Archbishop William Goh has asked the faithful to be very discerning when forming opinions after reading the views expressed by Ms Karen Armstrong, who is an ex-nun, who was here as a speaker at a recently held first International Conference on Cohesive Societies.

Asked to comment on her views on a range of issues from celibacy and sexual abuse in the priesthood to her life with the Religious Order, he said: “Objectively, one must check that the facts quoted in the article are accurate, and whether the writer is qualified to write about the subject matter. Subjectively, one must seek to understand the writer’s personal experiences of life, because this will have a large impact on the lenses through which he or she sees the world.”

Ms Armstrong joined the religious at 17 and was sent to Oxford University, where she studied literature. In an interview with the Straits Times, she said the nuns were not allowed to have friendships and most times had to be in silence. She reportedly said she was also bothered about what she felt was a preoccupation with “getting to heaven.”

Such views perhaps were then suitable for its time. But over the years, she has failed to realise that formation of priests and Religious have evolved to suit the changing times.

Archbishop noted that she does not hide the fact that her experiences with the Catholic Church has not been an empowering one. If at all, it has led her to embrace very liberal theological views, which are not consistent with the teachings of the Church.

It would be simplistic to reduce all religions simply to a different manifestation of the search for the Transcendence. Inter-faith dialogue must recognise that all religions are different. We do not share the same beliefs. However, we appreciate and recognise our differences and uniqueness, and are willing to learn from each other and be enriched by each other’s religious traditions. Nevertheless, most religions share many common values and this is where we work together for the good of society and humanity, he said.

On the question of celibacy which the British author attributed to as the cause of the sex scandals in the Catholic Church, Archbishop said one needs to question if it is true that the vow of celibacy is the root of this evil. According to the John Jay College of Criminal Justice study commissioned by the USCCB, 81 percent of victims were male.

Moreover, if it is the vow of celibacy that is the cause of sexual sins by the clergy, then how does one explain infidelity in marriages? How do we also explain the many priests and married couples that have remained faithful to their vows?

“When society encourages, normalises and even glamorises sex, in particular homosexuality, promote promiscuity and even teaches that it is good and healthy for children to explore their sexuality at a very young age, should we be scandalised that sexual crimes, especially homosexuality, is found in the Church when society is the one that grooms our young men for the priesthood?”

In saying this, it does not mean that the Church condones any form of sexual crimes against God’s children, especially by the people He appoints as shepherds of His flock. However, until and unless society is willing to put its finger on the right pulse and acknowledge that the root of the problem lies in the moral values which society promotes, the problem with clerical sex abuse, as in the rest of society, will not go away.

“Not even with the abandonment of the vow of clerical celibacy,” said Archbishop. What the Church needs to do is to ensure a more thorough and stringent screening of those who are candidates to the priesthood and Religious life.

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