Bulletin # 177 (13 July 2008)



Sanal Edamaruku on BBC
Click and hear Sanal Edamaruku on BBC
about the Great Tantra Challenge

Australia: Pope visit boosts sex industry

Pope mobile: Benedict arrived in Australia
Pope mobile: Benedict arrived in Australia

As the Pope touches down in Darwin, Sydney's sex industry is ready for the big boom. Brothels have announced special "papal visit packages" for the 125,000 foreign visitors who come to Sydney for the World Youth Day (WYD) celebrations this week. Bordellos and sex shops across the city are expecting sensational turnovers. Many establishments have recruited extra staff to cope with the expected rush demand for sexual favours during the event. Some pride themselves on being able to welcome their pious international clientele in a wide range of languages with sex workers speaking French, Spanish, Italian, Greek, Arabic, Thai, Korean, Nepalese and Mandarin. The "Xclusive Gentlemen's Club" offers 10-per-cent discount to those with accreditation as official WYD visitors. As one of the biggest houses near Randwick Racecourse, the club expects to benefit from its proximity to the venue of the Pope’s final open air mass which is expected to attract half a million of pilgrims. The high expectations of the "Forbidden Fruit industry" are based on solid experience. When the World Council of Churches had their congress in Canberra back in the 1990s, we enjoyed our best business period ever, said a spokesperson of Australia’s adult industry group Eros Association.

When religious mass events are in full swing, sex seems to be in the air. After the WYD 2000 in Rome had closed its weeklong celebrations with Pope John Paul II’s open air mass in the Tor Vergata field, rubbish collectors discovered the next day thousands of used condoms in the debris of the festival ground. Media reports showed images of the find, but the Vatican angrily dismissed them as fabrications. Critics of the Vatican's doctrinal stance against birth control, extra-marital sex and the “grave sin” of contraception, however, never stopped mocking about it. They say it reveals that young Catholics have a blithe disregard for the Vatican’s reactionary teachings – which is indeed excellent news if correct.

Protest against the Pope visit

Left: A pilgrim shows interest in a NoToPope T-shirt
Right: Cardinal George Pell on way to a press conference about child abuse cases

In Sydney this week, a NoTo Pope Coalition, including local rationalist, atheist and secularist groups, plans to distribute free condoms to the participants of the WYD to spark discussions about the Vatican’s hypocritical stance on sexuality and personal freedom. They will also protest against the Australian government’s generous contribution of 160 million Dollar tax payers’ money for the WYD and against new regulations by the government of NSW to grant draconian powers to the police during WYD and slap a 5000 Dollar fine on anybody, who potentially “annoys” the visiting Pope - a blatant attack on free speech. www.NoToPope.com

Broken Rites, which represents church abuse victim, points to new evidence about how the country's most senior churchman, Cardinal George Pell, has handled sexual abuse allegations against a Sydney priest. www://brokenrites.alphalink.com.au/

The NSW NoToPope Coalition has announced a peaceful protest demonstration on Saturday July 19th 12 noon at Taylor Square, Darlinghurst. Join them, if you happen to be in Australia.

Romania: Crucifixes in schools are ok, rules Supreme Court

In Romania it is thumbs down for secularism: Schools just got the blessings of the Supreme Court for keeping all those religious symbols intact that adorn their classrooms. The decision overturned last year’s appeal court ruling that religious symbols had to be removed from schools as they were discriminating against atheists and people of other faiths. The Roman Orthodox Church celebrates the judgment. Today, the bishops count about 80% of the country’s population among their sheep. The former communist country is observing a religious revival.

France: Court suspends "virgin case"

Is virginity an “essential quality” of a bride? Should husbands be able to legally insist on it? And in case it turns out to be lacking on the wedding night – should they be entitled to get the marriages annulled and to drop their brides like defective articles? This is currently a topic of hot debate in France.

A French Muslim couple – he an engineer in his 30s, she a trainee nurse – had married in 2006. When on the nuptial bed he found her not to be a virgin, he promptly announced it to the still partying wedding guests and sent her back to her parents. Last month, the marriage was annulled at the husband’s request, after a court accepted his accusation that his wife had lied about being a virgin. Under the French civil code, lying about an "essential quality" of the relation can be taken as a reason for annulment of a marriage.

The case sparked a hot public debate and feminists called it a fatwa against women’s liberty. Justice Minister Rachida Dati - backed by President Sarkozy for her decision - directed the public prosecutor to file an appeal against the annulment, lest it sets a precedent establishing virginity as a requirement for marriage that can be legally claimed. The case is suspended, the marriage valid again - for the time being and at least till September, when the decision of the appeal court is expected.

This twist, however, has created a quite absurd situation, as none of the protagonists is willing to continue this marriage restored for principles’ sake. The woman objected the decision and declared through her lawyer that she just wanted the marriage to be over so she can get on with her life.

France: Ten stitches that can save a life

French plastic surgeons offer a new intact hymen to women who need to prove their virginity for marriage, social or religious reasons. The operation, conducted for outpatients in some private clinics, is just a cut and ten stitches, costing half an hour and two to three thousand Dollar. But for most of the clients, it opens a new life.

The French College of Gynecologists opposes hymenoplasty – quite cynically - “on moral, cultural and health grounds”. But the demand for it is growing fast and it is practiced in many private clinics. France has a Muslim population of five million. Among the clientele are foreign students, who would – despite academic certificates - not be able to return to their homeland without an intact hymen. It is not just a marriage commodity – their very lives depend on it. In two cases that have been recently reported from Egypt, men have killed their brides on the wedding night because they could not deflower them (in one of the cases post mortem proved that the murder was an “error” - the victim had in fact been a virgin). In many Muslim countries, women are being killed or cruelly punished by their fathers and brothers, if they stain the “family honour” with pre-marital sexual experience. But also French Muslim women of foreign origin are suffering pressure and harassment from their traditional families and communities. Caught between two worlds – the liberal European society and the deeply religious and restrictive society of their families - this operation is for many the last escape route.

More about Religion & Virginity

Read more about Religion & Virginity in the new issue of Modern Freethinker - Magazine of the Indian Rationalist Association.

Modern freethinker is published 12 times an year. If you are interested to get copies of Modern Freethinker, please send a mail with your full postal address to mf@indianrationalist.org

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