I use this blog as a soap box to preach (ahem... to talk :-) about subjects that interest me.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Catholic Church

Reading “The Case of the Pope” by Geoffrey Robertson QC I am discovering a lot of interesting facts concerning the current pope and the way in which the Vatican operates. It was written in a somewhat boring way and contains several repetitions, but I recommend it to both catholics and non-catholics.

The “Vatican City” is the tiny enclave in Rome where the pope lives, and “The Holy See” is the worldwide governing body of the Roman Catholic Church. They claim that together they represent a sovereign state as a matter of international law.

For simplicity, I will use here the term “Vatican” to indicate either or both of them.

The Vatican participates to the work of the UN as a non-member state. Being recognised as a state gives to the Vatican several advantages compared to other religions. Most importantly, it provides sovereign immunity to itself and to its head of state from any legal action. Additionally, it gives access to United Nations’ agencies, conferences, and conventions to promote its ‘apostolic mission’.

Now, whether an entity constitutes a sovereign state or not is defined in the text ratified at the Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States of 1933. It was the Seventh International Conference of American States and, although Bolivia didn’t sign it and some other states ratified it with reservations, it merely restated and codified customary international law. As such, it is applicable worldwide. For example, the European Union’s Arbitration Commission of the Peace Conference on the former Yugoslavia, followed it in the early 1990s.

In a nutshell, the Montevideo Convention reaffirmed that an entity is a state if it has:
  • a permanent population,
  • a defined territory,
  • a government,
  • the capacity to enter into relations with the other states.

The Vatican has a government and the capacity to enter relations with other states, but it could be argued that it doesn’t have a territory. The land occupied by the Vatican (less than half square kilometre) was granted by Mussolini to the pope in 1929. The Catholic religion was made the Italian ‘religion of state’, and the Vatican remained subjected to Italian law, albeit with some concessions and privileges. The ‘Concordat’ signed by Mussolini and the Vatican was the first of a series of agreements between a state and the Catholic Church, namely, a non-state entity. How can the Vatican claim to be a state on the basis of such agreements?

In any case, the Vatican certainly doesn’t have a permanent population, unless one accepts the idea that a single male vowed to celibacy constitutes a population.

Click here to read the full text of the agreement.

Thanks to its alleged statehood, the Vatican has been able to influence the policies of many states in a way that is not available to other religions. According to the Vatican, homosexuals are evil, gay marriages are evil and insidious, abortion is a deadly sin that should be placed beyond the reach of women, women are damned for eternity if they use any form of contraception, IVF embryo experimentation is evil, condoms should be banned in HIV/AIDS-ravaged countries, sex should only be enjoyed by married heterosexual couples as a means for having children, viewing of pornography or donation of sperm are to be condemned, as well as pre-natal scans, mother surrogacy, and euthanasia.

Here in Australia, following the recent canonisation of Mary MacKillop, many politicians expressed on the media how pleased they were that Australia finally had their catholic saint. This included our declared atheist Prime Minister. I personally found the whole theatre as a glorification of superstition.

The last thing I want is to risk to have my blog censured but, although a catholic might find my sentence offensive, I believe that such a feeling would be unjustified. My sentence that believing in miracles is in my opinion superstition is a perfectly valid statement from a scientific point of view. The Free Dictionary by Farlex gives the following definition of superstition: “An irrational belief that an object, action, or circumstance not logically related to a course of events influences its outcome.”

A link between a ‘holy intervention’ (for lack of a better term) and the inexplicable healing of a deadly disease is only postulated ‘by exclusion’: a miracle is recognised if the claimant states that [s]he directed her/his prayers towards a particular person and no scientific explanation of the healing can be found.

In other words, the Catholic Church does not prove that the particular saint effected the cure in response to prayers, but only that the contrary cannot be demonstrated. In any Natural Science, including Medicine, you cannot claim something to be true simply because you are unable to prove that it is false.

In conclusion, prayers and the healing of a person are not logically related, and to believe otherwise is superstitious.

I am sure that there are many cases of unexplained healing that baffle the doctors. Are they undeclared miracles? Or rather events that go beyond our current understanding of the human body?

I heard of a paratrooper who was unharmed after a fall in which his parachute didn’t open (and its reserve neither). What if he had said that while he was falling he had prayed his favourite saint to save him? Would have that event qualified as a miracle? As far as I know, he didn’t make the claim, but...

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