Some religious orders in the Catholic Church are hard to comprehend, for at their base lies a self-inflicted punishment of the body, be it in the form of total abstinence to desire or a tortuous denial of natural functions such as speech. Punishment for the sake of it should not be considered the gateway to heaven, nor should we applaud the embracing of suffering as a means to cleanse our soul.
Such dogmas in the Catholic Church are not easy to live by, as has been clearly shown by the recent revelations of sexual abuse within the Church in Ireland by those very people whose guardianship of our children should never have been debased in this most horrific manner.
Nor is this something that has happened in isolation, since further instances have emerged from a Catholic context in the United States, Germany and other parts of the world.
Sexual desire has always been a life force, beguiling men and women from the beginning of their creation. Where it is brutally curtailed, and made a source of profound and secret guilt, then it will inevitably tend to resonate in perverse actions that go against humanity. The sexual abuse of a child is known to damage or even destroy his or her chances of a balanced or happy future life. It is to rob them of a birthright. This harm has not been properly understood among certain sections of the Church hierarchy, nor have remedial actions been taken to stem this practice.
In this regard, the Church is guilty of gross negligence and a tendency to sweep unpleasant things under the carpet.
Unless the Catholic Church reforms to adapt to a changing world, in which stress is a common factor that goes with the increased competitive edge of our daily lives, and rethinks the basic philosophy that the love of God is largely exemplified through afflicting the body with added sufferings, it will find itself deserted by a new generation of worshippers.
These younger people will not be so unquestioning as their parents have often been and will strongly believe that life in this world is to be enjoyed fully, even perhaps as part of a preparatory exercise for the next. They are very comfortable with their bodies and accepting of their physicality.
Reform is therefore the key to the future, rather than any preposterous call for an international warrant to arrest the Pope on charges against humanity, as my friend Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins have suggested. If the Church is willing to go through the change of vision and insight it requires, then the reward will be more fulfilled lives and better citizens.
As a Catholic myself, I believe that is the only way forward.