mirrorshard: (Lammas print)
[personal profile] mirrorshard
More Catholic Fail: nine-year-old rape victim pregnant with twins, has abortion, bishop excommunicates everyone who helped her, Vatican defends the bishop.

I wish this sort of thing was unexpected, but really, that's bishops for you. With a few honourable exceptions, who'd be decent noble human beings without any titles at all, all the ones we hear about are a bunch of authoritarian frock-wearing gay-hating child-killing paedophile-enabling Holocaust-denying weirdos.

The thing is... for once, I'm not going to condemn the bishop in question for moral cowardice, for being evil, or for having a moral compass so far out of whack it thinks Santa's living in Tunbridge Wells.

This particular episode, of all of them, is just plain stupid. No matter how you feel about abortion or teenage childhood pregnancy, none of the Bishop's response makes either moral or tactical sense.

There is no conceivable way that this girl could have become a mother. There was only one conceivable way that she could have survived the whole tragic episode, and she took it. Attempting to cram a pair of growing foetuses inside a nine-year-old girl just does not work. I like to think of early-stage pregnancies as the potential for a person, but barring a few centuries' worth of SFnal medical development those poor scraps of cells didn't even have that.

So what did the Bishop think he was trying to achieve? Even if pregnancy is supposed to be a good thing in itself, it's atomistic. Six months' worth isn't better than three. If sex isn't worth it unless you get a child out of it, then that should surely go nine times over for pregnancy.

Of course, that assumes he was trying to achieve something positive... he may be the kind of sub-Daily Mail scum who thinks an object lesson will teach all those disobedient nine-year-old girls that they'd jolly well better stop getting themselves raped if they know what's good for them.

Alternatively, of course, he might be some sort of anti-rational superstitious moron. Something bad happened - quick, make sure someone connected with it suffers in some baroquely unpleasant fashion, or it will happen again! This is cargo-cult thinking. They've seen justice happening, and they know it's a good thing, but they don't know how it works and can't reconstruct the chain of decisions and desired outcomes that lead to the end results.

On the gripping hand, he may just be a panicked authoritarian, who's made himself subject to the Peter Principle. Told that he's some sort of spiritual shepherd, responsible for peoples' souls, he worries and panics and starts going through pointless rituals of condemnation and casting-out to reassure himself that he still has a firm grip on his responsibilities. He's Doing Something, and responding vigorously to the evidence of sin. Never mind the niggling little details; the important thing is that it says, right here in the manual, that abortion is a sin and it must be stopped. If you just follow the manual, it'll all turn out OK, and WILL YOU JUST DO WHAT YOU'RE TOLD AND STOP QUESTIONING EVERY LITTLE THING I SAY!

Really quite sad. I almost pity him, except, well... he took up bishoping of his own free will, and Peter Principle or not he knew what was coming up.

Since I'm genuinely curious - what's the point of bishops? Why do we still have them? What do they do that any other priest can't?

Date: 2009-03-09 09:02 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] makyo.livejournal.com
Since I'm genuinely curious - what's the point of bishops? Why do we still have them? What do they do that any other priest can't?
There are essentially three levels of ministry in Catholic, Anglican and Orthodox churches: Deacon, Priest and Bishop. If I remember correctly, deacons can assist at the Eucharist (but can't perform all the relevant rituals themselves), priests can celebrate the Eucharist, baptise people, hear confession (in those churches which go in for that sort of thing) and the like, and bishops can (amongst other things) ordain new priests and deacons.

Date: 2009-03-09 09:04 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mirrorshard.livejournal.com
Oh, administrative stuff, I see. Conflating HR and line management, which is never really a good idea.

Date: 2009-03-09 09:15 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] emperor.livejournal.com
No, I think you misunderstand somewhat. this book (http://books.google.com/books?id=EfMfUrUWPWYC) might be helpful (and you can read it all online).

Date: 2009-03-09 09:21 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mirrorshard.livejournal.com
That does look helpful, thank you! On the other hand, I can't find the entire version - that link only shows me most of the book up to page 63, and the relevant parts seem to start after that.

Date: 2009-03-09 10:11 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] alextiefling.livejournal.com
Yes and no. 'Episkopos', the Greek word from which we get the word 'bishop' and its cousins in pretty much every language, literally means 'overseer'/'supervisor'. (It has that same 'skopos' stem in it that gives us telescope, periscope, etc, along with the epi- prefix found in epidermis and epidemic.) There's a strong argument that when this word is used in the New Testament, it means exactly an HR type of role, and not a super-priest at all. But then it's not clear from the NT that there should be three orders; it looks awfully as though there are deacons and bishops, and the priest/elder role is something that either of them might do.

In practical terms, it's different in the RC and the Anglican churches. In the RCC, the bishops are the overall managers, and run the show. In the Anglican church, they're the priests' line managers, but there's a separate non-clerical HR and finance department. (Indeed, there are two, one regional and one national.)

I don't know how the Orthodox arrange things. Some other churches (eg German Lutherans) have people they call bishops, who really are just overseers and have no special clerical role at all.

Date: 2009-03-09 10:17 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mirrorshard.livejournal.com
That's really interesting, thank you - I hadn't connected the etymology.

Date: 2009-03-10 01:35 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] robert-jones.livejournal.com
I understand that priests were a post-biblical development, which evolved once Christian communities grew sufficiently large that one man couldn't plausible say mass for and minister to all of them, so the bishops delegated certain of their responsibilities to priests. So it is the bishop of London who has the oversight of my soul, but he's delegated it to the vicar of Holy Trinity (and confusingly, he's also introduced an intermediate delegation to the suffragan bishop of Edmonton). The priest says mass in persona episcopi who is himself in persona Christi.

The deaconate was not originally a liturgical role at all. I suspect that the deacon's role in the high mass evolved just to give them something to do. (Incidentally this is sometimes used as an argument against women deacons, because although there were women deacons in the NT, they didn't do what deacons do now.)

Just to address some specific points made above (although I realise that Alex will know this), any Christian can baptise people, and deacons frequently do. Deacons can also marry people. Priests (and bishops) can say mass, give absolution and administer extreme unction (commonly but inaccurately referred to as the last rites). Bishops retain to themselves the power to confirm and ordain.

Date: 2009-03-09 09:31 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] the-alchemist.livejournal.com
There is no conceivable way that this girl could have become a mother. There was only one conceivable way that she could have survived the whole tragic episode, and she took it. Attempting to cram a pair of growing foetuses inside a nine-year-old girl just does not work.

Hmm... I believe a ten year old gave birth to twins and survived, and that was in 1979 - survival rates generally have improved a lot since then. I imagine that the bishop believed there was a good chance all three surviving this time as well.

Which doesn't make the excommunication OK, of course - there clearly was a significant risk to the girl's life and so she had every right to choose an abortion. But I don't think it was all as sinister as your post suggests.

As for the point of bishops... It's one of the things I discussed with the Imam I met last week. He sees the lack of anything similar as one of the biggest weaknesses in Islam. I could go into what they do and why, but I don't think you're really in a place to hear about it, and I suspect the book that [livejournal.com profile] emperor recommends says it better than I do.

Date: 2009-03-09 09:36 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mirabehn.livejournal.com
(Quoted from the BBC site):

However, doctors at the hospital said they had to take account of the welfare of the girl, and that she was so small that her uterus did not have the ability to contain one child let alone two.

I assume, given this, that her uterus was smaller than the ten year old in 1979. I'd like to read precisely what the doctors at the hospital said, but "did not have the ability" suggests to me more than a "significant risk".

Date: 2009-03-09 10:14 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] the-alchemist.livejournal.com
The bishop may well have been *wrong* to believe the best way of maximising the chances of as many people as possible surviving was not to go ahead with the abortion, but I still think that's a more likely reason for his behaviour than wanting to punish rape victims or thinking pregnancy is in itself good even if there's no way it can lead to a birth.

(And it's not as though *we* don't ignore or dismiss quotes from experts when we disagree with them too. As someone who has to read the Daily Mail for work purposes, it's something I do almost every day!)

Date: 2009-03-09 10:19 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mirabehn.livejournal.com
The bishop may well have been *wrong* to believe the best way of maximising the chances of as many people as possible surviving was not to go ahead with the abortion, but I still think that's a more likely reason for his behaviour than wanting to punish rape victims or thinking pregnancy is in itself good even if there's no way it can lead to a birth.

I suspect you are right. I *hope* you are right.

(And it's not as though *we* don't ignore or dismiss quotes from experts when we disagree with them too. As someone who has to read the Daily Mail for work purposes, it's something I do almost every day!)

Ha! This is true.

Still... on what is to a large extent a medical issue one would hope that he'd consult *an* expert before making a judgement, even if he didn't believe those particular hospital doctors for some reason. I think he had an overwhelming responsibility to do so.

Of course, I don't know that he didn't...

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Date: 2009-03-09 09:44 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] valkyriekaren.livejournal.com
the bishop believed there was a good chance all three surviving this time as well.

I'm sorry - believed this based on exactly what? Had he met the child? Was he a qualified physician? Had he read the medical reports from the hospital in which the doctor's professional opinion was that the girl and the foetuses would almost certainly die if the pregnancy were allowed to continue? No.

I don't see anything 'sinister' here, though. Just religious dogma over-riding human compassion.

Date: 2009-03-09 10:02 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] the-alchemist.livejournal.com
I have no idea what the bishop's sources were.

The weird thing is it's not really even Catholic dogma - the Catechism of the Catholic Church allows killing in self defence or the defence of others, which this clearly was.

As I say below, I find the idea of being blamed for being raped sinister.

Date: 2009-03-10 01:11 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] valkyriekaren.livejournal.com
I don't think he even looked at the case individually at all - I think he just pulled the 'abortion is wrong ' card out. I can't possibly imagine that any rational person could look at this case and think it's right to punish a child and her mother for that child being repeatedly raped and made pregnant. So all I can think is that he's blinded by his religious beliefs.

Date: 2009-03-09 09:47 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mirrorshard.livejournal.com
I'm certainly interested to hear your viewpoint on it, but I shall also attempt to read that book when I can find the whole thing, and I don't want to make you reiterate things unnecessarily. (For the avoidance of doubt, I am genuinely interested - I just want to stop being annoyed by this issue, and I don't really mind whether I do it by finding good reasons for the continuance of bishops or by seeing them all reduced to the ranks.)

But I don't think it was all as sinister as your post suggests. I didn't use that word, and to me it suggests Machiavellian or hidden agendas - I don't see any of those here, only industrial-grade stupidity. What do you mean by it?

Regarding the survival issue, [livejournal.com profile] mirabehn's comment says basically what I feel.

Date: 2009-03-09 10:00 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] the-alchemist.livejournal.com
You seemed to imply you the bishop knew there was no way any of them would survive if the pregnancy was carried to term and so the only possible explanations for his decision were:

1) he thought pregnancy is of itself good enough
2) he wanted to teach the child (and those like her) a lesson
3) he was lashing out unthinkingly, either because it's a sin so someone has to be punished, or more generally to atone for the Bad Thing.

I think a far more plausible explanation is that he believed - rightly or wrongly - that the best odds for keeping as many people alive as possible was by not giving the girl an abortion.

I used the word 'sinister' because I think punishing people for being raped is sinister, by which I mean it gives me a nasty shuddery creepy feeling when I think about it, as well as believing it's evil. I agree your other suggestions just involve industrial grade stupidity.

Date: 2009-03-09 10:11 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mirrorshard.livejournal.com
I didn't mean to imply that those were exclusive explanations; I agree that your alternative scenario, that he made a decision (which he believed to be his to make) without consulting an expert or collecting information from the case, is very plausible.

I don't believe that the punishment-for-being raped version is accurate; I included it more or less as a worst-case scenario. I agree entirely with your definition of "sinister" in this case.

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Date: 2009-03-09 10:52 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] friend-of-tofu.livejournal.com
My view, as previously stated, is that passing the buck by making this matter all about baby-killing does actually benefit the church in the sense that it distracts attention away from how the church deals with child abuse. If they do nothing/make no public statement, then they appear to be condoning it. If they condemn the abuser, then they are hypocrites for protecting the child abusers in the church. As much as any doctrinal reason, I think this is the practical reason why excommunicating the stepfather didn't happen (leaving aside some mealy-mouthed punts at how rape is bad but not as bad as murder, which have already been made by another Vatican aide, IIRC?)

I'm surprised that the business of the Petrine legacy amongst bishops hasn't come up. It's of utmost importance to the Catholic hierarchy that all their bishops are ordained by the laying-on of hands by someone who had hands laid on him by someone who had hands laid on him, all the way back to St Peter. Apostolic succession is a means by which the Catholic Church claims a spiritual and, arguably, magical authority. Anglicans have obvious episcopal privilege here in that the Anglican church was formed by properly ordained bishops blah blah, so they have apostolic succession (which is quite a big deal for some people), which pleases the Papist wing.

So, bishops *are* administrators, but arguably apostolic succession makes them a sort of guru/magician/Grand Wizard also.

Date: 2009-03-09 11:47 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mirrorshard.livejournal.com
A very good point about child abuse. And yes, YDRC - I think that's covered in the second link in my OP, though I might be thinking of one of the non-BBC articles I saw while looking around.

I'm familiar with the apostolic-succession argument, I just can't really comment on it because it runs almost exactly counter to all of my Nonconformist ideas on spiritual authority and divine inspiration. Though I am tempted to ask fanwank-type questions about whether & how it remains unsullied by passing through some arguably corrupted and evil holders.

Date: 2009-03-10 12:02 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] friend-of-tofu.livejournal.com
Yeah, but I'm not asking either of us to believe it, just accept that it is a state of being which enables (Catholics and Anglican) bishops to Do A Thing - which was the question I thought you were asking. I'm not necessarily saying the Thing is worthwhile, or even exists.

I suppose that the argument from someone who believed but didn't approve of the office-holders would be that the magic still works even if they are corrupt. It's the acts, not the actors, which are important. They're just conduits. And a bishops is still a bishop even if they were ordained by a bad bishop - A says the usual term is "valid but irregular". Note that there is some complexity about the validity of what happens after excommunication - I'm staying away from that whole morass of LeFevrists, Dutch Old Catholics and the impossibility of ordaining women, because it's just too late at night for that kind of thing.

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Date: 2009-03-10 12:32 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] alextiefling.livejournal.com
Article XXVI (http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Thirty-Nine_Articles) specifically covers (for Anglicans) the question of bad bishops and priests; their failings do not cause the sacraments to fail.

Date: 2009-03-10 02:00 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] robert-jones.livejournal.com
Even the Romans admit that other churches exist, so it's not essential for a bishop to trace his lineage back to St Peter, as long as it goes back to one of the apostles. For instance, Coptic bishops trace their lineage back to St Mark. (For the avoidance of doubt, bishops tend to get ordained by several bishops all at once, often including one from another church, so in practice most bishops can probably trace their lineage back to all of the apostles.)

Unfortunately, the validity of Anglican orders is not as straightforward as you suggest. There's an extremely complicated controversy over it, which I'm afraid I can't possibly fit in a LiveJournal comment.

Date: 2009-03-10 12:38 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lazyknight.livejournal.com
Your post has combined in my skull with a recent conversation about the alleged plagiarism of Todd Goldman.

I now want to get you a t-shirt with this image (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:BoysAreStupid.jpg) changed to "Bishops are stupid, throw communion wafers at them".

(Purely for satire purposes of course!)

Date: 2009-03-10 05:58 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] sleetersoulfire.livejournal.com
It would take one with artistic skills beyond mine (seriously, I suck), but changing the 'boy' to have the right clothes on would make that t-shirt print idea awesome. ;)

Date: 2009-03-10 07:55 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] smhwpf.livejournal.com
Unbelievable fail.

As I think has been said, it's more about what Priests do that Bishop's can't. Bishops are the direct-line successors of the Apostles, the leaders of different Church communities, and collectively responsible for the leadership of the Church as a whole, under the guidance (in theory) of the Spirit, but since the communities are too big local pastoral responsibilities are delegated to Priests.

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