests were moved out of the countries where they had been accused and were still in “settings that bring them into contact with children, despite church claims to the contrary.” Among the investigation’s findings is that nearly half of 200 cases “involved clergy who tried to elude law enforcement.” In July 2010, the Vatican doubled the length of time after the 18th birthday of the victim that clergymen can be tried in a church court and streamlined the processes for removing “pedophile priests.”
What, then, does all the above have to do with a packet of “Virgin Mary” crisps? Firstly, I hardly think the Catholic Church is truly suffering the oppression which other times seriously engendered. These, for example, are the kinds of payments the US Church is able to afford today:
The molestation and rape of children by priests in America has resulted in more than $3.3 billion of settlements over the past 15 years, $1.3 billion of that in California. The total is likely to increase as more states follow California and Delaware in relaxing the statute of limitations on these crimes, most of which were reported long after they happened. For an organisation with revenues of $170 billion that might seem manageable. But settlements are made by individual dioceses and religious orders, whose pockets are less deep than those of the church as a whole.
It hardly seems, then, that oppression is the name of the game. Unless, of course, any of you out there really think that those $3.3 billion of settlements were unjustly – and perhaps indecently – obtained.
Secondly, those who honestly believe that a $170 billion organisation cannot survive the sale of a packet of crisps which indirectly references one of its icons has to be living on another planet (perhaps one that doesn’t circle the sun …). They do, after all (coarsely I do have to admit), say that any publicity is good publicity. And I have to say that a packet of crisps, whatever the name, surely can’t be worse than a drip-fed sequence of – you must accept – self-inflicted paedophile stories.
But what I mostly find so distasteful about this whole tale is not the baggage I’ve outlined in this post – a baggage which the Church has been acquiring remorselessly over the past couple of decades. No. What I mostly find so distasteful about this whole tale is the helplessness which its devotees clearly feel as their beloved juggernaut of supposedly good deeds careers wildly out of their control.
For as a general rule, the vast majority of Catholics I have met at a personal and one-to-one level are good, kindly, thoughtful and gentle souls. I would much rather find myself in their presence than many other people I know. So all I can assume is that the real issue to hand here lies somewhere else – in a far more confusing place. That a name of a snack should so violently offend can only make me wonder whether Catholics actually feel defenceless not only when faced with the outside world but also when faced with the reality of their own hierarchies. A thinking person, whether religious or not, cannot fail to see the disjunction between what the Church proclaims is correct and just and how the Church actually behaves. And perhaps, without realising it, there are many more Catholics who deep down feel unsure if everything is quite right with the representative of God in this world.
A kind of Stockholm syndrome of the religious perhaps?
A syndrome which drives them fiercely to reject all and every negativity from without – even as those from within continue to fester, hardly registered and hardly heard.