The Pope is in Spain

Yes, this is likely to be another post trashing the Vatican and the institution of Catholicism.  If you have problems with this, I suggest you go and look a cute kittens or other baby animals of your choice and come back when I blog about something else.

So, the Pope is in Spain for World Youth Day, whatever that actually means.  And unsurprisingly, he’s made a bit of an arse of himself – let me demonstrate:

Hundreds of thousands of young people descending on Madrid this week for the Catholic Church’s World Youth Day – which features processions, group prayers and a mass with Pope Benedict – are to get a ”special” concession.

Church leaders have ordered that anyone during the event who confesses to having had an abortion – a sin punishable by excommunication – will be welcomed back into the Church.

(The Age)

Now, I know I don’t speak for the majority of Catholics, or even a handful, but when I was a Catholic the spectre of excommunication wasn’t a particularly horrifying one.  Sure I may have been upset at being kicked out of an exclusive club, but I always believed that what I did was between me and God, not me and the Catholic Church (given I was raised to question and rebel – hardly surprising).

Interestingly, the Catholic Church’s “authority” in this regard comes from the following bible verses:

Matthew 18:18


“I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.


Matthew 16:19


I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”


John 20:23


If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”



The first verse is about “A Brother Who Sins Against You”, suggests that you speak to him quietly first, if he listens then all is resolved, if not then take two witnesses to hear, then if he does not listen again, take it to the church (which was non-existent at this time remember – because Jesus hadn’t founded it yet), and then if he still refuses to listen shun him.  So if you shun him, then god will also shun him apparently.

Chapter 18 is a bit of a mess of parables and instruction.  It doesn’t have an overwhelming narrative like many other chapters of the bible, so it’s odd.

The second verse I’ve quoted is from “Peter’s Confession of Christ”, when Simon came by his second name Peter (I really love the idea that Jesus just forgot who he was speaking to for a moment), so Jesus was apparently saying that when Peter founded the church, it would have the power to bind stuff (people/sins) and the same would apply in heaven.

The third is after Jesus’s death and resurrection, when he gave them the holy spirit and the power to forgive sins in God’s name.

Of course some would argue, if this were true, that Jesus was speaking to his disciples at the time, not those who profess to believe and act in his name these days. So, these would be the verses (among others) that the Catholic Church believes gives them the power to excommunicate people (effectively denying them entry into heaven) because they have committed grievous sins.  And apparently, abortion is a grievous sin, probably more grievous than ordaining women, but less grievous than sexually abusing children (because how many Catholic clergy have been excommunicated for rape?).

So, back to the quote at the top of the article:

Hundreds of thousands of young people descending on Madrid this week for the Catholic Church’s World Youth Day – which features processions, group prayers and a mass with Pope Benedict – are to get a ”special” concession.

Church leaders have ordered that anyone during the event who confesses to having had an abortion – a sin punishable by excommunication – will be welcomed back into the Church.


Let’s look at who is likely to have had an abortion – yes that’s right, those who are born female.  Women aren’t trusted by the Catholic Church, as evidenced by the lack of female priests (and how grievous a sin that is), and by the general unwillingness of the church to trust women to make their own medical decisions (contraceptive methods, abortion, life saving surgery from ectopic pregnancies for example).

Most women I know who are, or who have been, Catholic don’t share details of their life (particularly their sex life) with the church.  They don’t tell their priest that they have been or are currently taking the contraceptive pill, morning after pill, etc.  Most women I know who are, or who have been, Catholic don’t trust the church with this information because they figured out that the church does not trust or value them.  Which is a shame, because so many of these women are incredibly passionate, active, intelligent, and compassionate individuals who would do a lot for the church if they were allowed to, and the work that they do on the periphery is amazing.

But wait, there is more:

Young Catholics making the trip to Madrid will also gain a plenary indulgence – effectively a reduction in the time believers spend in purgatory after confessing and being absolved of their sins.

These concessions were once sold by priests, but now are granted on special occasions. (The Age)


Purgatory is not something mentioned in the bible, it’s strictly non-canon.  It’s taken from the idea of praying for the dead, begging your deity to let them into heaven even if they weren’t as well behaved as they should have been.

…the Roman Catholic tradition of purgatory as a transitional condition has a history that dates back, even before Jesus, to the worldwide practice of caring for the dead and praying for them, and to the belief, found also in Judaism, from which Christianity grew, that prayer for the dead contributed to their afterlife purification. The same practice appears in other traditions, such as the medieval Chinese Buddhist practice of making offerings on behalf of the dead, who are said to suffer numerous trials. Roman Catholic belief in purgatory is based, among other reasons, on the previous Jewish practice of prayer for the dead, a practice that presupposes that the dead are thereby assisted between death and their entry into their final abode. (Wikipedia)


Indulgences were created by the Catholic Church, which once sold them corruptly, trading on their “authority” listed above about being able to bind and unbind stuff so that they can grant you less purgatory (or something).

The belief is that indulgences draw on the Treasury of Merit accumulated by Christ’s superabundantly meritorious sacrifice on the cross and the virtues and penances of the saints. They are granted for specific good works and prayers.

Indulgences replaced the severe penances of the early Church. More exactly, they replaced the shortening of those penances that was allowed at the intercession of those imprisoned and those awaiting martyrdom for the faith.

Alleged abuses in selling and granting indulgences were a major point of contention when Martin Luther initiated the Protestant Reformation (1517).



In view of the Church’s interpretation of the power of binding or loosing granted by Christ, the Church considers that it may administer to those under its jurisdiction the benefits of these merits in consideration of prayer or other pious works undertaken by the faithful. This the Church does for individual Christians, not simply to aid them, but also to spur them to works of devotion, penance, and charity.

There is a common misconception that, according to the doctrine of the Catholic Church, indulgences forgive sins: the Catholic Church teaches instead that indulgences only relieve the temporal punishment due because of the sins, and that a person is still required to have his grave sins absolved, ordinarily through the sacrament of Confession, to receive salvation.

Since those who have died in the state of grace (with all mortal sins forgiven) are members of the communion of saints, it is the belief of the Catholic Church that the living can help those whose purification from their sins is not yet completed not only by prayer but also by obtaining indulgences for them. Since the Church on earth has no jurisdiction over the dead, indulgences can be gained for them only per modum suffragii, i.e. by an act of intercession.

An indulgence may be plenary or partial, according as it remits all or only part of the temporal punishment that at that moment is due for sin. To gain a plenary indulgence, a person must exclude all attachment to sin of any kind, even venial sin, must perform the work or say the prayer for which the indulgence is granted, and must also fulfil the three conditions of sacramental confession, Eucharistic communion and praying for the intentions of the Pope. The minimum condition for gaining a partial indulgence is to be contrite in heart: on this condition, a Catholic who performs the work or recites the prayer in question is granted, through the Church, remission of temporal punishment of the same worth as is obtained by the person’s own action, similar to matching funds. (Wikipedia)


And so on and so forth and the article is long and filled with theology my tired mind isn’t ready to cope with.  So, those who make it to Madrid will receive extra indulgences for being special (and probably rich).

And let’s look at the financial side of this whole thing.  Spain is in the midst of the economic crisis facings the EU.  Spain, along with Greece and Ireland, has had to drastically cut services and salaries to public servants, and currently had a youth unemployment rate of 45%.

The protesters were venting their anger over the expense of the pope’s visit and World Youth Day celebrations at a time of belt-tightening and massive unemployment.



A 42-year-old bank employee who gave only his first name, David, hit out at the cost of the visit.

“The whole visit is being paid for with our taxes at a time when five million people are unemployed, and there is an enormous economic crisis and they are making health and education cuts,” he said.

“This visit should have been held in a football stadium with them paying or the entrance tickets.”

Protesters – including some priests – are fuming over the official 50.5-million-euro ($73-million) price tag, excluding the cost of police and security, of the August 16-21 celebrations.

Nationwide unemployment stands at more than 20 per cent while youth unemployment is running at more than 45 per cent. (Telegraph UK)


I don’t understand why the Vatican (whose wealth isn’t disclosed but in 1965 was estimated to be between $10 – $15 billion) doesn’t fund these trips themselves.  Sure selling works of art and heritage buildings is probably not going to happen, but the shares (which have probably been devalued during the GFC), and the other real estate could go to funding Vatican travel.  I don’t see why foreign governments fund these trips, especially when they’re in the midst of austerity measures.  If the Pope wants to travel to another country, he should the one ponying up for the expenses.  To expect other governments, particularly those who are struggling with their economy, to pay is rude.  I know that the Spanish Government would have effectively bid to host the World Youth Day, but like it did with the UK last year, I think that this visit will cost them more than it earns from the tourism.

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