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London - Raising your children as Roman Catholics is worse than child abuse, according to atheist Richard Dawkins.
Professor Dawkins says the mental torment inflicted by the religion’s teachings is worse in the long-term than any sexual abuse carried out by priests.
He said he had been told by a woman that while being abused by a priest was a “yucky” experience, being told as a child that a Protestant friend who died would “roast in Hell” was more distressing.
Politicians and charities condemned the former Oxford professor’s views as attention-seeking and unhelpful.
The remarks are due to be broadcast on December 22 by Qatar-based TV network Al Jazeera.
Interviewer Mehdi Hasan asked Professor Dawkins about previous comments he made, when he said: “Horrible as sexual abuse no doubt was, the damage was arguably less than the long-term psychological damage inflicted by bringing the child up Catholic in the first place.”
Hasan asked: “You believe that being bought up as a Catholic is worse than being abused by a priest?”.
Professor Dawkins replied: “There are shades of being abused by a priest, and I quoted an example of a woman in America who wrote to me saying that when she was seven years old she was sexually abused by a priest in his car.
“At the same time a friend of hers, also seven, who was of a Protestant family, died, and she was told that because her friend was Protestant she had gone to Hell and will be roasting in Hell forever.
“She told me of those two abuses, she got over the physical abuse; it was yucky but she got over it.
“But the mental abuse of being told about Hell, she took years to get over.”
Professor Dawkins, a biologist who revolutionised the theory of evolution with his 1976 book The Selfish Gene, added: “It seems to me that telling children that they really, really believe that people who sin are going to go to Hell and roast forever – that your skin grows again when it peels off with burning – it seems to me to be intuitively entirely reasonable that that is a worse form of child abuse, that will give more nightmares, that will give more genuine distress because they really believe.”
The comments were condemned by Peter Saunders, the chief executive of the National Association for People Abused in Childhood.
He said: “At NAPAC we know that recovery from sexual abuse can take a lifetime. People never get over it. It is entirely unhelpful to make such comparisons.”
Roman Catholic former Tory MP Ann Widdecombe said: “Dawkins doesn’t know what to say next to get attention. No sane person would believe that being brought up in a force for good, in the Ten Commandments, in the Beatitudes, and in the Gospels can be worse than child abuse.” - Daily Mail