The standards of the day

The standards of the day August 27, 2018

Since the Pope’s weekend in Ireland is in the news, including here, I thought it might be worthwhile to take a peek into Ireland’s history with the Catholic church. We could look in many places; we could draw up headings such as Cruelty, Child Sexual Abuse, Unlawful Imprisonment, Miseducation, with subheads under each.

We could zero in on Madgalene laundries, or schools, or children stolen in hospitals and sold, or hospitals that let miscarrying women die rather than terminate the miscarried pregnancy, or children taken from single mothers and tortured in prisons called “Industrial Schools.” Let’s do that last one.
From the 2008 Report by the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, also known as the Ryan Report:

“Sr. Venetia confirmed that the general atmosphere was excessively and consistently cruel even relative to standards of the time. She confirmed that fear of and actual physical beatings and verbal abuse was a matter of routine and that the general account of children, for example, waiting on the landings was accurate. Wetting was defined as a crime and, therefore, punishable through humiliation and physical beatings … The Sisters of Mercy would not accept that the regime was cruel, abusive or neglectful. Whilst they admit that corporal punishment was the accepted means of imposing discipline, they say it was not done in an excessively harsh or extreme manner … The complainants, on the other hand, state that the regime that they were subjected to was cruel, abusive and neglectful. They say that it left them ill-equipped to deal with life when they left the Institution, and that the damage inflicted on them, either neglectfully or deliberately, has scarred them in every aspect of their lives.”

The sentimental view of religion is that it makes people good, meaning kind and generous and compassionate. If that were true, surely there wouldn’t have been such an enormous gulf between how the Sisters of Mercy (oh the irony of that name) saw their administration at Goldenbridge and how the survivors saw it. Surely, surely, a religion talented at making ordinary people peculiarly kind and loving would not come up with physical and verbal abuse of captive children seized from impoverished mothers as an example of its holy work.
Also, religion is supposed to be timeless and absolute; it’s supposed to create the standards and values, not dumbly follow those that already exist. Yet how did the “Sisters of Mercy” explain the rampant sadism at Goldenbridge?

“Most complaints about physical abuse related to the administration of corporal punishment: there were allegations that it was excessive, pervasive, often undeserved, and even capricious, with the result that, in Goldenbridge, corporal punishment became the norm, and the children lived in a climate of fear. The Sisters of Mercy deny these allegations and, while they accept corporal punishment was used, submit that its use was normal by the standards of the day … The Sisters of Mercy say that the general prevalence of corporal punishment in schools during this period is a factor which should be taken into account when determining whether corporal punishment was excessive or abusive. The regulations quoted above were drawn up at a time when corporal punishment was even more prevalent and yet the authorities recognised the need to make rules to protect children in care.” [emphasis added]

By the standards of the day – but the church is supposed to have its own standards, the true standards, not of the day or the year or the century but for all time. What the hell is the point of it if it just adopts whatever thoughtless hard-hearted customs surround it? What is the good of it if it can’t see through the standards of the day?
The same questions apply to Pope Frank and his apologies and hand-wringings over the priestly rapists. Why does he have to apologize? Why didn’t the church know better? Why didn’t the church’s superior wisdom and access to The Big Boss, its possession of Church Teachings and ancient rituals, its Vatican encyclicals and sacred ceremonies, work? Eh? Isn’t that what they’re supposed to do? Work, as in function, do their job, be efficacious? If the church is such hot shit, why is it that for decade after decade after decade generations of priests helped themselves to children as sex toys? Why didn’t they know better? Why didn’t they have functioning consciences? Why were they worse than secular people as opposed to better? Why did they feel entitled to fuck the children of the parish?

And why don’t Frank and the rest of the Vatican crowd see what a problem that is? Why do they continue to feel so very entitled to tell the rest of us what to do, including people who don’t even adhere to their dogma or belong to their church? Why do they feel so entitled to force women to continue pregnancies they don’t want? Why do they feel entitled to force hospitals to refuse abortions to women who are miscarrying, thus risking their lives? Why do they feel entitled to forbid contraception?
What makes them so confident they have all this moral authority, given their hideously brutal history? How do they know some new pope won’t be saying in twenty years, “Oh well those were the standards of the time, we didn’t realize they were wrong then, we’re tho thorry”? If nuns can say they didn’t realize it was wrong to terrorize and flog helpless children they were holding captive, why should anyone ever pay attention to a word any priest or nun says ever again? I would really like to know.

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  • John the Drunkard

    And where did those appalling ‘standards’ come from? It isn’t as if the Irish church was molded to fit in with…say, Druid child-rearing standards.
    ‘The standards of the time’ were created and perpetuated by the Church itself. As always, the ‘eternal truths of religion,’ lag centuries behind the dictates of human decency.

  • Broga

    Religion: the best method ever devised for exploiting the gullible while being regarded as worthy of the greatest reverence.

  • StephenJP

    This is a devastating polemic, and I trust it will get much wider exposure.
    It seems extraordinary to me that the Church hierarchy can lay down the most detailed and intrusive instructions for how their flock should behave, right down to what they can and cannot do to each other in their own beds; yet they cannot insist on, and monitor, what would seem to be the minimal standards by which defenceless, often orphaned, children should be treated by their own employees. It is wickedness beyond belief. At least the Irish people – and some of their politicians – are getting the point. Maybe some of the rest of us in the UK might get round to it one day.

  • They can’t lay down the standards and they can’t even discover them for themselves via instinctive compassion. It’s staggering, isn’t it?

  • sailor1031

    Corporal punishment is prescribed by the bible and was always applied enthusiastically by the priests. Some non-theocracies, such as the first nations of Canada didn’t and don’t beat children. Ah, civilisation.

  • Cali Ron

    Ophelia, I can’t tell you why anyone would believe anything a priest or nun says, but I can say it’s a testament to the resounding success of religion that so many do, because the purpose of religion isn’t to serve god, it’s to control man. It’s also a testament to how easily people are corrupted by power and authority, especially when it has the “god seal of approval “. I’m thankful Ireland is starting to shed the shackles of religion. Too bad so many had to suffer for so long first. I am calling it Religions Inhumanity to Man.

  • where did those appalling ‘standards’ come from? It isn’t as if the Irish church was molded to fit in with I can say it’s a testament to the resounding success of religion that so many do, because the purpose of religion isn’t to serve god

  • Angela_K

    This seems to be the only place I can comment. What has happened to the Freethinker web-site and the ability to comment on new stories? This Patheos site is a bit clunky.

  • Monika Kumari


    I recently came across and saw that accept guest posts from time to time.

    I’m absolutely brimming with ideas and would love the chance to write on your blog!

    Let me know if you’d like to hear a few of my ideas 🙂

    Monika Kumari