Sunday, 3 June 2007

Suffer the little children...

Last Thursday, Annozero, a current affairs programme on Italian state television (RAI 2), was dedicated to the presence of paedophile priests in the catholic church. At the centre of the transmission was a documentary made by the BBC, which had already been shown in Britain and is widely available on the net. The usual brouhaha from the right and, to a lesser extent, from the church, preceded and succeeded the transmission, as you'd expect.

But the most shocking moment for me wasn't in the documentary, but after, when a woman described her experiences as the sex slave of an Italian priest from the age of ten to the age of twenty-five. What made it so shocking was less the abuse she suffered - already appalling - than the way in which the priest used his authority to ensure the child's compliance. The authority vested in him not only by his role within the institution but by the faith itself. How did he do this? He forced the child to suck him off by telling her that his sperm was the Eucharist, and that to refuse to ingest the body of Christ would be a mortal sin.

I'm going to come back to the issue of authority in child abuse in a future post. But maybe oral sex between men of the cloth and children shouldn't be such a surprise. It's actually enshrined in monotheistic practice, as you can see from the following passage,
From a catholic site called, rather oddly, Fish eaters. Those of a squeamish nature should read it quickly, or not at all:

The Biblical rite of circumcision, called brit milah (or brith milah or bris milah), entailed the trimming of just the very tip of the foreskin, only that amount that could be pulled down over the tip of the glans. It did not destroy the entire foreskin, it did not affect normal sexual functioning, it was not the brutal rite that baby boys undergo today. The procedure was so less intrusive than what is now practiced that many practitioners of the Old Testament religion could, by pulling on the foreskin that remained, easily make themselves appear to be uncircumcized -- and many did (1 Machabees 1:11-15, 1 Corinthians 7:18). Around A.D. 140, rabbis reacted to those men who did this and instituted two procedures to follow brit milah. Thereafter, a brit peri'ah and a brit mezizah were to be performed on the child after the Biblical rite. All of these procedures are described like this in the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia:

The child having been placed upon a pillow resting upon the lap of the godfather or "sandek" (he who is honored by being assigned to hold the child), the mohel [the circumcizer] exposes the parts by removal of garments, etc., and instructs the sandek how to hold the child's legs. The mohel then grasps the prepuce between the thumb and index-finger of his left hand, exerting sufficient traction to draw it from the glans, and places the shield in position just before the glans. He now takes his knife and with one sweep excises the foreskin. This completes the first act. The knife most commonly used is double-edged, although one like those ordinarily used by surgeons is also often employed. [Ed. This is where the Biblical procedure ends. What follows is from the Pharisees' Talmud.]

After the excision has been completed, the mohel seizes the inner lining of the prepuce, which still covers the glans, with the thumb-nail and index-finger of each hand, and tears it so that he can roll it fully back over the glans and expose the latter completely. The mohel usually has his thumb-nail suitably trimmed for the purpose. In exceptional cases the inner lining of the prepuce is more or less extensively adherent to the glans, which interferes somewhat with the ready removal; but persistent effort will overcome the difficulty.

By this is meant the sucking of the blood from the wound. The mohel takes some wine in his mouth and applies his lips to the part involved in the operation, and exerts suction, after which he expels the mixture of wine and blood into a receptacle provided for the purpose. This procedure is repeated several times, and completes the operation, except as to the control of the bleeding and the dressing of the wound.


Anonymous said...

I think you misunderstood the excerpts from Fish Eaters: the Biblical rite of circumcision does NOT include the sucking of the wound. The use of the mouth on the penis is a post-Temple rabbinical thing, not a Biblical one.

Charles Lambert said...

Dear Anonymous,

I don't see what difference this makes, other than a trivial distinction between one set of irrational beliefs and another.

Anonymous said...

The difference is that your point was this "maybe oral sex between men of the cloth and children shouldn't be such a surprise. It's actually enshrined in Biblical practice, as you can see from the following passage." Oral sex between men of the cloth and children isn't enshrined in Biblical practice; it's a post-Temple Jewish practice found in the Talmud, not the Bible.

Charles Lambert said...

Dear Still Anonymous

You're absolutely right. I'll change the wording of the post to 'monotheistic practice'. The rest of my answer to your previous comment still stands.