Public Religion and Private Belief

People’s Democracy

Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 44


Religion and Private Belief

Role of Catholic Church



“beatification” of Mother Teresa drew a worldwide audience with the media,
both Indian and international figuring it prominently. Beatification is the
first step in the complex process the church declaring anyone a saint. While the
Catholic Church is well within its rights to honour any figure it wants, the
problem starts when the process of conferring sainthood demands that it must be
preceded by proven record of a miracle. For this purpose, Monica Besra’s
tumour had to be certified by the Vatican to have been cured without any human
intervention, her medical records not withstanding. The Vatican’s promotion of
the irrational does not stop here. It has also been campaigning against the use
of condoms arguing that it promotes AIDS. In Vatican’s view it encourages
promiscuity and as the AIDS virus — based on Vatican’s internal scientific
evidence – can pass through the condom, condom use helps propagation of AIDS.
All attempts by others to examine this scientific evidence have been denied by
the Vatican.



has been criticism of the current pontiff that he has taken the Church back a
number of decades. On issues such as celibacy and gay rights, even liberation
theology, the Church can argue that this is an internal matter of the Church and
does not belong to the public domain. The matter becomes altogether different
when the Church propagates belief in miracles and miracle cures and when it
involves itself in sabotaging attempts to allow people to practice
contraception. This verges on the criminal if a deliberate scientific fraud is
practiced on its followers in the world wide struggle against AIDS where safe
sex using condoms has been shown to be effective. That the Church should oppose
such measures in its bigoted belief against contraception is condemning millions
to this dreaded disease.

western media, which spares no attempts to show how other societies are
irrational, falls curiously silent when it comes confronting irrationality in
their own backyards.
have heard ad nauseam about the irrational Muslims committing suicide bombing in
the belief that they will go to heaven directly as participants in “holy
jihad.” The class of irrational east as against the rational west is a
recurring theme, particularly in a uni-polar world where US and its president
believes its “god given” right to bring civilisation to Iraq or “Eyrak”
as he calls it. A US general has gone even further and in a well-publicised
speech talked about Islam being the work of Satan. Individual beliefs such as
these would only have been amusing oddities if they did not fuel the imperial
ambitions of the US. That is why the silence of the western media on miracles
being used to justify an action by the Church becomes an important omission.

people feel that the denial of miraculous powers of Mother Teresa is an attempt
to run down her work, let me state that all of us are deeply appreciative of her
work amongst the poor in Kolakata. A number of us would differ sharply on her
views on birth control, position of women, and various other social and
political issues. That is our right just as it was hers to hold whatever views
she did. Her views do not take away from her the quality of work she did.
issue of whether she should be conferred sainthood by the Catholic Church
engages us only because instead of it being based on her work, it is based on
the sudden suspension of the laws of nature. The Church is certifying that
divine intervention occurred on Monica Besra praying to Mother Teresa to cure



Monica Besra has been well documented. Briefly, the case as presented during
Mother Teresa’s beatification was that Monica Besra’s pain and stomach
tumour disappeared after she applied a locket with the image of Mother Teresa on
the site of the pain. This miracle supposedly took place in September 1998, on
the anniversary of Mother Teresa’s death. The problem with this position is
that Monica Besra had undergone extensive medication in the state run Balurghat
Hospital. Doctors who treated her confirm that she underwent treatment for more
than 2 months and improved steadily during this period. Monica believes that
though she indeed did take the medicines, but her cure is due to the locket. Her
husband, Seiku Murmu, as also her doctors believe that the miracle is a hoax.
The rationalists have challenged the Church to prove a miracle, the same way
that they have challenged any Hindu “godmen” to prove theirs. As is usual
with miracles, such challenges are quietly ignored. Miracles, we are told, can
only occur with the faithful.


should we be concerned if the Church believes that the laws of nature
occasionally stands still at the behest of god to establish sainthood for some?
How would it matter if the Church still held that Galileo was indeed wrong and
sun goes around the earth? The reason that
such beliefs
of the Church have implications, and serious implications for their following.
And what affects them also affects all of us.



us take the current state of Mother Teresa’s sainthood. The Church, to confer
sainthood, requires a second miracle. The impact on the believers is that a
number of them will leave medical treatment now to pray to Mother Teresa. That
it exposes the faithful to risks of curable disease is what considers us. Fight
the battle of faith anyway you want, but for the sake of the people concerned do
not preach against medicines and in favour of miraculous cures. This is true for
all godmen, be of the Hindu, Muslim or Christian variety.


case of AIDS and the role of Catholic Church is even worse. According to the
Church, condoms have tiny holes in them through which HIV can pass and that is
why the Church is arguing against the use of condoms, putting at risk millions
of Catholics. A senior Vatican spokesman backs the claims about permeable
condoms, despite assurances by the World Health Organisation that they are
The WHO has condemned
the Vatican’s views, saying: “These incorrect statements about condoms
and HIV are dangerous when we are facing a global pandemic which has already
killed more than 20 million people, and currently affects at least 42


church’s claims are revealed in a BBC1 Panorama programme, Sex and the Holy
City, to broadcast last Sunday. The president of the Vatican’s Pontifical
Council for the Family, Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, told the programme:
“The Aids virus is roughly 450 times smaller than the spermatozoon. The
spermatozoon can easily pass through the ‘net’ that is formed by the condom.

margins of uncertainty… should represent an obligation on the part of the
health ministries and all these campaigns to act in the same way as they do with
regard to cigarettes, which they state to be a danger.”


issue here is that in Philippines, in Kenya and various other places, the battle
against AIDS is being lost because the Church has joined the battle against it.
It is well established that condoms provide, not absolute safety but significant
reduction of risks in transmission of AIDS. Of course condoms can break or tear
and infection can still take place. But if we can reduce the risk of
transmission, then we significantly reduce the spread of AIDS. However, across
four continents, the Catholic Church, which regards birth control as anathema,
is fighting against AIDS control using condoms. That they should oppose birth
control itself is a sign of their obsolete thinking. That they should claim
their own scientific studies to oppose the role of condoms in AIDS control
exposes millions of their followers to unacceptable risks. Already doctors in
various parts of the world have testified that they are facing hostile reaction
from the Church in their attempts to educate the people in the use of condoms
and safe sex.


irrationality is not the province of any particular religion or community. Our
own homegrown variety in busy dismissing all evidence about the past, which does
not conform to theirs. The danger unfortunately is neither to this past nor even
to the religious institutions.
The danger lies in that
it affects human lives, either through wrong practices and policies, or in
extreme cases, through organised pogroms. It is this spilling over of religion
to the public arena that must be condemned by all right thinking people.