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Dragged kicking and screaming into the 19th century

You know how it's always the most overtly, loudly homophobic conservative politicians who are found with their trousers down and a rent boy in an airport toilet cubicle?

It's not just politicians.

Here in Scotland, Cardinal Keith O'Brien resigned earlier this week. He was archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, head of the Scottish catholic church, and the only cardinal in any of the British churches — making him the most senior catholic clergyman in the UK. He was also the UK's most ardent campaigner against marriage equality, and a public-facing homophobe with a huge bully pulpit.

This week he found himself hoist by his own petard: he stepped down after allegations of "inappropriate behaviour" were made against him — and formally set before the Vatican — by four current and ex- priests. The precise details of the "inappropriate behaviour" are not specified in the Observer article that broke the story, but probably only because they might be considered libelous in England — the implication is that he used his position of authority to make unwanted advances towards other men.

The schadenfreude is flowing thickly ...

More seriously, though: with the Vatican report on something that looks like a circle of homosexual prelates being blackmailed because of their sexuality sitting on the Pontiff's blotter like an ticking bomb, I find it hard to see how the next Pope can duck the issue and pretend it's business as usual. Maybe he can kick the can down the road for a few more years — but now I'm getting the feeling that the Vatican is facing its equivalent of Watergate. A lot of dirty laundry is going to be aired, or at least discreetly reviewed, over the next few years. And it's interesting to note that O'Brien's last public statement before the allegations that resulted in his political demise blew up was a call, in the interest of reducing the pressure on the institution, for the new Pope to allow priests to marry (presumably women, not each other).

How long can an institution exist in stasis before the growing gap between its own doctrine and the larger society it's embedded in forces a crisis?

(Footnote: I'm asking this not because I hold any particular affection for the Catholic Church (I'm an atheist) but because it's a rare example of a human institution that has survived for quadruple-digit years. Which makes it an interesting reference standard for the longevity of future long-term institutions. This is not an appropriate forum for discussions of theology and belief; any comments on those topics may be unpublished.)



I suppose, like any other institution/organisation, its life expectancy will be determined by its "usefulness" to the community it purports to "serve".

It's gone from minor cult, to an annoyance to the establishment, to becoming the establishment itself and has been in decline since whether because of doctrinal splits or because secular alternatives have sprung up from the enlightenment onwards.

It's unlikely to wholly disappear while ignorance, superstition and fear of death are still significant components of human nature.


Quadruple digit, surely.


Yup. Amending the original post accordingly.


but now I'm getting the feeling that the Vatican is facing its equivalent of Watergate

Given that the huge number of child rape accounts and their cover ups that have come to light haven't seemed to dent the church that much I'm skeptical that something like this would. Few Catholics will turn from the church, most will write it off as bad apples that aren't real Catholics and the opinion of non believers will stay the same: low.


If it's a reference standard, that makes it look like conservatism and untestable premises are the keys to longevity.


I don't see them changing. You've got a bunch of men, handpicked by the previous pope, who are the ones that will be choosing the next pope. They were all chosen because they towed the party line.

Plus Africa and Latin America are still growth markets for the Roman church. Given how homophobic, superstitious, and conservative the third world is, I don't see it changing anytime soon.


Previous scandals have been focused on the exterior of the institution -- its interface with the outside world (in the shape of its parishioners). This scandal, stemming from the enquiry into the Vatileaks affair, appears to be internal, with rumours of pervasive corruption right at the very top of the institution.

The Papacy can afford to write off a few thousand incidents of child abuse or rape as "bad apples" in a basically sound barrel, but when the scandal might concern cardinals and officials taking bribes or being blackmailed, that's a lot harder to ignore.


@7: "bad apples" in a basically sound barrel

More nit pick than cogent comment on institutional longevity, but I'm old enough to remember when the metaphor was that it only took one bad apple to turn the entire barrel rotten. When did it change from being against any corruption whatsoever to accepting small (FSVO "small") amounts? And given myriad examples like the Roman Church, the Met and MPs' expenses, isn't it about time we reverted our attitudes to the status quo ante?


The obvious comparison is with the Renaissance/Reformation era -- the Catholic Church had a period of quite impressive corruption at the top (the Borgia/Medici popes) combined with the rise of an external competitor in the form of Protestantism. It survived because of the active backing of European governments, and successful internal house-cleaning in the Counter-Reformation.

In modern times it no longer has the same external support, and it is questionable whether it has the will to accomplish internal reforms.

(As an aside, life was easier for the Reformation-era Church because of unwavering support from the Spanish/Austrian Habsburg monarchy -- without this, its history might have been very different.)


Can I ask the obvious, dumb question? How is such behavior seen in countries that are majority Catholic, in Latin America, Africa, the Philippines, and so forth?

The weird thing here is that we're talking about American/European morality. I don't deny that the Vatican has a lot of problems, both with sex and money. After all, if big banks (no beacons of morality themselves) don't want to play with the Vatican Bank, they've got some serious financial issues.

Still, this may have weird consequences. If we disempower cardinals from places where there are legal problems with their behavior, we may well end up with a Pope supported by Cardinals who can still get away with this stuff.


You forget that any candidate for the pope position does NOT have to respond to public opinion, as HE is only elected by a very narrow bunch of cardinals. Still too few people challege this temporal power who hides itself behind religion to exert very secular and very substantial power indeed.


Gap between Doctrine and Society. Like a Catholic hospital in Colorado refusing to deliver viable twins by caesarean because their mother had died?

It was a startling assertion that seemed an about-face from church doctrine: A Catholic hospital arguing in a Colorado court that twin fetuses that died in its care were not, under state law, human beings... —because the legal argument seemed to plainly clash with the church's centuries-old stance that life begins at conception.

Another thing I find amusing/annoying is how Benedict is being talked about as if he'll live forever--as in "What'll they do with two Popes?". I'll be surprised if he hasn't died (of natural causes) a year from now.


There seems to be a bit of a civil war inside the Vatican at the moment, and I should expect a lot more blackmail-type information to either be released (to damage a faction) or to be suppressed as part of a deal to gain a Cardinal's vote?

The campaign to elect a new Pope is apparently driving the Vatican to ants nest plus kettle levels of activity. Interesting times.


"because it's a rare example of a human institution that has survived for quadruple-digit years"

Only one other institution has survived longer, the office of the Japanese Emperor.


Ironically, unlike the external scandals, these internal scandals don't involve crimes (with the acts being between two consenting adults) - only blatant hypocrisy.

But then any insitution run by fallable and naturally immoral human beings is always going to be subject to hypocrisy, immorality and scandal - especialy when said insitution is in the business of morality.

As the old joke goes, the RCC is proof of God's existence since only a divinely protected organization could survive 2000 years of rampant corruption and mismanagement. IOW, "Ecclessia perpetua reforma".

The RCC has shown a remarkable ability to heal and reform itself (such as the Counter Reformation that cleansed the church fromt the corruption of the Borgias and Medici). It thinks and plans in terms of centuries and has an insitutional memory going back millenia.

So it will insitute reforms, drag itself at least into the 19th (if not the 20th) century and probably come out stronger.


"What'll they do with two Popes?".

His new title will be Pope Emeritus.

The last Pope to resign was Celestine VI back in the 1th(?) century.

Ironically, Dante placed Celestine among the damned in his Inferno, as a punishment for his cowardly refusal to do God's will and continue as Pope.


Only one other institution has survived longer, the office of the Japanese Emperor.

I hear what you're saying, and I agree: it's time to nuke the Vatican.


And before you all indulge yourselves in an orgy of Catholic bashing, may I recommend the following opinion piece from the NYT:

In my travels around the world, I encounter two Catholic Churches. One is the rigid all-male Vatican hierarchy that seems out of touch when it bans condoms even among married couples where one partner is H.I.V.-positive. To me at least, this church — obsessed with dogma and rules and distracted from social justice — is a modern echo of the Pharisees whom Jesus criticized.

Yet there’s another Catholic Church as well, one I admire intensely. This is the grass-roots Catholic Church that does far more good in the world than it ever gets credit for. This is the church that supports extraordinary aid organizations like Catholic Relief Services and Caritas, saving lives every day, and that operates superb schools that provide needy children an escalator out of poverty.

This is the church of the nuns and priests in Congo, toiling in obscurity to feed and educate children. This is the church of the Brazilian priest fighting AIDS who told me that if he were pope, he would build a condom factory in the Vatican to save lives.

This is the church of the Maryknoll Sisters in Central America and the Cabrini Sisters in Africa. There’s a stereotype of nuns as stodgy Victorian traditionalists. I learned otherwise while hanging on for my life in a passenger seat as an American nun with a lead foot drove her jeep over ruts and through a creek in Swaziland to visit AIDS orphans. After a number of encounters like that, I’ve come to believe that the very coolest people in the world today may be nuns.

So when you read about the scandals, remember that the Vatican is not the same as the Catholic Church. Ordinary lepers, prostitutes and slum-dwellers may never see a cardinal, but they daily encounter a truly noble Catholic Church in the form of priests, nuns and lay workers toiling to make a difference.

It’s high time for the Vatican to take inspiration from that sublime — even divine — side of the Catholic Church, from those church workers whose magnificence lies not in their vestments, but in their selflessness.

It's because of this Other Catholic Church that the RCC will survive and thrive for 1000s of years to come.


daniel.duffy20 @15

Yes, but as I noted, in previous centuries the RCC enjoyed active support from secular governments. This is no longer the case -- yes, they get some quiet assistance, funding of schools, et cetera, but the King is not burning their enemies at the stake.

Another difference is that in the old days, the RCC supplied some genuinuely useful services to society. Until the 20th century advent of compulsory schooling and the welfare state, they were the main providers of education, medical care, and poverty relief in many countries.

They still are in a number of Third World countries, which helps account for their relative popularity in these areas. In richer countries, the RCC has tried to maintain a death grip on schools and hospitals, but it is generally no better than the secular state at providing these things, and in some cases it is much worse (JamesPadraicR @12 being a case in point).

All in all the RCC has a much tougher environment than it used to.


Yes, I know that, and it misses the point of my comment.

Media types keeping talking as if they think that Bene is going to be around for years to come, potentially trying to interfere withadvise his replacement. He's not likely to be around that long, so the idea is ridiculous.


daniel.duffy20 @18

Sorry, semi cross-posting.

I'm sure that Brazilian priest and those like him are admirable people. The question is, will the RCC reform itself to better reflect them? Or will the RCC become less relevant as countries become more prosperous, and governments more able to provide welfare services?


I'm sure it will be the later. Historically the Church has weathered corruption and scandal and reformed itself time and again. And often, the reforms are subtle and do not involve any offical change in policy.

For example, the scandals (both internal and external) are tied to the priest shortage. After the liberal reforms of Vatican II, many priests felt sure that Rome would soon let them marry. Papa John's XXIII's successor, Paul VI, deeply disapponted a whole generation of priests by continuing to enforce the "policy" of celibacy. The "fact" of celibacy has never been enforced. Throughout most of its history, Catholic priests had "housekeepers" and bishops had mistresses (a common practice in the 3rd world today). So there was a massive (and unreported) exodus from the priesthood in the 70s and 80s in both the American and European churches.

The priests that were left behind included the monsters who abused children and the gay priests and bishops that they blackmailed to keep quiet (such as Weakland of Milwaukee).

So faced with a dwindling number of priests, the RCC is turning to married deacons who will perform nearly all of the functions that the priests used to do. The RCC will evolve into a two tiered structure (like the Greek Orthodox Church) with married deacons at the local parish level and unmarried priests in the heirarchy. Nothing will officially change, priests will still not be allowed to marry, but we will have in effect a married "priesthood" in all but name.


Agreed, he won't live long in retirement.

And he will go down in history as a failed (if well intentioned) pope.


The office of the Japanese Emperor is also a religious institution. One that, like the Catholic Church, once held greater secular power than it does today.

Interestingly, I believe there are similar parallels in the British Monarchy. Isn't the reigning queen/king also the titular head of the Anglican church?


Here's how the American Catholic hierarchy handled things... by condemning any criticism as anti-Catholic bias and propaganda:

I doubt things will change much until the bitter end. I also strongly doubt the Other Nicer Catholics mentioned by daniel.duffy20 will make much dent in this.


"All in all the RCC has a much tougher environment than it used to."

Not necessarily. Habsburg Emperor (and devout Catholic) Charles V sacked Rome and imprisoned the Pope. Napoleon also imprisoned a Pope. Poisoning, murder and assasination were once considered acceptable Vatican political tactics. Alexander VI used to hold orgies in the Sistine Chapel. Germany was nearly depopulated as a result of the 30 Years War.

"Ecclessia perpetua reforma".


@jackwilliambell 24:


Correct. Although this only applies in England, not Scotland, Wales or NI.

Even if we leave aside the formal "head of the church" role introduced by Henry VIII, European monarchies have always been quasi-religious institutions -- divine right of Kings, anointing with holy oil at the coronation ceremony, and so on.


Was a religious institution, until MacArthur de-deified the Emperor as part of the post-war occupation.


The Japanese Emperor may no longer be a deity, but the office is still considered 'the highest authority of the Shinto religion'.

In my many trips to Japan I rarely saw portraits of the Emperor hung anywhere, except above small shrines in restaurants and mom & pop stores.


daniel.duffy20 @26:

As I recall, the Sack of Rome was perpetrated by Charles' largely Protestant German army taking matters into its own hands.

There is a distinction between the Pope as an individual, and the RCC as an institution. Popes personally are much safer than they used to be from imprisonment, assassination, etc. but that isn't terribly relevant to the institutional survival of the Church. (If anything, a healthy fear of being deposed/killed might have been a pretty good motivator for earlier Popes which is now absent.)

As for the 30 Years' War, I take the opposite interpretation. At that time, European governments were perfectly willing to go to war in order to suppress rival branches of Christianity. Today, not so much. I regard this as an unequivocally Good Thing, but it means that the RCC cannot rely on violence to intimidate its opponents.


Ha! Fits right in with the "Prophecy of the Popes" ... OMG, just realized this could mean another Dan Brown 'novel'!

From Wikipedia ... 'Proponents of the prophecies claim that the current pontiff, Pope Benedict XVI, whose abdication is pending, corresponds to the pope described in the penultimate prophecy. The list ends with a pope identified as "Peter the Roman", whose pontificate will allegedly bring the destruction of the city of Rome and usher in the beginning of the Apocalypse.'

From PRnewswire ..."In the final persecution of the Holy Roman Church, there will sit Petrus Romanus, who will pasture his sheep in many tribulations, and when these things are finished, the city of seven hills will be destroyed, and the dreadful judge will judge his people. The End."


Charle's army included a contingent of Protestant mercenaries who indulged in sacking Rome. But he also wanted the Pope defeated and imprisoned for political reasons.

Either way, the Pope is no longer a player in the game of power politics (for good or ill). He is no longer able to directly affect the politics of Europe or the world - but those politics can affect the Vatican.

And before we all rehash all of the religious wars, jihads, crusades and pogroms of the past - let us remember that modern secular governments spent the last half century threatening to incinerate the world over differences in economic theory.

I don't see that as an improvement.


Apologies.... seems DB did already write about this ('Karma' 2011).


The Vatican is just a tip of the iceberg.

Those Other Nicer Catholics are the bulk of the Church.


"He is no longer able to directly affect the politics of Europe or the world - but those politics can affect the Vatican."

In other words, the Vatican is more at the mercy of external factors than it once was. This would seem to support my claim that the RCC faces a more difficult environment.

"modern secular governments spent the last half century threatening to incinerate the world over differences in economic theory. I don't see that as an improvement."

I never said it was, although personally I think threatening to kill people has certain advantages over actually killing people.

Anyway, that's totally irrelevant to the survival of the RCC. Once, armed force was a viable part of the RCC's toolbox. Now it isn't.


Atheist here (RC flavor) .... disagree on two counts:

1- Had nuns (three different orders) and priests (Jesuits) as teachers/profs. These individuals came from various parts of Europe and North America, and compared to the lay teachers/profs they were proportionally more likely to be petty/personally vicious and generally not-nice people. In fact, today, many of these nuns would have been charged with and convicted of physical assault/child abuse. Parents couldn't/wouldn't complain about such mistreatment because then their entire families would be shunned by their local communities. Immigrants were and probably still are the primary targets of such abuse and probably because they rely so much on their local community which unfortunately is often church-centered.

2- It seems that the Vatican is pursuing a policy of more right-wing policy and enforcement among its richer adherents than among the poorer third world faithful. Seems a kinda dumb marketing strategy as usually you'd go out of your way to satisfy the 'needs' of your best (dollar-wise) market segment unless they're deliberately positioning themselves to appeal to the uber right-wing sentiment that seems to be driving US politics.

BTW - No complaints about the Jesuit profs in thoroughness of teaching their content, undergrad Bio & Chem. Tough markers/graders though ...


Looking at both the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches as seen from the outside here in the UK, we have two minority belief systems with some (from my perspective) crazy concepts.

How the Synod voted against women bishops even they don't understand from the comments I heard after the vote. Misogyny FTW. And they're relatively more in tune than the catholics who won't even let you have female priests.

It seems they're becoming a refuge for institutional discrimination. But while they believe the words written by a load of people over a sprawl of history and edited to say what they want - and yet still internally contradictory and capable of supporting just about any viewpoint - as the literal word of God they're going to become increasingly irrelevant. Just like they have over the last century or so. But it appears they have gone down the route of clinging to those words in the face of anything else, including common sense throughout history. Unless they change their ideas - say that they need to change doctrine to be more widely supported - they'll curl up and die eventually. It's just taking a while because they're so deeply entrenched.


daniel.duffy20's comment about "naturally immoral human beings" reminds me of Charlie's comments about Calvinism and "drifting dangerously towards the vile and inhumane doctrine of total depravity" in


In a survey done by Dr. Kevin Dutton, the clergy is found to be in 7th or 8th position in professions with the most psychopaths. Number 1 being CEO. Make of it what you want. Power dynamics attract a certain kind of person. Leave that basically unchecked for 2000 years and the stench must rise up all the way to heaven.


This is interesting. Surely part of the Catholic church's longevity can be attributed to the considerable temporal power it wielded in Europe for centuries. It didn't need to adapt because fuck you.

After its temporal power waned, it still commanded considerable moral authority, even despite problems like institutionalized slavery in Ireland. Communications seems to be one of the keys to unraveling the church's authority, but we've had muckraking journalists and popular newspapers that could do this for a couple of centuries.

In the USA (my native point of reference), at least, anti-Catholic sentiment—which was strong enough to cast doubt on JFK just a couple generations ago—is now a relic revered only by klansmen. That anti-Catholic sentiment may have created an us-vs-them attitude among Catholics (outside predominantly Catholic countries) that would help paper over concerns for clerical abuses, and would also probably contribute to dogmatic rigidity. But that's only on a decades-long time frame in one country, not a millenia-long time frame throughout the church. Also in the USA, Watergate led to a massive loss of respect for authority, which could include institutions like the church.

So perhaps it's no one thing that has allowed an anti-adapting institution to endure, but a series of internal and external factors that kept it going. I also have to wonder how long "the growing gap between its own doctrine and the larger society it's embedded in" has been growing for.


watergate ? and so what ; there are still politicians, republicans and a state in the US. Scandal is nothing of being afraid of. It will burst, there will be people flushed down ... and the institution will continue its life "for the better good". for and instittion to be broken down you'd need something much much hard : see the end of any empire, the end of the soviet union. My guess is that without alien coming and visit us (atheist ones, for exemple : intelligent beings whom the idea of god never occured to) or a radical proof about neurology and faith (but I can't imagineone) the catholic chirch will go on for another 2000 years.


Past performance is no indication of future longevity. About 100 years ago, China stopped being ruled by an Emperor - which has been the case for about as long as there has been a catholic church.

It is easily imaginable (though not as easily predictable) that the catholic church will meet the same fate - going out with a whimper and a few attempts to re-establish the tradition by several groups of people trying to turn back the time.


"His new title will be Pope Emeritus."

Will he be called "Your not-quite-as-holy-as-you-once-were-ness" ?


About 100 years ago, China stopped being ruled by an Emperor Although from one point of view it's just changed dynasty a bit more often than usual.


"Either way, the Pope is no longer a player in the game of power politics (for good or ill)."

I think there is considerable evidence that this is not correct, at least as it applies to Australia. Tony Abbott, leader of the opposition and possibly PM in September, has regularly articulated views that support the papal line on sex, same-sex marriage, condoms and abortion (to name but a few issues). Also, the right of the Labor party both federally and in some of the states has a high proportion of Catholics who toe the Vatican line.

I don't currently have it on hand, but in the "Case Of The Pope", Geoffrey Robertson noted the power wielded by the Vatican through its acceptance as a sovereign state, but also the power of papal nuncios over Catholic politicians (see the review at


In an earlier post, Charlie, you referred to the Iron Law of Oligarchy. There is a similar Iron Law of Bureaucracy. Do both apply to the RCC? I think so.


Personally, my only link to the catholic church was my grandmother, who was unreasonably fond of the institution despite the problems it caused her (She could've used some contraception in 1950s Ireland), though she wasn't too keen on the hierarchy, she still felt sorry for the priest on the frontlines, apparently they've copped some grief from public opinion due to all the accumulated scandals. Now that she's gone, the whole house of cards can go to hell. And I suspect the role of so many sweet old ladies in propping it up is larger than it appears. It's not just the priesthood that isn't being replaced.

But currently they still have a lot going, like the aforementioned catholic politicians, they are deeply entrenched in educational institutions worldwide, and many laws, privileges, properties and custom legislations work in their favour. "How many divisions can the pope field" is a Hitler quote they like to repeat, smugly.


Actually depending on the year and age of the alleged victim, some of the alleged activities may have been illegal. From Wikipedia:

"Male homosexual acts were illegal in Scotland until 1980 when they were decriminalised by the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 1980, Section 80, which specified an age of consent of 21. The Criminal Law (Consolidation) (Scotland) Act 1995 lowered the age of consent of 18..."


Past performance is no indication of future longevity. About 100 years ago, China stopped being ruled by an Emperor...

And it's worth noting that the change can be viewed not so much a change of government style as a change of dynasty with new terminology. "Premier" was fashionable, "emperor" was counter-revolutionary. Had Sun Yat-sen set up shop as emperor himself it would start yet another conquest dynasty, and Chinese history accommodates them.

There are still Qing dynasty heirs out there, but I don't see either a restoration movement or anyone grabbing power and taking the title Emperor. Too bad, in a way; either would make a good story.


I think you should be asking yourself questions about the other catholic churches, the ones that do not recognize Rome, the Vatican as being the head of the true catholic church, their church(es). The Russian orthodox church is just the tip of the iceberg. And yes, their priests get married like protestant ministers.

Those non-Rome non-Vatican catholic churches have just as much a right to say that they are 2000 years old as the church of Rome.

By the way I used to call those non-Rome non-Vatican catholic churches "orthodox", but it's a misnomer since a lot of them have rites that are totally different from that of the "orthodox" catholic churches.


From a more realistic point of view, China is no longer ruled with the mandate from heaven - which formed the basis of power for all the dynasties.


To be a little pedantic O'Brien isn't the only British Cardinal, as Cormac Murphy-O'Connor is also a Cardinal, however as he is now 80 he cannot participate in the conclave.


Here is an article from a week ago about the Church today. Useful stuff for story purposes.

Transcript : Former Catholic Priest Matthew Fox on Ratzinger, Opus Dei and the Broken Catholic Church

  • People in strongly Roman Catholic societies have seen mass disaffection from the Roman Catholic Church. Here in Canada, Québec was institutionally very Roman Catholic but nowadays Catholic norms are honoured in the breach. Cardinal Ouellet of Quebec managed to get on the receiving end of public disapproval and an unanimous censure from the National Assembly when he stated that abortion was impermissible even in cases of rape.
  • I'd sugget that, to the contrary, societies that are strongly Roman Catholic often rebound very strongly against the Church when it loses its moral credibility. Québec, Ireland, Spain--apparently the first movies on sexual abuse in the Church are now starting to appear in Poland.

  • Blanket statements about the conservatism of Latin America and Africa are ill-informed. Might I just mention that Argentina (for instance) approved same-sex marriage, with majority public support, years before either the United Kingdom or France? (There, the Church has been compromised by its association with the bloody junta of the 1970s. I imagine sex abuse scandals occurred there, too). Counting on Latin America and Africa to remain uniformly supportive to the Church in the face of issues the likes of which the Church is likely to see there, too, doesn't seem like a good thing to count on. (Very few societies look kindly upon organizations claiming to be moral standard-bearers which are complicit in covering up the rape of children.)
  • 55:

    My guess is the way this will play out is:

    • the cardinals will elect another 'safe pair of hands', who will do nothing to changing the church or it's corruption. There are still the rumours of what happened to John Paul I...

    • the pressure of the difference in ethics between the real world and the church will continue to grow, and statements from the church will further highlight how out of touch it is.

    • eventually the pressure will result in the rule of law coming crashing down on the church, with pedo priests arrested, fraud raids, and worst, taxation of the church as a business.

    • the easiest and most acceptable solution will be to cut off the head, and replace the current out-of-touch types with a 3rd world focused replacement.

    When you have no value or relevance for most of those who hold the true reins of power, you are on borrowed time.

    When you have no value or relevance for most of those who hold the true reins of power, you are on borrowed time.

    Rubbish. Sorry, but rubbish. When you have no value or relevance, those who truly hold power ignore you, but if you don't self-destruct you can muddle along, being irrelevant and valueless for as long as you like.

    When you're on the way down and a target that can be kicked for some reason you're in trouble. The persecution of Catholics under Elizabeth I and so on would be an apposite example. Massive deconstruction, persecution and probably destruction result. The catholic church survived in the UK largely because it had a lot of power and support elsewhere, and it recolonised after the persecution was over. It wasn't completely destroyed, but without that external organisation it's a pretty fair bet it would have died.

    Equally, if you were powerless and valueless but you start to acquire power you become a target. I realise The Peasant's Revolt is somewhat of a misnomer but it's a classic example of a popular movement largely supported by people of low status gaining power and then being thoroughly kicked by those holding power. The Tolpuddle Martyrs would be another example - farm workers (again, naughty farmworkers!) were prosecuted for forming (legally in direct terms) a union because they'd sworn oaths to support each other (which was specifically illegal). But a landowner didn't like the power that the nascent union had, got them prosecuted and transported to Australia. Massive public protest overturned the law and (for most) the transportation. Those in power kicking those gaining it... not kicking those without it though.


    Re "[the Catholic Church is] a rare example of a human institution that has survived for quadruple-digit years.

    And the way they have managed to survive that long, is by practicing realpolitik and adapting to a changing world. They adapt very slowly, but the do adapt.

    Now child molesters are more and more often forced to step down, this didn't happen a few decades ago.

    The same church that burned Giordano Bruno now seeks a dialogue with science, and promotes the complementarity between scientific and religious worldviews.

    Now it appears that sinners don't go to Hell after all, it was a metaphor.

    Give it time, and I expect the catholic church to adapt to the modern world, with a lag of a couple of decades.


    Anything I predict is likely to be a wild guess.

    The way the College of Cardinals is set up, I cannot imagine a dramatic change. But I would not put money on the next Pope coming from within the Vatican. And I can easily imagine a degree of racism in the thinking behind the choice.

    Is there a North American Cardinal who has been critical of the cover-ups?


    You're thinking they'll pick a charismatic English-speaking Mr Clean as a figurehead -- carefully chosen to be spotless and able to communicate well with the laity, but a Vatican outsider who won't have any clue who's really pulling the levers of power. Right?


    but if you don't self-destruct you can muddle along

    But as I had already set up, they are acting against the prevailing ethical setup. It's the combination of being a cross-purposes to the world, AND having minimal powerful friends that are ready to protect them for benefit, that allows the walls to break.

    If they were the CoE church, they could continue, because really, who cares?

    However in a number of dimensions, they are corrupt. When the police come knocking for highly placed pedo protectors, or financial fraudsters, what do they do? As soon as they say "we are a state" they set themselves up for the fall.


    Good point, the RCC still has a significant amount of political power.

    In fact, I would say that if the RCC ceases to have political power, it will no longer "survive" in the sense we are talking about. The interesting case of "survival" is that it continues to be an institution large and powerful enough that wider society has to pay attention to what it wants.

    The RCC might "survive" in the same sense that the French monarchy does -- continuity of succession, some guy calling himself Pope with a handful of true believing followers, but insignificant to society at large. But this, frankly, wouldn't be very interesting for our purposes.


    At least in Spain that supposed Catholic majority is no more. The number of Catholics is steadily going down - precipitously so amongst young people - and in addition even those that define themselves as Catholic when asked, refuse to accept Roman doctrines on contraception, sex, homosexuality or abortion... or reincarnation or Hell. Even more, most Spanish Catholics refuse to accept the Pope and/or the Church have any authority whatsoever over them.

    Perhaps the more reliable indicator is taxes. 0,5% from our taxes can go to the Catholic Church or to "other social institutions" (NGOs, mostly). Last year only 37-38% chose the Church... and young people don't pay direct taxes. If they did that number would be quite lower.

    Politics certainly doesn't help. Church-owned media support such ultraconservative points of view in all matters, including foreign affairs, immigration and economy, for example, that usually they are deeply embarrassing for the average Catholic.

    Actually I would even say we are seeing a silent schism. A minority is "going Taliban", turning to radical reactionary movements like Opus Dei, but the strong and growing influence of those ultras on the establishment is making more and more moderates break ranks and join those that, while still considering themselves Catholics, don't even attend services anymore. These 'talibans' can very possibly become the majority in a few years, but only at the price of Catholics becoming an small minority.

    In other order of things, and regarding long live institutions, aren't we forgetting Orthodox Patriarchs?


    Or the Coptic Church? It's been around for quite a while too.

    One thing about relevance--we're thinking about this in terms of politics, but the churches also perform a lot of charity. Yes, right now we're talking about charity gone wrong (pedophile priests, a clinic that doesn't provide pain relief, mean nuns, ideological extremists) and ignoring all the stuff we haven't heard about that involves feeding, clothing, and educating those in need. All the stuff that's going right, in other words.

    That's how churches stay relevant in the long term. After all, neither governments nor corporations have show a lot of staying power. Compassion and a desire for community are basic impulses for most people, and churches are one way these impulses are expressed. They are one of the things we can "put our faith" in, along with governments and corporations. Among this company, it's far from clear that the Catholics are the worst of the lot when it comes to providing services.

    In other order of things, and regarding long live institutions, aren't we forgetting Orthodox Patriarchs?

    For that matter, the Coptic Church in Egypt also traces itself back to the earliest period of Christianity.

    Important differences are that the RCC is much bigger and more widespread, while retaining a strong central authority. There's also a greater degree of continuity. Aside from about 30 years of exile in Avignon, the RCC has been based in and around Rome for its entire history.

    Compare with the Patriarch of Antioch -- traditionally, St Peter held this position before he went to Rome and became the first Pope, and it still exists today. But the city of Antioch was destroyed in the Crusades, and the number of Christians in the area now is tiny.

    It's a bit questionable whether (say) the Russian Orthodox Church is part of the same institution, or whether it's better understood as a separate entity that grew up centuries later, inheriting some of its traditions from older churches. Certainly, as I understand it the (theoretically more senior) Patriarch of Antioch has only the vaguest authority over the Patriarch of Moscow.

    A rough comparison might be the modern government of Australia vs. the medieval Duchy of Normandy -- yes, there is theoretically an unbroken line of succession from William the Conqueror to Elizabeth II, but it's really stretching things to say they are part of the same bureaucratic institution. (The Duchy of Normandy does still technically exist, in the form of the British Crown's authority over the Channel Islands.)


    Care for the less fortunate is not distinct from politics. Look at debates over the welfare state.

    Historically, the RCC has maintained itself through a combination of the carrot (providing useful services) and the stick (threats of punishment). Both of these abilities are now under threat.

    As I noted above, modern governments are at least as good at providing education, health and poverty relief (at least in richer countries). "Useful services" might also include things like christenings, marriages, funerals, and a general sense of community, all of which are diminishing in the face of modern consumerism.

    "The stick" includes not just obvious things like the Crusades and Inquisition, but general social pressures to conform. In Spain of 1850, or even 1950, you would face huge obstacles to finding a good job or position of authority unless you at least appeared to be a member in good standing of the RCC. That is simply not the case today. Last but not least, the threat of hellfire used to be a powerful tool to enforce conformity, but much less so now.

    Serious though they are, I think the corruption scandals are less of a long-term challenge than this underlying decline in the RCC's power and relevance.


    If I were a conspiracy theorist, I would think that the well known demolition of welfare state functions by the austerity obsessed authoritarian fools who appear to be running lots of 'developed' countries was a plan to drive people into the arms of the church and other hierarchical alternative welfare providers, thus ensuring that there is truly no alternative.


    Not necessarily a conspiracy theory. Conservatives in the USA are quite open about their belief of Government Services Bad, Private Charity Good. In the UK, Cameron's "Big Society" was a slightly warmer and fuzzier version of the same thing. But this may be heading off topic. ;-)


    Perhaps it's better to think in terms of cultural survival rather institutional survival. The Latin Church of the Western Empire survived into sub-Roman times and became independent with the lapse of a dominant central authority. The Greek Church of Eastern Empire remained under the dominant influence of the Emperor at Constantinople and after the fall of the city came under Ottoman supervision. I suggest that what we're looking at it is cultural continuity with the late Graeco-Roman world order.

    You see the something of the same with Japan and China. In Japan in despite civil war and disorder and military dictatorship the Emperor remained a revered figure. A puppet figure much of the time but still Emperor.In China the cultural ideal remained a united China under single Emperor even with several dynasties on the go at the same time. The ideal survived usurping emperors and foreign dynasties.

    Cultural singularities/black swans do occur. I think the French Revolution has a lot to answer for.


    Para 2 -

    It's not uncommon in Japanese history to find the Emperor being the emperor in Kyoto, whilst civil war rages around him over who gets to be Shogun.

    As for China, check out the 3 Kingdoms period.


    And I'd modify that to "SOME modern governments are good at providing those services." This isn't particularly true for all first world countries (cf: US and Greece), and definitely not true for many third world countries.

    To be clear, I'm an American and favor universal health care. Still, I recognize the American obsession with capitalist-bureaucratic complexes means that we're going to get dragged to that state kicking and screaming. We seem to be in an era where projects are judged by which people they enrich, rather than getting the best for the most with the least cost.

    I'd even go so far as to say that the conservative analysis (that private charity is better) is not entirely without merit, although I think it's a suboptimal and self-serving solution. I agree with them that we've got to get off the XXX-Complex games that are bankrupting us (military-industrial, prison-industrial, Big Pharma, Big Oil, Big Finance), although our means and ends differ.


    it says in their crazy book.. 'no doctors, pray yourself healthy' so no nhs funds for any religious clinics would seem fair


    Dysfunctional though it is, the US healthcare system at least contains alternatives to religious charity. And most of the healthcare providers are secular -- religious hospitals exist but they are a minority of the industry.

    Compare with Europe 500 years ago, where the RCC basically had a complete monopoly on health, education and welfare services.


    Agreed. I've simply seen no evidence that Church-linked hospitals are particularly better or worse than secular or government non-profit hospitals. I don't personally know enough about for-profit hospitals to compare these as well, but I suspect they're in the same league.

    The problem with American hospitals is that patients generally aren't the customers, and when they are, they get screwed. In general, the customers are whoever's paying for medical service (e.g. insurance companies and the government), and the price is settled AFTER service is rendered, through negotiation. The biggest customers get the cheapest prices, to the point where many doctor's offices won't accept government payments because they are lower than the cost of providing the service.

    If this seems like a way to distort all economic signals, you're absolutely right. To pick one example, a doctor can ask a patient how much pain they're feeling on a 1-10 scale and prescribe meds accordingly, but they can't tell the patient how much the pain treatment will cost, because no one knows at that point. The 1-10 scale works better when the costs are known (e.g. single payer), and it would be equally useful when the doctor asks how much pain relief the patient wants to pay for ("do you want the $1 ibuprofen or the $100 narcotic?"). In our system, the 1-10 scale is actively misleading, and there are incentives to overdose patients (as in on-demand morphine dosing, where patients forget how often they've pushed the button) to maximize profits.

    There are a number of ways out of this: single payer (we pay the government, which sets the prices, and care gets provided) to everyone pays on an open market (leaving insurance for reimbursement after catastrophes) and market forces keep prices down. The problem is we're stuck in the stupid middle, with a few big customers, prices settled by negotiation, and hospitals trying to maximize income by shafting paying patients, to pay for shortfalls from things like mandatory emergency service. Some patients get favored, some patients get screwed, and a lot of money gets made in that murky middle.

    I favor single payer because people in medical emergencies aren't in a position to shop around, so market mechanisms aren't appropriate in many cases. For voluntary treatments, by all means throw the market open, but for involuntary medical treatment, we'd do better at controlling costs if everyone knew the costs before, during, and after treatment.


    Agreed. I've simply seen no evidence that Church-linked hospitals are particularly better or worse than secular or government non-profit hospitals.

    I'm not American but from what I've read a real threat is that such hospitals can impose religious doctrine on what can and can't be carried out. Abortion being a big example.

    This article explains more:

    When you enter a hospital seeking care, you carry with you a set of assumptions: You trust your doctors will explain all of your medical options to you after a thorough examination. You trust your doctors will recommend a treatment based on those options. You trust that they will help you make an informed decision about your treatment. You trust that they will treat you.

    But what happens when religious restrictions interfere with that trust? To understand Catholic health care, it's important to know the rules that guide Catholic hospitals, otherwise known as Ethical and Religious Directives (ERDs). These directives are drafted and tweaked by the rotating cast of mostly white, mostly celibate bishops couch-surfing at the Vatican. ERDs operate like a code of conduct that medical staff in Catholic hospitals agree to abide by, regardless of whether or not a particular staffer is Catholic. For the most part, the directives aren't suggestions—they're prescriptive.


    When you enter a hospital seeking care, you carry with you a set of assumptions: You trust your doctors will explain all of your medical options to you after a thorough examination. You trust your doctors will recommend a treatment based on those options. You trust that they will help you make an informed decision about your treatment. You trust that they will treat you.

    But what happens when religious restrictions interfere with that trust?

    The same thing that happens with a private/secular hospital. Except the decisions are made by insurance companies and/or government bureaucracies. And this also applies to religious hospitals to some degree. All health care systems limit care. It's just a matter of who decides the limits. Some prefer the RCC, others the government, others their bank account.


    How long can an institution exist in stasis before the growing gap between its own doctrine and the larger society it's embedded in forces a crisis?

    Or if there is a gap between it's own doctrine and its practices.

    With the former you tend to grow isolated but in many cases the true believers become more entrenched. In the latter one day an institution may discover everyone but a few sycophants left the party. And it may happen relatively overnight.


    You're making out like people often have a choice which hospital to be treated at. Furthermore if taxpayer money is going to a healthcare service to provide healthcare then the only limit's set should be by representatives of the taxpayers.


    No. I just said there are always decisions being made on what kinds of services are provided. That's it.

    Well also that some people prefer different groups deciding these limits.


    Err, let me apologize in advance if I dabble too much into theology, but I guess there has to be some (and philosophy, err), since the only real dogma in RCC is "we were always right, we just didn't make ourselves clear enough".

    And the history of most RCC teachings could be summed up with the old rabbi joke, you know the one, where the first guy tells his side, the rabbi nods "you're right", the second one conters, the rabbi adds "you're right", and then the rabbi's wife comes around and chastizes the rabbi for telling both they are right, calling the rabbi meschugge, so the rabbi concludes with "you're right too".

    Or, since for most of the time RCC teachings weree more along the lines of "it's not like this", that'd be "you are all wrong".

    So, the best way to see how the church is going to change might be to look at the current mess and try to deduce some workarounds the RCC could use. If I get too annoying, since I'm at Dortcon next weekend, feel free to feed my brain to Fluff the Plush Cthulhu last.

    And, err, sorry, I'm just going to bed, so I can't write much today, but the whole scenario reminds me somewhat of Chesterton's "The man who was Thursday":

    Interpretation is left to the reader. Personally, I hope the somewhat return to the old canonisation system with Benedict

    means the RCC gets a new St. Gilbert and one wily Albanian is stuck with Beatific forever, ehh.

    Last but not least, I differ somewhat on the "dragged kicking and screming into the 19th century", since that one happened already to one Pius IX

    and it took the RCC till 1929 to come to grips with that. That the treaties that ended this one were signed by one Benito Mussolini was either a bad sign of the church political leanings (though officially, extreme nationalism would imply the state has higher standing than the church, which is anathema, thus one could label fascism as heretical, especially if it's prudent, like today) or a stupid coincidence...


    Then again if you read the Wiki article on the history of the RCC in France, specifically during the Third Republic 1870-1940 - it seems that the demise of the RCC is cyclical. Back then the move was away from the outmoded monarchy/class affiliation - mostly money/power based reasons - that were unfavorable to the growing and strengthening middle class. Today, it's against the RCC's stand on what are essentially human rights, i.e., which people are fully human and have the right to live as they will. Right now the RCC stand is that women, gays, the unbaptized, etc., because they are not permitted all rights (full participation), are not fully human.


    Well, when Catholics speak about "human inclination to sin", it's somewhat different to Calvinism and "Total Depravity", which are twice heretical for RCC theology, even compared to heretical Lutheranism, IIRC.

    It all goes back more then 1500 years, to one Pelagius, who was accused of preaching men could do good works without god's help, which has some problems with "original sin", this funny idea Christians use to rationalize Jesus' death.

    So he was declared wrong be the church, though there is some debate if the doctrines attributed to him are just a caricature:

    In the next 1000 years, while the extreme version of Pelagianism was anathema, a weak version, that men could discriminate good and wrong, especially with reason and do some good works without faith, but required faith to full salvation, was quite common. Which explains the virtuous pagans in Dante:

    Another thing was RCC teachings stressed it was not just faith but also good deeds that earned salvation, which was, well, quite favourable economically, you know what I mean.

    When one Martin Luther criticized indulgences, he posited that it was faith alone that leads to salvation, and good deeds were of no or only very limited value.

    When he was at it, he also declared our reason so warped by original sin that men were unable to see good from wrong without divine help:

    Which, well, was also declared wrong by the RCC.

    Clarification of the issue in the RCC was somewhat tricky, especially since guys in the discussion had the nasty habit of denouncing each other with the inquisition for Pelagianism and Lutheranism, as one can see easily.

    Incidentally, it seems like the Regensburg lecture by Benedict was about god and reason in Catholicism and Protestantism

    but I guess tugging the muslims in clouded the issue somewhat. Interpretation of this episode, e.g. provocation vs. example vs. bad idea, is left to the reader.

    Meanwhile, on the Reformation side of things, Calvin upped Luther to eleven, when he declared that not only was it faith alone that meant salvation, but also that our reason has no role in it. Which leads us to "total depravity".

    That being said, all versions have some problems; "Pelagianism" might have a little inclination to self-righteousness, Calvinism might lead to some fatalism, and last but not least Lutheranism might lead to the born-again sociopath who says he has no sins anymore, and could you please forget he murdered someone, we all know and love in USian prisons. Come to think about it, sociopaths, well, I guess some discussions about neuropsychology remind me of this Reformation fun.

    Oh, and if when speaking with a RCC theologian that he's saying both a wrong, I guess it's likely he'll declare you wrong and anathema, too.

    That being said, a certain realization of HSS cognitive biases in ethical reasoning is not just with Christianity's "original sin", on tvtropes the "human are bastards"-page was somewhat renamed, but there is this:

    Though I guess proper RCC dogma would stress this one too,

    especially since only men have free will and can thus act good, which brings us to

    As for me, err, I'm an agnostic, but I have a certain knack for elaborate delusional systems...


    From anecdotal evidence, the two branches at university libraries that have the biggest problem with stolen books are law and theology. It makes sense, especially if you think sociopathy as a continuum and not a discrete category and remember narcistic traits like building a grandiose external identity are often part of the picture. Come to think about it, the one imposter that comes to mind was a theology student, though a Protestant one.

    Problem is that clergy could mean preachers and parochial priests, where preachers are quite close to showmen, while parochial priests have to do pastoral care, where I'm not that sure lack of empathy is adaptive. But then, you can always fake it.

    That being said, I guess the narcissism part might translate to other "moral superiors", talking to some of our Greens about the Malaria deaths thanks to the DDT ban is somewhat illuminating, as is dealing with Vegans.


    With all due respect, that's bollocks.

    Suppose a pregnant woman is likely to die unless she has an abortion. (This can certainly happen with some complications of pregnancy.) If she is aware of the facts, and chooses not to get an abortion for her own personal reasons, she has every right to make that choice.

    If a Catholic hospital chooses not to tell her that she is likely to die without an abortion, or refuses to perform the procedure (possibly at a time when she is in no condition to go elsewhere), then that is fucking evil.

    Other medical decisions which overrule the patient are about limitations on resources, or whether the risks of a particular treatment outweigh the benefits. I hope you can see the difference between these, and refusing to provide information or undertake simple procedures because The Pope Said So.

    Right now the RCC stand is that women, gays, the unbaptized, etc., because they are not permitted all rights (full participation), are not fully human.

    That's somewhat harsh, since most organisations have some circumscriptions for some rights. In the same vain, one could argue people not born in the USA are not fully human there because they can't become president. OK, bad example.

    Still, I guess it's something of a stretch to say people under 40 are not wholly human in Germany because they can't become president

    That this one is an infringement on certain human rights is a clear one, but then, German Presidents have little power to speak of, so nobody cares. But then, there are other rules, and not just minimum but also maximum ages.

    As for gays, well, I guess I'd help to remind offending Catholics about the catechism, where we have this one:

    In short: - "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered." - "They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided." - "Homosexual persons are called to chastity."

    Where we can easily see how some Catholics have sinned against the second one, though then, I'd stay somewhat calm on speeches that were more or less repetitions of the first one.

    Because, well, there are multiple interpretations of this one[1]. To use another example, one could conceptualize autism or ADHD as "intrinsically disordered", even if one stressed the positive sides both have. Or call anybody not able to understand the root of two is no rational number the same.

    And for the third one, that's a goal, not a state. ;)

    So I guess it's our duty to help our misguided brothers and sisters to see the true meaning of their moral teachings.


    [1] On another note, I think this "intrinsically disordered" idea is somewhat problematic and not just confined to RCC theology. E.g. when BSE appeared, media didn't call the feeding of meat to cows "intrinsically disordered", but that were only semantics. Funny thing is, it happens quite often:

    Also note the musings on evolution from herbivory to carnivory and vice versa in the comments. Musing on "disordered" vs. "normal variance" vs. "adaptive variance" is fun indeed.


    The Catholic Church - like any church is nothing exceptional - just another form of government. Or possibly a cult (with beliefs equally as ridiculous as the Scientologists) thats been around longer, so we've all grown up with/gotten used to its arbitrary, crazy mythologies and rules. But the chickens are coming home to roost. Certainly in Australia, you have about 4 state based enquiries combined with a Commonwealth Royal Commission into Child Abuse. Prejudices against homosexuality seem entrenched in some circles, so we are further away from similar same-sex marriage deals than in some parts of Europe.

    Which of course goes towards the relevance of the Catholic Church - if Spain, the birthplace of Torquemada and the Inquisition can legalise gay marriage, then perhaps the battle for hearts and minds is lost?

    Of course it will shamble along, making minor changes and promising the world (or the afterlife) - it will just become less relevant. Other churches or beliefs (with ideas just as silly) will pick up on some people's obsessive need to find meaning and patterns where there are none. The meme will continue until we edit that part out of our genes....


    The claimed antiquity of the Japanese royal house is inflated by about 900 years of myths and propaganda. The real start date isn't Ameru in 660 BCE but somewhere round about 400 AD, making them well short of the RCC and only about twice as old as the Grimaldis of Monaco. Feature writers tend to go gooey about this - I remember one reference to "stretching back in an unbroken line to Ameratsu in 660 BC", as if that didn't apply to all of us.


    Other medical decisions which overrule the patient are about limitations on resources, or whether the risks of a particular treatment outweigh the benefits. I hope you can see the difference between these, and refusing to provide information or undertake simple procedures because The Pope Said So.

    Same kinds of things happen unrelated to the pope. And not just because of the two reasons you gave. Or so the details of insurance plans I've read say and doctors I've talked to say.

    Just because a procedure is more safe and effective doesn't count if it isn't on the approved list unless you want to go outside the system or some part of it and maybe pay out of pocket.

    I'm discussing the US system here. Not Canada or any EU countries.


    Oh, our present government (if governing is what they are doing, which most of us find doubtful) is quite rightist, that's a given, and they have their share of Opus Dei members, but in practice they can do relatively little because radical measures would be extremely unpopular.

    In practice they can't forbid gay marriage or abortion, or make religion classes compulsory. They can, however, favor Catholic schools and Caritas over lay equivalents, show cardinals and bishops deference and even ask Holy Virgin Mary her help against unemployment... and no, that's NOT a joke; I wish it were.


    Chris.borthwick wrote: The claimed antiquity of the Japanese royal house is inflated by about 900 years of myths and propaganda. The real start date isn't Ameru in 660 BCE but somewhere round about 400 AD, making them well short of the RCC and only about twice as old as the Grimaldis of Monaco. Feature writers tend to go gooey about this - I remember one reference to "stretching back in an unbroken line to Ameratsu in 660 BC", as if that didn't apply to all of us.

    As a contrary point, the antiquity of the early Christian Church inflates the dating of the Roman Catholic Church by a few hundred years, too. The religion was illegal and disorganized before the Edict of Milan in 313. Before the Nicene Council in 325 it's hard to argue that the modern organized "Roman Catholic" is distinguishable from a mass of poorly organized christian beliefs. Another date of note would be 380, when the faith now headed towards RC became the state religion of the Romans. Between 382 and 450ish (Councils of Rome and Chalcedon) the organized structure of Catholicism, the canons, and the primacy of Rome were established.

    If one looks at 400 AD and the Japanese line's founding, it's hard to defend a position that the Roman Catholics as we'd define them now were ipso facto a valid organization at the time. It's an argument that is made, but there was a long period there (150 years worth) of it becoming organized and formal.


    Greg, your comments are being deleted because you keep ignoring the injunction against discussions of theology on this topic (at bottom of blog entry).

    (I am away from home for a couple of days and don't have enough time to monitor the discussion closely. If you keep doing this, I'll have to suspend your posting privs until I get back.)


    Still bollocks. Here's why:

    I mentioned "limitations on resources". That includes money. If a US insurance company refuses to fund a treatment, in principle it attempting to save money; any other reason, and theoretically it would be in dereliction of its legal duty to its shareholders. It's unpleasant to say the least; but any health care system, in any country, has finite resources and needs to make decisions about how best to deploy them.

    I know that the real world is more complicated, and sometimes a secular health care provider will make stupid and counterproductive decisions. When this happens, it is a bug, not a feature. Nobody says, "I am refusing to allow a life-saving and cost-effective treatment, for no other reason except that it gives me a warm and happy feeling inside." Nobody, that is, except for the RCC and other religious providers.


    Yes, exactly.

    Back on topic, "being fucking evil" is a very poor marketing strategy, especially if there are alternatives on offer.

    The corruption scandals are very serious, but could be put right by a Pope who ruthlessly punished the offenders. Changes in doctrine may prove more difficult, particularly the solid opposition to contraception, abortion, and gay rights. The RCC would face problems anyway, from the decline of its traditional "carrot" and "stick" capabilities, but these matters of doctrine are a self-inflicted wound on top of that.

    There's no reason why a Christian group has to die on that particular hill. They could drop the obsession with sex and emphasise a message of peace, tolerance, and charity. (Jesus said nothing much about the former and quite a lot about the latter.) But sheer inertia may stop the RCC from doing so.


    On second thoughts (and being extremely cynical), "being fucking evil" may be a good marketing strategy if your target audience is the subset of people who are sadistic enough to get a kick out of that sort of thing. But I suspect it will still hurt the RCC in the long run.


    I'd suggest that continuity in most long lineages has more than a bit of mythologizing in it. We can talk about Japanese shogunates, for example, as well as, well, antipopes. In politics, China likes to talk about its long history, but when you look at the maps of all the different countries that have occupied present-day China, it's hard to argue any continuity at all. Ditto with the pharaohs in Egypt.

    It's the old "great grandfather's axe" problem. This is the apocryphal antique axe that grandfather owned. Its handle has been replaced three times, and it's gone through two heads, but yep, it's the same axe.


    Yes, although the advantage of talking about institutions is that it makes things a lot more concrete.

    Is there a continuity of culture between the inhabitants of Egypt today and in 3000 BC? Sort of, kind of, in some respects. Is there a pharaoh in Egypt today? Nope. Was there a pharaoh in the Ptolemaic period? Basically yes, although the institution had changed significantly since the Old Kingdom.

    Someone magically transported from the Old Kingdom would more or less recognise the Ptolemaic pharaohs, just as an abbot transported from 800 AD would more or less recognise the rituals and organisation of the RCC today. In fact, this may be a useful yardstick as to whether an institution has "survived".


    Charlie @ 93 Possibly fair enough - but ... 1] What about my non-theological comments, re, say the chronolgical extent of the British/English/Saxon/Wessex monarchy, for instance. 2] I claim unfair discrimination, because whoever is supposedly doing the "moderating" has left all of Trottelreiner's comments in, and they are considerably further into thology than I. 3] So .. either delete his as well, or please re-0instate mine, in the interests of "fair play" please? 4] Oh, I didn't think (I may be wrong) but my second comment didn't have any significant amount of theology in it anyway, so ... I wonder if one of your "moderators" is not being even-handed? 5] Come to that, there is a poster whose apologia for the RC church is quite unpleasant - I'm suprised he (or she) is permitted to post as they have, if this is really the case.


    One of the titles held by the pope is Pontifax Maximus, according to tradition the first, Numa Marcius, was appointed the second Roman King Numa Pompilius. This appears to be by a substantial margin the oldest existing title dating back to perhaps 700BCE a century or so before the essentially spurious traditional date of the Japanese Emperor.


    Greg: T's comments are relatively uninflammatory. Yours are not. If you can bring yourself to discuss this topic without choking on your own bile, you're welcome to do so.


    The size of something like the Catholic Church can probably act as a parachute to slow descent in that it is so big it has a significant effect on the society it is behind the times of, helping to prevent it from getting too behind the times too quickly. This is most likely to flex at designed pivot points, by which I mean that rather than imposing general conservatism, it is easier to induce general acceptance of a certain amount of hypocrisy society wide.

    There is a lot of agent-provocateurism in the subtle machinery of modern society, and I've always suspected these bad priests were actually infiltrators intent on subverting and destroying the church (and just being themselves along the way). But had they not been caught, the would have continued to preach intolerance. Is this part of a larger plot to create brittleness, so that the Church could someday be shattered? I say it was put there by space aliens.

    Catholicism is tolerable for so many because it accepts the inevitability of sin that can be washed clean by confession. Thus poorly practicing catholics can abound and live life in a manner compatible with human nature. There is room in its world for humans to be human, yet it provides ideals and standards to be striven for. In that way it bends without breaking, and that well crafted design is the secret of it's success.


    'I say it was put there by space aliens.'

    Can't wait for the new pope to say this. Because, really, why not?


    Re: "That's somewhat harsh, since most organisations have some circumscriptions for some rights..."

    Yes, RCC's stand on human rights is harsh which makes any real-life description of it sound harsh. The 'circumscriptions' part of your reply is apt but we're talking about what was supposedly the first 'universal' church that was/is supposed to be open to/cherish all human souls equally. That's from my grade school catechism class which, according to this Vatican site, is still a major keystone of this organization.

    Maybe it's time for a 'Vatican Spring' which could happen if the cardinals elect the 'wrong' pope. However, instead of the Arab Spring led by the common man, to make any lasting impression the Vatican Spring would have to be led by ordained priests and bishops. However, this would be just history repeating itself, so the RCC would likely weather any Vatican Spring too.


    ...our Strossian overlords...

    Maybe some bot, or someone impersonating one, took Antipope literally.


    Charlie @ 101 Difficult - I'll try, let's see shall we?

    Continuous title: The (going backwards) British/English/Saxon/Wessex monarchy dates back to 625 - a good long run!

    Effects of RC doctrine on ordinary people: There's an NHS-funded (i.e. our taxes) health clinic less than 500 metres from here, refusing to give contraceptive advice or help, even to maried couples! ( Though I think our local MP is trying to twist their arms ) Which shows how much the official body really desperately needs to change - but I don't think it will. Incidentally I do think married priests may return (yes, return) whereas the stance on the supposed sacredness of life (horrible links up-thread notwithstanding) is unlikely to move.

    RD South @ 102 "Catholicism is tolerable, because ..." I wonder how much of that is the, erm, shall we call it "conditioning" that people have been given? The way in which even supposedly completely lapsed catholics still respect or defer to this organisation never fails to astound me. I certainly don't understand it at all.


    The claims of the age of the RCC are no less inflated by myth and propaganda. While the religion is a old as claimed (let us not delve into conspiracy here), the Roman Catholic Church itself was an arm of the western Roman empire, not the loose collection of independent bishops that were earlier Christian churches (including some that called themselves Catholic). there might be some legitimacy to the claim of apostolic succession, but one bishop naming another guy a bishop, and then the two never speaking to each other for the next 20 years, does not constitute an organization.


    Hi there -

    Apologies - and if this doesn't get posted, I understand -- since I'm deliberately derailing the RCC-is-mired-in-the-past discussion.

    Frankly, there's something a lot more interesting happening ...we're one step closer to creating the BORG or as the researchers doing this research are euphemistically calling it, an "organic computer". (The below is a cut&paste of the first 2 paragraphs from a ScienceDaily article.)

    Brain-To-Brain Interface Allows Transmission of Tactile and Motor Information Between Rats

    Feb. 28, 2013 — Researchers have electronically linked the brains of pairs of rats for the first time, enabling them to communicate directly to solve simple behavioral puzzles. A further test of this work successfully linked the brains of two animals thousands of miles apart -- one in Durham, N.C., and one in Natal, Brazil.

    The results of these projects suggest the future potential for linking multiple brains to form what the research team is calling an "organic computer," which could allow sharing of motor and sensory information among groups of animals. The study was published Feb. 28, 2013, in the journal Scientific Reports.


    You're talking about a classical problem in history and other related fields, the "Ship of Theseus".

    I love the example from Only Fools and Horses (the episode Heroes and Villains).

    Yes, RCC's stand on human rights is harsh which makes any real-life description of it sound harsh.

    I didn't negate that, in fact, I agree. I just think that saying somebody treats somebody else as "not fully human" might be a nice hyperbole, but as with any hyperbole there is quite some serious risk of overdoing it. You can conceptualize every inequal treatment of human beings as treating somebody as "not fully human", and as for inequality and equality, let's just say different concepts of "equality" are fun to talk about over some beer. For sometimes painful values of "fun".

    To go for some hyperbole myself, the RCC doesn't seem to treat homosexuals as "not fully human", especially since e.g. in this case one can even become cardinal -or pope?- when one is homosexual. What they really care about is if he acts accordingly, as in this case. Not that all the homosexual bishops they consecrated and don't talk about make it any better, as illuminated by this case.

    Personally, if I was in the curia I'd start to be somewhat sceptical about the loudest homophobes. But then, there are rumours the RCC knows exactly who is and who isn't gay. At least according to this guy, but then, apostates are always somewhat suspect in intelligence, they tossed their friends already once, they have personal vendettas, they have to reinvent their personality etc., so take him with quite some tons of salt:

    Funny thing, according to this guy quite a few theologians think we already had a gay pope and were, err, at least not too unhappy. The pdf of the interview with Berger at the buttom is in German, but quite interesting. But as already mentioned, I'd be somewhat careful with apostates[1], especially if the were the conservative catholic wunderkind before.

    BTW, please be aware that playing the advocatus diaboli (well, a term from RCC canonization process) doesn't mean one is the devil oneself. I just try to apply at least the same amount of non-partisan thought to the RCC as to, say, some moderate muslims.

    [1] For another example, see anti-cult studies. While I think most stories about those not to be named, else there be lawyers upon you are true, I wouldn't treat every story as such. If that seems impossible, well, quite a few of the blood libel stories stemmed from apostate jews. Basically, everybody lies.

    I claim unfair discrimination, because whoever is supposedly doing the "moderating" has left all of Trottelreiner's comments in, and they are considerably further into thology than I.

    Well, if you insist, I don't mind their deletion.

    As already explained, I consciously broke the "no theology" provision and apologized in advance, but I thought it necessary.

    First off, any reaction will follow the general RCC pattern, e.g. it will try not to break RCC canon[1], bad pun intended, so looking at past examples of said pattern seemed prudent.

    Second of, one has to mention the relevant parts of the canon, for definition, see above.

    [1] The fandom definition, not the canon law. There is an imp of the perverse asking what happened if J.J. Abrams becomes creative consultant.

    Is this part of a larger plot to create brittleness, so that the Church could someday be shattered? I say it was put there by space aliens.

    Well, I guess conspiracy theories are one way to cope with that one, both for "progressives" and "conservatives"; the result would be that "progressives" lose more respect of the hierarchy, and "conservatives" would become more entrenched, still.

    Personally, I think there are just some general mechanisms at work; let's assume homosexual tendencies are something of a given. Even the RCC says they are not sinful in themselves, but acting upon them is. So if you're a RCC boy and realize you're into other boys, you could always rationalize that it's OK if you don't act on them. If you're more of the "even the tendency is sinful" variety, it's more complicated, but I won't focus on that one.

    If you're not going to be an (un-)happily married gay, an alternative to family is clergy. Which also works for genuine asexuals, but again, I won't focus on that one. If you're of the "tendency is sinful" crowd above, there is this thing with penance, too.

    Now there are certain things that will favor homosexuals over heterosexuals; for starters, there are less temptations with the female contingent of the congregation. It seems clear that you won't act suspiciously, so you'll keep in line and utter the occasional homophob rant. If you're complicated, this'll be not so occasional rants, and a more active role, but also a higher risk of adverse reactions.

    But still, I'd be somewhat cautious with some of the rumors. Thing is, quite a few RCC priests or guys who thought about it are real nerds[1], and we all know that when a fan invites you to talking about his favorite author and GUT all night, he'll probably talk about his favorite author and GUT all night. It might be a code for gay bondage bear orgy sex, of course[2].

    [1] Err, the usual suspect from my "let's watch SF on TV and do some RPG" student days might be to nerdy for general fandom, which says something. [2] As for the guy mentioned in [1], the horror, the horror...

    Ironically, unlike the external scandals, these internal scandals don't involve crimes (with the acts being between two consenting adults) - only blatant hypocrisy.

    Err, given the authority a RCC bishop has with his priest, there is always this element of coercion. Now not every subordinate CEO and his/her personal assistant getting it going are an example of sexual exploitation, still, blatant cases happen.


    One point worth noting is that if any response from the new pope has to follow Canon, then ...

    Pope John Paul II had to deal with a dilemma a few years ago: a bunch of conservative Church of England priests who did a spectacular flounce when the CofE began ordaining female priests. Because the Catholic Church is formally committed to reabsorbing the protestant churches whenever possible, admitting these priests was clearly The Right Thing To Do. But some of them were married!

    The solution was, IIRC, to add a loophole to the no-marriage thing: a priest may still not marry, but if they were married before they were admitted to the Catholic church then they can stay married.

    Generalize this rule to "men entering the priesthood who are already married may remain married; and we won't take unmarried applicants any more" would be a relatively short step -- controversial at the time but building on an established precedent -- and would, over time, roll back the role of the priesthood as a place of refuge for men with non-standard sexuality growing up in conservative Catholic societies.

    Is this plausible, or utterly impossible for some reason I'm unaware of or mistakenly discounted?


    Don't forget that celibacy is a discipline, NOT a doctrine. A pope could literally end celibacy tomorrow if he wanted to.

    And historically, celibacy has probably been a good thing for the advancement of Western Civilization.

    By denying marriage, family and heirs to the priesthood, celibacy prevented the formation in Europe of a priestly caste similar to the Brahmins of India - and with it the inevitable stultifying effects on social change.

    Instead, celibacy created an organisation based on meritocracy where the son of a peasant could become pope. Without celibacy it is doubtful that the very concept of social advancement would even exist in medieval Europe.


    Besides, celibacy gave Medieval Gays protection, careers, prestige and dignity they never would have had in a culture where even Gay kings could be killed by having red hot pokers shoved up their arse.

    Can anyone doubt that the RCC has always been more than a little Gay?

    Can anyone deny that this (despite the inherent hypocrisy) has been a good thing?


    Not a doctrine of total depravity, just an unflinching and honest recognition of facts.

    Man is what He is, the product of millennia of evolution "red in tooth and claw". The first rule of ecology is that the greatest threat to any organism comes not from predators but from its own species. And as apex predators, mankind provides its own competition. As the Romans said, "Homo homini lupus est" ("man is a wolf to man").

    So we need no prompting to commit atrocity and murder, that urge is already inherent in our make up.

    All that is needed is the removal of a restraint. And that restraint has been traditionally provided by religious indoctrination that fills naturally feral humans with the fear of divine punishment for committing evil acts.


    Duffy, you are Quellcrist Falconer and I claim my 5 pounds.


    I think that whole train of thought depends on fundamental misunderstandings of such things as evolution.

    We don't need religion to get an evolutionary payback from atruism and other "good" behaviour. Dawkins gives a partial explanation with the selfish gene concept: genes are what count, not individuals. You can also find a criticism of the whole idea of "Nature red in tooth and claw" in Kropotkin's Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution

    You seem to be propounding yet another steaming heap of that Social-Darwinism crap.


    I don't particularly mind, but I think it's a bit more complex than you're making it out to be.

    As I understand it (and I'm not Catholic), the impetus for a celibate clergy was inheritance. In some churches (in Ireland, I believe?), priests had families, and a son inherited Dad's church. This was a problem for the Catholic Church, as it could easily lead to schisms over property battles. For example, if a priest had only daughters, who inherited? What if the son didn't have the calling, or didn't like the Pope? Seeing how often some Protestant churches splinter over personality clashes, this is a real concern. Hence the rule: priests didn't marry, and their churches belonged to the Church as a whole.

    This is where we get the interesting idea of poverty, chastity, and obedience. The priests and monks don't own their monastery, for they are officially poor. Instead they managed said properties and lived off the alms and proceeds from the lands the Church owned.


    You'll find that I agree with your points.

    You could say that the closest analogy to the RCC are the Guardians of Plato's republic.

    Like Plato, the Church never did solve the problem of who would guard the Guardians.


    Sorry Jerry, but we are Chimps, not Bonobos.

    If we were Bonobos we would be living under peaceful matriarchies based on cooperation, instead of patriarchies based on competition.

    Chimps OTOH are nasty fucks who wage war, murder, indulge in cannibalism and bite off the faces of their trainers. Almost exactly like us.

    Reality is harsh, but it is still reality. And that is not a bad thing for progress and invention. A peaceful society is a stagnant one, as Orson Welles noted in "The Third Man":

    "In Italy for thirty years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock."

    So I'm more of a Harry Lime than a Quellcrist Falconer.


    Utterly impossible. You forgot masturbation.


    The people who actually study animal behaviour as a model for human disagree. For example, humans function in much larger groups than chimps, and our most common mating system is serial monogamy. Chimpss, bonobos, and various bird species all have strengths and flaws as a model for human behaviour. Greg Laden gives a convenient pop view by someone with some relevant education, but there are books and articles by specialists out there ...

    There are a huge range of human societies, with wildly varying levels of violence and authoritarianism. Any attempt to insist that we are all the same, and that this is natural, is suspect (see also "naturalistic fallacy").

    Is this plausible, or utterly impossible for some reason I'm unaware of or mistakenly discounted?

    Well, IANA theologian, but I don't see any reasons against it. This is somewhat brilliant, have you ever considered a career in the church?[1]

    As Danny already said, celibacy is a "doctrine, not a dogma", BTW else the RCC had real problems with every married priest, beginning with one St. Peter. While being both the arch-sinner and the guy apostolic succession relies on would fit the RCC penchant for paradox, that'd take it somewhat too far.

    And as I already mentioned last time we talked about this, there are already married priests in the non-Latin rite parts of the RCC, so there is precedent. It might be somewhat problematic to explain why there was an insistance on celibacy, but since such teachings are always in relation to the temporal circumstances, the RCC could argue they were prudent at the time, many priest also tied in with the monastic communities, married men being tied to medieval rules etc. And then, some further attacks on "decadent modern times" and "temporal powers meddling in church matters" should do the trick, too.

    Generally, the RCC is not so much with scripture, the injunction against homosexuality usually quotes RCC natural law, but part of the role of the priest

    come from early presbyters,

    where one Paul of Tarsus had this to say in the Epistle to Titus:

    "This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you— if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination."

    So the RCC could even sell this as a return to biblical practices; that might be a problem, since AFAIK it were exactly passages like this that lead the Protestants to abandon celibacy, so following the same argumentation seems unlikely in a church where even Vaticanum II is accused of Neo-Protestantism by some Traditionalists. OTOH, the RCC already stresses humans are only 'whole' in family (never mind celibacy), which shows in stressing the role of the mother for women, funnily the role of the father isn't stressed to the same extant for men. So dropping celibacy would fit into becoming more RCC, err.

    Note that the priest having wife and children and like might lead to some other issues, e.g. Titus 1 might mean quite some social pressure on children of priest who become agnostics, atheists or join another religion.

    And well, then there is the fun with the priest's family; I remember a talk by a guy who had the task to protect information privacy for a Protestant church

    where he talked about the priest's wife talking about private job interview, e.g. the family situation of one female applicant. Err.

    Still, I think at least for parochial priests that move would lead to few problems. And less retirement money for caretakers, when they marry their priest, they're already safe. It'd also mean the priest has to at least socially competent enough to marry, if you know what I mean. I somewhat miss the oppurtunity for the not so neurotypical RCC clergy was, but there are monastic orders, still.

    There is already a ruling that people with deep-seated homosexual tendencies are to be barred form a carrier as a priest

    and a married priest with family is one way to be sure, though there are all kinds of hypocrisy possible. See (un-)happily married gay.

    And still, that'd mean something of an infringement on human rights of gays, asexuals and women, but one step at a time.

    I'm not that sure with the higher levels of hierarchy, and that's the case at hand. Even in churches where priests are usually married, bishops are generally not, but one step at a time. Also note that RCC employs casuistry, which mean, inter alias, that when choosing between two wrongs, it's better to choose the lesser wrong.

    So in the long run, insisting on married parochial priest, stressing the "homosexual acts are sinful, tendency is not" stance of the catechism, leaving celibacy for the bishops and like, where we're going to have some homosexuals seems a plausible development.

    When we use casuistry, if a homosexual bishop can't control his urges, it'd be a lesser sin if he had a stable relationship in contrast to promiscuous sex, so we might see some heightened tolerance for stable homosexual relationships in RCC circles. Which might mean precedent for happily homosexually married priests in a hundred years or so. More two hundred, come to think about it.

    As for female priests, that'd still mean a RCC no, but when looking up RCC rulings on transsexuality, there was this ruling of "men stays men, women women", which is open to interpretation; at the moment, usual interpretation is "sex assigment doesn't work", but it could also mean "neuropsychological sex is somewhat independent of exterior biological sex", to skip the gender issue. Let's hope it filters to the higher echelons that there are things like androgen insensitivity and like.

    Priest would remain something of a "male" role model, though that'd mean trans man can go for the job.

    I guess these workarounds seem silly, but then, they remind me somewhat of one Pinky taking out Brain to a gay pride parade so he doesn't lose his security clearance, but whatever.

    [1] Then, you're not overly cruel and given to foul-minded perversity. And I guess you could never get used to the underwear.


    One of the likely male-focused anti-gay/anti-masturbation biblical roots is probably an uncorrected misunderstanding of why it's a no-no for a man to spill his seed, the story of Onan. Basically, Onan agreed to sexual intercourse with his dead brother's wife as per custom, but reneged on the also customary allowing her to get pregnant. Back then, any resulting progeny would be recognized as belonging to his dead brother and not to Onan even though Onan would still be obligated to look after his dead brother's wife and 'tribe' (children).

    There's a second possibility for the old testament anti-gay/anti-masturbation stance: whenever the Israelite tribes' populations declined - whether due to famine, disease, war, etc. -- the elders would usually pressure the survivors to have as many children (preferably boys) as possible as soon as possible.

    As I don't recall any equivalent anti-lesbian/ masturbation prohibition for women, the above interpretations are probably more accurate than the "you're wicked if you enjoy sex" interpretation found mostly after Paul/Saul of Tarsus came on the scene.


    Ye whit? You're quoting a fictional character in a film, who makes a very broad and unevidenced claim, as an illustrative summary of a position? That makes no sense. I deny completely any suggestion that a peaceful society is a stagnant society.
    As counter evidence, I give you the last few centuries of European history - many interludes of peace during which all sorts of changes took place.

    And although the media like to concentrate on shootings in schools, which one presumes are equivalent to chimps biting their trainers faces, they aren't that common and oddly enough many less murderously violent societies get by fine without them.

    On the Catholics, celibacy was only enforced on priests in the 11th or 12th century or so; before then those in the lower ranks could have wives and often did. They they don't just revert back to how it was then I don't know.
    The impulse for celibacy was based on reforming zeal more than certain other considerations. At least taking the clergy out of the marriage pool meant a greater potential separation of church and state.

    By denying marriage, family and heirs to the priesthood, celibacy prevented the formation in Europe of a priestly caste similar to the Brahmins of India - and with it the inevitable stultifying effects on social change.

    First off, you should differentiate between propaganda and fact concerning Indian history in general and Indian Brahmins in particular. Indian society is not as static as it seems to be, and concerning the caste system, there are indications the varna system that's usually meant when speaking about "caste" (which is a Spanish/Portuguese word for lineage or race, BTW) has even some roots in the Indoiranian nomads of Central Asia, yes, though I'd be somewhat careful when relying on guys like Dumezilézil#Criticism

    and OTOH, there is little indication of the varna system or only of variant versions of it in Ancient Greek authors etc. Indian scripture has a dating problem. Hindu nationalists blame the caste system in part on colonial powers using the Manusmriti and like as Indian law books, and for one they might have a point. In general, maybe read some Thapar ;)

    Second of, that would mean churhces that had no celibacy for the lower orders, like the Greek Orthodox or the later Protestant churches would show signs of this, where both have quite a lot of social change, not necessarily for the better, err.


    Despite all the bad, the RCC does enormous good works. Politically, at least as represented by various priests (etc.), it's all over the place. As a deeply socially conservative institution, it acts as a kind of "keel." I disagree with nearly every official RCC position along those lines but I think there's a real need for an institution that stands squarely in the path of change, yelling, "Stop!" Not because we ought to stop but because looking at the downside needs to be done.

    As for the sex scandals, find any organization with a significant imbalance of power (and especially access to the powerless) and you will find similar behavior; in the U.S., we recently had a rash of revelations about sexual abuse in the Boy Scouts. Change a few titles and it reads just like the RCC version.... The more repressive the institution, the worse the abuses: it's deeper hid, and "might as well be hung for sheep as for goats" applies very strongly in such situations.

    The gap between Churchly expectations and people's behavior is always there and grows as the power of any such church (etc.) to compel (outward) adherence to its doctrines diminishes. People tend to read this backwards -- "the influence of the Church has shrunk because it is so out of step with This Modern Age" -- but I think that's incorrect.

    I agree on the problems of comparing human behaviour to other primates, and I see the differences between cultures, but...

    Could you give me any ethical reasoning why I should abstain from making the such-called "naturalistic fallacy"? Just asking...



    Going through the posts till now, so...

    If it's a reference standard, that makes it look like conservatism and untestable premises are the keys to longevity.

    That depends somewhat on your definition of "conservatism".

    And even that one is somewhat superficial, as anybody knowledgeable about the differences between e.g. American and Bavarian conservatives will say. Come to think about this, even Northern States conservatives vs. Sothern ones, Catholic conservatives vs. Protestant ones etc. in the US.

    As already mentioned with regards to original sin etc., historically the RCC came out as something of a middle ground between two positions.

    Which would somewhat translate to the "onvention of conservatism" in economics mentioned under wiki, and well, I see why that one would be a key for longevity. ;)

    (As an aside, life was easier for the Reformation-era Church because of unwavering support from the Spanish/Austrian Habsburg monarchy -- without this, its history might have been very different.)

    To nitpick somewhat, the whole Reformation era might happened only because of the "unwavering support" from the Habsburgs, which in effect sometimes meant the emperor called the pope for being too pussy on heretics.

    At least part of the impetus of the Reformation in Germany was the local nobles turning against the emperor or, because that one had quite a close survival time, the pope in Rome. Which explains the Thirty Years War somewhat.

    As for the general population, I guess this often meant substituting the big somewhat sophisticated criminal bully far away, e.g. emperor and pope, with the somewhat smaller, often not so sophisticated bully at close, e.g. the local nobles.

    Yeah, I guess I drank too many beer with revisionist history nerds, err. No, the medieval kind, not the [expletives deleted] 20th century kind one[1].

    [1] Who are fun, nonetheless. Especially they go for one of their violence fantasies and you remind them they denounced said fantasies as enemy propaganda...

    Like a Catholic hospital in Colorado refusing to deliver viable twins by caesarean because their mother had died?

    Or the difference between actual behaviour and the catechism with regards to homosexuals I mentioned?

    Let's just say there are some conflicts in the RCC legal system at the moment. Like in every legal system all the time. Only idiots think otherwise. Or extreme libertarians and other ideological zealots. But than, I'm repeating myself.

    That anti-Catholic sentiment may have created an us-vs-them attitude among Catholics (outside predominantly Catholic countries) that would help paper over concerns for clerical abuses, and would also probably contribute to dogmatic rigidity.

    There are reports that indicate, e.g. John Allen, that part of the problem with the sex abuses were related to fighting the wars of the 19th century again, e.g.

    "Should the church cooperate fully with civil authorities, or is that surrendering the autonomy the church has fought titanic battles over the centuries to defend?"

    I don't know if these retorts to the Kulturkampf are real legetimate concerns or just flaring by some church officials. Or, as so often in politics, both.

    As for a more recent interview by Allen, see

    BTW, when talking about curtailing RCC privileges I'd remind everybody about the role NGOs are beginning to play at the moment, where quite a few of those are not that much better than the RCC. Let's just mention Greenpeace

    BTW, @mods if this grows too inflammatory, let me know. I guess appropiate penance would be going around in a Franciscan friar outfit with a razor on some Cons and sceptics' events. You know what I mean...

    (BTW, it seems Wiliam was much more antirationalist than the official church line now and then: "only faith gives us access to theological truths. The ways of God are not open to reason, for God has freely chosen to create a world and establish a way of salvation within it apart from any necessary laws that human logic or rationality can uncover.")


    The Catholic Church, at least in the US, is hardly unique in covering up for people abusing minors: witness Penn State University.

    Comparing how often Catholic clergy abuse minors, vs clergy of other denominations or faiths is also difficult, at least in the US, as the data simply do not exist.

    The data kept by law enforcement do, however, show that Catholic clergy are, overall, no more likely to abuse minors than any other group: and What is worse, of course, is that the hierarchy covered up abuse, frequently with the knowledge of local law enforcement, as in Boston. The hierarchies also attempted to coerce parents into keeping quiet.

    "How many divisions can the pope field" is a Hitler quote they like to repeat, smugly.

    Apparently, that was Stalin, when one of the Allied commanders asked about the pope's approval before the invasion, err, liberation of Italy(asking Italians about their use of words one might be funny).

    "In Italy for thirty years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock."

    A quote from a character who evidently knew fuck-all about Switzerland, to the extent of believing that they invented the cuckoo-clock.

    Riiight ...

    Don't diss the Swiss. They may be a tiny nation, but for centuries their mercenary fighting men were feared throughout the rest of Europe. It is perhaps lucky for the rest of us that their employment has been forbidden since 1859, except for one exception - in the Vatican, as the Swiss Guard. During the French Revolution, the Swiss mercenaries guarding the Tuileries died to the last man, despite the French Royal Family having long since fled. This is also the nation that Hitler very wisely decided not to try to invade, even though he totally surrounded them.

    (There's something about mountain folk that makes scary fighters. Scottish Highlanders. Swiss mercenaries. Nepalese Gurkhas.)

    (Oh look. I managed to get us back to the Vatican. That was unexpected.)


    There's something about mountain folk that makes scary fighters. Scottish Highlanders. Swiss mercenaries. Nepalese Gurkhas.

    Don't forget Afghanistan. Through history they've been invaded by pretty much every neighbor and every superpower, and invaders keep learning that it's not worth the trouble. A while back I quipped that America has to get out soon, because China is in a growth period but their peers will never take them seriously as a superpower until they've invaded Afghanistan.

    Speaking of China, Tibet is spectacularly mountainous. I wonder how that's working out?

    The same church that burned Giordano Bruno now seeks a dialogue with science, and promotes the complementarity between scientific and religious worldviews.

    Well, that is not that new. Since at least the time of the scholastics, the RCC adopted secular learning which could be termed proto-science. The problem is it adopted this learning a little bit too much, which lead to some problems when Aristoteles became outdated. Gives one pause when saying the church should adopt modern science unequivocally[1].

    As for Giordano Bruno, err, I find it somewhat funny that the German religion critics are named after a guy who was basically a New-Age guy who got some things right. Not that burning New-Age guys is a good thing[2].

    Come to think about it, I'd prefer Michael Servetus,

    who was dissed by Catholics and Protestants alike.

    Funny thing is, most of the controversial things the RCC says have little to do with Biblical scripture, since they are quite aware there are contradictions etc. in it. The ruling against e.g. homosexuality is grounded in RCC natural law, which is grounded in Thomism:

    A nice exposition of the conservative Thomistic stance on homosexuality is here:

    Personally, I don't see this argumentation as stringent. Especially the preoccupation with semen. By a guy who has taken vows never to reproduce.

    So maybe it's time to put Thomas on his feet again[3]:

    [1] E.g when embarking the Big-Bang model, where some proponents of this model take refuge in a RCC conspiracy to explain why steady state is out-of-fashion.

    Funny thing is, quite some of those steady-state proponents are religious themselves, like e.g. James Dobson, who as a Hindu insists on an eternal universe

    Now we all know the part Dobson played in getting people to build telescopes and doing astronomy...

    Yes, I'm somewhat of a fan for Feyerabend[1a]'s Anarchism in Science.

    [1a] Come to think about it, the Ratz once quoted Feyerabend on Galilei. It didn't go well.

    [2] At least not with most of them. But reading Ben Goldacre on some complementary medicine guys, maybe some, at least a little bit?[2a]

    [2a] If you insist that's against Epistemological Anarchism, please read "Against Method". Sometimes it's quite prudent to enforce "scientific" rules vigorously.

    [3] Whoever spotted the Marx reference wins the Internet

    Speaking of China, Tibet is spectacularly mountainous. I wonder how that's working out?

    Historically, Tibet did some invasions of neighbouring territories:

    I remembered there was one partly Tibetan expedition to Northern India, seems it was to topple one Arunashva, a former minister of Harsha, an emperor in Post-Gupta India.

    BTW, archetypes in collision, steppe vs. mountain warriors:

    On second thoughts (and being extremely cynical), "being fucking evil" may be a good marketing strategy if your target audience is the subset of people who are sadistic enough to get a kick out of that sort of thing.

    Well, it's also a good marketing strategy if "being fucking evil" means "being fucking evil or at least annoying to the right people".

    Ever wondered why Osama, Che, Benito et al are popular with certain demographics? And no, it's not just contrarian youth.

    "The right people" offended being social liberals, in this case.

    Err, personally I think "Liberal Education" by New Model Army is on of these songs I can only stand in irony mode. But then, self righteous greens and like, where to put them on an annoyance scale...


    Incidentally, it all just boils down to if you buy into a claim; when talking to a Byzantium nerd, I instigated the title of the emperor went to the Osmanic sultans after the fall of Constantinopolis:

    He instigated the title was tied to Christianity, I guess most emperors before Constantine would disagree...

    As the Romans said, "Homo homini lupus est" ("man is a wolf to man").

    Quoting Pagan Roman comedian Plautus to make a point for Christianity, where Plautus is more on the Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker or even Scary movie side of comedy compared to the Woody Allen side? Tststs... SCNR ;)

    Incidentally, you are quite close to straying from RCC line into the Lutheran heresy here; it's important to realize men's potential for evil, but it's equally important or even more important to realize men's potential for good. Otherwise, you're in serious trouble, especially since if we always sin, we have no free will and are thus not accountable for our sins.

    Stressing the evil men do is OK if you're just a secular conservative who likes the support RCC seems to harbour for his position, but it's not OK if you're really into Roman Catholicism.

    SCNR, again.

    Sorry Jerry, but we are Chimps, not Bonobos. If we were Bonobos we would be living under peaceful matriarchies based on cooperation, instead of patriarchies based on competition.

    Incidentally, we're neither chimps nor bonobos, nor gorillas nor orang-utans, but human. Where even bonobos can be quite, err, mean, given the right circumstances.

    And as humans, we sometimes behave like any of those other apes. And sometimes like no other one.

    Concerning matriarchies, this is somewhat a question of degree, there seems to be a practive in quite a few European society normally seen as "patriachal" where the oldest sibling has some kind of authority in family matters, which incidentally, is quite often a woman, given the higher life expectancy of women etc. Quite generally, you are invited to insult somebodies grandmother. Peaceful, well, not really.

    Let me parse it that way, if we were really like chimpanzees, why don't we think we should act like those?

    As for "nature red in tooth and claw", as already mentioned, that might be OK for a secular conservative, but in RCC thought nature is of divine origin, corrupted by men's fall, yes, but you can still glimpse some shreds of paradise. To denigrate creation is Gnosis or Manicheism, but not necessarily Christianity. There is a need for faith to bring nature to fulfillment, yes, but this is in concert with nature and reason, not against it.

    OK, playing advocatus diaboli (or Dei?[1]) for the RCC to Christians and Non-Christians alike is over(for today), time to break character somewhat and sound like the agnostic I really am...

    As already mentioned, I think comparisons to chimps are maybe illuminating but limited; from a behavioural POV, we don't exactly behave like chimps, from an evolutionary POV, the LCA of chimps and bonobos came AFTER the split between both and humans, so juxtaposing we are closer to the chimp compared to bonobos is not that rational. Still, I think looking at chimps or bonobos or fucking bloody human history shows that taken what is for what should be is not that clever. Though that is an ethical choice, again. Shit, we're going meta.

    That being said, there is the problem of where exactly what should be should come from, oh, shit, we're going meta again. The interesting thing with Thomism is that it uses human needs, e.g. something like Maslow's hierarchy of needs, as a goal to be attained. I guess we can see with the RCC stance on homosexuality where this is leading to, but still, is this idea worthy, while mistaken in some of its applications?

    That being said, RCC is not the only one using natural law reasoning.

    Another group is libertarians, where it might be interesting to use Thomism and like as an alternate mode, like it's funny to use RCC or Jewish theology on Evangelical or generally Christian proponents.

    And last but not least, the human rights we all talk about are also IMHO only some kind of natural law.

    Which might somewhat explain why libertarians, RCC ethics and human rights are often at odds. So, there are two questions:

    1.) Do we have to rely on natural law, or is there some way around it, at least in general discourse?

    2.) If not, how to do natural law the right way?



    This is also the nation that Hitler very wisely decided not to try to invade, even though he totally surrounded them.

    From what I've learned he left them alone militarily so they would trade his stolen gold and other valuables a global currency that could be used to buy stuff for the war effort.

    I've also seen a documentary about their munitions production during WWII but that was years ago and I have no references.

    You're quoting a fictional character in a film, who makes a very broad and unevidenced claim, as an illustrative summary of a position?

    There is another problem with that one, since the quote seems to be originally from one Benito. Mussolini, that is.

    And generally speaking, Switzerland was not that peaceful as some think, especially in the 18th and 19th century, there were quite some civil wars:

    Modern Switzerland is the result of the last of these, the Sonderbund War, in 1847. There seems to be something about 47/48:

    Incidentally, this one was between conservative Catholics and the rest, so we're on topic again. And the casualties for the winners were higher than for the losers.


    Chimps or bonobos?

    I suppose you could try to find matches between our behaviour and that of either of these animals and infer other behaviours.

    But there is a stronger case that we are likely to share behaviours that are common to both. For example, while chimps and bonobos have different approaches to in group organisation, they have similar attitudes to out groups.


    Isn't this pretty much the position of the Russian Orthodox church?


    Roberta X @ 129 Despite all the bad, the RCC does enormous good works Which are worthless, when you consider the price-tags, both emotional & physical that are attached. I remind you of women wanting birth control, anywhere on the planet or the (previously referred to) vile Albanian ensuring people didn't get pain-killers, because suffering is good for you, euw. Sorry, but this (along with some of dd's posts) is the standard RC apologia, used to weasel out of the evil they have done. I won't say more, for fear of going over the edge into another ant-RC rant, thank you very much!

    Trottelreiner @ 136 1935 or 1936, I thought ?? & @ 141 Well, communism IS a classic religion, isn't it? Why do you think some people switch sides, so completely? I reject THIS religion & join THAT one - both equally evil ( or "evil" if you prefer, snark! Very funny, or not? ) Rgather than stepping off the road of religion completely.

    s-s @ 138 Badly The Han have a long hstory of simply swamping opposition. I think the only people to have kept them off long-term (in return for nominal suzeranity going to the Son of Heaven) are the Vietnamese - no love lost there ....

    Incidentally, if you have the strength of mind & the patience to wade through it, try this blog entry populated by mosty anglo-catholoics, but, I mean ... Oh the laws of physics are regularly suspended, when miracles happen / because scientific results are "provisional" ours MUST be true for this book of myths, etc .... ARRRGGGHHH! On second thought, perhaps safer not to bother?


    Well, even as for the good old primate xenophobic reaction, it seems bonobos are somewhat more laid back than chimps. But than, HSS is known to act xenophobic at least some of the times, too, so this really seems likely to go back to the LCA of all three.

    OTOH, hospitality is something of a human universal, though the words for guest, foreigner and enemy are etymologically related in quite a few languages. And trading with foreigners has also quite some tradition with the human lineage, so even in this regard, it's more like "they act the same, and totally different".


    As I already mentioned, AFAIK it's for the lower clergy. For patriarchs and like, AFAIK they are usually from a monastic order.

    1935 or 1936, I thought ??

    Sorry, I was quoting from memory, and it seems you're right. According to wiki and like, it was when French Pierre Laval asked Stalin to do something for Russian Catholics so Laval would gain favor with the pope; that was when Laval was building alliances with Italy and the Soviet Union against Germany.

    During the war, Laval was with Vichy France in the Axis, so it seems unlikely the two met on some Allied conference then. As a source, there is "The Second World War" by one Winston Churchill, 1948.

    To muddy the water somewhat, it seems Stalin was fond of reusing his jokes; his translator wrote he said the same to Churchill when talking about an independent and Catholic Poland in 1944:

    Incidentally, most of the hits I get quoting that story are USian conservativer hitting on Obamacare. Strange.

    So, incidentally, it seems remotely possible he said it in relation to the invasion of Italy that opened a second front in Europe. Or somebody, me or some guy I read, just switched up circumstances, as some sources say Laval said it at an Allied conference about Post-War Europe, when the guy was with Vichy at the time. Err.

    Well, communism IS a classic religion, isn't it?

    Yeah. And if you look at the Basilisk tread, it's strange how quasi-religious thought flares up again and again. Even with self-professed atheists, like many communists and transhumanists. Might be something with neurological structures, might be subtle indoctrination, mighte be, err, whatever.


    Trottelreiner @ 150 OTOH, in many human societies & cultures, exogamy is (to some extent) encouraged, for reasons we now understand completely. After all, no one wants their children to be like Carlos the sufferer (Charles II of Spain).


    Actually, quite a few human societies follow a complex system of endogamy (keep the sex in the family) and exogamy (keep the sex out of the family).

    E.g. in India, you have both the Jati system, which is often endogamic, though the occassional exogamy might happen(even with the one-drop-rule, it was not that unheard of whites shagging blacks and vice versa)āti

    OTOH, you have the Gotra system, which is exogamous

    I guess if the system is not strictly patri-/matrilinear, it gets more complicated still.

    Hybrid vigor might be a reason, but some of the first research into marriage system was stressing trade networks, alliances etc.

    OTOH, it seems couples are more phenotypically similar than explainable by change. So it might be we have two effects working in opposite:

    And then, sometimes it's better to be a total stranger than a out-group neighbour, especially if the two neighbours have some history, e.g. it might be that being East Asian in Northern Ireland is somewhat more relaxed. Or the two groups join forces against you.

    That being said, give me a mixed German-Eastern European female SF nerd and a Southern European/East Asian hippie chick, and I'm more or less satisfied. ;)


    As for apes, well, I found this summary:

    So soccer hooligans are like forst-dwelling primates converging on the border of their territory then, and chimps are seriously not just into MILFs, but into females that are balding...

    As for chimp behavior in particular, especially females have quite diverse reproductive strategies:

    So, OK, dd might be right, we are chimps. Just not the chimps he is thinking about. ;)


    It's now being reported that Cardinal O'Brien has admitted to something.

    The way he has phrased it is ambiguous, but he doesn't appear to have denied the homosexual element.


    Ascribing to the RCC an age before the birth of Christ is slightly novel. That they absorbed an older, preexisting Roman title does not mean they are that old...


    Switzerland joined Spain, Sweden, and Portugal in staying neutral within Europe during WW2. It was not an all-or-nothing event, though it came close.


    Look, it's easy. You don't have to just completely switch to another subject, you can just construct a link between what you really want to say and the topic at hand. For example, the topic is "how in the world did the church last so long and what's going to happen to it now?" You want to bring up impending borgification. You can do it something like this:

    If you read between the lines, Churches are supposed to be a sort of telepathic hive mind that individuals can tap into. Communion and all that. If so, the RC version has lasted so long because it has pulled it off the best. but it is so large that individuals can apparently get away with stuff in much the way that it is easier to commit crime in the anonymity of a large city than in a small town. Other loopholes have also been discovered, such as sinning from a position of power, otherwise how could members of a telepathic collective get away with anything? In the future, they may be able to do this in reality, not just in theory. Read these articles...



    It's the front line clergy who handle the children. So to speak.


    No objection to this; it's just that this case is about a bishop sexually harassing some priests or guys who seriously thought about it. So the Russian Orthodox system wouldn't help here.



    As I read the post, the bad behaviour of the prelates is what forces the crisis into the open at a particular time, but the key question is "How long can an institution exist in stasis before the growing gap between its own doctrine and the larger society it's embedded in forces a crisis?"

    The answer is, I think, as short a time as possible. As with earthquakes, it is far better to have frequent, manageable shocks than occasional cataclysms.

    Let me move slightly off topic to illustrate this central point. For many years, the Catholic Church has protected paedophiles in its ranks. So far as I am aware, the actual rate of paedophilia in the clergy is not so very different from the rate in society at large. But the RCC has cleverly saved up a lifetime of offences for one, glorious media splurge.

    In some ways this has been a good thing. It has encouraged far more people to come forward and report what happened to them in these particular circumstances. As a result we the public have a better idea of how horrifically widespread these practices are.

    It would be nice to think that the Church could and should have done better, and based on what it knew about its own ranks should have found out about the wider problem and have been leading the charge. (Perhaps it was but it failed to influence the media narrative so we din't hear it as a mega story.) To do this effectively, they should have admitted to their failings and taken the short term humiliation. Matthew 7:5 would appear to apply here.

    This openness to short term embarrassment would have bought them the strength of clear moral leadership in this and other areas.

    But they funked it and bought themselves a cataclysmically weaker position.


    Not disagreeing but not sure how what I said leads to what you're saying.


    RDSouth (159):

    Thanks very much for your enlightening and entertaining how-to-switch-topics-sideways demo. Would actually make for a very interesting SF story premise.



    And now there is a new Pope, perhaps elected rather more easily than most on the outside expected.

    Non-European, something of a liberal on matters such as poverty, but not so likely to rock the boat in other ways. And there are claims of bad things done in the days of the Argentinian Junta.

    Oh, and he's a Jesuit, and has said one or two things which suggest he will at least consider changes.

    It's really too early to know what a difference he will make. Be wary of what the media say, they don't know enough either. But, since he is old, and is of imperfect health, I expect him to pick his fights.

    Don't expect everything.



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