The Most Evil Institution in History
Yet I Still Want to be a Catholic. Post 2. The Most Evil Institution in History. A Theological Blog 18 – iii – 20
It was only when Richard Dawkins awoke me from my dogmatic slumbers that I began to realise how pernicious religion has so often been. The Catholic Church has surely been the most evil institution in the history of the world. Even Hitler and Stalin didn’t commit their horrific crimes in the name of the gentle Lamb of God. But in the Middle Ages the Church had thousands of people burnt alive, and incarcerated with fiendish tortures countless multitudes in the dungeons of the Inquisition. Nor was it only in the Middle Ages. My disillusionment really began with the case of Michael Woodward, an old Downside boy whose brother I knew. You don’t have to be a Marxist, which I most certainly am not, to be utterly appalled by the Vatican’s at least apparent support for the tortures, murders and disappearances that occurred in Chile and Argentina. John-Paul II gave Pinochet communion with his own hand. According to God’s Assassins by Patricia Marchak, Pio Larghi, the papal nuncio in Argentina – he knew everybody who was anybody – was sent a list of those to be disappeared each week to check none of the children of supporters of the regime were on it. Christ wept for the women of Jerusalem. What tears would he have shed over the madres of the Plaza de Mayo?
My faith was further shaken by John Cornwell’s book Hitler’s Pope. David Yallop had written a book about the death of John-Paul 1st claiming the Pope had been murdered by the Vatican. John Cornwell, an English journalist but once an aspirant to the priesthood, was visiting old mates at the English College in Rome, when, as the result of a chance encounter, he was engaged by the Vatican to write a riposte to Yallop’s book. The result was A Thief in the Night. It’s a masterpiece, it demolishes Yallop’s case comprehensively. There’s a wonderful chapter about a smooth, oily, greedy and extremely indiscreet cardinal foodie in a restaurant in Rome that’s worthy of Chaucer. The picture he draws is that of a pope who was out of his depth and already very ill. But he was despised and humiliated as a country bumpkin, a little parish priest from Venice, by the Vatican. They didn’t even make sure he had proper medical attention, so it was hardly surprising he died from natural causes. They killed him by lack of love, says Cornwell “as surely as if they had put arsenic in his coffee”. What an indictment of the supposed centre of the Christian world! But the Vatican, who didn’t seem much interested in love, were so delighted they invited him to write another book defending Pius XII, who was the object of much criticism at the time, and threw open the Vatican archives to him. But when he read the archives, honesty compelled Cornwell to write a very different book from the one they expected. In Cornwell’s account, Pacelli, who was papal nuncio in Germany between the wars and later Pius XII, supported Hitler because his main interest was in imposing the canon law code of 1917, which asserted the Pope’s right to appoint bishops everywhere in the world. The new code was encountering stiff opposition, especially in Austria where for centuries bishops had been appointed through election by the canons of cathedral chapters. But Hitler was willing to give the Vatican everything it wanted, as he planned to destroy the Catholic Church and put any recalcitrant priests into concentration camps anyway, though he didn’t tell Pacelli that. In the election of 1933, the main opposition to the Nazis came from the Catholic Centre Party which was undermined by Pacelli, who succeeded in getting a priest appointed as its head whose secret mission was to neuter the party and make sure Hitler won. But for Pacellli’s meddling, we might have had no Second World War, no concentration camps and no Holocaust. Thus Cornwell, if I have understood him rightly. I was so dismayed by all this, I began earnestly and seriously to question my religious beliefs. Yet the strange thing is, despite the Church’s utterly wicked and disgraceful behaviour and its profound betrayal of the ideals of its founder, the more I looked into it, the more and more I began to love and revere the Catholic faith. I turned from a lukewarm Catholic into a fervently believing one. How has this come about? Why aren’t I out there bashing religion with Dawkins? How can I justify this? Stay tuned.