Tag Archives: morality

More corruption in the Catholic church

If Pope Benedict XVI has been praying for a break from the endless criticisms against the Catholic church, it looks like he’s out of luck. Today’s news is about his statement condemning what he calls the deplorable actions of Belgian police who raided a cathedral in the country as part of their ongoing investigations on sexual abuse by Catholic priests. What’s especially shocking about this statement is his insistence that the Catholic church be allowed autonomy to investigate the sexual abuse allegations on their own.

So far, so bad but there’s nothing particularly new in all this. What’s more interesting is this extended expose published last week in Der Spiegel about a more conventional kind of corruption in the church’s organization in Germany. From the article:

The Catholic Church in Germany, already struggling to cope with the sex abuse scandal, has been hit by revelations of theft, opaque accounting and extravagance. While the grassroots faithful are being forced to make cutbacks, some bishops enjoy the trappings of the church’s considerable hidden wealth.

Shortly before Pentecost, Pastor S. received an unexpected early morning visit, not from the Holy Ghost, but from the police.

For the authorities, the words of the Gospel of Luke came true on that morning: He who seeks finds. More than €131,000 ($158,000) were hidden in various places in the rooms of the Catholic priest, tucked in between his laundry or attached to the bottom of drawers. The reverend was arrested on the spot. After several weeks in custody, Hans S., 76, is now back at the monastery, waiting for his trial.

And lo and behold, the proliferation of cash may have been even more miraculous than initially assumed. The public prosecutor’s office in the southern city of Würzburg now estimates that S. may have embezzled up to €1.5 million from collections and other church funds. The members of his flock in a wine-growing village in the northern Bavarian region of Franconia are stunned. They had blindly trusted their shepherd, who always seemed so humble and modest.

The Catholic Church is currently being shaken by a number of financial scandals, not only in Franconia but also in Augsburg, another Bavarian city, where Bishop Walter Mixa’s dip into funds from a foundation that runs children’s homes recently made headlines.

More than €40 million have gone missing in the Diocese of Magdeburg in eastern Germany, €5 million have disappeared in Limburg near Frankfurt, and it was recently discovered that a senior priest in the Diocese of Münster had 30 secret bank accounts. And while parishes throughout Germany are cutting jobs and funds for community work, many bishops are still living on the high horse. A brand-new residence? An ostentatious home for their retirement? Restoration of a Marian column to the tune of €120,000? None of these expenditures presents a problem to high-ranking church officials from Trier in the west to Passau in the southeastern corner of Bavaria, whose coffers are brimming with cash.

The behavior of the church is this regard is precisely the same as what one would expect to see from corrupt government officials: insistence that church accounts are secret and spending is totally at the discretion of church officials, refusal to open up the books to independent auditors, extravagant spending on residences for clerics while maintaining that all this is for the good of the church and even keeping large sums of money in cash instead of in a bank account. As the article notes, all this is made even more painful as the parishioners who actually use the church’s services face austerity cutbacks.

Extra chuckles at how the church continues to benefit from such frivolities as free firewood and altar wine due to centuries-old treaties between the church and the state that lawmakers in Germany never bothered to review and probably know nothing about.

Recent Interesting Science Articles (May ’10)

Four articles this month with three of them related to human biology. We’ll start with the biggest scientific news of the week however, which I suspect will also be the most important news of the year, about the creation of what is considered to be the first example of synthetic life.

This particular news has been reported in many outlets of course (though strangely I failed to notice it in any local publications) but the particular piece I’m linking to is from the BBC. The team responsible was led by Craig Venter who has already established his place in scientific history for being one of the winners of the race to sequence the complete human genome. This particular project involved creating a synthetic version of an existing bacterial genome and transplanting the result into a non-synthetic host cell. This new cell then replicated itself over a billion times, proving that the synthetic genome worked just as well as the natural one to regulate the bacterium over its life cycle.

Continue reading Recent Interesting Science Articles (May ’10)

Excommunication of Catholic nun

This is latest piece of news throwing the archaic morality of the Catholic church into the spotlight. To summarize, a pregnant woman was discovered to be gravely ill and the doctors decided that if she continued with the pregnancy, both her and her baby would almost certainly die. The patient therefore agreed to an abortion. The problem was that she was too sick to be moved and the hospital she was in was a Catholic one.

After some hesitation, an administrator at the hospital, Sister Margaret McBride, gave her approval for the abortion. The patient was duly saved at the cost of the fetus. But when the bishop heard about it, he declared that the nun was automatically excommunicated. According to the church, this was because it is not permissible to do evil even to bring about good as the end does not justify the means and abortion is unequivocally evil. The official church position is that the correct thing to do would be to allow both the mother and the fetus to die.

What’s even more infuriating about all this is that the patient was only 11 weeks pregnant, so the fetus had absolutely no chance of survival independently of the mother. Predictably, critics have compared this harsh and immediate judgment with the church’s tolerance of child sexual abuse by members of the clergy. It seems that according to the church, an abortion is a mortal sin that cannot be tolerated, regardless of the context and circumstances, while pedophile priests are to be sympathized with and forgiven.

Recent Interesting Science Articles (April ’10)

A little late this month because I chose to write something about Ip Man 2 first this week. Four articles this time around with three of them on biology and the last one on astronomy. We’ll start with the more innocuous of the three biology articles first.

This is an article that appeared in Discover and concerns itself with gut bacteria, specifically those found inside of Japanese people. The Japanese as we all know, eat quite a lot of sushi and one of the main ingredients of sushi is seaweed. What most of us probably don’t know is that sea algae such as seaweed is a bit different from land-based plants and contain special sulphur-rich carbohydrates that are difficult for most of us to digest.

Continue reading Recent Interesting Science Articles (April ’10)

Roman Polanski and the Ugliness of Talent

My view of the Roman Polanski case is the conventional one: he has admitted to having sex with a girl who was under-aged at the time, plying her with drugs and alcohol to do so, and is a fugitive from justice. Nothing else matters to me including the amount of time that has passed, how much he has suffered before and after the event and how great a talent he is as a film director. Incredibly, despite what seems to me to be a fairly clear cut case, the man still has defenders, even on QT3. I am also absolutely flabbergasted by the French government’s response to the arrest.

The reason for this post however pertains not with the case directly. I’ve been thinking about Ayn Rand’s books again recently, prompted by my wife’s discovery that Chinese translations of her books now exist. Her parents are currently on an extended trip to China and she’s asked them to buy copies of those books if they can find them. I’m very curious what they would be like in Chinese.

Anyway, the connection here is that Ayn Rand has always believed that values and virtues are absolute, hence the name of her philosophy “Objectivism”. This extends to aesthetics as well. According to her worldview, only a person of virtuous character could create or even admire a great work of art and conversely, all works of art that are great must by definition have been created by someone of unimpeachable virtue. Naturally, this leads to amusing consequences. For example, Rand believed that homosexuality is morally wrong and therefore every thing that a homosexual does or creates is tainted. This means that anyone who professes to admire a work created by a homosexual must be flawed in some way as well.

I don’t pretend to be enough of a film buff to be able to competently judge Polanski’s work but I see no reason to doubt the overwhelming consensus that he’s a great director. This, of course, contrasts rather spectacularly with his moral failures as a human being. I’m sure everyone can find many other examples of great talent, especially in entertainment, that have a less than perfect character. So this serves as one example, amongst many others, why Rand’s philosophy isn’t a particularly robust one. I do note that the ancient Chinese shared similar views in this regard. They believed for example that a person’s virtue could be demonstrated through his calligraphy or his paintings. This just goes to show how seductive the idea is that skilled people should also be moral people and how shallow it is to hold up someone as a general role model just because of high achievement is a narrow field.

Recent Interesting Science Articles (March ’09)

Since my last entry in this series was a bit light, here are four articles for this month. Two are from The Economist, with one of them on how physics might help answer an age-old philosophical question and the other on how appearances count for more than we think. Of the remaining two, one is from CNN on a novel use for the laser technology originally conceived for the Star Wars anti-missile program and the last one is from the BBC on yet another piece of news “proving” that playing games is good for you.

The philosophy problem to start with. The question is no less than whether or not reality exists when we’re not looking at it, and if it exists, does reality behave in a different way when we’re not looking than when we are? Drawing on the theoretical work of Lucien Hardy who proposed a thought experiment whereby a pair of matter and antimatter particles could meet but do not mutually annihilate themselves under the condition that the interaction remains unobserved, two independent teams of physicists successfully performed the experiment as described. So it seems that people can indeed tell whether or not someone is honest just by looking at his or her face.

Continue reading Recent Interesting Science Articles (March ’09)