"The Intelligence² Debate - Stephen Fry (Unedited)"
Against: Stephen Fry
[0:47:54.8] Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. There are occasions as Gwendolyn remarked in the Influence of Being Earnest when it becomes more than a moral duty to speak one's mind --- it becomes a pleasure. And this is one such occasion with my trusty “Hitch” by my side. I am very proud to be here, but also very nervous, very worried. I have been nervous all day, and the reason I have been nervous is quite simple, and that is that this motion matters to me. It matters to me greatly. It is not a joke. It's not a game. It's not just a debate. 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 marshal 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, no argument, and I wish to express no contempt for individual devout and pious member of that church. They are welcome to their sacraments, they're welcome to their reliquaries and to their Blessed Virgin Mary, and they're welcome to their faith, [0:49:00.8]to the importance they place in it, to the comfort and the joy that they receive from it. All of that is absolutely fine by me. 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 is very important.
It is also very important to me as it happens that I have my own beliefs. They are a belief in the enlightenment, they are a belief in the eternal adventure of trying to discover moral truth in the world. “Discover” is a terribly important word to which we might return. It is a fight. It is an empirical fight. It is one that was begun in the middle of the last millennium, and it has given the name “the enlightenment,” and there is nothing sadly that the Catholic Church [0:50:00.3]and its higher ups likes to do more than to attack the enlightenment. It did so at the time reference was made to Galileo in the fact that he was tortured for trying to explain the Copernicum theory of the universe, that's history.
History, as Ms. Widdecombe has reminded us is irrelevant. It's not important. All that matters now is the billions of pounds that go out of this extraordinary institution to relieve the poor around the world and make the world a better place. History is of no importance whatsoever. Well, I beg to differ. History whinnies and quivers and vibrates in all of us, in this whole, in this square mile. Let's think about this square mile. I will come back to it in a moment, but first Christopher made mention of “limbo.” It seems so tedious and so silly that one of those little casuistic games that Tomists and others play, Aquinas and Augustin of Hippo [0:51:00.7]both proposed this extraordinary idea that babies who are un-baptized would not know heaven. They also proposed the idea of purgatory, which doesn't exist in the bible. There is absolutely no evidence for it; however, what an extraordinary brilliant cue to imagine such a thing as purgatory --- that a soul needs to be prayed for in order to go to heaven, in order to turn left when he enters the airplane of heaven and get a first class seat, that he needs to be prayed for and for many hundreds, indeed, over a thousand years you will be amazed what generous terms those prayers came at. Some times as little as two-thirds of a year's salary could ensure that a dead loved one would go to heaven. And money could ensure that your baby, your dead child, your dead uncle, your dead mother could go to heaven, [0:51:59.6]and if you were rich enough, you could have a chantry built and monks would permanently sing prayers so that existence in heaven for the child would go up, and up, and up until they were at the table of the Lord themselves. Now all of this is in the past and it's irrelevant. I concede to Ann Widdecombe how irrelevant it is, except in one thing. This church is founded on the principle of intercession only through the apostolic succession, only through the laying on of hands from this Galilean carpenter whom we can all admire, only from the laying on of hands to his apostles, to St. Peter, to the other bishops, all the way down to everyone consecrated in this room, anyone ordained here will know they are. They have this extraordinary power to change the molecules of wine into blood, literally, to change the molecules of paste bread into flesh, literally, and to forgive the sins of the peasants and the poor [0:53:00.3]whom they routinely exploit around the planet. Only this church has this extraordinary principle that it is through these male priests and only male priests that this is given. It is a doctrinal fact. It is more than a doctrinal fact, it is a dogma --- extra ecclesiam nulla salus, outside the church there is no salvation. That is a dogma of the church that has been used to excuse all the missionary zeal, all the rape and torture of the Aztecs and the Incas, all of the horrors of South America and Africa and the Philippines and the rest of the world, to which other churches and other cultures have also their guilt to admit. It is not unique to the Catholic Church and I never said it was and the motion doesn't say it was --- or at least the opposition of the motion does not arrogate [0:54:00.4]to the Catholic Church uniquely this sin; however, the particular nature of the exploitation of the poor, the vulnerable and the young… If I were to talk to a priest now, believe me that priest would be the most worldly, charming, self-deprecating, snobbish in a Ronald Knox, Alfred Gilbey sort of way --- ah, ha, ha. He would be lovely, he would smoke. Gosh, how daring. He would be a sort of ha, ha, ha priest and the superstition and the nonsense that we read about of the church, it is absolute… Don't pay any attention, Stephen. Just join Farm Street or the Brompton Oratory and have a marvelous time as a Catholic; and everything is lovely and splendid. But, be poor and ignorant and my goodness me, every single detail of damnation and original sin and of any possibility of your complaining [0:55:01.0]or asking to think for yourself…
I said, let's think of this square mile. Just imagine in this square mile how many people were burned for reading the bible in English; and one of the principal burners and torturers of those who tried to read the bible in English, here in London, was Thomas Moore. You may know if you have read the novel Wolf Hall, which won the Man Booker prize just the other day. Now, that's a long time ago. It's not relevant except that it was only last century that Thomas Moore was made a saint and it was only in the year Two Thousand that the last Pope, the Pole, he made Thomas Moore the patron saint of politicians. This is a man who put people on the rack 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 [0:56:01.2]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, but they are the ones it can tell and bully and domineer.
And then we come to children. Well, it is all very well to say the world didn't know better. The world had no knowledge of how dangerous a crime child abuse was. I want to read you some of the words of Ratzinger, the current Pope. It staggers me to admit that he is the head of state of a country. Incidentally, Ann Widdecombe said we didn't have the power of a nation state. Yes, you do. You are a nation. Yes, I wrote it down. You mentioned that. You are a nation state, and it is no accident that the UN-Cairo population conference [0:57:00.2]when they were trying to do something about the world's population spinning out of control, Vatican City as a nation state represented at that conference and made a joint statement with the Islamic countries of the world, notably the most extreme Islamic countries of the world, led by Saudi Arabia, and it began on behalf of the revealed religions of the world… and what it did was essentially hobble and veto any possibility of women's sexual freedom in the world because as we know the Islamic religion and the Catholic Church have never been anything other than implacably opposed to women's choice in their own bodies and their destinies.
So, Rantzinger in Two Thousand Three --- I am not making this up --- he was Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith; [0:58:01.1]and it was his job to deal with the child abuse scandal that was brewing. His first act was to write a letter to Catholic bishops, ordering them on pain of excommunication not to talk to the police or anyone else. “Investigations should be handled,” he wrote, and I am quoting that letter, “in the most secretive way, restrained by perpetual silence.” The Mexican founder of the Legion of Christ movement, Marcial Maciel Degollado, was protected from his own catalog of child abuse, which is horrific. “One cannot put on trial so close a friend of the Pope,” said Ratzinger. When the allegations could no longer be denied, Maciel was sentenced… sentenced to a life of prayer and penitence.
And Ratzinger described the whole affair, and that of Bernard Law of Boston, to which my colleague also referred, as causing suffering for the church and for me personally. [0:59:01.1]He also said the answer would be to stop homosexuals from being allowed into the church. Now, it's perhaps unfair of me as a gay man to moan 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 has strict instructions to believe the dogmas with the church, but may wrestle with them personally, of course. It's a little hard for me to know that I am disordered, or again to quote Ratzinger, that “I am guilty of a moral evil,” simply by fulfilling my sexual destiny as I see it. It's hard for me to be told that, to be told that I am evil because I think of myself as someone who is filled with love, whose only purpose in life was to achieve love and to feel love [1:00:00.2]so much for nature, and the world and for everything else and like anybody decent and with an education realizes that in order to achieve and receive love, it's a struggle. It's not one that “needs” a Pope to tell you how to do it, and it certainly isn't one who needs a Pope to tell you that you are evil with six percent of all teenage suicides being gay teenage suicides, we certainly don't need the stigmatization, the victimization that leads to the playground bullying when people say you are 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 it has nothing whatever [1:01:00.8]to do with the structure and nature of the Catholic Church, and the twisted, 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 Two Thousand Nine. It really isn't. I am sorry.
For me to be called a pervert by these extraordinarily sexually dysfunctional people, I don't think human history has ever had more.
I have to say this is not a problem that necessarily is permanent. I would like to believe that in ten years' time I could come back and argue the opposite, even though I have talked about the history and the structural problems of this united institution, and the cruelty and unpleasantness it has caused around the world.
[1:01:59.7]I have yet to approach one of the subjects dearest to my heart. I have 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. I have been there many times. I have interviewed to Joseph Euro* who is seventy and his wife Janet before. Unfortunately, she suddenly saw God. There was a period when Uganda had the worst incidents of HIV AIDS in the world. I went to Raki, the village where it was first spotted. But through an amazing initiative called ABC, abstinence, be faithful, correct use of condoms --- those three... I am 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, not satisfied [1:03:00.6]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 to saying “no” to condoms. I have been to… There is a 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, it is true abstinence will stop it. It is 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 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 --- I mean even more exciting. [1:04:00.0]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.
All I want to say really is that… we are here in the Methodist Hall. I am not trying to argue against religion on this occasion. I am not saying there is any… I understand the desire of anybody to seek spiritual rewards in a complex and difficult to understand world. We don't know why we're here, where we are going. We want answers. We love the idea of answers --- how marvelous it would be. But there are other choices. There are Quakers. Who could possibly quarrel with a Quaker with their passivism, with their openness, with their ease, with their simplicity, with their refusal to tell anybody [1:05:01.1]what is a dogma and what isn't. Even with Methodists also… I am not saying Protestantism is the answer against Catholicism, I am merely saying there are all kinds of ways we can search for the truth. You do not need this imperial panoply of marble and gold. Do you know who would be the last person ever to be accepted as a prince of the church? The Galilean 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. That simple and remarkable Man if He said the things He is said to have said… What would He think of St. Peters? What would He think of the wealth and the power and the self-justification and the wheedling apologies?
What would He think of a man who calls himself the Father, a celibate who dared to lecture people on family values are? [1:06:01.4][Tinkling bell] What would He think of any of that? He would be horrified, but there is a solution. There is an answer. There is redemption available for all of us and any one of us, and for the Catholic Church, funny enough I think it is a novel by Morris West. The Pope could decide that all of this power, all of 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 whose original systems of animism and belief in simplicity they told them would take them straight to hell. They could give that money away, and they could concentrate on the apparent essence of their belief. 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.