2 December 2009, Methodist Central Hall, Westminster, United Kingdom
IQ2 Debates were part of a BBC series
I genuinely believe that the Catholic Church is not, to put it at its mildest, a force for good in the world, and therefore it is important for me to try and martial my facts as well I can to explain why I think that. But I want first of all to say that I have no quarrel and no argument and I wish to express no contempt for individual devout and pious members of that church. It would be impertinent and wrong of me to express any antagonism towards any individual who wishes to find salvation in whatever form they wish to express it. That to me is sacrosanct as much as any article of faith is sacrosanct to anyone of any church or any faith in the world. It’s very important. It’s also very important to me, as it happens, that I have my own beliefs. They are a belief in the Enlightenment, a belief in the eternal adventure of trying to discover moral truth in the world, and there is nothing, sadly, that the Catholic Church and its hierarchs likes to do more than to attack the Enlightenment. It did so at the time: reference was made to Galileo and the fact that he was tortured, for trying to explain the Copernican theory of the Universe. Just imagine in this square mile how many people were burned for reading the Bible in English. And one of the principle burners and torturers of those who tried to read the Bible in English, here in London, was Thomas More. Now, that’s a long time ago, it’s not relevant, except that it was only last century that Thomas More was made a saint, and it was only in the year 2000, that the last pope, the Pole, he made Thomas More the Patron Saint of Politicians. This is a man who put people on the wrack for daring to own a Bible in English: he tortured them for owning a Bible in their own language. The idea that the Catholic Church exists to disseminate the word of the Lord is nonsense. It is the only owner of the Truth for the billions that it likes to boast about, because those billions are uneducated and poor, as again it likes to boast about. It’s perhaps unfair of me, as a gay man, to moan at this enormous institution, which is the largest and most powerful church on Earth, has over a billion, as they like to tell us, members, each one of whom is under strict instructions to believe the dogmas of the church, but may wrestle with them personally of course. It’s hard for me to be told that I’m evil, because I think of myself as someone who is filled with love, whose only purpose in life was to achieve love, and who feels love for so much of nature and the world and for everything else. We certainly don’t need the stigmatisation, the victimisation, that leads to the playground bullying when people say you’re a disordered, morally evil individual. That’s not nice, it isn’t nice. The kind of cruelty in Catholic education, the kind of child—let’s not call it child abuse, it was child rape—the kind of child rape that went on systematically for so long, let’s imagine that we can overlook this and say that it is nothing whatever to do with the structure and nature of the Catholic Church, and the twisted and neurotic and hysterical way that its leaders are chosen, the celibacy, the nuns, the monks, the priesthood, this is not natural and normal, ladies and gentlemen, in 2009, it really isn’t.
I have yet to approach one of the subjects dearest to my heart, I’ve made three documentary films on the subject of AIDS in Africa. My particular love is the country of Uganda, it is one of the countries I love most in the world. There was a period when Uganda had the worst incidence of HIV/AIDS in the world, but through an amazing initiative called ABC—Abstinence, Be faithful, Correct use of condoms—those three, I’m not denying that abstinence is a very good way of not getting AIDS, it really is, it works, so does being faithful, but so do condoms, and do not deny it! And this Pope, this Pope, not satisfied with saying “condoms are against our religion, please consider first abstinence, second being faithful to your partner,” he spreads the lie that condoms actually increase the incidence of AIDS, he actually makes sure that aid is conditional on saying no to condoms. I have been to the hospital in Bwindi in the west of Uganda, where I do quite a lot of work, it is unbelievable the pain and suffering you see. Now yes, yes it is true abstinence will stop it. It’s the strange thing about this church, it is obsessed with sex, absolutely obsessed. Now, they will say we with our permissive society and our rude jokes, we are obsessed. No, we have a healthy attitude, we like it, it’s fun, it’s jolly, because it’s a primary impulse it can be dangerous and dark and difficult, it’s a bit like food in that respect only even more exciting. The only people who are obsessed with food are anorexics and the morbidly obese, and that in erotic terms is the Catholic Church in a nutshell.
Do you know who would be the last person ever to be accepted as a prince of the Church? The Galileean carpenter. That Jew. They would kick him out before he tried to cross the threshold. He would be so ill-at-ease in the Church. What would he think, what would he think of St. Peter’s? What would he think of the wealth, and the power, and the self-justification, and the wheedling apologies? The Pope could decide that all this power, all this wealth, this hierarchy of princes and bishops and archbishops and priests and monks and nuns could be sent out in the world with money and art treasures, to put them back in the countries that they once raped and violated, they could give that money away, and they could concentrate on the apparent essence of their belief, and then, I would stand here and say the Catholic Church may well be a force for good in the world, but until that day, it is not. Thank you.